Season 6 of Project Runway was the first Lifetime season, the L.A. season, ultimately the lost season. Season 7 was the triumphant return to New York. Season 8 has no artificial drama, so suddenly it’s just the eighth season, and you realize that this show has been around for a long time. The producers knew they’d need a big flourish to keep the show fresh and interesting. And that flourish was: 17 designers, instead of 16! That’s 6.25 percent more designer! Plus, in this episode, the designers were still in “the audition process,” which according to Heidi meant that they were “not yet on Project Runway Season 8,” even though we were watching them on Project Runway, a program in its eighth season.
The designers met in clusters and then proceeded to Lincoln Center by every form of transportation imaginable. Mondo, Peach, and a couple of other less interestingly named designers took the Liberty State Park ferry. I guess the producers decided, everybody knows this crap is staged, so let’s not even try to make it realistic. Mondo is this season’s Young Eccentric Who Will Stick Around Longer Than He Should, but he won my affection by shutting down the “What’s the name of YOUR clothing line?” conversation on the boat. “Nothing. Because I don’t have one,” he said, and that was the correct answer.
Another contestant, Jason, was wearing a hat. “I’m kind of wearing this hat here,” he explains, “because I want to throw the competition off.” Freaking diabolical. The signature item for Casanova, the contestant from Astoria by way of Puerto Rico, was a tiny, skinny tie that barely cleared his sternum, in case he had to operate heavy machinery at some point in the show.
At Lincoln Center, Heidi and Tim revealed The Twist, because “there’s always a twist on Project Runway!”—disregarding the Season 7 opener, of course, when the challenge was “design something, such as clothes.” The designers had to pick one item of clothing from their own luggage to incorporate into a look. Then they had to hand that item over to the contestant on their right. They’d only get five hours to finish—the shortest time limit “in HISTORY!” according to Michael Kors. Now, this is how you do the first challenge. They’re not sleep-deprived yet, so you’ve got to work them extra-hard.
Tim showed the designers their working space, explained that the Brother Sewing Room is called that because it is full of Brother Sewing Machines, and reminded them that they are competing to live their dream of selling their line on piperlime.com. The next 20 minutes were perfectly entertaining but mostly unremarkable workroom hijinx.
Peach, this season’s Old Boring Person Who Will Stick Around Longer Than She Should, struggled with the knit scarf she was given, which came apart under any amount of stress. Tim Gunn advised her to work it under some tulle, possible the first concrete workroom advice from Tim we’ve seen in years, who is typically edited down to his core catchphrases.
Nicholas embraced the episode’s moronic semantics and marveled aloud that “I’m not on the show yet!” YES YOU ARE. I AM VIEWING YOU ON A TELEVISION AS YOU SAY THIS.
Casanova pouted that another designer was tearing apart his $1,000+ Dolce & Gabbana pants that he never even got to wear, which made me wonder why he pulled them out of his bag in the first place if he wasn’t willing to see them reworked in a design. Then I realized that the dude doesn’t speak great English, so he often had only the vaguest idea of what was going on. Worse yet, the producers clearly have decided that this will be his “quirk.”
The price of an exciting, short-turnaround challenge was a mostly underwhelming runway show, but there were a few standouts to glimpse (and they were just glimpses, in a runway sequence that seemed even more hurried than usual—curse you, extra designer). Sarah made a cute khaki shorts jumper with a bit of a factory-worker vibe to it. Hawaiian designer Andy’s all-black outfit with the open-back blouse was clean and angular without getting too harsh, although the chopsticks in the hair and the umbrella hat pushed it into You Only Live Twice territory. Mondo and Valerie made decent cocktail dresses with ’60s-ish palettes, although Valerie’s looked a little little like a frightened scarecrow face. Kristin produced a heavy, over-layered dress from Mondo’s kilt, which I point out only to note that Mondo packed a kilt.
Gretchen won by default with a well-made black dress that was pretty unremarkable aside from an elegantly curved hem. A historic “unanimous” decision, according to Heidi. Shrug.
Then came the bottom six designs, which guest judge Selma Blair loved despite their homeliness, because they “confused” her. And she enjoyed this strange sensation of being confused. For those of us existing in a less open-minded realm where things that look like shit are undesirable, it was less pleasant.
The most horrifying of the lot was Casanova’s green backless disaster, which looked like something a concubine would wear to the annual Harem Achievement Awards (“Harries”). Runner-up was Jason, who took Andy’s kimono, turned it backward, and stapled the bejesus out of it. Both were safe—Casanova because ditching the foreign guy out of the gate would have been too cruel and Jason because he was wearing a hat, obviously.
So the first designer to leave was McKell, a dreadlocked mom from Utah. She was the only person in the bottom six who didn’t clearly deserve the Auf—she made a cheery dress that incorporated a blue button-up men’s shirt, reworking the top into an appealing shape without losing the form of the original shirt entirely. About the only significant misstep I could see in her design was that the top was cut a little too far in, creating some sideboob action. Still, she was sent home, ostensibly for poor accessory choices and bad styling, which is Project Runway code for “because we felt like it.” One episode in, they’re already whipping out the ridiculous-judging-decision ploy. Season 8 is going to bring it.
— I’m happy for Casanova to stay on because it’s fun to see Nina Garcia translate.
— Peach: “Am I going to be the oldest? Hell to the yes.” See, she’s old BUT hip!
— Hat-Boy: “She’s pretty busty for a model, and she’s, like, mine!” Class act, this one.
— I’m rooting for Valerie because she’s “doing this for Cleveland.” That city has had a rough go of it lately, what with LeBron and Harvey Pekar. Surely nothing would get the people of Cleveland more excited than to have a Cleveland native win Project Runway.
— There were a bunch of little touches—the new judges’ chairs, crisper motion graphics, even the shiny red cards that the judges had—that made the show feel a bit more sophisticated. Kudos to the production designers. Now if only they would please ditch that hokey music package.
— Michael Kors on Jason’s design: “I don’t know. It just doesn’t work…[long pause, gazing into a void of despair].”
— Heidi, to the bottom six: “None of you should feel safe.” And none of them did—it was the most terrified group of contestants I can recall. Nicholas looked like he was terminal.
— “Wow! She made pants out of pants!”