'Project Runway's' Malvin Vien and the Meaning of Creative Solipsism


Ever since they announced the stats about the new cast of Project Runway, premiering tonight on Lifetime, we've been curious about designer Malvin Vien. It’s been widely reported that Vien graduated from the University of Redlands with a degree in social medicine and creative solipsism. But what the heck is that? Solipsism, "the philosophical idea that one's own mind is all that exists," is usually a pejorative, right? ("You stupid, selfish, solipsistic jerk...") According to Katie Ismael, a University of Redlands spokesperson, Vien’s degree was “based upon the philosophical and metaphysical theory that the self is solely defined by one’s imagination.” His emphasis was on social medicine, specifically on the construction of identity and its influence on wellness and medical practice. Vien’s studies included premed coursework as well as courses in the arts and in costume design.

As it turns out, it’s quite possible that Vien is the only one in the world to hold such a degree. His unique coursework was developed through the university’s Johnston Center for Integrative Studies, an alternative undergraduate program where students work with faculty to design their own degree programs and courses of study. Established in 1969, the Johnston Center enrolls students with unusual interests who want to have more influence over their course of study than students in traditional programs.

Will Vien's holistic approach help him stay focused in the ever-chaotic Runway workroom? Will his studies in being self-absorbed, but in a really good way, make for some dramatic onscreen action? Find out tonight, and check out Newsweek's Project Runway Roundtable for more clues on the upcoming season. 

--Ian Yarett