Project Runway family, I have to be honest with you: I did not have the highest hopes for Project Runway Junior. I watched a few episodes of Project Runway: Threads last season and found myself rooting against the kid designers. There was a new crop of designers each week, and the way they bossed around their parents as “assistants” was just uncomfortable to watch.
I’m happy to report that Junior is nothing like Threads. I’m not sure where casting found these 12 teens, but I’m already in love with them all. They are smart, talented, and incredibly mature, but still kids — they squeal with joy when Tim Gunn walks in the room and take selfies when they’re supposed to be taking pictures of the city for inspiration. After a few seasons of contestants who don’t seem to be “hungry,” it’s refreshing to have an entire room full of designers who care less about being on TV and more about their passion: fashion.
Tim seems to be enjoying the change as well: He clearly is able to get back to his teaching roots and actually make a difference during critiques. These young minds are eating up everything he has to offer, and that’s yet another significant change from what we’ve seen recently. Anyway, I’ll stop talking about it so we can actually TALK ABOUT IT. Here are our inaugural Project Runway Junior contestants:
Zachary, 16, California: He has been sewing since he was 6 and is fast — the “new Kini” according to his fellow designers.
Peytie, 15, California: She’s a Cali girl through and through; she has a bohemian style with just a touch of sophistication.
Jaxson, 15, Kansas: He’s from a small town and has five calves and a bunch of farm cats. He designs for the “BA” women — which is short for “badass,” something Jaxson is kind of uncomfortable saying. It’s adorable.
Zach, 15, Kentucky: He goes to a performing arts high school and likes luxury designs.
Samantha, 16, Queens, New York: She loves to design streetwear and had never been on a New York rooftop…until this episode.
Maya, 13, Ohio: Yes, you read that right: 13! She’s the youngest of the group… She loves making other people happy with her designs, and she’s so sweet.
Sami, 15, California: She’s the president of her school’s fashion club, which is apparently a thing now? (When I was in school, we had Home Ec, and we made a pillowcase and, like, a pair of pajama pants.)
Matt, 17, California: His design style is not for the faint-hearted — and neither is his love for Tim Gunn.
Ysabel, 17, California: She’s on the show.
Victoria, 17, Ohio: She’s on the show.
Bridget, 15, Massachusetts: She’s also on the show.
Jesse, 16, Massachusetts: He’s on the show, too.
The designers meet on — where else? — the Gotham West rooftop for their first challenge assignment. Host Hannah Davis (who gets a much-less enthusiastic reaction from the kids than Tim) tells them they will be doing a First Impression Challenge: Using New York City as an inspiration, the designers have to create a look that shows off their style.
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The teens are able to snap images and sketch on the rooftop that evening, and they reconvene at Mood the next morning. Around this time is when I started thinking they might get a bit more coddling, but nope: They still get only 45 minutes to shop, $200 to spend, and a day to make it work. And to my surprise, none of the kids seems to have a problem keeping up. If anything, they are trying to do too much. Jaxson wants to make a miniskirt with a detachable mermaid skirt over it, and Zach wants to do a mermaid ball gown.
But Tim Gunn can set them all straight with his critique. He tells the designers — and us — that the workroom is sponsored by FIDM in California and the sewing room is sponsored by Brother. No word about the accessories wall — how will they know how to use it thoughtfully!? Anyway, Tim’s critiques go surprisingly well (again, so many surprises with this show!). He doesn’t hold back; he’s honest, but the kids all seem to appreciate it and take it to heart. It also yields a few adorable exchanges, including my favorite (Maya not understanding the word “disinclined” and whether Tim likes her fabric color or not) and my least favorite (Sami telling Tim she’s designing for “an older woman, maybe like 30s”).
NEXT: A not-so-Junior runway
With a minor last-minute disaster (for Sami) and a last-minute design swap (by Zach, thanks to Tim), the teen designers head to their first runway show. Once there, Hannah reveals the prizes — a full scholarship to FIDM, a studio by Brother Sewing, a feature in Seventeen magazine, and $25,000 to launch a line — and introduces the judges: former Runway winner Christian Siriano, fashion critic Kelly Osbourne, and fashion director for Seventeen and Cosmopolitan Aya Kanai.
Bridget, Peytie, Ysabel, Matt, Jesse, and Zachary are all safe, which leaves the following six for critiques:
Jaxson went with the most literal interpretation of NYC, but it pays off. He cut out the skyline and stitched the daytime version on the front and the nighttime, colorful version on the back of the skirt. It’s a little chic and a little kitsch, says Kelly. Hannah is a fan, and so is Christian, although, he wishes Jaxson had created a waistband, since the pleats were a tiny bit off.
Zach‘s original design idea was to make a full mermaid skirt, but time was not on his side. Tim suggested at the last minute to make it short — and it probably saved him. He got a completed look down the runway, but it’s not one the judges are loving. Kelly says to be careful with pleating, especially around the hips. Christian thinks it looks dated, and Aya tells him to incorporate his own style (which is pretty fab) more.
With a crop top and denim pants and matching oversize belt, Samantha‘s model is one that I could imagine walking a regular Runway show. The judges agree: Hannah says it looks very expensive (Samantha offers that it cost only $43 to make). Kelly doesn’t like how the unfinished hem of the top is rolling a bit, but Christian and Aya love the look.
Victoria describes her look as an “abstract crescendo” — not sure what that means… Christian’s description of “gothic downtown cool” makes a little more sense. The pleather fringe/straps she has in the front of the skirt don’t carry to the back, which isn’t appealing to me or the judges. But Kelly gives her some encouragement: She’s just overthinking and incorporating too many of her ideas, but they are good ideas separately.
At 13 years old, Maya is the youngest of the group. When she tells the judges her age, they’re all blown away even more with what she’s created. Christian says it was one of his favorite looks to come down the runway because of the movement. Kelly thinks it’s beautiful, and Aya applauds Maya on the accomplishment of her first challenge.
Sami was one of the few designers who incorporated something other than skyline: She used a row of taxis as inspiration through a chain-like fabric going up the back of the gown. But because she struggled getting the pleating on the skirt sewn correctly, her hemline suffered. Christian definitely notices that but says the back is saving her. On the opposite end, Kelly isn’t a fan of the back; she says it’s like a paper craft you make at camp. Aya doesn’t like the dress for a different reason: The waistline adds volume right where a woman doesn’t want volume. Sami’s idea was good, but the execution was poor, which is why…
What did you think about Project Runway Junior? Did you agree with the judges on who was sent home the first night? Even though we didn’t have much time to get invested in these teen designers, are you already attached like I am? Let’s chat below or on Twitter @realdalener.