Fourteen seasons. Can you believe it? Project Runway has been with us for more than a decade. Where has the time gone? After 14 years it can be difficult to keep things fresh—the producers have tried to combat that with twists (the dreaded group season), but it really always comes down to casting. And call me crazy, but I think we may have a really good cast in season 14. We’re introduced to 16 contestants as they merge on Madison Square Garden in New York City. Let’s meet them, shall we?
Edmond Newton, 37, from Atlanta, Georgia. Has been trying out for Runway ever since he watched the first episode. Calls himself a “fashion rebel.”
Swapnil Shinde, 34, from Mumbai, India.
Ashley Nell Tipton, 24, from San Diego, California. Introduces herself as “fun, funky, and fat.” She learned to sew so she could make designs that she couldn’t find in her size.
Amanda Perna, 32, from Delray Beach, Florida. If you remember her, it’s because you saw her briefly in season 9 when she was cut before competition even started. Says she will punch the camera if she goes home first this time.
Merline Labissiere, 32, from Savannah, Georgia. She’s a proud Haitian who has an architecture background, which she uses to make structured clothing while singing in the workroom.
Duncan Chambers-Watson, 25, from Auckland, New Zealand. He just graduated fashion school. And came from NZ… this is sounding awfully familiar (cough, cough, Sean Kelly).
Lindsey Creel, 28, from Austin, Texas. Her first confessional: “Some people find me charming, some people find me intimidating, some people just really don’t like me at all. I don’t work well with others.” Aaaaand we’ve found our season 14 villain.
Hanmiao Yang, 27, from New York City.
Blake Patterson, 24, from Los Angeles. Thinks they play baseball at Madison Square Garden. False ditziness is never cute on anybody. And neither is overconfidence: Blake says he has no weaknesses.
Kelly Dempsey, 31, from Boston. Loves hoop earrings; thought she might have to play Heidi one-on-one in basketball.
Candice Cuoco, 27, from San Francisco. Upon seeing Heidi and Tim at center court of MSG says, “If I were to arrive to the gates of heaven, this is exactly what it would feel like.” Let it be known that I do not want to go to Candice’s heaven.
Laurie Underwood, 29, from Chicago.
Jake Wall, 35, from San Francisco. Wears a T-shirt that says “There’s no known cure for being cheap.”
David Giampiccolo, 37, from Hollywood.
Joseph Charles Poli, 37, from Las Vegas.
Gabrielle Arruda, 27, from New York. Does not get introduced until the runway show. Bad sign? Or Dark Horse?
Once the designers arrive at MSG, Heidi and Tim tell them that they have three minutes to grab four pieces of Mood fabric, which are scattered all over the arena. After a mad dash (episode title alert!) and a few fights, the designers then have one day to design a look that shows who he or she is as a designer. As simple as this sounds (even though it’s surprisingly hard for some), I’m glad this is the first challenge. This gives the designers a chance to really show the judges who they are in a way that, say, textiles from a grocery store or other crazy out-of-the-gate first challenges don’t quite allow.
Tim introduces the designers to the workroom, which features a new accessories wall sponsor—I don’t know about y’all, but JustFab doesn’t scream “runway” to me—and the usual Brother sewing room with the addition of a “garment printer.” I’m not entirely sure what that is, but I want to see it in action.
Tim then announces that something that has never happened in Runway history has happened in season 14: not one, not two, but THREE designers have come without their own tools. What did David, Swapnil, and Merline think every past departing designer does when Tim sends him or her to “clean out your workspace”? Pack a fake bag? Lindsey says they should be sent home just for that, but luckily for the three poor souls, other designers take more pity on them than she does.
Not 10 minutes later, the designers who shared their tools must have been kicking themselves, because Merline is so happy she can’t stop singing and chatting and singing and chatting and singing and chatting to NO ONE. I had to listen to her in an edited together one-minute segment and I was about to lose my mind; the other designers in the room should be commended for not becoming violent.
Somehow they’re all are able to mostly ignore her and concentrate on their designs, which Tim comes back in to critique. He offers almost unanimously bad reviews. The highlights: He sees potential in Duncan’s pink draped dress; he thinks a woman could “put her lunch” in the side drape of Blake’s dress; he teaches Merline that the world is “muslin” not “Muslim”; and he calls Edmond’s cocktail dress “the antithesis of joy.” He’s not happy with the way season 14 is kicking off their challenge, but with less than five hours in the challenge and model fittings still to come, there’s not much time to switch gears. The only people who make any dramatic changes are Edmond, who scraps his original design completely, and Kelly, who switches fabrics.
NEXT: Show us your style[pagebreak]
The day of the runway show, the designers are introduced to a new and improved runway as well as judges Zac Posen and Nina Garcia, and guest judge (and future Project Runway Junior host) Hannah Davis. All 16 looks walk the runway and Ashley, Hanmaio, Edmond, Blake, Duncan, and Merline are pulled out for further critique while the remaining 10 head to the waiting room, where they can breathe for the first time since the season kicked off.
I wasn’t sure if Edmond‘s dress was going to be a high or low look—you can never tell with these judges—but they loved it. Nina thought it was polished and dramatic while Zac said that it was beautifully made, but not “revolutionary.” Scratching his original design at the last minute clearly paid off.
When Heidi asked Blake if he thought he was a low or high score, he responded, “I’m always a high score.” Since he’s actually in the bottom, it might help him return to reality. He seems to have a lot of potential, but this over-printed mess of a dress was “clownish” according to Zac and put together poorly since Blake only hand-stitched.
Hanmaio‘s architectural, oversized dress and jacket combo reminded me a lot of past Runway designers (Fabio Costa comes to mind), but her fabric weight and color did her no favors. The judges couldn’t decide if it was for Sally Draper, a pregnant woman, or a monk—which is not a good sign.
Merline has an actual architecture background, and that showed through in this tuxedo-inspired women’s wear piece. It’s sophisticated, yet sexy, which is what impressed Hannah. Meanwhile, Nina thought this design fully showed Merline’s aesthetic, the whole point of the challenge, which some designers seemed to miss.
When Ashley was designing her box skirt and open-back top in the workroom, I really thought this could go “amateur hour” (to steal from Tim Gunn), but this was one of the most fun pieces to walk a Runway runway in a long time. Zac said it was “playful,” “chic,” and “feminine” while Heidi used words like “new” and “unexpected—all of these are good words to hear in a judges’ critique.
This was Duncan‘s first endeavor into women’s wear, and it showed. The draping veered away from sexy and ended up in bright pink paper bag territory. The fabric was definitely hurting him, but his concept also just seemed to be incomplete. The strangest part of all: When he gets to the waiting room, the other designers think he’s joking when he says he’s on the bottom. Did they see the same look we just saw?!
After one last commercial break and Heidi rattling off the long list of winner’s prizes, we get the first season 14 results.
Tim Gunn said he wouldn’t have called Duncan being out in a million years. What do you think? Did the judges get it right? Are you as excited as I am for the season 14 contestants? See you back here next week and all season as we do this reality catwalk together.