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The Project Runway Blog

A Very Good Place to Start

By laurareineke Fri., Jan. 25, 2013 ,4:50 am EST

We're back with a new season of "Project Runway," and almost immediately the show reminds me of one of the things I like the most about it: Its commitment to casting diversity. The Season 11 group is comprised of a wide range of body types, ages, education levels and races, and that's a pleasure to see on a long-running reality show. Whether or not this diversity will be reflected as the race winnows down remains to be seen, but this is a good foot on which to start the season.

Episode 1 is a flurry of introductions, but some people stand out right away. Daniel has a fabulous mustache, Benjamin is Australian, Cindy is a funeral director and Patricia is the first Native American to appear on the show. [You can check out the full roster of designers here. Go ahead, I'll wait.]

The group assembles for the first time, and Heidi fills them in on the season's big twist: they'll be working in teams. At this point I have to pause my screener because I'm laughing so hard at the designers' reactions. They've still got smiles plastered on their faces but you can see the terror and annoyance in their eyes. It's admittedly a bummer of a twist for any designer who entered the competition expecting to work solo, but hey, we're eleven seasons in. I don't hate the idea of shaking things up a bit. Fashion is way more a team sport than this show usually acknowledges, and as Nina notes later in the episode, forcing the designers to interact with and depend on each other's garments will hopefully raise the bar for quality all around.

On to the challenge! The designers must create a garment that shows their personalities—built with input from the rest of the designers on their teams—inspired by a view of New York City. Team Keeping It Real (hold on while I pause my screener to laugh at that terrible name) takes a boat out on the Hudson, where the designers size each other up. Dream Team (again, terrible) does the same from the roof of Atlas.

There are more changes afoot. 1) To adapt to the team challenge format, Tim's critiques are now a kind of art-school-ish group critique session, which I'm anticipating will lead to a fair bit of drama. 2) The adorable/talented/fabulous Zac Posen has stepped in to fill Michael Kors' spot. 3) Since the judges are paying attention to the work of the group as well as the work of the individual, we're treated to a second group-walk down the runway after seeing each look. This hews a little more closely to industry standard for collection presentations.

Team Keeping It Real - Top Three
Daniel - A striking silk wool crepe suit, and probably the most NYC-feeling garment of the episode. I particularly loved the cut of the pant. The judges gave this look the crown and I totally agree that it was an exciting standout for the season's first runway show.
Richard - Zac Posen liked the use of asymmetry, and all the judges commented on the sporty elegance of the dress.
Patricia - I was nervous when Patricia first started to work on her fabric, but the end result, with the incorporation of the cobalt blue detailing and cut-outs, was very strong and totally wearable. She's the designer I most excited to follow as the season goes on.

Dream Team - Bottom Three
James - Yawn. Posen described it as "pedestrian," and that really sums it up: no one would protest this dress, and I've actually seen a number of people on my morning commute rocking the same basic ensemble, but there's nothing of substance or interest in it.
Cindy - A ho-hum but acceptable silhouette that's totally ruined by a mind-blowingly bizarre combination of prints.
Emily - Hot mess! Just a hot mess. A mishmash of silly pieces and poorly chosen fabrics, without even the benefit of smart construction to save it. I want to defend Emily (She's my age&3151;us eager early-twentysomethings have to stick together), but she was way over her head here and got the boot because of it.

I know y'all have a lot of feelings regarding the team challenge format, so chime in with your comments below. Should Cindy or James have gone home instead of Emily? Whose first look impressed you the most? And who are you planning to keep an eye on as the season moves forward?