Project Runway Season 9: Return & Redemption?

Considering last years winner, a list of not 16 but 20 designers, and these horrible ads staring Tim and Heidi, I approached this season of Project Runway with extreme caution. After all, last year was such a let down that many vowed never to watch the show again. Well, if they checked in last night, they might be giving the show another chance. I actually find myself hopeful for what the future brings. (Pictured top left: What I believe Tim thought of last season.)

Before the episode even began, Project Runway let us have a peek at their casting process. Maybe they did this to justify the number of designers they had, or maybe they did it to give past contestants (Hi Seth Aaron! Hi Mondo!) lots of screen time. Either way, it was fun to watch.

At the beginning of the episode Tim welcomed us and the designers to the best ever season of Project Runway. If Heidi, Nina or Michael had said it, I wouldn't believe it, but I trust Tim. I hope he's right. Then all four of them, including Tim(!), went on to judge the 20 constants and send 4 packing. I get that this builds suspense, but I'd rather they figure this out ahead of time and just use to whole episode to let us get to know the 16 people we're going to be watching this season. The first cut they made was David Chum. I had picked him as an early favorite and think letting him go was a terrible decision. Next they eliminated Gunnar Deatherage. This really surprised me because I thought he had some fun stuff in his portfolio (as from the Kentucky Derby dress), and even though I can't help saying his name like he's a member of an extreme 80s heavy/death metal trash band, I had started to like him. I'm glad they cut Amanda. She and her designs were way too perky, pinky and yappy. It came down to Serena and Cecelia, and I really believe the judges got them confused and cut Serena when they should have cut Cecelia because I liked Serena's portfolio better, and Cecelia doesn't seem capable of understanding what the judges say to her even in the casting footage.

From here the 16 remaining designers barely had time to settle in when a fully turned-out Tim woke them up at 5 a.m. for a "come as you are" challenge. The designers were whisked away in their PJs with one bed sheet to create their first look. Let the sleep deprivation begin! The designers posed for pictures in their PJs. They were then given scrubs to change into and instructed to make a garment from just their PJs and sheets. Tim told them they could use the provided trim, fasteners and dye to accent their designs. Those who wore little to bed had a lot of work cut out for them. Some only had on a little night gown or boxers and a tee while others had awesome materials like lace, silk and rainbow-puking clowns. Note to future PR designers: Sleep in style.

After a few season of lacking challenges, I think this is a pretty good start. The designers had to make do with little material and work with some pretty difficult fabrics. Now for the designs... (I'll be reviewing the "made it through to the next round" designs in a separate post next week. These are just the top and bottom three.) As always, SPOILER ALERT! I'm about to reveal the winning and eliminated designers.

Anthony Ryan sent a cute tank and an OKmini skirt down the runway for his first look. I think the slightly dishevled styling and use of trim is what earned his look a top three spot (though I had a few other favorites that didn't make the cut). I mostly like the look from the front, but the skirt has a smaller lace strip down the back and it looks a bit like a skunk. Tim warned that there were ways to make the front trip less "pubic" so Anthony improved it slightly from the patch of feathers smack dab in the middle of the skirt, but I still don't love the effect. I do like what he did with the top even though he left his tank almost as it was and just added lace trim. The skirt was dangerously short, but most of the designers had trouble with skirt length (or other crotch-related problems pants and shorts) so maybe that is due to not meeting their models until after they started sewing. Overall, a cute look and not a bad start.
The judges almost cut Anya because she only learned to sew a few months ago and has limited skills. Rather than trying to sneak by with something easy, she set out to prove herself. Prior to this challenge she had never dyed fabric, made pants or sewed silk. She did all of these things with pretty good results. The top she crafted from her kimono nightshirt is rather cute even though I'm mostly anti-crop top. She got the fit right and mastered the tricky silk quickly. The back is lovely, and Nina said it was her favorite part. I love the designer of the trousers, but they have fit problems in the front. The back fits quite nice though. I love that she challenged herself and proved the judges wrong for doubting her (except Heidi who really believed in her).
When I first looked at the designer portfolios, I was worried for senior cast member, Bert. He has impeccable craftsmanship and experience working for major labels like Bill Blass, Arnold Scaasi and Halston. However, his designs lack the showmanship needed to succeed on Project Runway. The judges expressed the same concern during the first cuts of the night. He took several years off from designing, but his first garment showed he's making a strong comeback. He listened to the judges and "turned up the volume" on his design. This picture makes the dress look like it had fit problems, but it never looked that way on the show. He used his orange check boxers, his taupe tee and dyed his sheet a complimentary taupe for a nice mix. His garment had the most intricate design of the night and came out looking very finished. He earned the first win of the season. In the future, he really needs to fix the outdated styling though. He did a good job listening to the judges so far so I think he can handle some styling critiques. I hope he's daring next week since he has immunity.
The bottom three really surprised me, not because of thier designs but because of my expectations based on their portfolios. I expected Julie to be landing near the top not the bottom. This is the woman who made me want outerwear that looked like it was made from those technicolor blankets people bring back as souvenirs from Central America (which I like as blankets but never would have considered as attire). I figured if anyone could work with a bold print, it would be her. Sure, she did have unfortunate fabric, but I have ideas for it that are better than this (trim, dying it, a twee lining to an edgy vest or coat). The tank is terrible. I like the idea of a snowboard pant, but this one was poorly executed. Guest judge Christina Ricci called the shirt "charming" but unwearable. I think she was being too nice. I hope Julie pulls it together next week because I like her.
Joshua C. was another surprise in the bottom three. His design started out great, but he ruined it while trying to take it out to fit his model. The whole thing looked ill-fitting and messy. The tank made the models boobs look awful, which is the worse sin any designer can commit in the presence of Heidi Klum. The shorts didn't fit. The shrug didn't work. He seems like a talented designer and I dreaded the thought of him going home. Thankfully the judges put him through to next week because they felt he understood what was wrong with his look.
Tim let Rafael know that the judges were on the fence with him during the first round of eliminations. He warned him that his look wasn't living up to the standards that would get him through, but Rafael didn't head the warning and ended up the first eliminated designer. The judges felt he didn't understand all that was wrong with his look. Christina Ricci thought some of the seaming on the shirt was interesting, and I agree. However the peekaboo front mixed with the rise of the too-tight pants made the model look, as Michael Kors said, like she had eaten too much and unbuttoned her shirt. If the shirt had actually buttoned all the way down the front (and fit) and he had made a bandage-style mini skirt instead of these awful pants he could have saved his scarf (which he didn't seem to want to use) from the fate of becoming a necklace Nina called a bib and just left it intact as a kicky accessory.
Overall, we're off to a good start this season. I agree with the bottom three and the winner and loser. I'm not sure I would have filled out the top three the same way, but I'm not upset with the judges choices. It was kind of nice knowing some of the casting background because it helped me understand the judges a little better in this first round. The challenge was a good one. Plus, we got plenty of Tim time, which always makes for excellent TV. (Speaking of Tim, today is his birthday. Happy Birthday!) What are your thoughts on the start of season 9? Do you think this season will redeem series after last year? Who are your faves so far?

Be sure to come back Tuesday for reviews of the other looks!
Photo Credit: Barbara Nitke,


Cait Throop said…
I think they are off to a good start...that said I couldn't understand why they let Serena go. Her work was lovely. And that striped T with the pubic skirt left me cold. But totally agree with all the rest!! Looking forward to the next!
Elizabeth said…
I am totally part of Team Bert. I was cheering for him when they were eliminating 4 people, and I was very glad he won last night. I liked Fallene's dress design too. I'm excited to see everyone start to fall into their places.
Zuqueta said…
Totally missed it!!! : ( thanks for the recap!

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