Even though everyone claims that they watch "Project Runway" because people "are really doing something and not just eating bugs," the truth is it's the contestants' conflict with one another in a stressful environment fueled by exhaustion that makes "Project Runway" entertaining. Fashion is just the cherry on top. Tim would be the sprinkles.
Seven previous seasons have left us with a list of types we see over and over. There are the tattooed and Mohawked ones. The beautiful blonde ingenues and the petite Asians. There are the gay pageant designers and the straight men who remind us often that they are straight. There is the city mouse and the country mouse who has found Jesus Christ as his personal savior, though that never seems to help on the runway. There is the pregnant New York sophisticate with too many children (just kidding, that jersey was retired after Season 3), and where would any reality-show interview segment be without the contestant who speaks of himself in the third person? The only type yet to be cast is the hooker with the heart of gold. Our new cast does not disappoint, and most of our stereotype characters are present, including a type never seen before who intends to intimidate the other contestants by wearing a bowler hat (???).
How this new pack of contestants gets to New York is a bit odd. I had no idea that you could take a train from Puerto Rico, Utah and Oregon into Grand Central Station, or take the Staten Island Ferry to New York from Oak Park, Illinois. Strange travel routes aside, the new contestants gather in front of Lincoln Center, the new home of Fashion Week, to meet Heidi and Tim for the first time. Not only are they not served champagne, but the excitement of the big moment is soon squashed when Heidi informs them that they are still auditioning and how many of them will be sent home today is capricious and arbitrary. Be afraid, contestants. Be very afraid. They are asked to take a garment out of their luggage that will be used in the challenge. But wait! There's a twist! Heidi loves twists! You must hand your garment to the person on your right. Casanova is apoplectic. Not because his name is Casanova, but because he has just been asked to hand his $1,007 Dolce & Gabbana pants over to another contestant to destroy. Which begs the question, why $1,007? Wouldn't most people just round down to $1,000? The answer is that Casanova isn't like most people.
The now emotionally disturbed contestants are given a moment of reprieve when they joyfully enter the workroom at Parsons for the first time. This temporary glee will fade when they realize that it is 98 degrees outside and the sound guys won't turn on the air conditioners because of the noise. The contestants and the viewing audience are subjected to the requisite product placement, and we learn that Brother has outfitted the nattily decorated sewing room, HP has provided technology, Mood has an annex at Parsons, and the Macy's/Banana Republic/Macy's/Bluefly Accessory Wall is now the Piperlime Accessory Wall. With sponsor responsibilities out of the way, the contestants get to work.
Things are going smoothly as Tim works his way around the room giving less cryptic advice than in previous seasons. There are some foreseeable disasters and some interesting designs brewing on the dress forms, but the most notable thing about this portion of the show is that Jason's corset/tool belt is much more frightening than his bowler. He needs to rethink his plan. After just five hours of work time, which admittedly is little even by "PR" standards, Tim comes in to announce that the designers have 10 minutes to fit their models before they are sent to the (product placement) L'Oréal Paris hair and makeup room, where Peach is "clueless" her word, not mine.
It's time to leave the workroom and start the runway show, but Casanova's model is not dressed. Considering the dress, this point is moot. The runway show happens, and a large pack of contestants are asked to step forward because they are safe. They can now officially be referred to as "Designers." Hippie girl wins with a just-OK dress. Nothing special, nothing offensive, but Selma Blair is relieved to see it come out on the runway, so it is declared the unanimous winner. Whatever. Ivy does an impressive job of defending herself for transforming pants into pants, and pulls through in the last few minutes of the show by referring to herself in the third person in an interview segment. Casanova can stay because he is just too entertaining to send home this early. Jason can stay because he can't sew but he can style. McCutie goes home because she can sew but she can't style.
We learn some very important things on the runway:
1. Michael Kors goes to strip clubs in Dubai.
2. Speaking English is not required but helpful if you plan to defend your garment.
3. Styling is the new sewing.
And so a new season begins.
The episode begins with Sarah waking up and thinking that reality-TV competition shows might really be about contestant torture. She is also thinking that it is actually her parents who put presents under the Christmas tree, but she's not sure.
The contestants gather on the Atlas rooftop to meet Joanna Coles, editor-in-chief of Marie Claire magazine, and find out that their challenge is to design a dress that represents the Marie Claire reader. We learn that this reader is intelligent, sophisticated and sexy. (Note to self: Pick up a copy of Marie Claire.) This is a challenge that blogging deities Tom and Lorenzo would call "make a pretty dress." These are the most difficult kind because, believe it or not, good parameters make good design, and this is just too open-ended. The prize does totally rock, though: a billboard in Times Square. All I got was a window at Macy's.
After a shopping trip to Mood, the designers enter the workroom, where Casanova needs advice to get from prostitute to virgin, AJ gets hard-ass, Gretchen thinks Nicholas is copying her, Peach's preppy aesthetic is biting her in the ass, and Jason is working on a gimmick.
Oh, Jason. First of all, Infinity is not a sponsor. Secondly, gimmicks never work. Especially gimmicks that involve the number eight, which when turned on its side is the symbol for infinity. He learned that on "Schoolhouse Rock." And I'm not sure, but I think he also mentioned alien crop circles. Jason, the baggage on your brain is your bowler.
Mondo has a classic exhaustion/stress-fueled reality-TV breakdown. He is lonely and after 24 hours hasn't made a connection. His talent is his curse. After a good night's sleep the voices in his head go away, he suits up with a pair of Tribbles and sends a great ensemble down the runway. But not great enough to beat Gretchen, who wins her second challenge in a row. Hence the title of this article, because I want to know in what alternate universe a denim, dolman-sleeved jumpsuit with a retractable neckline and elastic at the ankles is ageless and or timeless. Put down your pipes, people. I challenge you to put that jumpsuit on anyone over 20 in any time but the eighties. The good news is that now that I know what the Marie Claire reader wears, I don't have to run out and buy a magazine.
In other good news, Jason goes home. Here is a bit of information for any future "Project Runway" designer: NEVER use satin on "Project Runway." It is the most unforgiving fabric in all of fabricdom, and if you don't have tons of time and killer sewing skills, don't go there. Satin, luxury cars, crop circles and safety pins are certainly a deadly combination, and the judges have a moment of clarity and send exactly the right person home. Don't let the door hit you in the bowler.
I was so relieved to see Jason sent packing that I forgot about Nicholas still trembling on the runway. Heidi did say that eliminations would be capricious and arbitrary. So, alas, Nicholas is also sent home. I have always said that the winner of "Project Runway" is not necessarily the most talented person in the room. A lot of it has to do with how well you handle the pressure, and Nicholas just didn't have the nads to stay.