Season 15, Episode 1 Recap: Welcome to the Unconventional Party

Can you believe it? It’s Season 15 of “Project Runway”! If anyone would have suggested to me back when I was on Season 2 that this little show about fashion designers was going to become an icon of reality TV, I might have told them to lay off the Fashion Week Champagne. But alas—and thank goodness—here we are. I am very happy to be back blogging for and look forward to recapping the “fab” and “ay caramba!” of this season’s sartorial creations.

In the season opener, the scene is set with what looks to be a VIP showroom for Michael’s Crafts Stores, with a room decorated with candy, faux flowers, paper lanterns, plates, glasses, and Champagne. I don’t know why (maybe the fact that I was a former contestant and have been watching the show for ELEVEN years!), but I got this weird feeling in my tummy that the decorations weren’t just there to make the room look pretty.

Slowly but surely, the 16 designers are introduced as they make their way to this soiree. Some of the highlights of this introduction:

-We meet Erin from Massachusetts. She likes to design humorous, playful clothes. Oh, and she also tells us that she grew up “partially Mormon.” Take that for what it’s worth.

-Two other Massachusettsians (say that five times fast) join the season including Nathalia who says that she “wants to change the world” and Cornelius, who knows Nathalia from design school (Uh Oh!).

-Tasha resides in Shreveport, LA, and says she designs for tomboys.

-Roberi originally hails from Venezuela but now lives in Miami. (Probably a good move considering what has been happening in my former homeland).

-Brik—yes, that is a real name, I think—is from Baton Rouge and loves a man bun and later we find out, lots of glitter.

-Dexter, who is from Oakland, originally studied herpetology but quickly realized he didn’t want to be bit by snakes. PS: Thank you Dexter for making me Google the definition of herpetology!

-Ian is from Chicago and panicked by avant-garde

-Laurence, a former model, calls Los Angeles home and is known for her leather work.

-Alex has his own design company in San Francisco, teaches one day a week and loves to give advice.

-Linda is the oldest contestant this season at 55 years and says she wants “a chance to re-invent herself.”

-And Jenni from San Francisco, has a crazy laugh.

Heidi and Tim walk into the lovely gathering to welcome the designers. Heidi tells them that there will be a lot of surprises this season, starting with the very first challenge. She announces that they are to create a signature look that best represents who they are as a designer using unconventional party materials found in this very room. Say hello to this season’s first unconventional materials challenge! They get five minutes to grab, snatch and pull anything that isn’t nailed down. Then, they are off to the workroom where Tim tells the designers that this is a one-day challenge.

After several hours of gluing, ripping, sewing, and plate breaking, Tim returns for his individual critiques. Brik is making flared pants with glued-on glitter, which Tim says have a “wow” factor. Tim gives constructive advice to Ian regarding his too-basic design. Unfortunately, it’s falling on deaf ears. Nathalia is making a “Bride of Tin Man” look that Tim suggests to own. Erin’s highlighter yellow look is turning Tim’s stomach, not because of the color but because she has lots to do in a few short hours. Of Jenni, he says that her design looks like a fine arts painting project, but encourages her to add an alternate material. Tim thinks Alex’s creation is elegant, but I am going to hold off on agreeing until I can see the final product. The Tim critiques end with a thud on Dexter, where he questions his umbrella-as-a-skirt and pillow-as-a-top look. On that point, I agreed with Tim.

After a night of rest, the designers return to the workroom, putting last touches on their respective party couture. Zac and Nina are back on their thrones, I mean chairs, and the guest judge is “TODAY Show” co-anchor Savannah Guthrie. It is always interesting to see what the judges like and/or dislike, especially when it comes to an unconventional materials challenge. When I do my “armchair critique,” I feel that the most successful creations are the designs that do not overtly reveal that they are made out of candy, paper plates, or wigs, and instead just look like a fabulous creation one could find at a high-end boutique. In addition, I look for a defined point of view and a certain taste level. (It’s the Nina in me!) So with that in mind, my thoughts:

I absolutely loved Nathalia’s placemat and fake fur pillow creation. I thought it was runway fab and looked like it should be in Vogue Italia. I was surprised she wasn’t in the top. Same goes for Rik. His white and black top and skirt outfit of undeveloped Polaroid film and backpack straps was super chic, polished and sexy. I did agree with the judges that Erin’s was the winner. Her yellow creation was, as Heidi said, a “wow.” I would have never guessed it was made with gumballs and wigs. I would have mistaken them for jeweled sequins and plumage from an exotic animal, instead. The entire ensemble was very Yves Saint Laurent’s 1967 Haute Couture African Collection. Rightly so, she was given the first win.

In terms of my not-so-favorites, I’ll start with Jenni. Her look, made out of nylon backpacks and feather boas, was like a Harajuku Girl stumbling out of a Tokyo nightclub. I was in complete disagreement with the judges in terms of Tasha’s design made of Mood shopping bags, Twizzlers and pillows. They thought it was the hippest thing since last season’s Gucci fur sandals. While I admit, from a distance, she looked like one of Rihanna’s super cool Insta-friends, when the model got closer, I thought the design looked cheap and the fit was awkward. I did like the director’s chair handbag, however.

I was a bit 70/30 in my dislike/like of Roberi’s paper lantern look. I totally understand Nina’s argument that it was déjà vu in terms of the inspiration and way too short (that was my main problem). But I admired his ability to sculpt the lanterns and make some beautiful shapes. I was surprised Laurence’s design wasn’t in the bottom. She mainly constructed her garment using the tote bags as fabric and I felt the judges should have ding’ed her on that. It was also very bland and I am with Tim on the using of beads as a necklace? Oh, how original. Not.

My opinion of Alex’s designs was that it was more fun than elegant. It actually reminded me of a Miss Aruba national costume, which in my book, isn’t such a bad thing. One of the worst was Dexter’s design. Here is where I really did not understand the judges. I thought his throw rug and pillow design reminded me of a Yetian—almost cartoon-like Abominable Snowman. The sleeves were too big and the skirt hem was uneven and I thought the ankle bracelets and earrings were a tacky addition. And yet, the judges were tripping over themselves with compliments. I just didn’t get it. I would have almost sent him home, but luckily for him, I wasn’t a judge.

Blond Brik was at the bottom for his glitter pants and “Star Wars”-like top. I loved the pants, but thought that top was a bit overdesigned. I did agree with the judges that his look was disjointed and a bit Lady Gaga-meets-ABBA. Unfortunately (or fortunately for Brik), it was Ian who got the first bye-bye. His design of mesh photo screens, Polaroids and pillow tassels was deemed the worst with Heidi saying that there was “no magic to the dress” (true). It was not creative and rather plain, albeit in a somewhat sophisticated way. Ian still held to his design guns and insisted it was a great dress. Between Brik and Ian it was a choice of creative vs. sophisticated. Creative won. Ian became the first casualty of “Project Runway” and with that, we say goodbye to Ian and hello to a fabulous new season of our little icon of a reality show.

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