Banana Republic Leaves 'Runway'

Signature Retail Sponsor Replaced by Macy's

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LOS ANGELES ( -- When Bravo's hit reality show "Project Runway" returns for a third season this summer, it will do so without Banana Republic.

The Gap Inc. brand got big play in the popular program over the past two years as the series' signature retail partner. Contestants have worked in Banana Republic-branded workspaces at New York's Parsons The New School for Design and competed during both seasons to design a dress that was sold in several of the retailer's stores.

Banana Republic did not return calls regarding its decision not to re-up, though it's said the retailer felt it had wrung as much exposure as it could from the first two seasons.

And there was plenty of it: The show averaged 1.7 million total viewers during its second outing, up 59% from its first season. The finale in March pulled in 3.4 million viewers, making it the most-watched show in Bravo's history and "Runway" improved its showing from season one by 102% in the coveted 18- to 34-year-old demographic.

Banana Republic will be replaced by Macy's, though other retail partners had been in contention, including H&M, which is in the midst of expanding the number of its outlets on the West Coast.

The other top partners, L'Oreal Paris and TRESemme, however, will be back when the program makes its first summer debut July 12. The pair has served as the show's hair and makeup sponsors since its first season.

A fourth brand had also been in negotiations to hit "Runway," said to be Unilever's All Small and Mighty detergent. But the deal fell through at the last minute, according to an executive at Bravo. The reason: Producers couldn't figure out a creative way to integrate the product without it standing out too much and looking like a commercial.

The series, hosted by supermodel Heidi Klum, pits 15 fashion designers against each other in a series of challenges that have culminated in three finalists facing off at New York's Fall Fashion Week in February. But with the new schedule, finalists will compete at Fashion Week in September.

Once again, fashion designer Michael Kors and Elle magazine fashion director Nina Garcia will serve as "Runway" judges, while Tim Gunn, chair of fashion design at Parsons, will return to guide the contestants through their challenges.

The series has attracted a following online as well, getting 2.2 million unique visitors and 87 million page views on the site, the network said. Mr. Gunn's "Tim's Take" blog generated 9.1 million page views, and his podcasts garnered 600,000 downloads.

Those Web numbers and ratings have helped producers attract more high-profile marketers and broker integration deals, which include not only on-screen exposure but also opportunities for tie-ins online, in store and in print.
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