November 15, 2007 at 03:08 PM EST

Project Runway

TV Show
Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn, Nina Garcia, Zac Posen
Current Status
In Season

”Project Runway” season-premiere recap

Guten TagProject Runway fans. It’s been more than a year (!) since season 3 ended with Jeffrey Sebelia taking the top prize. Now, 13 months is an awfully long time in the fickle fashion world — more than enough time for Tim Gunn to settle into his new gig at Liz Claiborne and help thePR gang round up 15 new live-wire personalities who stitch almost as well as they bitch.

Anyway, our beloved show is back. Clearly, round 4 is aiming to boost the class-couture cred, what with the sponsor upgrade from Macy’s to the far more fashionista-forward (The gang also ditched Atlas for the New Gotham apartments. Not that I would have noticed had Heidi not pointed it out. The new digs look like the same cookie-cutter luxury Manhattan high rises to me. Of course, I wouldn’t sneeze at either of those addresses.) Other than those minor changes, PR‘s same ol’, good ol’ formula appears to be intact. And why shouldn’t it be? The format will never get old as long as each cycle ushers in a slew of overly self-assured creative weirdos named, say, Kit ”Pistol” Scarbo or Sweet P Vaughn. By the way, thank you, Ms. Scarbo, for explaining that your firearm-friendly middle moniker is ”kind of like my Mark Twain. It’s an alias.” I never would have guessed.

Within the first seven minutes of last night’s ep, we met all 15 designers, including Christian Siriano, a pint-size man-boy whose 1980s ‘do is as willfully asymmetrical as the voluminous jacket he made for the first challenge. He is obviously talented, and obviously knows it, but there’s something about his chirpy demeanor that keeps him from seeming as infuriatingly big-headed as season 2’s Santino Rice. When Christian said, ”I’m kind of fierce, and I’m kind of a celebrity in my own head,” he didn’t sound arrogant or threatening. He sounded like just another kid imitating grown-ups — or parroting the countless reality-TV contestants who’ve made similar ”I’m awesome!” pronouncements. Then there’s Rami Kashou, an experienced designer who wasted no time bragging about having dressed Jessica Alba for the VMAs. But even he failed to set off my egomaniac-alert button.

That’s probably because said button was going berserk over Carmen Webber, a woman with enough confidence to stretch from here to Jupiter and back again. When she introduced herself — and it’s Carmen A. Webber, thankyouverymuch — she announced that she used to model. Which apparently gives her a huge leg up. ”People can be fantastic designers,” she said, ”but if you haven’t modeled, you don’t know the first thing.” Oh, okay. ‘Cause, you know, fitting into expensive clothes is actually more important than being able to conceive and sew them. Got it.

As the weeks go on, I can definitely see myself cheering for Chris March, the flamboyant butterball of a guy who specializes in theatrical costumes and has been known to make outfits out of ”salad ingredients.” The snapshot of a frock he once made from cabbage and spinach leaves gave Austin Scarlett’s corn-husk dress from season 1 a run for the money. (Bonus points for color, March.) And how can I not root for the guy whose sheer size prevented him from joining his nimbler competitors in the sprint across Bryant Park to the tents filled with $50,000 worth of fabric? (Unlike fellow contestant Ricky Lizalde, Chris did not ”run like a Mexican running to the border.”) The best part is that, even though Chris was the last to select his fabric, he made a stunning garment. His plum-colored silk charmeuse dress, accented with a patterned crisscross halter and oversize neck bow, was absolutely gorgeous. I’d argue that it was even lovelier than Rami’s winning garment. That flowing goddess gown was beautiful, yes, but I agree with Michael Kors that the shoulder flower was ”a little M.O.B. — a little mother of the bride.” Plus, Chris’ creation wasn’t the slightest bit costumey — a wonderfully unexpected statement in a challenge that asked each contestant to express who they are as designers.

Ricky Lizalde, however, interpreted the challenge in numbskullishly literal terms. The lingerie designer’s black-lace-trimmed baby-doll dress (i.e., a nightie) got tagged with the kiss-of-death ”boring” label. The guy had better turn up the juice or his almost tearful confession that Project Runway isn’t just a competition, ”it’s my life!” is sure to turn into a full-on waterworks drama next time. (Which wouldn’t be a bad thing, mind you.)

Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for bold, modish prints, but I dug Kit’s black-and-white off-the-shoulder frock. It was a clear expression of her gritty L.A.-rocker-grrrl style. Tat-covered biker babe Sweet P, on the other hand, surprised me with her demure eyelet shift dress. Unless the Hells Angels beat all the grime out of her sometime in her wild past, my guess is the gal’s gonna be working an Eve White/Eve Black thing each week, depending on whether she’s feeling more in touch with her Sweet P or Mean P tattoo. (Oooh! Shatanga dual-personality alert!) Meanwhile, Kevin ”I’m Straight, Goddamn It!” Christiana whipped up a number that reminded me of Jeffrey Sibelia’s Madonna dress from last season. Kevin’s was far better constructed; I’ll give him that. But here’s a thought: If you’re going to copy, why not copy a look that is actually not total crap?

NEXT: A fabric accident

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