Season 15, Episode 1: An Unconventional Launch Party

2016 has been such a bizarre year that it’s both moving too slowly and too fast. The result of this paradoxical shift in the space-time continuum is that I’ve returned to “Runway” with all the enthusiasm of a random dude suction-cupping himself up Trump Tower. Let’s get this party started!

Speaking of parties, the contestants arrive at a large open loft that’s been decorated with balloons and flowers and champagne. The group comes together with ease, hugging and giggling. Maybe this will be a season of no drama?

Probably not. The first potential problem: Nathalia (the “Suicide Squad”-inspired Spice Girl) and Cornelius (the four-eyed cutie in a V-neck) not only know each other from school, but they have a “friendly rivalry.” Trying to digest this information is next to impossible, though, because Jenni with the crazy laugh is incredibly distracting.

I really want to see that tiny bee tattoo of Ian’s, but before I have a chance, Heidi and Tim arrive to join the party and announce the first challenge. Surprise! It’s starting immediately whether the designers have had too much champagne or not (looking at you, Brik).

Take the spirit of the launch party and incorporate those elements into their signature look using only decorations from the party as their materials. The designers are given five minutes to collect materials and a day to complete their looks.

During the five minutes of collecting materials, the designers prove they are willing to literally fight for a win. Heidi looks like a super villain proudly surveying the chaos she has created as she stands with Tim, eating and laughing, while glass shatters around them. When the designers leave, carting their trash that will soon be treasure (hopefully), Heidi and Tim clink bottles of champagne and toast to Season 15. Even when they try to act like commoners, they’re pure class.

In the workroom the designers unload the crap they’ve collected. Erin has piles of yellow wigs, Brik has more glitter than one person can handle, Dexter has an umbrella (that he may have stolen from the crew?), Roberi is deconstructing paper lanterns, and Ian grabbed the Polaroids the designers took at the party. Remember that dope lil’ number that Season 14 winner Ashley put together with underdeveloped Polaroids? We know the materials involved mean this look has potential, but whether or not Ian can deliver is yet to be determined at this point in the game.

During Tim’s first critiques of the season, Ian is resistant to Tim’s suggestions to pump up the flair. In case you haven’t heard, Ian doesn’t do avant-garde. Ian doesn’t do volume. Ian doesn’t do over-the-top. All I’m hearing is: Ian doesn’t do versatile. What show does he think he’s on?

Other problems we see in the critiques: Brik needs to figure out how to make the glitter stay on his garment, Tasha is running out of material, Erin and her yellow wigs are facing time issues, and Jenni needs to add some pizazz.

And finally, Dexter. Let me just say, I love the look he’s wearing from head to toe. Judging this book by its cover, I’m expecting some pretty out-there clothing. This is why it’s all the more disappointing when he breaks the cardinal rule of unconventional runways and mystery-basket competition reality shows everywhere: He doesn’t transform the ingredient. We shouldn’t be able to tell his mannequin is sporting a pillowcase and an umbrella, but it’s oh-so-painfully obvious.

Luckily for Dexter, Sugar-Pie-Honey-Bunch-Alex gives him a pep talk in the break room and it’s enough for Dex to peel himself off of the couch and get back into the game. Alex speaks like a cyborg, may actually have a heart made of solid gold, and is happy to lend a helping hand and an encouraging (albeit monotone) word. I have no idea what look Alex is making but I am digging his benevolent vibes!

Dexter, Jenni and Tasha take their Tim critiques to heart and start to amend their looks accordingly. Dexter has a rug he’s going incorporate into his look, hoping for a more Alaskan tribal vibe; Tasha changes her pant material; and I would totally wear the gold jacket Jenni makes from some feather boas she pulled out of nowhere. Everyone else seems to be right on track. Ian, as expected, is ignoring every note Tim had to offer and continues on with his simple, straightforward look.

In a flurry the designers grab accessories from the Just Fab wall and run their models through the Mary Kay Color Design Studio for makeup and the Sally Beauty Studio for hair. And the next thing we know, it’s time for the runway. Reunited and it feels so good.

Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again, but he must not have been a “Runway” fan because I’m feeling very comforted by the warm glow of the studio lights on Heidi as she strides out in a little leopard print number. She introduces the always-chic Zac Posen and Nina Garcia, who are joined for our premiere episode by “TODAY Show” co-anchor Savannah Guthrie.

The Top:
Tasha: Using Mood shopping bags, Tasha created a black and gold drop crotch pant. Then she took Twizzlers and yellow, pink, white, and turquoise pillows to create a crop top. Finally, she took Heidi and Tim’s directors’ chairs and created a handbag. The overall effect gives urban girl #boss vibes – everybody on the panel wants to be this girl. Heidi and Nina love the attitude, saying if they saw this girl on the street they would think she was very cool and that the look gives a clear sense of who Tasha is as a designer. Savannah is obsessed with the bag, but does mention that a woman with non-model curves might not be able to pull off the silhouette.

Erin, the winner: Using bright yellow wigs and yellow gumballs, Erin created a tight high-waisted skirt and furry top. This look could have been a disaster, but Erin’s ingenuity with the materials and attention to detail gives it a very polished finish. Heidi loves that it represents Erin’s sense of style perfectly. Nina calls the look “editorial” and appreciates Erin’s ability to play with proportions. Zac calls it one his favorite pieces on the show.

Dexter: Dexter’s model wears a thick, long-sleeve, circle skirt dress made from a white throw rug and some brightly colored pillows. He tells the story of a young Alaskan girl celebrating her coming-of-age with a party. Nina and I are particularly impressed by his styling, as he’s used bits from the pillow to adorn the Just Fab yellow heels and two turquoise bracelets on her ankles (so…anklets, I guess) to add an extra touch of fun. It’s just the type of thing an innovative, fashion-forward teen might do. Zac picked up on Dexter’s story as the look walked down the runway but urges him to push himself further. Nina appreciates the use of volume and movement in the look and Heidi congratulates him on his bravery using this bulky material.

The Bottom:
Roberi: By twisting and turning gold, white, and blue paper lanterns, Roberi created an airy dress inspired by the sky. I see exactly what he was going for, but I wish something had been done to cover his model’s booty a little more. Savannah hates it. She hates the colors and the length and basically says it isn’t fashion. Nina says the look isn’t new or fresh. Heidi likes the dress and excuses his reinvention of a common silhouette because of the way he’s engineered its many pieces into one cohesive “sculpture.” Zac also agrees that it’s beautifully done and calls it fun.

Ian, the loser: Ian turned some mesh photo screens inside-out to build a minimalist basic white shift dress. A panel of detail runs down the middle of the front and back, where Ian stacked pillow tassels, Polaroids from the party, and scraps of iridescent pink, purple, and sea-foam green material. Heidi sees nothing special in the dress and fears that Ian has wasted the opportunity. Zac mentions that the look is messy but Ian uses the excuse that he couldn’t press out the garment before it walked. He points out that he stitched it rather than using glue like some of the other contestants. Zac, Savannah, and Nina all agree that the color palette (that Ian calls the “My Little Pony”) is “modern and interesting.”

Brik: Brik took all of the world’s glitter and glued it to some high-waisted bell-bottom pants. I will say that the actual glitter (more like confetti) is in such large flakes that it gives the pant a rough but interesting texture. On top Brik used baseball caps to create shoulder detailing on a structured off-white crop top, giving it what Heidi calls a “futuristic vibe.” The problem, Heidi says, is that it’s “mismatched” with the Studio 54 pants. Nina agrees that Brik’s look is all over the place but likes the way he played with the hat brims. Savannah points out that the styling, particularly the hair, doesn’t make much sense with the look, and although he calls the whole look a “hot mess,” Zac likes that Brik played with texture.

So we say goodbye to Ian and congratulations to Erin. It’s really nice to see a group that doesn’t get all shook up over an unconventional challenge! This collection of designers really brought it on this first go-’round and I’m excited to see what they can do once they get in the swing of things. I’ll catch you all next week when we return to fill our next fashion prescription.

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