It is embarrassing to admit, but all day I was as giddy as a kid on Christmas Eve knowing Project Runway was starting up tonight. Bravo was no help all week, with their little count-down clock in the corner of my screen as I watched those hootchie west coast housewives and reruns of Jeffrey winning the cash and the car. I was so PR-starved that I was desperate to hear Michael Kors call something “tired”, “sad”, or “matchy-match” and yearned for Nina Garcia’s withering looks. But finally the time has come for fresh episodes and I’m thinking the week is beginning starting to look better. Tomorrow I’m going to pull out my Kara Janx knock-off dress, put on my discounted designer 4-inch stilettos, and pretend like I have some (on-a-budget) fashion sense.
We’re introduced to the fifteen designers as they move into their new digs at the New Gotham Apartments. First to arrive is Rami, a guy who was born in Jerusalem but is now based in Los Angeles. He’s designed for some LA-based celebrities, such as Jessica Alba, but he wants to get his work out to a bigger audience. He’s soon joined by Chris, a costume designer who designs crazy costumes, out of anything imaginable, and has been doing so for twenty years. He reminds me of a older, calmer combination of Jay McCarroll and my senior prom date, but that’s a good thing. Christian comes along next; he’s a wee lad with a crazy asymmetrical hair style and big glasses. He said he was schooled at an unnamed university in London and worked with Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood. Oddly enough, he reminds me of a good friend of mine from grade school…if he had a Philly accent and went by the name of Stephanie, I’d swear it was her.
Over in the women’s apartment, Carmen is the first to arrive. She is a former model and plans on using her modeling experience to help her as a designer. I swear on a stack of Tim Gunn’s books that she’s wearing a Chloe Dao shirt. Jillian arrives shortly after Carmen and they plant their toiletries in the bathroom before the other women have a chance. Jillian is a design illustrator and has worked for Ralph Lauren, but wants to create her own line. Kit turns up next and meets Carmen and Jillian.
In another men’s apartment, Kevin moves in. He’s a jean designer, makes sure we all know he’s straight, and says he wants to get back to tailoring and building a collection. Jack is also in the apartment; he’s an active wear designer and is sure that everyone will hate everyone else by the time all is said and done. Steven is in their apartment as well; he looks exactly like a bald French Stewart and is a freelance designer from Chicago. He auditioned last season, but didn’t quite make it. He’s into art and drawing and promises to be full of bons mots.
Marion and Ricky arrive in Rami and Chris’ apartment, and Elisa, the accidental designer, shows up at the women’s apartment. Elisa came to fashion design through making costumes for her marionettes; marionettes creep me out, so I’m not going to dwell on this and just move along. Sweet P is next to arrive; she got her name from a girl motorcycle club she used to belong to. She started her own business two years ago and has run out of money, so she’s trying Project Runway to get her business back on her feet. Unfortunately, this causes me to reflexively think of Vincent from last season, and I shudder…she’ll be alright as long as she isn’t constantly saying that something “gets her off.”
The designers all spy cards on their kitchen counters; these are notes from Heidi and Tim instructing the designers to meet them at Bryant Park. Along the way to Bryant Park, we meet Simone who says she has an honest vision from the heart; she’s excited at the destination, saying that she knows she’ll be back there to show her work. We also learn that Marion came to fashion design through doing his flower arranging and Jack wants to show his own vision after working so many years for other designers. Victorya is originally from Korea, emigrated to the US at age three and is a competitive over-achiever. Kit a/k/a Pistol really wants to develop her own line and wisely says that life is too short to have on a bad outfit. Finally, we meet Ricky, who came to New York to become a dancer and escape the poverty of his 14-member family but ended up in design. He’s already come out with a lingerie line and, during his private interview, gets so emotional describing fashion, he starts to cry. Did no one show him the 18 minute cut of Andre’s emotional breakdown? Dude, you’re gonna get it at the reunion show.
Champagne wishes and fabric dreams.
The designers arrive at Bryant Park and find several bottles of champagne and all have a toast to the new season. Before anyone can get too drunk and tell secrets, Heidi and Tim arrive. Tim tells them that although last season’s cast was the strongest to that point, this group is even stronger and are raising the bar on the competition. Heidi then tells them that the party is over and it’s time for their first challenge. Across the park’s lawn are three tents and their challenge is to make an outfit that exemplifies who they are as designers from the materials that make up the tent. But Tim then says that, although in seasons past, the first challenge has been to construct a garment out of weird stuff—how Wendy Pepper ever got away with that candy dress still keeps me up at nights—this time things are different. Inside the three tents are $50,000 worth of textiles all donated by our favorite fabric shop, Mood. The designers will have to dash across the lawn and grab some fabrics for their outfits. They’ll have ten minutes to do that and then they’ll have until one a.m. to make their garment.
Of course, most of these folks run across the lawn like maniacs and start grabbing all the fabric they possibly can. Chris is last to arrive, given that he’s a large guy and it’s probably fair to say he’s not into mad dashes. Rick beats Kit to the plaid fabric she wanted, but she finds something else. Everyone takes more fabric than they could possibly use on the theory that they really don’t know what the hell it is that they’re going to be making anyway. We get our first glimpse of just how weird Elisa is when she takes some ivory silk chiffon and rubs it into the lawn of Bryant Park to create grass stains, or, as she says, “imbue it with natural elements.” Perhaps she’s imbibed upon too many natural grasses prior to this show.
Makin’ it work, Parsons-style.
As the great fabric grab has come to a close, the designers are more than ready to head to the workroom at Parsons. Jack finds the experience surreal, exciting, and fabulous. Kevin is excited to have the chance to prove himself as a designer. Then in comes the great and wondrous Tim Gunn, who reminds the designers to let their garments reflect who they are as a designer and tells them to “make it work!” The first utterance of what has now become his nationally-recognized catch phrase is met with applause from the designers. Tim Gunn is so suave that he can make a freakin’ catch phrase work. Damn, he’s good.
The designers all get to work creating their garments. Victorya opines that “who you are as a designer” is a philosophical question that designers struggle to answer throughout their careers. Ricky reflects on his lingerie line and decides to do a baby-doll dress that reflects his work. Simone likes romantic looks with historical sensibilities, so her dress is going to reflect those concepts. Rami decides to free-hand drape the flowing grey fabric he chose; he likes to mix the feminine with the edgy and wants to hit upon his signature elements.
Elisa plans on embracing her avant-garde side and construct a fitted dress with a cascading, waterfall-like drape of fabric coming out of the back end of her dress. She says something about magic coming out of it, but she kind of lost me for a minute. Meanwhile, Chris says they’re all watching Elisa because she’s so strange. Christian comments Elisa is like some rain woman goddess, spiritual and weird.
Sweet P works diligently on her look but realizes time is slipping away from her. Jillian is a bit perplexed at the brightness of the fabric she chose; she was attracted to it for its brightness but now wonders how she will make it elegant as well. Kit worries that the judges will be confused by her outfit and Steven decides to go for a simple, understated look while he fiddles with some zebra print fabric. You can tell things are still in the “polite” phase because Carmen asks to borrow some long pinking shears and Jack happily complies. Carmen calls Jack a superhero and some of the ladies comment on the loveliness of Jack’s abs. The guy must spend serious time in the gym.
With four hours remaining, Tim arrives to make his rounds. He really loves Rami’s dress, saying it’s stunning. Christian cattily comments that Rami isn’t doing anything that loads of other designers haven’t done already. Tim checks out Christian’s work as well; he’s made a latte-colored asymmetrical skirt and a short plaid jacket that looks somewhere between Victorian and Edwardian. He’s matched the plaid beautifully down the center of the back, but did not take such care at the joint of the sleeves to the bodice. Tim points this out, and Christian says he had no intention of matching the sleeves to the bodice but only intended to match it down the back. Tim raises that eyebrow in a dubious manner, but lets him be.
Examining Simone’s work, Tim comments she has a lot of finishing to do. The skirt of the dress has some pleating that isn’t done, the hem is either in a half-bubble or is gathered in a weird way, and the side of the dress isn’t sewn. She claims she’s going to put in a zipper to close it. Finally, Tim visits with Elisa. The front of her dress is quite stunning. It’s is a bright turquoise dress, long and body-conscious. The sleeves are almost like slim, inverted tulip leaves and will drape over the shoulders nicely. But the back is another story. It starts off alright—the only seam is down the V-back—but it ends in the middle of the V’d up hem with a long, long trail of fabrics of many colors. It’s like the Mood remnant table puked out the backside of the dress. None of the edges are finished on the train or on the dress. She claims she’s done, but Tim holds a contrary opinion. Clearly seeing she’s got enough fabric to on which hang herself, he decides it’s time to go.
With two hours remaining, the designers go into frantic mode. They rush around in a frenzied attempt to get their garments completed by one a.m. Elisa, however, has decided she’s done and goes to take a nap. Chris thinks she just wants to sleep, and I think he’s right. Finally time is up and it’s time to go home. Amazingly, they wake Elisa up before they head out. Yep, we’re still very early in the season, before the claws come out.
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It’s the morning of the first runway challenge and all designers seem to have a good nervous energy going. Jack states obviously that no one wants to be the first to go; Chris replies that at least they—Jack, Chris and Rami—have something done to put on the runway. Elisa talks a bit about finishing the edges and struggles with the idea of making the edges look clean. Simone is frantic to get her work started because she has a lot of finishing to do and Carmen has concerns that they haven’t yet met their models.
Appropriately, Tim Gunn arrives in the workroom for the first “gather ‘round” of the season. He encourages the designers to knock the socks off of the judges and says the models will be coming in shortly. They’ll have two hours to get the garments fitted and have hair and makeup done. L’Oreal and Tresemme are back as the product sponsors, but Macy’s is out in favor of Blue Fly, who now sponsors the accessory wall.
The models arrive and find their designers, and it seems most everyone is happy with their parings. Chris and Victorya both say so, and Christian’s model really loves his dress, so he’s happy too. Curiously, upon meeting her model, Elisa “hand measures” the girl—she counts up how many hand-widths tall she is. I suppose conventional English or metric units are too oppressive for Elisa.
After the usual hair and makeup montage, there are only fifteen minutes remaining. Simone has to stitch her model into the dress because there was no time for a zipper. Ricky is just plain anxious to get the show started. Elisa has her model walk with the 300 foot long train (ßapproximate measurement) and worries that the poor girl may trip. She momentarily considers cutting off a goodly portion of the train, but at the last second decides against it. Surveying the room, Christian comments that there’s a lot of hand-sewn crap up in there. And, with that, Tim arrives and the show gets underway.
At long last it is time for the first runway show of the season. Heidi comes out and addresses the designers. She’s wearing a retro long-sleeved golden dress that nearly matches her hair. She goes through the prizes of the season: the Elle spread, the chance to sell a line on BlueFly.com, a 2008 Saturn, and $100,000 from Tresemme. The judges for tonight are, of course, Michael Kors and Nina Garcia; they are joined by fashion designer Monique Lhuillier. With that, the runway show gets underway.
Elisa is first up, with her dress worn by Lea. It’s the fitted turquoise dress with the long, long cascade of many fabrics out the backside. Lea has difficulty walking with all that fabric and nearly trips. Chris’ look is next, as modeled by Marcia. He has made a long, fitted dress out of shiny purple material, with a criss-cross halterish neckline out of a contrasting print fabric. The halter ends in a large bow on the back of Marcia’s neck. Kevin has created a short dress, mostly of black material, with silver fabric for the bodice and red fabric peeking out of the top and bottom. His look is worn by Katie. Sweet P’s dress is worn by Christina; it is a stiff gold trapeze dress that is brought in a bit at the hem by some red fabric. Simone has created a simple dress with a peachy pink skirt, a yellow halter top, and a print shrug, which is worn by Lauren. The top doesn’t quite fit right.
Jillian’s dress is worn by Amanda. It’s a bright red/fuchsia dress with a bubble skirt and a fitted bodice that reminds me of a one-piece swim suit. Christian’s model, Lisa, wears his asymmetrical latte skirt and plaid jacket. It is very well tailored to her body, a fact which amazes Christian. Victorya sends out a black trapeze dress on Jacqueline; it has thin straps both at the shoulders and across the top of her arms. The black dress is accented by a large silver flower; Patricia Field would be proud her influence is still resonating. Rami shows his grey Grecian toga-style dress, with impressive draping and detailing. Ashley looks elegant in it, but it reminds me of something I’ve seen Heidi Klum in, but can’t quite put my finger on when. Ricky’s model Wendi wears his well-tailored yet simple baby-doll dress made of a black and sliver print fabric. He worries that the dress turned out to be more subtle than he intended.
Jack shows a black and white printed halter dress, worn by Aviva. It is elegant, yet simple and the black and white print is accented by turquoise both as sash at the waist and as the tie to the halter. I like it, but it looks like something that you could find at Ann Taylor Loft. Marion had made a kind of a mess of a black fabric dress. It’s got solid fabric, lace fabric, and an asymmetrical hem. Cheron wears it and it does absolutely nothing for her bustline. Steven sends out a well-tailored black skirt suit on Sam, with some red accents by way of a bustle-like thing at the back of the skirt/jacket and a scarf. Carmen has Anna wear a pair of black pants and fitted gold print top. I’m impressed that she made pants. Finally, Kit sends Marie down in a dress made out of a black and white “O” print for the skirt that peaks out under the bodice made of a red print.
Paging Michael Winslow.
The fashion show has come to an end and it’s time for the designers to face their judges. Chris, Kevin, Sweet P, Jillian, Jack, Marion, Steven, Carmen, and Kit all are asked to step forward. They are then told that they have good enough scores to continue and are asked to leave the runway. The six remaining have the highest and lowest scores and the models are brought out for the final determination to be made on who wins and who gets the boot.
Turning first to Christian, Monique asks him what his thought process was. He said he was going for a sculpted, tailored look. Michael thought the outfit was quirky but had a tailored, polished look and was well-thought-out. Nina found the fabric not that interesting but liked the silhouette. Heidi says the look is growing on her. Nina then asks Simone what the point of her dress was, to which Simone responds that she was creating a modern, romantic look. Nina questions the poor construction and Michael thinks the contrasting shrug/jacket makes it look like the model got dressed in the dark. Monique finds the whole look dull.
On the other hand, Monique liked Rami’s grey Grecian dress; he says he was going for a new, modern, romantic look. Nina finds it sophisticated, but Michael has issues with the flower adorning the one shoulder strap, saying it’s a bit mother-of-the-bride. Ricky faces the judges next; Nina thinks he played it safe with his dress and did not stray far from the basic lingerie look that he’s familiar with. Heidi found the dress boring and Monique thought it was too safe. Michael thought it was a nice dress and advises that Ricky push himself further in design.
Victoria’s black trapeze dress is well-received. Monique liked the silver metallic flower, saying it adds drama. Michael wonders how the wearer could hail a cab, as the side-arm straps really confine movement. Finally, they turn to the hot mess that Elisa has put upon the runway. She claims she went for alive and vibrant colors and tries to describe what she did through a series of sound effects. I have no idea what she was saying, and I don’t think the judges did either. Nina points out that the train was so long and heavy it was pulling down the backside of the dress. Michael thinks the colors are pretty, but Monique cautions that one needs to know when to stop. Elisa confesses she thought about cutting off most of the train and the judges think she should have gone with that instinct.
Our first auf Wiedersehen.
Heidi et al. take their time to deliberate with the designers off the runway. They tackle the best first: Monique thinks Victorya played it safe, they think Christian was edgy and his outfit was well-made, and that Rami knows his craft and they really got a sense of what kind of designer he is from the dress. As for the bottom three, they thought Simone’s was boring, not creative, and poorly made. They were impressed that the dress part of Elisa’s garment was made with basically one seam but Heidi commented that the dress was pooing fabric out the backside. Finally, they found Ricky’s to be well made but not good enough.
The six contestants are called back in before the judges. Victorya is in, and Rami is declared the winner and given immunity for the next challenge. Unsurprisingly, Christian is also in. Then they leave Ricky in as well. Simone and Elisa remain on the runway; Simone’s dress, Heidi says, lacked a “wow” factor and was poorly constructed. Elisa, meanwhile, was creative, but she needs to learn to trust her instincts and edit her design, as the train was over the top. With that, Elisa is allowed to continue and Simone is the first one sent packing.
Back stage, Tim comforts her by saying that someone has to be the first to go. She did not expect to be the first one eliminated and still plans to make her fashion career happen, even if it’s on her own. Adieu, Simone; be comforted in the thought that you didn’t make a dress out of a trash bag, made a home ec project, or made a shower curtain into a vajayjay showcasing dress. Construction skills can be learned; taste is harder to come by.