16 designers meet at a party, only 15 walk out

Credit: Barbara Nitke

It’s season 15, and Project Runway is going back to its roots with an unconventional challenge right off the bat. The 16 new designers meet at a lovely New York City loft for what they think is a premiere party with Tim and Heidi — but surprise! The party supplies in the room are actually materials for their first challenge. Cue shocked looks from everyone as if they’ve never seen this show and thought a party would actually be a party. But only the season 1 designers could get away with that.

The contestants have five minutes to grab as much as they can from the room, and once Heidi says “go,” these designers get to business. One designer literally rips things from another designer’s hands. If I were on this show, I’d have to send a model down the runway naked — I’d be in the corner crying while everybody else runs around attacking each other. Anyway, here’s what we know about these 16 wild and crazy kids so far:

  • Brik Allen (26), Baton Rouge, LA: His dad dropped him off at the airport to fly to NYC and said, “Remember to say ‘yes, ma’am’ and ‘yes, sir’ and to win, goddamn it.” Manners are important, y’all.
  • Laurence Basse (41), Los Angeles, CA: While in design school, Laurence paid the bills by being a model, so she knows what it’s like to be on the other side of this. She’s apparently known for leatherwork, too, but that’s yet to be seen.
  • Sarah Donofrio (34), Portland, OR: She’s a person on this show about whom I wrote nothing in my notes. Sorry, Sarah.
  • Ian Hargrove (30), Chicago, IL: Ian is a ready-to-wear designer and don’t even think about telling him to do otherwise.
  • Tasha Henderson (33), Shreveport, LA: She designs for girls who don’t like heels, and she quickly became my favorite when she called Tim Gunn “boss man.”
  • Nathalia JMag (23), Framingham, MA: She’s a hustler. She tries every day to hustle harder than the day before. Readers, please show me a better life motto than that. It cannot be done.
  • Linda Marcus (55), Milwaukee, WI: A handbag designer, Linda wants to do well so she can show people it’s possible to start a new career at her age.
  • Cornelius Ortiz (24), Boston, MA: He’s a former classmate and frenemy of Nathalia’s.
  • Roberi Parra (32), Miami, FL: Roberi is originally from Venezuela and wanted to go to architectural school, but instead has been designing in fashion for 10 years.
  • Jenni Riccetti (22), San Francisco, CA: She has an absolutely ridiculous laugh.
  • Kimber Richardson (42), New York, NY: This is another one I wrote nothing about. So sorry, Kimber.
  • Erin Robertson (29), Cambridge, MA: She grew up Mormon and didn’t have access to the internet. I hope she’s since learned about Star Wars kid and the “Numa Numa” guy — the only things really notable from the internet in the early 2000s.
  • Dexter Simmons (32), Oakland, CA: He studied herpetology at Berkeley, but went into fashion when he decided he’d rather be attacked by designers than snakes every day.
  • Alex Snyder (30), San Francisco, CA: He runs his own company and teaches at a college once a week.
  • Rik Villa (31), Los Angeles, CA: I’m not fully convinced this person was in the episode, but Lifetime tells me otherwise.
  • Mah-Jing Wong (28), Philadelphia, PA: He’s in this competition for his wife and daughter — and he will rip flowers out of your hands to win it.

Back in the workroom, Tim gives them the lay of the land (Brother sewing room, JustFab accessories wall, yada yada). The point of this challenge is for the contestants to show the judges who they are as designers. Oh, and they have to distill that essence of themselves into a design that only takes 10 hours to make.

Maybe I still have Project Runway Junior on the brain, but as they begin to work, it seems they really do have a good camaraderie for being competitors. Alex says he wants to help people as much as he can, and he does because of karma or something, but it’s still nice! Cornelius and Nathalia help one another, even though they’re “rivals.” I can tell from the previews the claws eventually come out, but it’s nice to see them just enjoying their craft together right now.


Tim has predominantly positive responses as he makes his way around the room, but his stomach is churning when he gets to Erin — not because of the bright-yellow palette she chose, but because she basically has nothing done. The whole room is worried about that except her. She just keeps taking her time and eating Pixy Stix. Surely she will have to rush in the morning…

…Nope! The next morning while everyone is scrambling with last-minute touches and taking their models to hair and makeup, Erin is still calm as ever, hot gluing and tinkering with what seems like a nonexistent look. But all that glitter in the air must have created some magic: Somehow, some way, Erin has a finished look to send down the runway when Tim calls time.

NEXT: First-time runway jitters

The designers are greeted at their first runway show by Heidi, who introduces them to guest judge Savannah Guthrie. We all know her as the Today show co-anchor, but apparently she’s also a Project Runway superfan. (She looks very happy to be there, so I believe it.) After all the looks walk, Heidi calls out Roberi, Dexter, Tasha, Erin, Ian, and Brik — which means Mah-Jing, Jenni, Sarah, Nathalia, Rik, Linda, Kimber, Laurence, Cornelius, and Alex are safe. Here’s what the judges had to say about the top and bottom looks:


Tasha says she’s a designer for the loud, colorful urban girl — and it definitely shows in this fun look. Heidi is a fan of it; she can envision exactly the girl Tasha is designing for with this drop-crotch pant and patterned top. Nina says it’s effective and has the right attitude. Savannah can’t get over the Tim/Heidi handbag she made from the producers’ chairs, and Zac loves her use of textiles. Just like me, they’re a fan of Tasha (and they didn’t even hear her say “boss man”).


The focus of the workroom was almost always on Brik’s glitter pants. He spent lots of time gluing and gluing and gluing as much glitter as he could find. (“It’s the herpes of art supplies — it spreads,” some designer whose name I don’t know yet said about his project.) All of the designers were in love with the pants, but the judges don’t love how he paired his top and bottom. The bottom is retro while the top is futuristic — or “Star Wars meets Studio 54,” as Savannah says. Zac just calls it a hot mess.


The judges love Erin’s miracle dress. It could have gone horribly Big Bird, Nina says, but instead it became an editorial, inspirational, standout look. Savannah loves the explosion of color, Heidi says she really gets a sense of Erin’s design tastes, and Zac says it’s “magically Muppet-y” — which is a term I hope no one ever says about my clothing choices.


You know those looks the designers adore but you just don’t get? Dexter’s giant dress-thing…is one of those looks for me. He describes it as a look for an “Alaskan mountain tribe coming-of-age party.” Zac says he got “Alaskan poodle,” and apparently that’s a compliment. Nina loves how it has volume and movement, and she likes how it’s “very chic.” (You guys, I’m not sure I know what the word “chic” means anymore.) However, I do have to give him credit for his styling: Adding a pop of color to the shoes and putting bracelets on his model’s ankles was a nice touch.


Tim Gunn warned Ian his look was too basic, but that didn’t stop him from describing his look as basic to the judges. That’s his style, and he’s sticking to it. Heidi doesn’t love it; she wishes he had done more with the Polaroids at the very least. Zac says there’s something modern and interesting in the color scheme (which Ian describes as My Little Pony), but overall he wanted more from the look — and Nina basically echoes that sentiment, too.


Roberi worked with lanterns to create this structural, fluid, cloud-like dress. The look has the judges split. Savannah says it made her gasp, and not in a good way. She doesn’t like the colors together and thinks it’s too short. Nina agrees, saying they’ve seen versions of this dress many times on Project Runway. But Heidi says she loves the sculpting and colors so much that she doesn’t mind how short it is. And Zac thinks it’s beautifully done. There’s really no need for Roberi to fear, though, because as we all know: If Heidi likes it, it stays.

And stay it does. Roberi is safe along with Dexter and Tasha. Which means…

Winner: Erin.

For the bottom looks, it’s down to creative (Brik) vs. sophisticated (Ian). And this is Project Runway, where one of those is almost always valued over the other, so…

Out: Ian.

Let this be a lesson to us all. You should always listen to Tim Gunn.

What did you guys think of the season 15 premiere? Are you excited for this group of designers? Who are your standouts so far? Share your thoughts below, or find me on Twitter @realdalener.

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