It’s entirely possible you didn’t know that Project Runway was back for a new season of fierce sewing madness. You can thank Bravo for that, because they failed to run the usual slew of promos counting down to the premiere. Why is Bravo seemingly ignoring their much-beloved series? Maybe because it won’t be theirs much longer as the Weinstein Company recently announced a five-year deal with Lifetime that will move the show to “television for women” beginning next season.
But back to the season at hand. Right off the bat, it becomes apparent that this will be the season of people trying to become the next Christian Siriano. While “fierce” and “hot tranny mess” worked for the extremely talented winner of season four, replicating Siriano’s catch-phraseology seems cheesy and desperate. Pathological tanner Blayne Walsh seems determined to try. He nicknamed his first look “Girlicious,” and has since convinced a reluctant Tim Gunn to say “Holla atcha boy” instead of “Make it work!” Other immediate personality standouts include Stella Zotis, who loves working with “‘leah-thah,” and Stephen “Suede” Baum, who sports a faux-hawk and perpetually refers to himself in third person.
The contestants’ diva-like personalities have led to increased screen time for arguments and snide commentary. Few of the designers have demonstrated the ability to work together, making Brooke Shields’s challenge to design something for her to wear on Lipstick Jungle a true test. Keith Bryce and Kenley Collins bickered so much over their choice of fabric that Gunn needed to play moderator. Daniel Feld and Kelli Martin attacked one another on the runway, each questioning the other’s taste level. Even when not working together, the designers feel the need to discuss the outfits created by those around them. Stella’s leatherwork involves beating her material to death with a hammer, and she clashed with Blayne over her fondness for the goth-punk aesthetic.
This season has included a number of throwbacks to previous seasons, with repurposed challenges (such as a return visit to Gristedes, the grocery store from season one) and the return of former contestants (Austin Scarlett has been a guest judge, and Chris March came back to advise). Unfortunately, the level of talent has fallen from its previously high benchmark, as no designer has created a truly standout ensemble so far. Several early eliminations involved cuts due to poor construction, and the designers have displayed a troubling lack of creativity and innovation, choosing traditional materials and creating simple silhouettes instead of pushing the envelope. Designs of past seasons included dresses made of candy and cornhusks, but during this season’s supermarket challenge, four designers all picked the same tablecloth as a base material.
Judges Michael Kors, Nina Garcia and Heidi Klum have sat through several lackluster runway shows, and all three have expressed surprise at the designers’ lack of enthusiasm. The Olympic challenge, in which the designers were required to create an outfit for the opening ceremonies, produced a strange mix of cocktail attire and sportswear. Two designers even abandoned the no-brainer color scheme of red, white and blue, prompting Garcia to question their abilities to separate their own personal preferences from the needs of their clients. A few designers have managed to pull off some interesting concepts, and some have truly embraced the challenges: Daniel created a dress made entirely of plastic cups in the first episode; Terri Stevens sews so quickly that she was able to make an entire kimono, complete with floor-length sleeves and an obi belt, for last week’s challenge to design for drag queens.
Project Runway begins every season with a rocky start as the early weeks don’t really showcase the work of all the designers, and now that some of this season’s weaker designers have gotten Klum’s kiss-off, perhaps the remaining group can settle down to the task of constructing some truly amazing clothes. So far, though, they haven’t been able to make it work.