‘Project Runway’: Back with a vengeance!

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If you were looking for a great evening to turn off your cellphone, order in a pizza and tune out the world for several hours while you went on a good old-fashioned TV binge, this was it. ‘Project Runway’ was back in a big way, first with the two-hour all-star challenge, last with the new show ‘Models of the Runway’ and in the middle, of course, the part we fans have all been waiting for: a whole new season of the show. Of course, aside from the hype of the delay between seasons and the switch to the new network, not to mention to a new city (L.A. instead of New York), the show is pretty much the same ‘PR” that we know and love -- the designers even still get their fabrics at Mood.

Unlike shows like ‘American Idol’ or ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ the early episodes of ‘Project Runway’ are just as fun as those closer to the finale. Not only do we get to guess which of the new cast of characters will be the good guy, the bad guy or the hot tranny mess, we get to see sixteen designs, for better or worse, head down the runway. Plus, this is one of those shows where there is no room for amateurs. Some designers may have more experience than others, but no one can walk off the street and just happen to be good at designing and making clothing.


As usual, the contestants came together to their loft space and we got brief introductions to them. Malvin Vien reminded me of Christian Siriano with his ridiculous hairstyle. Qristyl (pronounced ‘Crystal’) Frazier doesn’t do plus-sized; she does ‘plus-sexy.’ Nicolas Putvinski is apparently known as the ‘feather prince’ of New York (and I thought that was Derek Jeter’s title). Ari Fish came out of the gate early as the cute oddball of the group, with her ‘transformative’ clothing.

After meeting Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn on the roof of their apartment building, the contestants got their first challenge: design a red carpet look that demonstrated innovation and their point of view as a designer. Pretty straightforward (although Malvin pointed out that he ‘doesn’t differentiate between different color carpets’). Ari, claiming that she didn’t sketch, decided to do handstands in the workroom, probably to better show off her rainbow-colored bodysuit and teal shorts. Johnny Sakalis, a frequent ‘PR’ tryouter who never made the show before because of (he reckons) his crystal meth addiction, broke down before he barely got anything done and cried to Tim about possibly quitting already. The drama never starts late on this show.

The designers showed their gowns to Heidi, Nina Garcia, Michael Kors and guest judge Lindsay Lohan. I don’t have anything to say about Lindsay’s qualifications as a guest judge, but I did think Season 1 winner Jay McCarroll’s thoughts on the matter were funny. On the runway, several of the dresses were interesting but nothing too special for the red carpet, like Malvin’s, for instance, or Nicolas’. Mitchell Hall started working originally on what looked like an ombre dress with a high Victorian collar, but he got incorrect measurements on his model and sent down a too sheer gown. I immediately got Christopher Straub’s vision with his half-girly, half-punky cocktail dress and thought ‘VMAs’ when I saw it, which he said was what he was going for. Ari’s dress looked like a deflated version of the Epcot Center from Disney World. The judges loved Johnny’s red ‘20s-inspired dress, and although I found it interesting, I don’t think the general public (whose opinion does sometimes count in these instances) would ever get it if a starlet wore it on the red carpet. Qristyl’s half-purple, half-rainbow dress was a mess and Lindsay looked angry that the designer dared mention her name when she said who she hoped would wear the dress.

I was happy that Christopher won the challenge (and immunity for the next week). I thought Ari was adorable but she was too out there for ‘PR’ and she was eliminated, but who knows, since she bears a vague resemblance to Samantha Ronson, maybe she got to hang out with Lindsay after the show.

-- Claire Zulkey