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Runway Freefall

By kim_messina Fri., Jul. 19, 2013 ,4:10 am EDT

"Project Runway" is BAAACK: last night was the premiere of Season 12 of "Project Runway" and there's been some shake-ups. It took almost 10 years (Season 1 debuted in 2004!) and 11 seasons later for "Project Runway" to stir up its own classic format. As the saying goes, "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it," but obviously someone thought it was time for some fixin'—and some new additions. So before I get to the new cast and my "Nick Two Cents" on this premiere episode, let's discuss:

The New
• First "Project Runway" designer/contestant to be hearing impaired/deaf.
• The runway got a "Hollywood set" makeover—stage lights and video screen.
• New retail partner: Belks—a department store chain with over 300 locations, primarily in the South.
• Instead of weekly challenge money, the designers will get a GoBank Debit Card and will manage their spending for the entire season.
• Anonymous runway show—judges don’t know who’s designs are coming down the runway.
• Tim offers opinions to judges and sits with the judges during runway.
• Tim brings up the top and bottom designs so judges can view them up close and personal.
• Tim Gunn gets to save a designer; only one for the entire season.
• And a prize package estimated at half a million dollars!
I am intrigued by a couple of these new additions, such as the judges not knowing whose designs are coming down the runway and the up close-and-personal look into the garments. (God forbid they did that during my season—several of my hot-glue-and-safety pin-loving cast mates would have been IN TROUBLE!).

Cast of Characters
I had the pleasure of judging the Los Angeles Castings/Auditions—along with Tim Gunn—and was happy to see two of the designers we chose make the final cut: Alexandria von Bromssen (the Aristocratic-sounding Euro from San Mateo) and Bradon McDonald (the former Mark Morris dancer who just graduated from FIDM, my alma mater). Besides these two, there's a bevy of "characters": (among others) a high heel-wearing sustainable fabric-burning unicorn lover; a swarthy mustachioed Russian with a Diva attitude; a costume maker who's made costumes for many Broadway shows including "The Lion King" (my guess is he does drag FOR SURE!); a blond-haired girl who wanted to be a "rockstar"; a posh-sounding Brit with a husband and two gorgeous little kids; a former Army officer; and a tattooed girl with lots of self-confidence.

Color and DRAMA
It is worth noting that there seemed to be more diversity than in any of the previous seasons—in terms of not just one designer of color but several. One thing that is not new is the DRAMA. I hear from a lot of the show's fans in my travels and events and they tell me that they dislike the DRAMA but love the creative process. Well, fans, too bad for you because if the preview of the season is any indication, this season will be DRAMA with a capital "D." So strap on your harness and parachute and get ready for a bumpy fashion free fall. Speaking of parachutes...

Parachutin' Kids
On this first episode of "Project Runway," the 15 designers meet Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum at Wallkill Airpark in Wallkill, NY. As soon as you ask yourself, "But wait, aren't there usually 16 designers on the show?", a small plane flies in for a landing and out comes Kate Pankoke, Season 11 designer who the "Project Runway" fans voted to come back for a second chance. Following Kate's arrival, it was time to look up at the sky. It's a bird? No. It's a plane? Yes. Are those 16 skydivers in colorful parachutes? Si. Soon after the skydivers landed safely (Thank goodness), Tim and Heidi reveal the first challenge: Use parachutes to make an outfit. It's the Unconventional Material Challenge. The designers then make a run to grab which parachutes they will be creating their outfits with. Little Kate becomes Wallkill Roadkill when the designers literally run over her (Poor thang!). The designers then head to Manhattan and their Parsons workroom. Tim meets them there to tell them about their new GoBank Debit Card, the new HP tablet, as well as actual challenge rules: their creations must be mostly of the parachute fabric yet they are able to use some black and white ripstop nylon as their secondary fabric.

Tim Time
The following day, Tim walks in to check on their designs. Sandro (mustachioed Russian Diva) is making a swimsuit (Ummm, OK) and blonde "wanted to be a Rockstar" Angela is doing a too-short trench coat. Sue Waller (a frizzy blonde-haired designer who lived in France and loves using leather) is having sewing issues...as in she says she has never used "this type of sewing machine" (the industrial kind EVERYONE USES!). Part of me wants to slap her upside the head, but I hold back. Tim likes what Alexandria is working on, as well as deems Bradon's (the former dancer) creation very "James Bond-ish." He chastises Miranda (the former Army officer) for not following the rules and using too much of the "supplemental fabric."

Toxic Sustainability
And then there's Timothy, Mr. Sustainable Fabric Earthy Granola Crunchy Milwaukee boy. Bless his heart. He's so deep in his sustainable mantra, that it becomes almost UNSUSTAINABLE to continue to listen to him. Seriously. And then he completely (without realizing) nullifies all the sustainability talk when he burns man-made nylon polyester parachute fabric (and thereby releasing toxic fumes in the air) in order to achieve a special treatment to his creation. File under: Oh these kids. He has also been training his model to do a performance art walk down the runway. His model is probably all of 19 years-old and has A) NEVER seen or attended a performance art piece, B) never taken jazz or modern dance classes and C) has no clue of what poor Timothy is talking about. It comes as no surprise when on runway day, she doesn't do ANY of what Timothy told her to do.

Nouveau Runway
Day of the first Season 12 runway show and the designers are busy in their makeup and hair consultations. Mr. Sustainable Burning Man Timothy, tells the L'Oreal makeup and hair experts that NO makeup or hair products should be used on his model—as well as NOTHING that is plugged in, causing all the hair and makeup team to use their inside voice and say, "This guy is CRAY-CRAY." I respect his "I am the Queen of Milwaukee Sustainability" shtick but still...I'm beginning to think Timothy is doing all this for more air time (PS: it's working). On the runway, we get to see the "new" set73151;with stage lights and video screen. Heidi, Nina Garcia, as well as designer Zac Posen are back. Actress Kate Bosworth is the celebrity guest judge. It is then announced that Tim will sit with the judges as opposed to what he has done for the last 11 seasons (sit off to the side away from the cameras). He's not judging but seeing if this is the time to save a designer. In addition, Heidi announces the "anonymous runway" factor.

Billowy Top
When the designs come down the runway, I instantly know which are my faves: I love Jeremy's (Brit boy) parachute pants. I also think little Kate did well with her canary yellow dress. I was shocked that some of my favorites ended up in the middle and safe. But, oh well, better safe than in the "uh oh" pile. I was surprised by Sue's (the leather-loving designer) directional creation. It was one of my Top (as well as the judges). Her look was so gallery-owner fashionista. I gave her extra points for getting the front length perfectly right. Speaking of judges, this was the time when Tim brought out the Top and Bottom designs and the judges got up close-and-personal with the creations (Oh dear!). I read somewhere that Tim Gunn said that Zac was "surprised at how badly made the designs were." Well, dear Zac, I'd like to see what you can do in eight hours. Just sayin' Part Deux. Moving on...it came as no surprise (to me at least) that the eventual winner of this first challenge was the beautiful creation of former dancer Bradon. It was exactly what one does with parachute fabric. It glided, it had gorgeous movement, drama and runway sensibility. Oh, and his model was GORGEOUS; so "Vintage YSL Muse." Congrats Bradon!

Not Enough Parachute, Un-Sustainable Styling, V-JAY-JAY Spotting and Too Short Poncho
Now on to the bottom. Oh Timothy. You and your high heels (Were those glittery heels sustainable?!). You leave your model barefoot with no makeup and hair and with burnt yellow nylon parachute fabric. And then there's Sandro "Mustachioed Russia Diva." Remember his so-called swimsuit he was making? Well, it turned into much more than that. He showed the model's CHA CHA, in other words: her V-JAY-JAY—in the outfit he created. It was unforgiveable. Zac called it a "slutty cat toy." Heidi deemed it "a disaster." Yet, somehow, he was safe. Also on the bottom were Miranda, the former Army officer (because she didn't utilize enough of the actual parachute fabric), as well as blonde-haired "rockstar" Angela. She made a hooded poncho—and nothing else. It was too short and it was missing something (a bottom perhaps?). As a result, she was the first designer out. And no, Mr. Gunn did not save her. One challenge done and lots more to go. Who will be the next "Project Runway" winner? Stay tuned kids, we've got a whole season ahead of us and clearly much more DRAMA to come!