Inspired designs. Fresh judges. Fierce Joanna Coles. Lifetime has pulled out all the stops for the All-Star season. It's like we're back in season 3 all over again, and it feels good!

By Stephan Lee
January 06, 2012 at 06:05 AM EST
David M. Russell/Lifetime
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We already know these designers — not all of them are the most talented designers of seasons past, but they’re definitely memorable — so let’s skip the rundown on each and jump right in, shall we? It’s good to see Mondo, the favorite coming into this All-Stars season, and it seems his personal style has evolved. In the opening shot, he was dressed like Rihanna in the “We Found Love” video after the drugs stopped being fun. Yeesh. If you’re going to wear those micro-shorts, please shave the legs and cover the scabs with flesh-colored Band-Aids, okay? But it was good to see him reunite with buddy Michael Costello.

The 13 designers convened at the Limelight, an Episcopal Church turned hardcore gay nightclub turned mini-mall. When Angela Lindvall, the host filling in for Heidi this season, walked into the room, a distinct “Who the hell are you?” look crossed the faces of a few of the contestants. Looking and sounding a bit like the host of an MTV surfing competition, she explained that there would be no immunity this season, and all told, the prize package for winning All Stars would be worth close to half a million dollars! Mila just had a fashion orgasm.

The designers then had a chance to meet their models and kick their tires, so to speak, by dressing them up in pre-existing designs. It looked like Lifetime pulled out the big guns and hired some especially gorgeous models, especially Kenley’s. Well done! (Last season’s looked like they came straight from ANTM). We’ll see more of the looks later on the runway, but it was an opportunity for the All Stars to size each other up. Mila’s looking more and more like Edna E. Mode, Sweet P’s side-bun makes her look like she fell asleep on a doughnut, Rami has really pumped up those muscles, April’s still making boring, colorless clothes (why is she on this season again?), Jerrell’s being aggressively obnoxious, and Elisa is still a loveable weirdo, marking her territory with lipstick instead of spit this time. She probably claims hors d’oeuvres at parties by licking them.

Angela met the designers on a sweltering Manhattan street to announce the first challenge — and it’s an unconventional one! I only hope there are plenty more to come this season. Each designer got $100 to shop at the 99-cent store (which would be like getting $500 at Mood) to create a look inspired by the looks they tried out on their models earlier. April and Michael both went after the mops; Michael worried that April’s mop dress would be way better than his. I’m not liking all this constant false modesty coming from Michael. Even if it’s genuine, it’s lame — this is a competition. Mondo avoided easy items like wash cloths whereas Sweet P went right for them. I wish Elisa or someone picked actually weird items like water guns or bubble wands.

NEXT: Nobody can replace Tim Gunn as mentor — but I’m kind of obsessed with Joanna Coles in a very, very different way.The contestants filed into their brand new Neiman Marcus workroom, which was painted in super-pretty, washed-out pastel colors. Just looking at it is calming, like a visual laxative. Then in walked Marie Claire editor-in-chief Joanna Coles, who brought down the temperature in the room ten degrees. Tim Gunn is my favorite part of regular Project Runway, but I’m glad All Stars didn’t try to replace him as mentor with someone similar, someone who’s also warm, fuzzy, and avuncular. Instead, they went in the complete opposite direction. Joanna is fierce. Not fierce in the Christian Siriano/Tyra Banks sense of the word. Fierce in the actually scary sense. Like a pterodactyl. Or Tilda Swinton. She’s the type of person who can make children weep by reading them a bedtime story. Pale, frigid, and bird-like is the only way I like my editors-in-chief of fashion magazines.

I loved how she delivered compliments to the designers without even the hint of a smile. I died when she said to Gordana, “I love how it has no appeal on the hanger,” leaving Gordana to respond, “Exactly,” as if that was what she was going for. But it didn’t compare to Mondo’s assessment of her look: “It reminds me of Easter at a Mexican family’s house. It’s a piñata. I hope her model is full of candy.” Thank you for being born, Mondo.

The Joanna Coles warpath continued as she started grilling Elisa, who spread her workstation all over the floor. Of course. Joanna asked if her look would “surprise” the judges at all, to which Elisa said, “I think it’s important to make it surprising for yourself.” What? I just now looked at the jar of peanut butter sitting on my desk and gasped. I just CHOSE to be surprised by it. Is that what she meant?

On her way out, I think Joanna may have sort of attempted a smile, but she just bulged her eyes and flicked her tongue like Gollum. Maybe that’s just what a Joanna Coles smile looks like. I love her! I’m not even kidding. I love people who are both brilliant and really, really weird.

The night before the runway show, Austin Scarlett — my fave! — had a little mishap. A hot glue gun burned a hole in his blue plastic dress. But I was too distracted by his bizarre personal style to really take note of the first “make it work” moment of the season. Austin Scarlett dressed as a matador, I get. Austin Scarlett in a paisley shirt and army green corduroys? That just doesn’t make sense on anyone but a middle-aged Santa Fe music teacher.

NEXT: I’m probably alone on this, but I didn’t miss Michael Kors and Nina Garcia as much as I thought I would!Runway day! Time to introduce the other two judges for this season: Isaac Mizrahi, who needs no introduction, and Georgina Chapman, co-founder and owner of high-end brand Marchesa. Neiman Marcus’ Ken Downing, who looked positively thrilled to be on the show, made for a strong guest judge as well. For the premiere Isaac was on his best behavior — though judging from the clips we know that won’t last for long — and Georgina, while not displaying much in the way of cutting wit, gave really spot-on critiques. I had the pleasure of interviewing her recently, and I think she’s going to be honest and fair all season. She took the task of judging these designers quite seriously. Plus, she’s easy to look at!

Plus, with some notable exceptions, it was such a relief to get some inspired designs after so many drab seasons. On with the show!

SAFE GROUP

Austin Scarlett (I always have to use his first and last name, I don’t know why)

I really like Austin Scarlett, but can someone please explain why this wasn’t in the bottom? Maybe it reminded me too much of something that bitchass Josh would have made last season. It looks like a 99-cent homemade costume from a middle school production of The Slutty Little Mermaid. Not even for a speaking role but for the untalented kid playing Wave #2. I’m disappointed, Austin Scarlett.

Kara

Liked the top, loved the skirt, loathed the styling.

Kenley

This ensemble was refreshing, cool, and simple. It almost harkened back to a chic Pan Am flight attendant look. That loofa on the head is so Kenley.

NEXT: The battle to see whose mop dress is more boring.Anthony

Anthony is arguably one of the least proven designers in the competition, but he made a good showing with his purple crepe paper and gold safety pin dress. But in a strong runway show, this look was firmly middle-of-the-pack.

Michael

This dress really does look like a bunch of mop strings. Yes, they were draped, which is all Michael can do, but they were draped without purpose. As a drapist he doesn’t hold a candle to Rami, who can also do things other than drape. I did love his joke about spilling a drink on this dress though. I’d like to try it.

April

I wish both mop dresses were in the bottom just so we could get rid of one of them. April’s was cleaner than Michael’s but equally boring. I feel like April still hasn’t found her voice as a designer. She’s still making clothes she thinks are edgy and cool but really aren’t making a statement. Again, that inspiration dress sucked.

NEXT: Mondo and Rami reminded us of the inspiring design Project Runway has been missing lately.TOP

Jerrell

Jerrell’s flowing dress made out of scarves and placemats was lovely, but I agreed with Georgina — compared to what came later, it didn’t push the boundaries. The detailing in the back was pretty amazing, and Isaac liked the color.

Mondo

I loved, loved, loved this dress. I appreciated the mad hatter aesthetic, and I loved that Mondo didn’t fall back on his tried-and-true clashing print technique, which would be old news at this point. Isaac pointed out Mondo’s eye for proportions, and Ken called the dress “flawlessly executed.” Seriously, you could never tell that it was constructed from trash bags, electrical tape, and plastic cowboy hats.

WINNER

Rami

Both Rami’s inspiration dress and unconventional dress were inspired and impeccably constructed. This type of stunning design is what was missing last season. For his runway look, Rami did the opposite of drape and created a sturdy, architectural dress that called to mind a robot-maid or a deconstructed plaid couch or something Lady Gaga would wear to lounge around the house. He explained to the judges how he used laundry bags for the structure of the dress and Christmas tree tinsel to emulate ostrich feathers. Clearly this look was dreamed up in advance. Ken said you could feature the dress in an editorial as is, and Isaac thought Rami edged the other designers out in terms of execution. Amazing!

NEXT: Elisa, as always, was entertaining. But is she a designer?BOTTOM

Gordana

Gordana’s unconventional dress was just like her inspiration dress — which wasn’t that great to begin with — only cheaper-looking and more tortured. Georgina hit the nail on the head when she pointed out Gordana had too many ideas in one piece. I did kind of like the sparkly streamers, but the whole thing looked too DIY arts-and-crafts.

Sweet P

I’m sorry, even though Elisa’s look wasn’t exactly fashionable, I thought Sweet P’s color-blocked dress was way less interesting. Isaac thought the dress looked unfinished, especially in the back. Angela asked why Sweet P chose wash cloth, and she claimed it was for the colors, but I can’t help but suspect that she chose it because it was the easiest option. She clearly had no plan or vision for this look, and that’s a bad sign. I just don’t see what everyone else sees — I’m not on the Sweet P bandwagon.

OUT

Elisa

In many ways, Elisa’s odd Xanadu-esque roller derby uniform was ridiculous, but she really did herself in by opening her mouth. I thought her inspiration look was fun, ethereal, and form-fitting, while her unconventional look was more playclothes than fashion — but there was a story there, and her model looked like she was having a blast blooming like a flower (although I thought it was more like she was emerging from a chrysalis). However, when prompted by the judges, Elisa told the story all wrong. I almost transcribed the entirety of her confusing circle-half-circle speech, but I realized life was too short. Ken made the point that consumers like clothes that tell a story immediately, not ones that need to be explained. I would have liked to see more Elisa, but she wouldn’t have made it much longer anyway.

Some parting notes: I was surprised how much I enjoyed this episode. After last season, I’d soured a bit on the series. While I missed Heidi and Tim, I didn’t think twice about Michael and Nina — it was nice getting a fresh perspective from Isaac and Georgina. I’m also really fascinated and entertained by Joanna, and I’m glad they didn’t try to find a Tim wannabe. However, I’m not sold on Angela as host. Maybe she just had an off-night (she sounded sick), but it was almost as if English weren’t her first language and she was reading off of cue cards. Something was not quite right. But THANK YOU Lifetime for keeping the episode to a snappy 60 minutes instead of 90. In what world do we need a 45-minute judging session each week? The entire episode had this glossy sheen that Project Runway hasn’t had since its Bravo days. I enjoyed every minute!

So Runway-lovers, what did you think of All Stars? Were you impressed by the designs? What’s your verdict on the new roster of judges? Sound off!

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Past Runway designers compete for the top prize.
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