Santino who? Bring on "Runway 3"
By Pamela Sitt
Seattle Times staff reporter

Jeffrey Sebelia is a new foulmouthed, egotistical contender who hits the ground running in the first episode.

In a perfect world, "The Devil Wears Prada's" Miranda Priestly would be a guest judge on the new season of Bravo's "Project Runway." If she purses her lips, you're out.

Being that she's a fictional character and all, I have no idea if Ms. Priestly is a fan of the show, but Meryl Streep is. I'm hopeful that Heidi Klum was able to work something out during her cameo in "Prada." In any case, isn't it great to have something in common with Meryl Streep?

The third-season premiere of Bravo's "Project Runway" which was nominated for three Emmys last week at 10 p.m. Wednesday is preceded by a casting special in the manner of "American Idol." The hourlong special is hosted by fan favorite Tim Gunn and introduces the 15 new designers, as well as catching up with past-season stars including Nick Verreos (teaching), Austin Scarlett (designing wedding gowns) and Wendy Pepper (looking 10 years younger).

But like Heidi says, in the world of fashion, one day you're in and the next you're out. Santino, we love you but you're so last season. Everyone's looking for the new villain to love to hate, and the first episode offers a contender in the form of Jeffrey Sebelia, or, as I like to call him, "8 Mile." You shall know him from his gray hoodie, tattoos and potty mouth.

"I look around the room, and it's just a blur of remedial intermediate bull ... ," 8 Mile says during the first challenge. "I don't see any design in the room that inspires me, aside from mine."

Ten of the 15 designers are from New York or California. Then there's the adorable, redheaded Kayne Gillaspie, who comes from the South, loves Dolly Parton and likes to bedazzle things. As such, he has the perfect job designing lavish pageant gowns that are straight out of MTV's "Tiara Girls." Can't wait to see what happens when Heidi gives him some banana peels and a box of Cheerios and tells him to go make a dress.

(I must disclose at this point that I made up the part about the bananas as I have no idea what the challenges this season will be, nor would I be allowed to tell you if I did. I will say that the first challenge is genius and involves destroying things as much as it does creating them.)

I asked Gunn to compare this season's designers with last season. Is Jeffrey the new Santino?

"He's opinionated. He will emerge as his own character," Gunn says. "They are their own individuals this season. It's especially true in their design work. There will reach a point in the season where you will know whose work is whose without it being announced."

The designers overall are more experienced than in seasons past, shifting the focus to the more subjective matter of design aesthetic rather than technical aspects of construction. In other words, less "the sleeve is falling off" and more "does a cap sleeve really work with that dress?"

"I would say what's so compelling about this season's drama is that it's all centered around the design work," Gunn says. "It's full of surprises, it's going to be full of conflicts. ... The winner and loser will be determined by people's tastes."

As a result, the judging process was more controversial and often took longer than in previous seasons. Although it appears only to take moments and a commercial break for judges to question designers and make their decision, in real time the process can take five to seven hours.

"When we do the Q&A, they are sweating up there because we ask them so many questions," Klum says.

As for her take on the new season, Klum says the designers are really what make it different.

"They had all seen Project Runway 1 and 2, and they think they know everything by now, but I still shock them a lot. They sit there and look at me with big eyes and there's some really great episodes, you know, laughter, and you see some tears going. There's very emotional stuff this year."

We're in! And auf Wiedersehen for now, I'm out.