Most of the press still mentions the show in reviews and pieces about some of the more successful Project Runway contestants. This is actually true for most of the more successful Top Chef contestants and winners. However, there is a much more pervasive culture of "selling out" in the restaurant business. It helps that the first big wave of this predated Top Chef. That first wave was chefs like Emeril and Wolfgang Puck having cooking shows on TV and selling cookbooks, knives, cookery, spice blends, and what have you. When Top Chef premiered, there were derisive comments about a chef game show. I think a handful of things helped cement the show's semi-prestigious reputation: 1. Tom's very vocal willingness to get rid of Cliff, Elia, Ilan, and Sam in season 2 after they assaulted Marcel (there are very few competition shows that are willing to tank the show on a matter of principle), 2. the fact that the contestants disproportionately have worked in Michelin starred restaurants or are James Beard nominees and winners, and 3. that the show can still get culinary luminaries as guest judges.
I think there is such a huge amount of delusional snobbery in the fashion industry and press. No one wants to admit that ready to wear isn't particularly profitable and is largely a loss leader for the things that actually make money like cosmetics, perfume, accessories, and bridge and diffusion lines. It's only because some of the more candid folks like Michael Kors and Isaac Mizrahi have talked about the realities of the business that we know this. Couture is a straight up loss. It's always been obvious how hard Viktor & Rolf and Proenza Schouler were grinding until they were deemed worthy of creating perfumes and accessories. I think the fashion press and industry aren't willing to shine a light on how broken the industry is. Those invested in the brokenness are quick to deride competitive fashion shows, fast fashion, direct sale sites like etsy, and collaborations with mass market retailers until they discover all of this shit themselves and Missoni for Target in 2011 is suddenly brilliant.
I also think how Project Runway kept chasing diminishing returns with weirder challenges that had nothing to do with fashion and mostly to do with money, weaker guest judges as the show's reputation declined, and just atrocious casting that seemed to be more about story than skill (there were far too many conceptual and performance artists who happen to use textiles cast) meant that talented former contestants who wanted to move beyond the show never could because there was this shitshow that reminded critics, journalists, and buyers that you were an exception rather than the rule.