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Each season, I expect three things from Project Runway: Fashion so marvelous I’m tempted to burn my entire wardrobe, fashion so terrible I question whether I could make a better sequin skirt, and at least one cheeky contestant with absolutely no filter. Folks, it’s episode 1 of Project Runway season 19, and we’ve already got all three.
Welcome to ELLE.com’s weekly recap of Project Runway, the show famous for giving you Tim Gunn and “Not even to dinner with the Kushners?” I’m taking the baton from our former staff writer R. Eric Thomas, who has since moved on to write TV shows and bestselling books (here’s hoping I catch a little bit of his pixie dust and write the next Squid Game someday). In the meantime, I’ll be here talking about 16 fashion designers fighting for $250,000 (supplied by Pilot FriXion Erasable Pens, lest we ever forget!).
In the first moments of the premiere, our merry band of hopefuls gather at Lincoln Center to meet the judges—host and season 4 winner Christian Siriano, fashion designer Brandon Maxwell, journalist Elaine Welteroth, and, of course, our very own editor-in-chief Nina Garcia—and learn the fate of their first challenge. They’re in luck: it’s all about color! The twist? It’s a team challenge. And the final nail in the coffin is that one group gets to work during the days, while the other will be forced to work the graveyard shift. This is exactly the sort of mental torture Project Runway loves to play off as fun.
The group splits into two teams, one focused on warm hues and the other on cool, and almost immediately the conversations go off the rails. The word “cohesive” is tossed around approximately 800 times, though no one seems to agree what such a word might mean in practice. It sounds nice, though! (Perhaps like something Pilot FriXion Erasable Pens would award $250,000 for!) Over on the cool team, self-proclaimed “juicy b*tch” Meg Ferguson is busy making sure plus-size women are represented in the collection, but most of the other designers are more concerned over whether bows or flowers will make the collection more, ahem, “cohesive.” Y’all, just pick one and—forgive me—make it work!
The warm team ultimately decides they’ll make their collection cohesive once they already have all their fabrics. I’m no military strategist, but picking your tactics after your troops are already on the field sounds, I dunno, ill-advised? Anyway, no time to reconsider—they’re headed on their first Mood date!
At Mood, the sunny-hued soldiers have 45 minutes and $400 to pick their fabrics, but Octavio Aguilar’s already sweating into his red mustache, and Darren Apolonio’s hoarding gold sequins because he wants his “first introduction to be 100 percent Darren.” Yeah, uh... more on that later. Right now, he’s too busy flirting with Christian: “Are you single? I am! Just putting it out there.” To which Christian gives a predictably gorgeous response: “Oh? Ugh. I’m too old for this.” Houston, I believe we’ve located our contestant with zero filter. Success!
Finally, after some expected panicking, the warm team gets down to business in the workroom while the cool team does their shopping. Their Mood experience is slightly less harried, but when they too sit before the dreaded sewing machines, all goes awry. Sabrina Spanta wants a bow coming out of a flower. Chastity Sereal wants peekaboo details. Kristina Kharlashkina is wearing her muslin “like a Russian queen” as Christian inquires, “Is there a story behind the bow? Why? What’s the reason?” Literally no one has an answer other than Sabrina, who says the woman she’s dressing is “going to Costco!” I, personally, am honored; Christian is horrified. The team then stages an intervention to decide why their woman is so obsessed with bows—in no small part because “Nina is going to ask that!” Cool team, honey, I’m asking it.
Back in the apartments, the warm team elects Bones Jones as their leader and “spokesperson” before heading to the workroom. The models waltz in for their first fittings, but Christian has mental sabotage on the brain: He gives Darren’s gold dress a knowing double-take and unleashes a zinger. “For me, this scares me the most. We’ve got a lot of issues.” Cue the beginning of Darren’s unraveling.
Oh, but it gets so much better, friends. The warm team lines up their models alongside one another so they can compare looks and see if the collection is—wait for it—cohesive. “We love everything,” one designer proclaims. Christian’s voice shoots up about three octaves: “W-We do?!”
The following passage is worth re-visiting in full.
Bones: “We love everything in this room.”
Christian: “I bet ya don’t.”
Bones: “I bet I do. Guys, don’t let anyone else’s outside opinions distract from what we’re doing.”
Christian, audibly offended: “What are the outside opinions? Meaning mine?”
Bones, not even slightly apologetic: “Yes, I’m sorry.”
I know I’m probably not supposed to encourage this sort of behavior, but this is precisely what I asked for. You are banishing Christian Siriano from the workroom! Christian! Siriano! We’ve found a new filter-less champion! All hail!
The rest of the cool team whirls on Bones for offending Christian before the warm team comes in for their model fittings. Things go... fine, I suppose, and the camera zips back to drama re: Bones. He sheds his leader status with all the subtlety of a dumpster fire, and soon both teams are reunited, each scrambling for sewing space in the workroom. Christian stops by to remind us that the money at stake is from PILOT FRIXION ERASABLE PENS and, also, today is runway day.
Bones is back in control. He apologizes, sort of, to Christian, finishes his garment, and then promptly realizes that Darren is having a complete and utter meltdown. As the latter repeatedly attempts to escape the workroom for a smoke break, Bones intercepts him, then decides to make an entirely new dress for his teammate, on the increasingly probable chance Darren will not have anything ready to show the judges. In other words, that “100 percent Darren” look the designer wanted to present on the runway? Not happening. Blame the nicotine addiction!
Finally, we make it to the show time. Karlie Kloss is missing as host—she’ll appear as a guest judge later this season—but Nina has no trouble stepping up to get the party started. I’ll give a more detailed breakdown in future episodes, but since we have so many to go through right now, let’s take a speedy jaunt through this week’s looks.
First up, from the warm team:
“Darren” presents his strapless gold sequin dress. It’s not his, but it’s elegant and classic, perfectly adhered to his model’s curves.
Prajje Oscar Jean-Baptiste’s model wears a hot pink asymmetrical blouse and skirt, paired with a matching mini bag. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but the pink fabric is flattering and draped nicely.
Next is Coral Castillo’s peach-colored gown with patterned straps around the chest and neckline. Intriguing, but not enough to hold my attention.
Kenneth Barlis shows off the most fun silhouette so far: a burnt orange puff-sleeve dress with a lattice peekaboo midriff.
Then there’s Aaron Michael’s red jumpsuit, which features a bomber jacket with leather shoulder detailing and a braided halter top with gold hardware. Definitely one of the most creative looks in the bunch.
Octavio’s model steps out in a red bandeau, ruffle jacket, and baggy cargo pants, finished off with bows. It’s an immediate favorite of the judges, though personally I found it too mainstream for a place in the top.
Shantall Lacayo’s model wears a pale pink suit with latticed sleeves. To me, the outfit looked unfinished—lots of threads poking out—but it survived the judges’ withering gaze.
Finally, Bones reveals his own ensemble: a yellow satin tank and a jacket and pants combo with asymmetrical shoulder straps. Bones might have a big mouth, but there’s no denying his garment is stunning.
Next, from the cool team:
Zayden Skipper’s got a pale green minidress paired with a cropped jacket (collar popped and all). It’s ostentatious, but in an exuberant, artistic way.
Katie Kortman indulges her love for prints in her dress, which features a hand-painted metallic-on-organza fabric with balloon sleeves, a poofy skirt, and the all-important bow on the back.
Next is Sabrina’s light blue dress, which has a sort of sad-looking bow at the chest with a trailing satin skirt.
I must not be the target audience for Kristina’s look: a sheer blue bubble dress with a high ruffled neckline and ties at the wrists. It has no obvious shape other than “big,” but Nina loves it, so what do I know?
Chastity’s slate blue gown has an intriguing concept—there are cut-outs at the chest and back—but the overall effect is that of a bridesmaid dress, and a poorly tailored one at that.
Meg’s garment pairs a purple V-neck blouse with an eggplant-colored midi slit skirt. Pretty, but not particularly inspired.
Oof. Caycee Black’s lavender coat dress looks like a bathrobe with spiky boobs. You can see the glimmers of an idea there, but the result does not belong on a runway.
Anna Zhou’s gown is by far my favorite of the cool team’s outfits. The gorgeous purple satin skirt with dark purple sequined shoulder straps is so classic, yet elevated enough to feel high fashion. Currently clearing my closet for this piece.
Predictably, the cool team falls to the bottom, while the warm team bags a win and temporary safety. The judges roll through their favorites: Octavio’s red look, Bones’s yellow satin ensemble, and “Darren”’s gold sequin dress. Basically, Bones wins—twice. Darren semi-confesses to his smoke break-induced blunder, but he squeaks by due to his teammate’s ingenuity and speed.
Next, the judges break down the cool team’s worst garments: Sabrina’s sad bow gown, Caycee’s sharp-boobed bathrobe, and Chastity’s bridesmaid dress. They ultimately decide on Bones as the week’s champion, then send Caycee home for failing to embrace her model’s curves. “You made poor design choices and sent an unfinished garment down the runway,” Elaine tells her, and while it’s always terrible to watch these talented artists go home, it’s the right call here. Chastity’s gown was poorly executed, but there were intriguing ideas at play; Caycee’s, by comparison, was an unsophisticated concept from the start. I don’t make the rules!
So far, I haven’t seen anything to make me gasp—alas, other than Bones throwing shade at Christian—but that purple sequin gown of Anna’s is enough to keep me hungry for more. This crop of designers could be a delight to watch, though no word yet on whether we’ll find a replacement for Eric’s adoration of last season’s Dayoung Kim. In the meantime, we’ll see you sartorial snobs next week.
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