Tim (and Michael and Nina!) are back where it all began with a new quirky cast and a chance to make up for last season
Project Runway Ping
Credit: Lifetime Television

Welcome back to the runway, EW.com design-uhs! You all look sophisticated yet youthful, elegant with a hint of punk rock and an exquisitely hand-sewn overlay of the avant garde. Michael Kors wants you at his next garden party. Last night’s season 7 premiere ofProject Runway served up a frantic walk in the park, many opportunities to closely inspect Heidi Klum’s honey-colored lowlights, and a classic ”Show us who you are as a designer” challenge for this season’s crop of promising contestants.

You may have noticed I’m not Missy Schwartz. Your regular Project Runway recapper is still on vacation with her fierce French husband, traipsing around the globe in conflicting patterns and textures. I apologize on her behalf for her misguided set of priorities. She’ll be back on recap duty next week, so just grind your teeth and smile politely. Pretend you’re guest judge Nicole Richie in the presence of a drawling Southern lady named Anthony. It will all be over soon.

I’m positive this is going to be a good season. It has to be: After the three-month dental appointment from hell we endured last fall, our expectations have never been lower! Heidi is TV-pregnant again, Tim’s really psyched about the new HP technology he gets to promote, and judges Michael Kors and Nina Garcia are not going anywhere. Both will be leashed to their director’s chairs by a sparkly chain of whichever jewel tone Heidi is really into that week. And best of all: We’re back in NYC, concrete jungle where dreams are maaaaaade of! There’s nothing Anthony can’t coo…. Let’s hear it for New York! It cannot be disputed that the concept and physical presence of Tim Gunn simply makes more sense when he’s in front of a proper skyline. Not to mention, ”Parsons School of Design” rolls off of Tim’s tongue much more comfortably than ”Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and Wide Open Spaces and Too Much Light Makes the Timmy Go Blind.”

Challenge time. There were reams of fabric draped all over Central Park (audible gasp!) and my first thought was that these would make beautiful blankets for homeless people. But no: The designers had to employ a No Fabric Left Behind policy as they raced to collect their wares in three minutes ”like fat people at an open buffet in Vegas,” according to Emilio. He ended up winning the challenge, so his instinct to make a beeline for the jumbo shrimp cocktail and marinated flank steak of fabrics worked out well for him. Ironically, the best audio/visual moment from the park was when Tim said ”I’m giving you your first opportunity to edit” and the camera cut to Emilio clutching a fairly hideous green print (that he didn’t use) while a scary, Lost-like sound effect hinted at doom. Ping couldn’t figure out how to unfurl a fabric panel, giving the normals their first chance to gape at her in disbelief. Silly Ping. You need to unfurl it so it can go in your Mood bag.

NEXT: Janeane becomes the (drama) queen of the workroom

Into the Parsons workroom. Ah, feels like home. Magenta. Seafoam. Remarkably, most of the designers maintained eye contact with Tim as he spoke of assignments, rules, and product placement. That will change. Ping started playing a game of dress-up like the kind I used to do in my basement when we’d live-action role-play as fairies and wizards with whatever fabric was lying around the room. I’m not sure she even varied her look from like the third minute on. The gaping continued as Ping explained that her designs looked the best if you put them on a human body, and indeed, that is a primary aim of fashion design, so maybe she’s onto something here with her odd ways. We’ll see. Seth Aaron expressed big plans to ”go over the top” and I noticed that he was especially doing so in his choice of which giant pink ring to wear while operating a Brother sewing machine. Jesus decided to take an already tacky dress to the next level by adding length, which was brilliant in that it gave Tim Gunn a classic chance to Tim Gunnily say what was on all of our minds: ”I’m looking at how it’s constructed, and I find it disturbing.” I also loved when he told the entire group to ”recalibrate your ambitions.” Oh, Tim. So harsh, yet so pleasant. And what a vocab.

The biggest drama queen in the workroom so far was Janeane from Portland (city of no revolving doors), who scrapped her original design after consulting with Tim and started over with two hours left. Janeane cried in the sewing room; Janeane cried at her worktable; Janeane cried during her own mere mention of Bryant Park. I’m pretty sure Janeane will ABC: always be crying. I did appreciate her use of fashion imagery as she decided she would finish on time, announcing that ”the little pinhole of light at the end of the tunnel has been blooming over the past few hours.” And at least we know Janeane wasn’t lying during her opening interview when she said she wasn’t ”tied down to a specific time.”

I’m guessing they’re just gonna have Anthony, for whom ”it is hell being black, gay, and in the ghet-to,” narrate the entire season and I am so not down with that. Maybe Missy will have a higher tolerance for pre-conceived one-liners (ha, she totally won’t), but I’ve had it with him already. He might be entertaining in confessionals, but I couldn’t handle the staged condescension he foisted upon Tim Gunn during his very first critique. Who is he kidding? J’enough.

Ladies and gentleman, your judges! It’s Michael Kors, freshly tanned. Nina Garcia, sheathed in metals. Heidi Klum, who will be playing the role of Emerald City. And look, it’s Nicole Richie making her triumphant return to reality television! The runway show flew by as usual, especially with so many contestants, but I paused it about 400 times so I could name some of my favorites. Keep in mind, I don’t know as much about fashion as Missy, but I am fascinated by clothes and know what I like. So: I loved comic book dude Ben’s red-orangey short-sleeved ”futuristic and retro” dress with pointy shoulders. Emilio’s purple printed frock really did ”move like a dream” and I’d wear it tomorrow. (Now can I please look more like his model?) And I’d definitely wear Jay Nicolas’ plant-print top and rosette skirt, even though I’d look crazy.

NEXT: Nicole Ritchie falls for Ping’s design

Amy’s white shirt and diamond-print skirt gave off a Roisin Murphy vibe, which is always ideal. I’m into Amy, so I’ll be nitpicky and complain that I was confused as to whether her model was wearing one half of a strapless bra; also, since the skirt was so voluminous I would have preferred a closer fit on top. Hmmm…I’m not into tailored suits, but I can respect that Jesse the mighty Pirate of the Caribbean’s outfit was well-constructed. The bright red off-the-shoulder top was a lovely surprise. My favorite look was Anna’s — the short, shiny-but-sweet gold dress with a criss-crossed back. I loved how the skirt subtly bloused out when the model spun around. Anna seems like a shy, weird salesgirl at the type of boutique I’d hope to stumble upon in Brooklyn or Chicago, and every time I’d gush about a piece I loved, she’d be like, ”Oh yeah, I made that.” Maybe it’s time to stop writing creepy fan fiction about Anna?

I wasn’t into a lot of the looks. Maya seems cool and I like how the editors have already capitalized on her tendency to stare down whoever is speaking with a sly grin, but that beige dress with a cake-decorator’s disaster on one half of the chest didn’t appeal to me despite my love of chocolate frosting. I think I was hoping for her design to be a little more insane; I’m interested in what else she’ll do. Maya’s big sister Mila’s three-piece outfit with three different patterns was okay but kind of ’80s. Pamela’s boring bright pink short-sleeve dress didn’t show a strong enough point of view for me, but I could see a lot of women wearing it, for a few seconds anyway until the hue would render me temporarily blind. I don’t think Seth’s zipper dress would be very flattering on most women, but I understand why it’s fresh and why it would sell, and Nina had a good point that Seth was one of the few designers who conceived of a head-to-toe look for his model. I would only wear Anthony’s floral-print sculpture if I were a saucy senior citizen and it was time for Open Swim.

Jesus’ crocodile trunk explosion was hideous and I can’t picture it looking any better if it were left as a miniskirt. Nina complained that Jesus’ model looked ”like a Hershey’s chocolate bar,” which I found a little insulting to Hershey’s, but I suppose Hershey’s chocolate does have more of its surface area occupied by lettering than other chocolate brands (Dove, Godiva, Fannie May). Nina requested ”more lightness” from Jesus, so perhaps he should consider modeling his next design on a Hershey’s Cookies and Cream.

Ping’s ”drapery,” whatever, not interested. TV Personality/Designer Nicole Richie thought Ping could build a whole fashion show around the concept of doing so little with your fabric that your model ends up justcarrying it around, and I bet she could because many fashion shows are like that. But even the most ”out there” designs that have done well on Project Runway were successful because people would theoretically want to wear them, if they had more money or a bolder personal style. Those pieces were aspirational. Ping’s was just a mess. That bunched at the crotch. Oh, and she asked her model to do a little dance at the end of the runway. Grounds for dismissal! I have yet to see what the judges liked about her design, but Ping’s alternate worldview does amuse me and I can see why the producers would want her around for at least a few weeks. This strange species could surprise us.

Meanwhile, eliminated designer Cristiane’s dress looked like it’d been pulled straight out of a box in your batty aunt’s attic labeled COSTUMES: TRAGIC. She was one of those Runway contestants you have a feeling isn’t going to get any better or show anything that much different, just based on her first design. It’s no loss for me that she left. I don’t know where Ping’s crazy will take her next, whereas we could all probably sketch out Cristiane’s next design on our HP TouchSmart Tx2 Notebooks right now. Let’s not.

Did you see value in Ping’s design? Should Janeane keep crying to distinguish herself? Does Jesse look more like Christian Bale than Johnny Depp? And where in the world is Missy Schwartz? Share your thoughts about the premiere in the comments!

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Project Runway

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

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