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NEW YORK (AP) — Christian Siriano didn't want the tuxedo gown he designed for Billy Porter at the Oscars to shock anyone. He simply wanted to make a bold statement about celebrating identity.

"You should be who you want to be on a red carpet, off a red carpet. Wear what you want to wear, no matter who you are, and I think that's what that was all about," Siriano said at a launch party Thursday ahead of the upcoming 17th season of "Project Runway," which premieres next Thursday on Bravo.

The velvet custom tuxedo look for Porter did cause a sensation on social media, but Siriano did not focus on any of the negative reaction, especially when he heard how it empowered school-age children in search of their identities.

"I was thinking about reading these emails from young kids being like, 'I feel like I can wear what I want to wear to school now because of what Billy did.' And that's what it's all about," Siriano said.

There are plenty of changes in store at "Project Runway." Nina Garcia, who has been with the series for its entire run, returns as a judge. But Siriano, a winner from Season 4, will replace Tim Gunn as show mentor. Another new face is model Karlie Kloss, who takes on duties as the show's host, replacing Heidi Klum.

"I think Christian is our superstar from 'Project Runway.' He knows exactly what it takes, what it took, and how it's going to change your life once you're done with 'Project Runway.' So, I think he's a perfect mentor," Garcia said.

Elaine Welteroth is another new addition to the show, serving as a judge. The former Teen Vogue editor called Siriano "America's designer darling."

"People watch him rise up on this show and they're invested in him and his career and so it's so cool to see this full-circle moment where he comes back, and he can kind of raise up the next generation of 'Project Runway' superstars," she said.

Siriano, who tried to separate himself from the show while he was building his company, is happy to come home and share his experiences with the young competitors.

"If they have a red carpet challenge, I was like, 'Well I just dressed seven people at the Oscars.' I know something about a red carpet challenge."

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Follow John Carucci at http://www.twitter.com/jacarucci

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