Fourteen returning designers—including two winners—face off in an NYC uptown/downtown challenge.

By Dalene Rovenstine
October 31, 2014 at 02:01 AM EDT
Barbara Nitke/Lifetime

Lifetime either really loves or really hates us. They didn’t make (let?) us go one week without a fashion reality show in our lives—although that show has changed a bit since last week. Tim’s out, and in his place is a different Marie Claire fashion editor. The supermodel host has been replaced by a beloved ’80s actress. And the judges look a little different, too.

But the great thing about All Stars is that, as different as it is, it still feels very familiar. It’s fun to watch characters you know and love (or hate) back on the small screen. So let’s get to it…

The designers get to introduce themselves with snappy one-liners and descriptions of their past on the show—this is important for the audience because some of these designers are not quite as memorable as others. The season 4 All Stars are:

Alexandria von Bromssen, season 12, second place

“This competition is the Hunger Games of fashion. It’s going to be fierce and awful.”

Other designers, you might want to stay away from Alexandria when she’s holding fabric shears.

Justin LeBlanc, season 12, third place

“I need to win the competition to show the world what I’m capable of.”

Helen Castillo, season 12, fifth place

“I’m really banking on winning, but it’s all depending on whether or not I can control my emotions.”

If you’ll remember, in her season, Helen was known for being dramatic—and Alexandria was known for calling her out on it. So surprise, surprise that these two are forced to greet each other. Helen gives a warm hug to Justin and a cold handshake to Alexandria.

Chris March, season 4, fourth place

“My confidence level is pretty high just because I have a lot of experience and I’m a little older.”

To be clear, I think he means older since his season, not older than the other designers. And Chris has come a long way—he’s designed for Beyoncé and Lady Gaga since his time on Project Runway.

Jay Sario, season 7, fourth place

“I’m a little nervous because I quit my job to be on Project Runway All Stars. I really have no choice but to win.”

I guess this ups the stakes for him to do well, but it really doesn’t seem wise.

Kate Pankoke, season 11, eliminated week 7; season 12, eliminated week 11

Project Runway All Stars is the best of the best, so I’m really excited to be here.”

I was very disappointed she didn’t go with the “third time’s a charm” line.

Samantha Black, season 11, eliminated week 9

“I never got the opportunity to work by myself.”

(As season 11 was the dreaded Teams Edition, Samantha is excited to get to show work by herself—and honestly probably all of season 11 returnees are just wanting a do-over season.)

Benjamin Mach, season 11, eliminated week 6

“I feel more confident now and I’m much more focused.”

Patricia Michaels, season 11, second place

“Always the bridesmaid never the bride.”

Fabio Costa, season 10, second place

“In life you don’t get many second chances.”

But now he has one, and he won’t have to compete with Dmitry this go around… or so he thinks.

Gunnar Deatherage, season 10, eliminated week 9

“I was definitely the villain of season 10.”

It’s like Gunnar is writing this recap for me.

Sonjia Williams, season 10, eliminated week 12

“I’m so competitive… My only goal is winning Project Runway All Stars.”

With all those introductions out of the way, the designers converge in a very empty Grand Central Terminal to meet a very pregnant Alyssa Milano. She explains the set up of the season and of course brings out the first surprise: two past winners.

Sidenote: A lot of people complain that past winners shouldn’t be brought back for All Stars. It’s a divisive issue for sure—if you look at it as they already had their chance to win, then no, they shouldn’t return. But if you think of it as the show bringing back the best of the best, then the season should definitely include past winners. And it doesn’t mean that the winners haven’t done well; I imagine the designers think of it as a way to get even more exposure and possibly some more cash for their lines.

Anyway, about those two winners…

Dmitry Sholokhov, season 10

“I am back. It’s not about winning, it’s about winning again.”

Michelle Lesniak, season 11

“Being on Project Runway is like getting a tattoo, and you forget what the torture is like and you came back on again.” (That’s a bit what it’s like viewing Project Runway, too.)

With introductions really out of the way this time, the designers are given the details of their first challenge. The men will create a downtown collection while the women will create an uptown collection. The looks must be cohesive, but each designer will be judged individually. The inspiration for the collections pretty much settle what kind of client each team will be designing for: The men have an edgy, hard, rock-and-roll girl while the women have a sophisticated, Plaza-staying jet-setter.

NEXT: Men vs. Women

These vets seem like pros at Mood—selecting and purchasing fabric with lightening-quick speed—until they get back to the workroom and realize Fabio’s fabric is missing. Now, that’s just a rookie mistake.

At the beginning of the competition, with this many designers still in play, it’s pretty obvious based on workroom edits who have the high and low looks. During critique, Zanna Roberts Rassi only reinforces those impressions. (As far as Zanna stepping into Tim’s shoes: She stands up well. True, she’s not a design teacher, so her critiques seem a bit more commercial than technical, but she’s direct and tells the designers what they need to hear.) Despite her advice, there aren’t any crazy workroom woes or last minute reworks—these designers have a vision and aren’t as easily swayed by the competition aspect of being there; they’ve been to this rodeo before.

So remarkably when the two collections walk down the runway—despite being a quick one-day turnaround—they look really strong. The women’s collection is very one-note, muted colors with touches of green in similar silhouettes. The mens’ collection is a nicer, varied collection. And host/judge Alyssa, judges Isaac Mizrahi and Georgina Chapman, and guest judge Ivanka Trump agree: They pick the mens’ collection.

Sidenote: What was up with all those crop tops? At least half of the whole runway show was crop tops. Do the designers just love their models’ stomachs?

Justin, Jay, Gunnar, Dmitry, Sonjia, Sam, Alexandria, and Helen are all safe. By the nature of the team challenge, all top three looks are from the men and all three bottom looks are from the women.

A jumpsuit could be incredibly simple, but the way Fabio worked with color, lines, and shaping—this look jumped out of the collection (pun intended). It got an “I want this on my body” from Alyssa. You know that’s good.

I’ll admit—I was concerned when Chris said he was inspired by a man wearing a kilt he likely found in the garbage, but it turned out nicely. It’s got the ’90s grunge feel that perfectly captures “downtown,” but it still feels fresh. Yes, there are fit issues with the corset and maybe it’s a tad cliché (I hear you Ivanka), but it still works.

Benjamin‘s dress could have been too uptown—his fellow teammates were definitely concerned about that—but he pulled it off perfectly. The shape, color, and fit make the look decidedly downtown. Plus, his flawless technique makes this look like it was effortlessly made.

There was so much said about this dress on the show that I don’t even need to say anything unique: “Kate‘s going bridal or Eastern European hired hooker,” Michelle says. Benjamin says: “It’s like the Little Mermaid came out of the sea and started living uptown and now she’s going to a cocktail party.” The judges’ panel weren’t fans either.

Michelle described her client as a woman with money in her pocket to burn. (Burning is one thing you could do with this dress.) In my notes I wrote, “a fancy paper bag.” It’s not great that one of the winners is already starting out on the bottom, but the dress is very well made, so that saves her.

Patricia was originally working on some “pomegranate” leatherwork to add to the dress. I’m not sure if that would have helped or hurt, but this look is rough. The breast darts make it look more sci-fi than uptown.

Winner: Fabio

He doesn’t get immunity (it’s make it or break it in All Stars) but he will get to see Ivanka Trump in his look.

Eliminated: Patricia

The judges felt Kate’s mermaid parade look was more out of the box and that pushed her above Patricia’s safe A-line dress.

As a runner-up in her season, Patricia being eliminated just goes to show that All Stars does not mess around. All these designers have what it takes; they just have to bring it every week.

After watching a whole season of hour-and-a-half episodes, it was nice to have back the fast-paced hour of design, a runway show, and an elimination. It gets to the good stuff without spending too much time on unnecessary bits (cough, cough product placements). First episodes of reality shows are hard because we’re just getting to know—or re-know the contestants—but I have a good feeling about this season. What do you think? Are you happy with the cast? Surprised Patricia is already out? Let’s talk about it here or here.

And if you haven’t yet, be sure to read host Alyssa Milano’s thoughts on season 4.

Past Runway designers compete for the top prize.
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