Tim Gunn is about to throw up. Well, maybe not actually, but the hot-pink-and-orange frock displayed by the latest Project Runway wannabe is making him gag, complete with heaving motions. ”That was definitely a no,” shudders Gunn, the ever-impeccably dressed — and usually unflappable — star of Bravo’s Unzipped-meets-Survivor reality hit. On a dreary April day, the Parsons School of Design fashion chair/Runway contestant confidant is among the show’s judges at an NYC Banana Republic for an open casting call. Their task here — and on visits to L.A., Houston, and Miami: Whittle down hundreds of aspiring Mizrahis to 12 contestants for season 2.
”We’re looking for a unique design sensibility and technical proficiency,” says season 1 contestant and Gunn’s fellow judge Austin Scarlett. ”You can have gorgeous ideas, but, for the show at least, if you can’t execute them it won’t work.” And they’re seeing quite a range — from a fresh-faced college grad bearing a blue prom dress and a pink polka-dot top (”I’ve always succeeded at everything I’ve ever done!” University of Virginia alum Katie trills) to a multipierced Brooklynite whose dream is to dress rock stars. (”These pieces are great,” Scarlett says, diplomatically, of the aspirant’s metal-heavy offerings. ”But it might be difficult for you to do a party dress.”) Naturally, the best comments come after the hopefuls leave and the cameras stop rolling. ”For the girl with entirely no self-respect!” cracks 7th on Sixth’s Christina Neault about one particularly slutty dress. And Banana Republic’s Alessandra Brunialti predicts that a contestant who made it to the short list more on enthusiasm than skill will ”crash and burn on episode 1.”
Ouch. Fashionable cattiness aside (hello, Wendy Pepper!), Scarlett has advice for those who make the cut: ”Just sell yourself,” he says. ”And get ready for lots of free champagne.”