Not only did Lifetime refuse to give us a week off after a season of Project Runway that only John Teti could pull us through, they doubled up tonight by debuting Project Accessory right after the Runway finale and right before After The Runway, a gameshow where Zanna Roberts Rossi is the only contestant and the challenge is to find anything interesting enough in the designers to justify her show’s existence. It’s programming moves like this that inspire such confidence in Lifetime shows. Accessory isn’t just the latest entry in the Bravo (& Lifetime) School of Reality Competition. It’s Project Runway, right down to its lesser catchphrases, like someone copied someone else’s homework and changed it just enough to get by. Which is fine by me, because the title credits used the phrase, “Bling it on,” and even Viktor Luna was like, “Seriously?”
Cue the contestant arrival montage, fine-tuned for maximum stereotype, but at least filled out with both photos of the contestants’ handiwork and footage of them creating their accessories, or in Nicolina’s case, getting a tattoo to signify her rock-and-roll attitude. She’s already designed for Randy Jackson, Miley Cyrus, and Kim Kardashian, while Cristina’s designs took off after appearing on Sex and the City. Shea of Shameless Jewelry has really cornered a niche market, showing off a gold pendant that says “Sweetheart” on one side and, if you can believe it, “Bitch” on the other, a testament to the good girl/bad girl dichotomy of her line and everyone else’s. Meanwhile, Nina is young and never went to design school and lives with her parents and already has a boyfriend, y’all, so just settle down. The guys with the interesting stories aren’t really characters yet, but at least Adrian is distinguished by his colorful church hats, which make every Sunday in Baltimore feel like the royal wedding. I know all this seems familar, but don’t trust that déjà vu, because on this show, the designers have co-ed living arrangements. Perfect for mellow James, a shoe designer whose meet cute with Shea consists of helping her dismantle an office chair, commenting, “Look at you, you’re not afraid to get dirty,” and chuckling.
After a short bus ride through “one of the tunnels,” which I assume means something to New Yorkers, we arrive outside an empty yellow building, which vomits out host Molly Sims and mentor Eva Lorenzotti at their most first-impressiony, though I think Future Molly might having something to say about Current Molly’s gold-ring-and-turquoise necklace over her chiaroscuro print top and leopard skirt. The challenge is to rummage through an abandoned New Jersey storage container building for the materials to make three accessories: a necklace, a belt, and another of each designer’s choice to be paired with a white T-shirt and jeans. So while you’re taking a bathroom break, the designers are cutting up umbrellas and couches—that is, until Molly tells them they have two minutes left, upon which Nicolina pushes Piggy off the cliff, the conch breaks, and people start fighting over dollhouses and couches. In case you’re still thinking this show might forge new ground, the This Season On montage features three different shots of designers running to collect materials in unexpected locations, so get ready for the edible accessories challenge.
When we get back to the work room, Accessory starts to differentiate itself with its industrial chic aesthetic. You’d think the bright Apple Store lighting of Parson’s would be useful to accessory designers, but at Studio NYC we get garage lighting with gray-blue walls patterned after my elementary school photo backdrops and a two-by-six array of wooden work tables. And in the back, the Swarovski embellishment wall, not to be confused with the eBay fashion styling wall. On the plus side, there are lots of cool power tools and kitchen utensils and dentistry equipment. Maybe it’s all the Halloween movies talking, but it’s like they revamped the Hostel factory into a Euro-hip construction lab.
The next 15 minutes is spent mostly on Nicolina, who immediately realizes she was just collecting stuff, not thinking about materials for a necklace and a belt and a Ryan Atwood wristcuff. Like a good reality show character, she cries, she says it like it is, and she has a meaningful confessional, all on day one. She just didn’t design anything. Brian doodles incomprehensibly as he figures out his postapocalyptic ensemble, this ragged, layered belt of natural colored furniture mat and stuffed animal with a muted orange ribbon from a very ‘70s couch. David correctly pegs the talent that is Diego, but we’ll get there.
First, it’s time to test Eva Lorenzotti’s mettle as the Tim Gunn of the 10:30 (9:30 central) timeslot. She’s trying, y’all, but those are some big shoes. She walks over to James, picks up his necklace, and says nothing about it. He offers her the beginnings of his belt, and she stares at the table, struggling with all her might to give him the right advice. “Think about that piece, because you’ve got time,” she tells him, and maybe he does because maybe it takes several hours to film all these one-on-ones, but by the end, she’s worried about time and manages a bit of a pep talk. But, like so much of this episode, it comes down to Nicolina.
Eva: “Nicolina, how are you?”
Nicolina: “I had a meltdown.”
Eva: “You can’t have a meltdown.”
It’s friendly but uncomfortable, neither support nor discipline, and Nicolina changes the subject to the nothing that she’s working on. Then again, anything that keeps Nicolina from talking about her assignment instead of doing it is probably a good thing. Fortunately, Eva always has the classics to fall back on: “I’m worried about time, so think about that. Just dive in.” Thanks, Tim.
As the designers prepare for the runway, it has the unmistakable whiff of a high school theater improv game where you make a sports competition out of a non-competitive task. People are conspicuously stretching and doing breathing exercises while braiding, and I swear I saw someone mime-sabotage someone else. Brian says he likes Nicolina, and Nicolina says, “Brian’s... vomit of a look was awful.” There’s a lot of talk about the philosophy of accessories—how they make a girl feel special and give light to a look and remind people of the pledges they made to God—and it’s a good thing, because we don’t pick up any of that from looking around the room.
Sensing that, the editors deliver a runway show that is the equivalent of autotuning Glee. The model is in wide, so we can see the entire ensemble without really seeing anything, and it’s split-screened with a shot of each piece on a mannequin. And then we get close-ups of the model, who is twirling and cavorting to show off the piece that we can’t focus on. Throw in the obligatory cutaways to the judges and the peanut gallery, and it’s perfect for snap evaluations.
If I had hope going into this thing, it was because Kenneth Cole’s appearances on Project Runway displayed someone with a sense of aesthetics that doesn’t boil down to arbitrary taste. I’ve never seen him critique someone’s work by saying, “I would have preferred if you did this other thing entirely,” which seems totally acceptable on reality shows (and, let’s be honest, much of criticism). Here, with Cole joined by Molly Sims, Ariel Foxman, and guest Debra Messing, I’m sorry to say, I’m less than impressed, mostly because they offer tired hand-me-downs (“expensive-looking,” “I can see that girl on the street,” “too many ideas”) but also because of meaningless, unhelpful moments like “I don’t get it,” and “I just don’t think it worked.” Great for you, but that doesn’t mean much to the rest of the world.
On the plus side, Diego delivers a genuinely impressive collection—a flat, gold pleather necklace, a belt of faux suede with dark brown pleather across the clasp, and a pleather clutch—cohesive without being super-matchy, as Kenneth Cole notes. He doesn’t win. Nina does with an ensemble that includes a dangly necklace from the wood of a Chinese parasol, the rings from rat traps, and the heads of matchsticks. Phew, because earlier she claimed to be pretty sure she was going home and delivered a confessional about how all her 26 years have come down to this.
In the bottom are David, with the voluminous shell necklace we all predicted Project Accessory would be, and Nicolina, who willed her nothingness into a literally effortless collection that looks like it was made out of dirty laundry because it was. But Cotrice, whom the show barely introduced, goes home for doing the same thing—turning something into exactly what it is and putting it on a human—with her chandelier necklace, chandelier bracelet, and a corset that I don’t get, but I’m not a fashion expert. As television, this is some pretty uninspiring stuff, the point of which, apparently, is to see how far a successful model can take an entirely different show. Like all promising young things, it may just need some time to find itself. Fortunately, we have eleven more contestants. Bling it on!