A vomiting circus clown, a deeply disconcerted Nina Garcia, the complete absence of Mood Fabrics, and the curious incident of Tim Gunn using the phrase “pubic patch” rang in the wickedly entertaining Season 9 premiere of Project Runway on Thursday night. Yes, you read that correctly: Season 9. In other words, that Gretchen-over-Mondo catastrophe known as Season 8 actually did happen, no matter how much you’ve tried to convince your therapist it was just a lovely technicolor dream (featuring bedazzled skulls!) with a Nightmare on Drab Street ending.
But back to the season at hand: It’s always tough to form an opinion during the kickoff episode of a Project Runway season, and with 20 contestants stuffed into a 90-minute episode, that conundrum was more pronounced than ever. We kicked things off with Heidi Klum, grinning mischievously, telling us she and her fellow gang members — Nina, Tim, and Michael Kors — were about to do something “a little bit mean” by examining a selection of garments made by the Season 9 Top 20, and immediately culling the field to 16. Yes, folks, a quadruple couture killing before the first mention of the Piperlime Accessory Wall. That’s cold.
The minute Serena told us she’d postponed her destination wedding in Iceland for the chance to live la vida Mondo, you knew she was as doomed as the horror-movie victim who runs up the stairs instead of running outside. Also auf’d: the guy who made a face at Nina, the woman who showed a romper despite hating rompers, and Gunnar Deatherage, who really should’ve made the cut based entirely on his fantastic name and references to “hand-burned flowers” and the Kentucky Derby.
A few other impressions from the show’s opening segments:
* Kimberly works out in a sequined tank: She’s automatically required to make the Top 10 just on fabulous sound-bite potential alone, no?
* Did anyone else die laughing at Nina’s borderline nauseous expression while she reviewed the collections? If there’d been a thought bubble over her head, I’m betting it would’ve read: “The plebes are too close!” My favorite moments of Nina vehemence came when she gritted her teeth to discuss Laura’s “explosion of color,” channeled Miranda Priestly (or at least her brows) when Julie insisted there was no distinction between outerwear and other garments, and experienced a moment of unadulterated horror when confronted by Rafael and his garments. The clueless contestant, however, wildly misinterpreted the Lady Garcia’s disdain: “Nina and I are clearly talking sex with our eyes.” Alrighty then!
* Did the judges come to the wrong conclusion about Anya, a former Miss Trinidad who claimed she’d only been sewing for four months, but presented some expertly tailored garments? The panel seemed to wonder if she’d actually done her own sewing — Tim said he hated challenging her credibility as he took a look at her work, and Anya quickly mumbled a remark about having had a lot of help — but I wonder if she might be underplaying her experience, the better to make herself look like a prodigy. Or maybe I’m just a cynical beast. Time will tell.
* Three snaps for Heidi for coining the term “boob window” to describe the cleavage cutouts in Oliver’s garment. Ditto for 57-year-old Bert dryly introducing himself as being 102.
* Is it a requirement for wannabe fashion designers to style themselves in an aggressively unfortunate manner? See: Joshua and his 30 lbs of bronzer and Starship Troopers styling; Rafael and his mangy beard.
After the initial cuts, the remaining 16 designers went to bed, then got an unexpected 5 a.m. wakeup call from Tim Gunn (who — ¡escandalo! — appeared to be wearing the same purple checked shirt and circle-patterned tie he’d been wearing the previous evening). Tim’s message: Get out of bed, grab one of your sheets, and head directly to Parsons to create a garment made from said bedding and your PJs.
I thought it was a little unsavory that Tim vetoed Becky’s request to put on a bra — he could’ve allowed her to wear it without using it in the challenge, no? — but I loved Laura getting miffed about people calling her “Barbie,” then finding out she sleeps in satin and lace and refuses to leave the apartment without makeup.
Anyhow, on to the fashion!
I can’t say I was particularly wowed or appalled with the looks that came down the runway this week, but it seemed like with the limited time and material, most contestants went for wearable over daring — and this early in the competition, I can’t say that I blame ’em. (The biggest risk, perhaps, was Fallene’s decision to use the vomiting clown logo on her t-shirt as a detail in an otherwise cute cocktail dress.) In the end, my three favorites didn’t necessarily jibe with the judges:
* I adored the flowing, wing-like sleeves of Bryce’s blouse (pictured, right), and the draped, one-shouldered back looked luxe and expensive; plus, the dangerous hemline of his black, high-waisted skirt accentuated his model’s perfect legs.
* I agreed with Danielle’s outrage that her sea green shorts and paneled gold and brown top (pictured, center) belonged among the week’s best.
* And, of course, I dug Bert’s flirty, innovative minidress (pictured, left), even if I couldn’t shake Kimberly’s comment that the boxer-short top was infused with “nut juice.” (Note to Project Runway producers: Just because a remark is shocking doesn’t mean we necessarily need to hear it on air.)
The judges named Bert the best of the week, but their other two favorites were more middle-of-the-pack, in my opinion. Anthony definitely deserved props for using lacy black trim to transform his sad gray and yellow tank into something fashionable, but I don’t think he ever resolved the “pubic patch” on the front of his skirt that Tim had warned him about. And while Anya’s pants indeed made her model’s behind look sensational — I giggled at the way the judges demanded to get a closer look, as if they were examining livestock at the county fair — I thought her patterned halter-top had a homemade “crafty” look about it, particularly the wonky ribbon edges. (Let’s take a quick “true or false” poll on this statement from Anya: “I’m making a pair of pants because I’ve never really made a pair of pants.”)
Moving to the dark side, I take no issue with the judges’ choices for this week’s bottom three. I don’t know when Julie abandoned her idea to cut her ridiculous pajama pants into strips and topstitch it into something “sporty and sophisticated,” but maybe that idea got lost in the unflattering air pockets that jutted out from the puckered waistline of her snow pants. What became of those sensational outerwear sketches she showed off at the top of the show? And what the hell was her excuse about having a “learning curve” when it comes to sewing? Does she think her name is Anya?
Still, the line of the night came from Nina when she summed up the race for elimination with this zinger directed at poor, sweet Josh and his bedraggled gym clothes: “I don’t know which is worse — Rafael’s or yours!” In his defense, Josh’s “randomly chosen” model had proportions very different from the outfit he’d created, but Michael made a good point that there were a variety of ways Josh could’ve hidden his fixes without running a raggedy seam up the front of the shirt. And ultimately, the guy’s concept was flawed from the start: As Nina huffed, you can’t enter a design competition and think that a tank top and white shorts is going to fly. And that little gray shrug? It looked like a scrap of fabric that Josh threw over his model’s neck right before she took the runway! Josh described his experience on the runway as the beating of a lifetime. “It was like having someone look into your soul and tell you everything bad you’ve ever done.” Nina’s stare can do that to a boy!
In my mind, though, Rafael’s look was perhaps slightly more heinous, thanks to the insane crotch and damning front seams of those skintight gray leggings and the bedraggled cutouts — complete with rogue hanging threads — at the waist of his ill-fitting white blouse. It wasn’t as if Tim hadn’t tried to set the guy straight back in the workroom — “I see you gulping. I want you to gulp,” said our trusty mentor — but Rafael was more worried about the world seeing his morning hair and “looking homeless” than in completing a chic, finished runway look. Let’s end this appraisal of Rafael’s leopard bib thingy with three words from Michael: “Flintstones disco patch.”
What did you think of the Project Runway Season 9 premiere? Do you have a favorite already? Who do you think you’ll be actively rooting against? Sound off below, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!