The season opens with a reprise of the classic grocery store challenge, but most of the contestants stick with easy materials
Heidi Tim

You can take it out of the box. You can trim it with white stitching. You can throw it on a statuesque glamazon and attempt to drape it so ”it covers her boobs up a bit.” But as we all learned last night on the season 5 premiere ofProject Runway, a tailored trash sack will always be — to borrow a phrase from she who made the unfortunate choice to work with said plastic material — an ”ugly, cheap-ass garbage bag.”

Oh, how I’ve missed you, Project Runway!

I happily would have watched many more minutes of Stella the Hard-Rockin’ Trash-Bag Lady running her mouth off about her reams of black plastic — especially since she kept hilariously referring to it as ”fabric”: ”My fabric is trash!” ”This is the worst fabric!” ”I really don’t have any fabric!” That she delivered these and other gems in her glorious Queens, N.Y., accent is but the cherry on top. ”I design…for hookahs, pimps, or whoevah’s tough enough to wear it,” she told us by way of introduction. Stella, you are awesome.

So here we are back in Runway land after a short four-month break. Already, it’s obvious which designers have the biggest personalities. There’s the mono-monikered, refers-to-himself-in-the-third-person-and-uses-the-word-wackadoodle Suede, and of course Blayne, who’s so tanorexic he could moonlight as a bicycle reflector. He’s also the one who apparently never got the memo that Destiny’s Child and the Pussycat Dolls have done the whole –licious suffix thing, and that just because last year’s winner threw around a catchphrase doesn’t mean he has to force the word girlicious! into every moment he’s on camera. Is he trying too hard, or is he just excited to be there? I’ll give him a chance — as long as he refrains from any more beat-boxing. And I won’t soon forget Heidi’s look of pure, unadulterated ”huh?” when Keith told her he has designed with her in mind over the years — right after describing his aesthetic as ”urban, a little bit raw.” Um, dude…?

But on to the real fun. For the first time in Runway history, the show repeated a classic challenge. And not just any old one, either: The producers went all the way back to the first episode of the first season and returned to the New York City grocery store Gristedes. We were even treated to a reunion with that challenge’s winner, Austin Scarlett, who showed up in his best Quentin Crisp garb. Like bulls barreling through the streets of Pamplona, the designers tore into the place, scooping up colorful rubber balls, tricolored pasta, and in the case of Terri, ”mop heads, mop heads, mop heads.” The Aerosmith-meets-Lauren-Hill-meets-Michael-Jackson gal was smart to go this unusual route, as was Kelli, who made a point of avoiding tablecloths and shower curtains. I was stunned at the number of designers who went for such an obvious, uninspired fabric substitute. It was lazy. Few contestants made this mistake in season 1, and after four years of episodes from which to draw pointers, this year’s crop of hopefuls should have known better than to cop out so glaringly during a test of innovation. As Tim Gunn said after assessing the garments in the workroom, ”I just think the judges are going to say you guys are a bunch of slackers!” (That spectacle was only slightly more awesome than the sight of Tim rocking the Gristedes PA system as the designers shopped.)

NEXT: Jerry gets everything wrong

Also involved in Tableclothgate: Emily, Wesley, and Jerry; Suede and Keith get special distinction for buying the same black-and-white checked design; Leanne (a.k.a. Leanimal —meow!) and Korto smartly dressed up their picnic paper with meringue cookies and produce, respectively. Though Blayne’s grating –licious! business got on Jerell’s nerves, the only thing remotely resembling a workroom meltdown was Stella’s ”fabric” freak-out. I knew the lady was in trouble from the moment she put those boxes of Glad trash bags in her shopping basket. (Especially since, a few weeks ago, I interviewed Heidi for an article on the show, and she mentioned how a dress made of trash bags does not impress her. Now I get why she said this!) ”If I’m the first eliminated designer,” Stella muttered, ”I’ll be the biggest jackass in the nation.”

Alas, that honor ended up going to poor Jerry, who went from flying high on mega-confidence, even curling his lip at his competition for ”putting crap on top of crap — paper bags on top of coffee filters and balloons,” to being ridiculed for a design worthy of Patrick Bateman. His creepy, caped raincoat and ”Handi Wipe gone wrong” frock, topped off with — lest we forget! — yellow rubber gloves, was a bust in color, shape, execution, and every other possible way known to fashionkind. To Nina, ”It’s what you wear when you’re killing someone.” (God, I love Señora Gah-cia.) As for Blayne, he turned his poor model into what looked like a cracked-out Playboy Bunny who, in her high-flying haze, had decided to wander around the Lower East Side with a huge, white Astroturf maxi-pad on the outside. That the poor girl had to be sewn into the thing gives me the same feeling I get when I watch Rutger Hauer step on Harrison Ford’s broken fingers in Blade Runner. But hell, at least he didn’t bore ’em! (Side note: What was up with Blayne sniffling throughout the episode?)

Kelli, meanwhile, managed to make the judges swoon with her fun, sophisticated minidress made of bleached-and-dyed vacuum bags, singed coffee filters (shout-out to season 3’s Michael Knight!), pushpins, and spiral notebook binding. That, friends, is what I call innovation. Kelli rightly won for her standout creativity, but Daniel came in a close second with his blue plastic-cup number, which was pop-art, winky-winky playful: drinkware turned into a cocktail dress, get it? I would have liked to see Kenley and Jerell get a little more love for their inspired incorporation of dodge balls, Koosh balls, and lawn chairs. But then again, even Michael was overlooked for that wowza coffee-filter dress two seasons ago, so who the hell knows what makes these judges tick?

What do you think, Runway fans? Are you excited that the couture cattiness is back? What do you think of Bravo’s decision to disclose the challenges and guest judges for the entire season? What do you think of Tim’s assessment that this year’s crop is ”the most diverse group ever”? Who are you rooting for? Is Joe the new Kevin, while the two quiet types, Leanne and Jennifer, are the next Jillians? Finally, would you like to see Heidi’s son running around the house, Batman style, in Jerry’s ax-murderer attire?

Episode Recaps

Project Runway

Karlie Kloss and Christian Siriano guide undiscovered designers through the harrowing rites of fashion.

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