What do you get when you combine the world of high fashion, strangers living together, weekly challenges, a chance at immunity, and a harsh panel of judges? No, it's not America'sNextTopRealWorldAppre nticeSurvivorIdol. It is the newest reality project on the Bravo network, Project Runway. Hosted by supermodel Heidi Klum (whose on-camera delivery is about as flat as a pre-pubescent girl's chest), the show gives 12 aspiring fashion designers a chance at fame, fortune, and working with waif-like diva supermodels. Gee, who could ask for anything more? Before meeting the 12 finalists, Heidi gives us some background on how they were chosen. The powers that be went to four "audition" cities—Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and Miami—and spoke with hundreds of aspiring Donna Karans and Tom Fords. As expected, there were plenty of good candidates for the show, but there were also plenty who were, shall we say, less than desirable. The guy who sold his "collection" out of the trunk of his car did not make the cut. The girl who promised that she could "kick ass" if given the right kind of fabric did not make it either. However, 12 finalists were chosen, and they have been flown to New York to appear (and compete on the show). We learn that the 12 finalists will have to face weekly challenges and that one designer will be eliminated each week until we are left with three. Those three will show their designs at Olympus Fashion Week, and a winner will be selected. What will that winner get? Well, he (or she) will get a spread in Elle Magazine, $100,000, and a "mentorship" with the Banana Republic "Design Team". Heidi says that this is all they will need to start their business, but I don’t know if $100K will take them very far, and couldn’t they have picked a company with a more unique eye for fashion than Banana Republic?
Our finalists start trickling in, and we first meet Mario. Maybe he just woke up. Maybe he is stoned. Maybe it is a little of both. I don't know what it is, but his eyes seem to be permanently at half-mast, and it just bugs me. In addition, his lips are huge. Remember that scene in "The First Wives' Club" where Goldie Hawn goes in for a collagen injection and comes out with lips the size of Texas? That is what Mario's lips remind me of. Mario reminds us on more than one than one occasion that he never compromises his art. He also says, "I try to satisfy myself and nobody else," and I'm thinking he just shared a little too much information. Then I realize he was talking about his designs, and all is right with the world again.
If Wendy O. Williams had a daughter, it could be Nora, the next finalist. Nora is a recent graduate of the Pratt Institute, and she makes sure she tells us that she won the "Best Collection" award at the Institute two years in a row. A cab drives up, and out jumps (or perhaps I should say "out saunters") Austin. If Quentin Crisp, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Carson Kressley somehow had a love child, he would look, act, and sound like Austin. As my grandmother would say, this guy is "a real piece of work." He says that, growing up, he created "fairytale gownth and played dreth-up." Yes, Austin has a lisp. Some photos are shown of Austin's work, and I swear one of them looks like Austin in drag. He goes on to say that, no matter how hard he tried to fit in in high school, he was "conthantly teathed." Gee, there's a shocker. Austin, teased in high school? Who would have thunk it?
Jay, a big ol' walrus of a guy, tells us that he used to work at an online porn site, where he earned enough "dirty money" to buy him a lot of nice things. But, design was his true calling, and recently quit his porn job to focus solely on his fashion career. Alexandra, who reminds me a bit of Nicole Richie, says that people underestimate her and how intelligent she is. Kara, a costume designer, is quick to mention that she has designed for Queen Latifah. Starr, who looks like Audrey Hepburn with a permanent "deer caught in the headlights" look on her face, is actually a lawyer from North Carolina and instantly wins the Ultimate Pessimist award when she tells us that she's so scared, so nervous, has so much to lose, blah blah blah. Well, if you cannot stand the heat, honey, you need to get out of the kitchen now. Vanessa is a Brit with a business based in Houston. She has a dry sense of humor, and I think I am going to like her. Wendy is the only mother in the group and immediately takes on that role with the other finalists. Robert, who exudes major cheesiness to me for some reason, says he learned about fashion from his mom and adds, "Women are like sports cars. They're sleek, sexy, and dangerous." OK, Rico Suavé, just go away. Kevin got into fashion because it was "the family business." Kevin also talks really…really…slow. Daniel, who looks to me like Amy Adams from this past season's American Idol, is from California and says the key to life is to "follow your bliss". Um, yeah, OK.
The group goes to Parsons School of Design, where they are introduced to Tim Gunn, the director of the fashion program there, who will serve as their mentor, guru, svengali…you get the idea. Anyway, Tim welcomes them blah blah blah, and then the entire group goes inside to look at where they will be doing their work. After looking around the workroom (and being shown the "Banana Republic Accessories Wall" and being told that cotton is "the official fabric of Project Runway"…sheesh, can you say product placement?), the group is taken to see the runway, where, as Heidi puts it, "your fate will be decided." Dum dum DUM! Heidi tries to inject drama and a sense of tension into her delivery, but I think she fails miserably.
Heidi then gives the group its first challenge: each designer is to design a "sexy, glamorous dress for a night out on the town." She then informs the designers that they will get to choose a model to be their muse, and the requisite group of tall, willowy young women walks out onto the runway. Heidi randomly draws the designers' names, and Austin gets to go first. He says that the model choice is very important, because, "You need a girl who ith ath pathionate about winning ath you are." Later that evening, the designers attend a party where they get to have a little more one-on-one time with their chosen model. There's the requisite scene where the models display how they walk (I just thought it was to put one foot in front of the other, but apparently I was wrong.), and several of the designers notice how Daniel is being rather anti-social. While everyone is whooping it up and having a good ol' time, Daniel is off to the side with his model taking her measurements. He says he would like to socialize with the other finalists, but he is there to win and has to remain focused and follow his bliss. I am still not sure what in the hell he means by that, but whatever.
It is the next morning, and the group meets up with Tim, who is going to take them shopping for the materials they will need for their first challenge. Tim says they will be going somewhere "all the big designers go," and everybody is excited about going to some high falootin' fabric warehouse or something. Naturally, you can imagine their surprise and shock when Tim takes them to a local grocery store. Yes, you heard me…a grocery store. They are each given $50 and are told they have one hour to get everything they will need for their sexy, glamorous creations. Wendy says, "For the first time, I felt fear." Honey, I am right there with you, because I am afraid to see what you all will come up with for this one. Everybody seems to run around frantically, trying to decide what sorts of materials to use. Everybody except Mario, that is. He is done in 10 minutes. When all is said and done, the finalists chose the items below. Their purchases give me no clue as to what their dresses will look like, other than Alexandra's, which I am willing to be will be brown.
Mario – Shower curtains
Kara – 23 rolls of ribbon, 4 feather dusters, a painting kit
Austin – 28 ears of corn, 2 bags of potato chips, duct tape
Nora – 8 placemats, 1 lounge chair
Starr – Ironing board cover, bubble gum, wrapping paper
Jay – 6 rolls of aluminum foil, bag of jacks, 3 roasting pans
Daniel – Butcher paper, aluminum foil, trash bags
Vanessa – ½ pound of crawfish, laundry bag, trash bags
Alexandra – Brown pantyhose, brown socks
Robert – 3 mop heads, flat bread, food coloring, candy alphabet letters
Wendy – Red & green peppers, rope candy, breath mints, trinkets
Kevin - Shower curtains
We're back at Parsons, where Tim informs the group they have until midnight to finish their creations. They will then have a couple of hours before the show the next day to put on the final touches, and then the models will model the creations in front of the judges. Mario seems very apathetic about the whole thing. He wraps his shower curtains around a mannequin, says, "I'm done," and calls it a day. Austin is freaking out and wonders if he is an idiot for choosing cornhusks. No, Austin, you are an idiot for wearing that god-awful diamond (rhinestone? Whatever) choker around your neck. Shock of all shocks, Starr is really nervous, says she's "terrified," and calls her dress "disgusting." Well, honey, you have nobody to blame but yourself for that one. Vanessa says, "I just don't want to look stupid on the runway." Let's see…crawfish and trash bags? No, you won't look stupid, Vanessa, but your model might.
It is the day of the show, and everyone is rather reflective about the events to come that day. They all reconvene with Tim at Parsons, and he tells them they'll have two hours in which they will have to put the finishing touches on their outfits, get with their models for a fitting, and get the models to hair/makeup. We then see Austin freaking out because the cornhusks on his dress have dried out and shrunk. Thirty minutes into the session, and we learn that Kara's model has still not shown up. Kara is worried, because she says she needs time to hand-paint part of the outfit on the model. She continues to freak out and finally heads out onto the street in search of anyone who will be a model. She asks one girl if she would be interested in participating. The girl looks at her like, "you must be crazy," and says no. Kara's model finally shows up and says she was late because her mom is out of town and Mommy usually wakes her up. Um, hon', have you ever heard of an alarm clock? The model then breaks down and cries because she finds out her agency has dumped her for being late to this assignment. Kara returns, calms the model down, and the two quickly get to work.
It is now time for the show and judgment (dum dum DUM!). Heidi introduces the three judges: designer Michael Kors, Elle magazine editor Nina Garcia, and Patricia Field, who dressed the women on Sex and the City. Heidi tells the finalists that they will be judged on innovation, and with that, the show begins. One by one, the models come out and model the creations made for them. Vanessa's dress looks alright, but where are the crawfish? I guess she boiled them with Austin's ears of corn and had a nice Cajun dinner. Even though the husks dried and shriveled up a bit, I am impressed with Austin's cornhusk dress. Starr's model looks like she is jumping out of a bag of Jiffy Pop. Wendy's "creation" isn't so much a dress as it is a bikini bottom with some candy hanging off the model's boobs. Nora's lawn chair/placemat dress (along with Austin's cornhusk dress) is probably my favorite, and we end the show with Mario's 10-minute shower curtain dress. As Mario's model walks the catwalk, Mario tells us that he really does not care if he is eliminated or not and reminds us once again that he does not compromise his art. Alright, already, Mario. We get it!
The designers are brought up onto the stage, and Heidi asks Kevin, Alexandra, Mario, Jay, Kara, and Robert to step forward. She tells them that they are all through to the next round, and they leave the stage. She then informs the six that are left that they represent the three highest and three lowest scores. One of these six will be declared the "winner," and that person will have immunity and cannot be sent home next week. These designers' models are then brought back onto the stage, and the judges ask the designers some questions. Nora is the only one to really receive glowing praise when Michael Kors calls her dress "amazing" and "terrific." With that, the designers and models leave the stage once more, and Heidi and the judges confer about whom they like and whom they do not like. They seem to rag on Wendy, Daniel, and Starr the most. Meanwhile, backstage, everyone is anxiously awaiting the results, and Starr—naturally—is scared to death and starts to wig out because she thinks she will be the one going home. I wish they would send her home at this point, too, so we will not have to see her hysterics every week, but I digress.
The designers are brought back onto the stage, and Heidi says it is time to announce the results (dum dum DUM!). She says that fashion is all about what is in and what is out, and she then tells Vanessa, Nora, and Wendy that they are in. That leaves Austin, Daniel, and Starr. Heidi then reveals that Austin is this week's winner and will have immunity next week. I half-expect Austin to start jumping up and down and squealing like a little girl, but he graciously thanks the judges and leaves the stage. That means that either Daniel or Starr is going home. The judges tell Daniel that his butcher paper coat/trash bag dress was "far too simple," and they tell Starr that she needed to show a "better concept." Heidi then says she cannot put the inevitable off any longer (dum dum DUM!), and she announces that Daniel will be the one going home this week. Daniel looks stunned and says later, "I didn't expect that." Before signing off, Daniel launches into one final soliloquy where he says, "If you want theatrics, there are plenty of designers to choose from. However, if you want honor, decency, integrity…if you want artistic credence and artistic honesty…if you want to follow your bliss, then I'm Daniel Franco, and I'd like to wish you bliss." Daniel, you may not have won this competition (and I have no clue what all this "bliss" talk is about), but I would like to wish you the best in whatever the future holds for you.
Next week on Project Runway: Wendy starts getting paranoid, Jay puts his hair into afro puffs, and—surprise!—Starr gets hysterical.
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