Project Runway All-Stars: Episode 1, Back to the Runway

Elisa's representative piece

You know how every time you go out and get blasted on tequilla shooters, the next morning you swear never again? And then you find yourself back at the bar tossing back one after another? Well, that’s me and Lifetime’s Project Runway. I know I’m gonna regret it. But here we go again.

For those who need a scorecard, or maybe didn’t see some of the real… um, earlier seasons, I’ve posted my version of a refresher course. Complete with links to the official website, where you can also find all the pictures of the clothes from this episode.

The designers arrive. Mondo tells us his heart was broken last time. Me, too, Mondo, me too. He and Michael meet and hug. It’s nice to see them again.

Mila thinks she’s the best designer there. I don’t know why, but Mila really annoys me. Anthony says he’s learned never to second guess himself. Jerell is there to get his sash and tiara or something like that. Elisa really does want to win, which surprises me. She says she wasn’t that invested last time, but now she is. Austin proclaims he’s always been a star. Which is pretty much true.

Kenley says she comes across as snobby and rude, but screw everybody else and do what you love, she’s totally fine with it. I wonder if she knows the meaning of irony. Rami says something through his stylishly scruffy five-o’clock shadow about Limelight, where they’re going; it used to be a club and now is a store of some kind. It looks like a church. Gordana thinks Sweet P and Mondo are her biggest competition. Wow, now there’s a pair I’d never put together. Sweet P thinks Kara is her main competition, which makes more sense. Michael likes Sweet P, and knows Rami is the absolute best.

Angela Lindwhatever welcomes them. Playing the part of the smug know-it-all, since Gretchen isn’t available, is Mila, who explains Angela is a very versatile model. Jerell thinks she’s beautiful. Well, that is what a model does. April‘s excited there’s a different crowd this time around. I love the white-blonde her hair is now. Austin knows they were wrong last time: he’s fabulous. Anthony had some idea what the other judges wanted, now he has to figure out what this crew wants.

Angela gives them the bad news first: no immunity at all this season. But the good news is: a prize package worth half a million, including boutiques in Neiman Marcus stores, a fashion spread in Marie Claire plus a guest editorship for a year, lots of business and designing equipment, and a hundred grand cash.

The new judges are Georgina Chapman and Isaac Mizrahi. Elisa gives an enthusiastic endorsement of his ability to reinvent himself and declares her long-standing respect for him, which also surprises me. And of course Joanna Coles will be mentor, which would give me nightmares. Kenley loves the idea, figures she’s a fashion editor, and editors are ultimately who designers are trying to impress. Editors? Got your nose a little far up her butt, don’t you, Kenley? Maybe that’s why she never thought much of Tim’s opinion.

The designers were all asked to bring along a recent creation to show who they are now as a designer. They’re asked to dress the models and show their work. The fashion show moves very quickly. There really aren’t any surprises; everyone is doing about what you’d expect them to be doing.

Elisa sends out a long tight dress with wing-like things (pictured above); I like it a lot. Rami’s checked dress is very cool, I saw it in his “Recent Works” portfolio; it isn’t really flattering in person, but it’s very sharp. Anthony has a emerald green dress with a giant bejeweled safety pin. Jerell made a floral gown with sparkles, pretty much what I’d expect from him. Kenley sends out an electric blue fitted gown with white accents, pretty much what I’d expect from her. Mila has a short dress that could’ve been in her finale runway show. Austin’s aqua dress is ok. I like Gordana’s dress. Michael’s gown is very flowy, in keeping with what he did before. Mondo did a print blouse and a whole look, complete with knee socks and hat.

They go to their hotel. Elisa tests the beds, and spit-blesses the one she ultimately selects. Kenley thinks it’s funny. I want to smack Kenley already. Bitch, leave Elisa alone. There’s a stupid video featuring Valentino with a vague good luck message. I suppose that’s supposed to be impressive.

In the morning, they meet Angela on the street, where she gives them their first challenge: unconventional materials. They’re outside a 99-cent store, which just happens to be where they’ll shop for 20 minutes with $100. The look they make must be inspired in some way by the representative outfit they brought with them and showed the day before. Since Austin won the very first unconventional materials challenge on the very first Project Runway episode ever with his corn husk dress, much is expected. Hmmm, so did no one else win the unconventional materials challenge in their season? I don’t think so. Interesting.

Anthony considers how to make luxury with this stuff. April loves texture, so grabs a bunch of black and white mops. Sweet P wants bright colors, and that ends up being dish towels. Kenley thinks she might’ve brought a different representative outfit if she’d known this was in the cards. Michael ends up with the same mops as April, and he’s worried her dress will kick his dress’s ass: “She’s really good.” I think Michael is being a little disingenuous here. Not that April isn’t really good; she is (I’ve already predicted she’ll do significantly better than Michael) but it sounds phony somehow. Or maybe I’m just cynical. April figures they have such different aesthetics, they won’t make anywhere near the same thing. Note she isn’t worried about his dress beating her dress’s ass.

They go to their new workroom, which has nothing to do with Parsons, and thus feels completely wrong (to me at least; they seem to love it). The accessory wall now belongs to man-behind-the-curtain-overlord Neiman Marcus. And the Elisa-is-weird party starts: Mila wonders what she’s doing under the table. Anthony gives her a pass because he had a grandmother like that; I think he says she was committed but I’m not sure. Jerell tells Michael that April is doing the same thing with her mops that he’s doing: “You all need to have a woman-to-woman talk.” Michael is wearing a mop on his head when Joanna Coles comes in. He removes it belatedly. And a bit sheepishly.

Now, see, it’s interesting, the winner gets a job at Marie Claire, so I’m thinking Joanna has a pretty solid say in who that winner will be.

Joanna asks Sweet P if anything about her dress is going to be a surprise (which happens to be a good question). That stumps Sweet P. She does not ask, however, if Sweet P actually plans to send this abomination down the runway. Jerell calls it raggedy ruffles, but that’s an insult to raggedy ruffles. Gordana is very gracious to Joanna (“it’s a pleasure to have you”) and explains her original dress was about movement, so this will be a shorter version. Joanna thinks it’ll work on the model even though it doesn’t have hanger appeal; sounds like a backhanded compliment to me. Mondo says it’s made out of streamers and looks like an Easter pinata, he hopes the model is full of candy. Hey, Mondo, you’re being a dick again. Knock it off, or at least pick on someone your own size. Mondo shows Joanna pieces of stuff; he doesn’t know if he’s in a competitive frame of mind yet. He’s wearing wire rims instead of the black glasses this time around. It takes some getting used to.

Joanna visits Elisa: “You’re not going to spit at me, are you?” Elisa patiently (she’s always patient with fools) explains the blessing mark. Joanna wonders if her garment is surprising enough. Oh, I think it’s a surprise and a half. Elisa thinks it’s important Joanna find the surprise in herself. Joanna nods and walks away, bored with anyone who doesn’t fit her mold of what a person should be. I can see the gears turning in her head: it’s fine for people to be creative and artistic but they should be creative and artistic THIS way, not THAT way. Elisa’s toast.

After Joanna leaves, over in Austinland, there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. His dress is plastic, and his glue gun has melted a hole in the front. He now has to figure out how to repair an obvious hole. Michael interviews it’s the last we’re going to see of Austin. Hey, Michael, now you’re being a dick, and you should know better.

Notice how Rami never says anything about other designers?

On that note, they call it a night and return the next day for the runway show. Gordana explains the hair-and-makeup process for those viewers who haven’t been here before. Austin repairs his dress; crisis averted.

The Runway:

Guest Judge is some Neiman Marcus guy. Since the winner will have boutiques in Neiman Marcus stores, and on their website, he probably has a pretty big voice in who wins. Isaac and Georgina might as well go play cards for all the import their comments are going to have. Billion-dollar-companies do not leave these decisions to the whims of reality show celebrities who have no skin in the game.

Top Three:

Rami sends out a black and white plaid suit dress, very sharp. He used laundry bags to make a tweed, and christmas decorations to stand for ostrich feathers; umbrella lining fluffs out the peplum. Isaac is impressed: “In terms of execution, you made the materials your bitch.” The NM guy is also impressed, says it could go on an editorial page now, and no one would ever know it’s odds and ends from a 99 cent store. Georgina loves the silhouette.

Jerell has a very pretty flowy print dress, sans sequins, made from handkerchiefs. Georgina loves how it moves; Isaac loves the color, and NM likes the mullet hemline, which surprises me (I thought that was a tired trend on its way out). I like the neckline, which matches his recent work sample, except it isn’t as gaudy.

Mondo made a frilly black skirt and top with a terrific belt. He used binders, electrical tape, a cowboy hat (I think that’s what he said) and trash bags. Georgina calls it a fun dress. NM says it’s flawlessly executed, truly in Mondo spirit (he seems to know Mondo’s work), and he’d love to see it in regular fabric. Isaac praises his sense of proportion, and the belt.

The Safe crowd:

Austin sends out a short aqua dress with a clear plastic overlay. There’s too much ruffly stuff at the waist. I’m not impressed at all. I doubt he’s going to lose any sleep over that. Nor should he.
Kara made a black skirt with pink (or orange, I’m not sure) bustier top and silver belt; not bad, the belt makes it kind of cool, but it’s sort of suburban teenger. In fact, it reminds me of her Barbie outfit, the pink top and demin skirt. That was her, right? I liked that outfit, too, but it just wasn’t all that sophisticated.
Kenley seems to have wrapped her model in a sheet of giant paper dot candy (on closer inspection of pictures, it’s actually a bath mat with suction cups, but I think dot candy would’ve worked better). Surprisingly, I don’t hate it; in fact, it’s got very interesting angles. But it looks like a very, very wide Miss America sash.
Anthony sends out a purple halter dress with gold accents. He’s worried the safety pins will fall off. Is that what those gold swatches are, glued-on safety pins? Because if they were fastened, why would they fall off?
Mila made exactly what you’d expect. Straight lines. Black and white. Oh, and peekabol porno pants for shy girls. Wow, I really dislike Mila, don’t I. And I have no idea why. She really hasn’t done anything that bad.
Michael did cool things with his mop strings. It reminds me a little of the string vest he made for his aborted finale audition. He wants to get his model a drink and spill something and watch her soak it up. She’s already made him question his sexuality.
April made a flowy dress with the same mop strings; they hang down instead of being draped horizontally like bunting. Michael’s nervous because it’s shockingly gorgeous. Now I’m sure he’s putting it on. It’s nice, but it’s not shockingly gorgeous.

And the worst:
Elisa uses the same butterfly sleeves she made in her original, but underneath are pink print shorts (complete with a giant rose on the crotch – man, they’re treating these guys with kid gloves, because I’m sure someone had something to say about that) and what seems to be an aqua print leotard. It’s… incongruous. The shorts and leo, you could wear roller-blading in Venice Beach, but the sleeves go with an evening dress. Georgina doesn’t respond to it, but wants to know more, so Elisa explains there’s writing on the sleeves and it tells a story. I FRIGGIN’ LOVE THAT! I have to tell my flash writing friends about that, maybe they can work with her and get their stories on her clothes. Some of them already have stories on t-shirts and coffee mugs. Damn, now I love this outfit. Problem for me is, the shorts and leotard look the best, but the wings are the interesting part. And, of course, it’s ridiculous, which is why I used a picture of her representative work, which is gorgeous, instead of this thing. And of course, as they say, it must speak for itself. NM prefers clothes that tell the story themselves the minute they hit the runway; once you have to give directions, the clothes stay on the rack.

Sweet P made rows of towels for a tiered skirt. It’s really bad. She says she loves colors and mixing hard and soft. That’s why it includes a dominatrix belt around the neck, I guess. Isaac says it looks ragged and unfinished, unresolved especially in the back. He likes cutouts, but it looks like a chewout. NM doesn’t know who’s going to ask for something that makes them look bigger than they are. Angela wonders if she knows how to put a look together.

Gordana made a shredded newspaper dress. I happened to like that dress, though (Season 5, Keith, City Inspiration), and I like this one too. It’s made from scrubbers, not newspaper, and it has little metal things on them, and a noisemaker at the neckline. I could do without the noisemaker. She was playing with hard and soft. Isaac likes the texture. Georgina thinks there are too many ideas. Gordana admits she overdesigned it; she was done in a few hours, and just kept going.

Rami wins. I approve. Heartily. Sorry, Mondo, but I do.

Elisa is out. I’m very surprised. Not only was Sweet P’s garment really ugly and poorly made, they seemed more interested in what Elisa was doing, and she’s got terrific kook value. But I think they recognized that Elisa does exactly what she feels is artistically and spiritually important, and isn’t really interested in changing what she does to please anyone else. And she makes them look stupid for trying to put her in box when doesn’t do boxes. They might get her into a pond or a cloud or aura, but never a box.

Overall, the right people were in the top, the right person won, and the two right people were in the bottom (Gordana’s spot could’ve been filled by several people, but it’s clear there was a lot of room between the real bottom and her; she was in more the “okay” category, not “bad”). I wish Elisa had stayed, but that’s because I enjoy having her on my screen, not because her outfit warranted it. As Tom and Lorenzo said: “We think she should get a spacey, New Age makeover show. She could go up to random badly dressed women on the street, spit on them, and then make them dress like a fairy in a cocktail dress.” She’d never do that, of course, but she’s someone I’d like to know more about. She’s someone I’d like to be more like.

I think one of the reasons this challenge worked – and it did, there were only two really bad outfits – was that there was no edict to not use tablecloths or other fabric-like materials. It seemed like large sheets of paper and plastic were preferred. That means there weren’t any of those stupid muslin-with-stuff-glued-on dresses (which uses the most fabric-like material of all, muslin). Only two of the outfits were really terrible; the designers for the most part could concentrate on making something interesting instead of gluing aquarium gravel or birdseed to base fabric. Hint to Heidi: if there ever is a new season, keep this in mind.

But this series just feels like Corporate Project Runway (the insane Dance Moms lead-in and commercials don’t help; I had to mute during commercial breaks). The #1 consideration is What Will Sell, not what is interesting or well-designed or clever. The art has been scraped out and relegated to a small corner. I liked it better when it was just a little show and no one was trying to make a fortune off it, and Jay dressed like Jesus and smoked and won with headphones and Grandma’s afghan and quilting.

Hey, idea: Occupy Project Runway!

10 responses to “Project Runway All-Stars: Episode 1, Back to the Runway

  1. Rami did win the unconventional materials challenge in his season for this dress:

    (Incidentally, it was also the unconventional materials challenge that got Elisa the boot in the same season).

    • Hi Michael, thanks! I keep remembering Jillian as the winner, because I liked her Twizzler dress so much, but of course you’re right, it was Rami. I do remember Elisa’s Hershey dress, complete with Mylar shower caps on the arms. 😉

  2. I as really disappointed in general though as thier definition of “all stars” veers somewhat from mine.

    Mila makes me angry too. Jerell I couldn’t remember at all. Nor Kara.

    FYI, Limelight was a church, converted to a bicthin’ goth club.

    Some of the people they brought back they seem to have brought for “talking head moments” Anthony was never all that impressive and Sweet P come on, she was nice and all but a crappy designer.
    The worst part about this show is they clearly don’t have the rights to any footage from Bravo, so they can’t show any previous stuff.

    Oh, and the whole spectacle felt way too rushed. But that’s first episodes for ya I suppose.

    Yes and not-Heidi was downright dreadful. My verdict isssssssssssssss… Work harder next time. 🙂

    • Hi Paul – how great that you’re a PR fan. Last season, and the season before, I was a raving maniac. I’m hoping this season goes better. We’ll have a good time either way, though. 😉

      I’m not sure how they chose who to call an all-star, but it’s obviously not by ability. Kara Saun, Jillian, and Emilio come to mind immediately as more worthy than some of these folks. But they do need cannon fodder, since someone, several someones, have to go early. It’d be awful to see any of these finish 7th simply because there were six other highly talented contestants.

      I’m so glad someone else finds Mila annoying. It’s almost psychotic, her effect on me: instant hostility, for no identifiable reason. I was thinking maybe she subconsciously reminds me of someone from my childhood.

  3. It’s possible that you don’t know why Mila annoys you because like me everything but your subconscious has blocked out the trauma of her. I have a very vague recollection that her whiny need to be recognized by her fellow designers got up my nose. That, and her looks were all hideous repetitive monuments to her one note aesthetic, except one dress that looked like a frowning rainbow on a sad little canvas sail. Oh, and she had a captive dalmation whose raison d’etre was to match Mila’s dreadful black and white furniture. It’s all coming back to me now…

    • Hi, GAB – The dalmation – I’d forgotten all about him. Or her, whichever.

      “a frowning rainbow on a sad little canvas sail” – I was so intrigued by that description, I had to go look, and I see what you mean – the make-your-own-fabric challenge. That was scary, wasn’t it? But my favorite (not) will always be the Orca track suit (TM Television Without Pity) – which was in the top three for some ungodly reason. Or the Texas Lone Star Heart Dress.

      That was, thankfully, before Lifetime decided a woman HAD to win the season no matter what.

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