Yes, the fourth season of “Project Runway” is clearly on its way to dishing up another colorful cast that’s part egoist, part genius and all entertaining. These designers are well-established in their careers and out to prove their worth. The show has become as formulaic as a ’90s boy band when it comes to type-casting — the villain (Vincent Libretti, meet Christian Siriano), the hottie (Michael Knight, meet Jack Mackenroth), the free spirit (Angela Keslar, meet Elisa Jimenez), the lovable loser (Bradley Baumkirchner, meet Chris March). But replacing our old favorites with similar characters works, because much like fashion, updates are sometimes just as simple as reinventing the classics. And of course, Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia and Michael Kors have all returned, and thankfully, Bravo was smart enough to “make it work” with Tim Gunn as well. There were whispers he wouldn’t sign on for the fourth season, but oh, what would we do without those sage catchphrases?
It was only appropriate they chose Bryant Park as the setting to kick off the designers’ first challenge. After all, the ultimate goal for these designers is to show their collections under the tents at New York Fashion Week, when the runways read like a Who’s Who in the world of designers. How clever, then, to have the new cast perform a challenge with the same vague (and overwhelming, to some) instructions as the usual final assignment: Make an outfit that expresses who you are as a designer. Tim revealed that three tents located across the park contained the materials the designers needed to build their outfits, a collection of $50,000 worth of textiles donated by Mood fabrics. The only catch was it was on a first-come, first-served basis, so this most unathletically inclined group of individuals scampered across the park to collect what they could in 10 minutes.
Is it wrong that I was hoping to see some blood-on-charmeuse action?
Unfortunately, the cutting shears didn’t really come out. Ricky said he ran like a “Mexican running for the border,” but I’m not sure how he ended up with only two fabrics in his final design. Chris, who clearly isn’t a runner in his spare time, reached the tents by the time most of the designers were packing up to go. But, he said, the fabrics he wanted were miraculously still there for him. (Note to Chris: This is not a good sign.) Elisa gave us the first glimpse of crazy when she began rubbing ivory silk chiffon against the grass to pick up the stains for a “natural element.” Stephen thought she was off her block. I was hoping she might end up making the dress Kayne attempted last season in the recyclables challenge, the one that looked like a still-life of a backyard, executed by a fourth-grader. Unless they find pattern-making books tucked under her bed (à la last season’s Keith), I bet they keep Elisa around, purely for moments like this.
The half day of challenge time really showed the designers at their best and worst — the confident ones just went for it, while the others seemed paralyzed. Victorya expressed her displeasure for a task that most designers spend their entire careers trying to achieve: defining themselves. I’m afraid she’s as much of an overanalyzer as she is a self-proclaimed overachiever. Kevin, whose background is in lingerie, wanted to produce a baby-doll dress with undergarment qualities. Most of the designers seemed stuck on a romance with classical sophistication for their looks — something edgier, like a sexy, shocking twist to the baby doll, probably would have gotten Kevin noticed.
When Tim came along for his ritual checkups, the new batch of “celebrities in their own heads” (thanks, Christian) responded with mixed enthusiasm. Tim thought Rami’s gown was “stunning.” The dark gray flowing chiffon piece looked nearly complete as he formed it around the mannequin, a true nod to elegance and prettiness with an edge of drama like Nina Ricci. Christian thought Rami’s design was unoriginal, but I liked the homage to McQueen and Westwood. Tim suggested Christian fix the asymmetrical tailoring in the sleeve of his jacket, but Christian said he liked it that way. I have a feeling that sense of superiority is going to come back to bite him in the ass. Tim’s interactions with Simone and Elisa gave away the bottom two early on. Simone was clearly struggling with the technical aspects of her garment, and while she blamed lack of time, I blame lack of skill. Elisa’s dress, which I could only compare to a peacock giving birth, concerned Tim greatly, but rather than compromise her vision with changes, she took a nap.
The Runway Guest Judge: Monique Lhuillier
Elisa Jimenez with model Lea: Bright blue stretch gown with gather at bust, open, draped sleeves, long train of layered fabrics. Nina thought the train was so heavy it dragged down the dress and caused the model to trip on the runway. Monique said Elisa didn’t know when to stop. Heidi described model as looking as if she were “pooing fabric.” Bottom three.
Chris March with model Marcia: Satin halter dress with print on bust and large bow detailing at back of neck. Green satin cross back and long plum skirt. Safe.
Kevin Christiana with model Katie: Mini-dress with ruffled bust and silver corset with flair detailing at waist, red bow gathering at back. Short layered pinstripe skirt with red trim. Safe.
“Sweet P” Vaughn with model Christina: Empire-waist cream dress with lacey print, peek-a-boo bust with red silk bow and silk trim at sleeves and hem. Safe.
Simone LeBlanc with model Lauren: Plunging V-neck mini-dress with silver bust, peach bubble skirt, yellow detailing. Black-and-silver textured shrug. Nina not impressed with the construction. Michael said it was boring, poorly made and not creative. Bottom three.
Jillian Lewis with model Amanda: Bright orange halter dress with short, petal flounce skirt and low lace-up back. Safe.
Christian Siriano with model Lisa: Black-and-tan plaid jacket with puffed half-sleeves and black ruffled detailing at center. Constructed beige bubble skirt with ribbon detailing at waist. Monique thought it showed creativity and innovation. Michael said it was quirky tailoring but polished, a whole look and not just another dress. Nina highlighted the fantastic silhouette and design, even though the fabrics weren’t that interesting. Top three.
Victorya Hong with model Jacqueline: Little chiffon black dress with square satin neckline and side sleeves. Large silver flower detailing over left bust. Monique thought the dress was very sweet. Michael said the side sleeves added a pretty balance to a safe silhouette, though you couldn’t hail a cab in it. Top three.
Rami Kashou with model Ashley: Draped steel-gray georgette chiffon, one-shoulder Grecian gown with flower detail. Nina described the dress as sophisticated and chic and said she got a good sense of Rami as a designer. Michael thought the flower was a little “mother of the bride,” but Monique thought it was executed beautifully. Top three.
Ricky Lizalde with model Wendi: Baby-doll dress in black-and-silver striped fabric with black lace detailing at bust of halter. Judges all agree it was too safe, boring. Michael and Heidi agree it needed to be more memorable. Bottom three.
Jack Mackenroth with model Aviva: Black-and-white patterned halter dress with plunging neckline. Bright cyan blue detailing at waist and large tie behind neck. Safe.
Marion Lee with model Cheron: Sheer sequined black lace top over heavily layered skirt in gray and black. Crossing ribbon detailing over bodice. Safe.
Steven Rosengard with model Sam: Cinched-waist black jacket with red detailing at neckline and layered tail. Black pencil skirt. Safe.
Carmen Webber with model Anna: Wide-legged black pant with bright orange-and-saffron chiffon top with bow detail at neck. Metallic cropped jacket with puffed sleeves. Safe.
Kit “Pistol” Scarbo with model Marie: One-shoulder dress with black-and-white floral print under asymmetrical red overlay with cropped sleeve and bead detail. Safe.
Winner with immunity: Rami Kashou
Out: Simone LeBlanc