This series will look at the fifth season of Project Runway. As such it will contain spoilers from each episode. You’ve been warned. A promise though: I will never use the word "Aufed."
A yellow NYC taxi pulls up in front of the Atlas, a grey luxury apartment building. A man with a shirt open to his navel is pulling a suitcase down the street. It’s our first contestant on The Sewing Is Right. Jerell, come on down! He’s 28, from Los Angeles and an ex-model who couldn’t afford cool clothes so he made his own. Now he’s a designer.
Jerell makes it up to his apartment and chooses a bed. He’s still got his hat on. Bad luck indoors, Jerell! Oh well, Jerell. The doorbell rings and it’s Blayne, a swept-hair, blond and orange lil’ fella in trendoid skatewear. He wheels his suitcase in and avoids eye contact. Maybe the tanning bed scorched his retinas. Like a metal shaving to a magnet, Blayne finds the chalkboard in the room and graffitis “Sup Holla!” above the welcome message on it. We’ll soon find out he’s a man in search of a catchphrase.
Surprise! Blayne is a barista at a coffee shop (wonder which?) and “loves urban wear”. We see him trying to poplock. It’s as if he has downloaded every major trend since the late ‘80s and his program is crashing. Blayne blogs to the solo cam that “tanning is (his) passion” and he “needs to squeeze that in.” Well, don’t the makeup people have airbrushes? Shouldn’t be a problem. Blayne has his hoodie pulled up over his “I Wanna Be a Dentist” blond hair. He looks like Malibu Elf.
Mello Joe as I may call him from this point on (at least in my own thoughts) is in next. He makes a very low key entrance, just walks in without fanfare and grabs a coffee. This man is comfortable in his skin and has nothing to prove to anyone in the room. I smell a darkhorse here. Joe is 41 and from Detroit. He’s married and just instantly seems like a standup kinda guy. I like Joe from Detroit. Mellow, humble, he’s already the mental sherbet you need after four courses of Blayne. So that’s three guys in one apartment so far.
Stella Zotis in stripey leggings and a vest is pulling her large suitcase toward the Atlas. In a tough, New York-style accent she blogs that she makes custom rockwear for rock stars. We see pix of her clothing on Debbie Harry and Joan Jett and the like. She adds that “hookahs or pimps” or anyone else who can pull it off can wear her clothes, too. She can make clothing to fit hookahs? What if it catches fire?
Disney fluffy bunny music plays as the polar opposite to Stella smiles her way into the women’s apartment. She looks like Holly Hobbie grown up. “Hi, I’m Jennifer,” she extends her hand for an amused Stella to shake. Jennifer is 27 and lives in Italy. We see a homemade ‘surreal’ video with Jennifer rising up out of a spool of thread. Oh dear. She blogs that her style is “Holly Golightly goes to a Salvador Dali exhibit”. Please don’t make her make a gown out of melted stopwatches.
From Holly and Sally to Vivienne Westwood and Betsy Johnson. Someone stop these kids before they analogise again. Kelli Martin is 27 and in next. She claims to be the love child of those two female designers. Someone’s been hiding the cloning lab! Kelli is bottle-blond with a tattoo sleeve up one arm. She’s rocker chick meets art student. Gahh, now they have me doing it! Kelli blogs that she has her own custom clothing store in Columbus, Ohio. She’s like the suburban, shock-your-mommy version of Chloe Dao. Okay, I’m smacking my own hand now.
This is shaping up like a Laverne and Shirley with so many people barging in the unlocked door. Terri is 39 and wearing sunglasses indoors. She should meet Jerell. Once indoors drop the accessories is what I say. But, who’s listening? And that’s it for the women. What, no Terri blog? She must’ve caught a catnap.
That’s okay, a man with a fauxhawk is up next. And he’s the first into the second men’s apartment. Jerry Tam blogs that he’s “doing very well” but grimaces and looks down while he says it. Something tells me this is a man with an affirmation tape or two. The photos of his clothing show simple, sleek, sophisticated (wanna take bets on how long I can keep up the alliteration? no? me either) black day-to-night wear.
Another fauxhawk! This one’s dyed blue. Someone fell asleep in the port-a-potty! And he has a uni-moniker. Just “Suede”, thank you. (Is this The Pickup Artist?) “Suede” talks about “Suede” repeatedly and what “Suede” wants to do and does do. Tell me because I’d like to know: Do reality shows have checklists that say there has to be one person who talks about himself in the third person? I can picture it now:
“I’d really like to get this show cast.”
“Oh I know, me too! But no one’s talked about themselves in the third person yet!”
And then one comes in and they can take their coffee break? There just seems to be one on every reality show. Suede is that one for this season’s Project Runway. He burbles on about something or other and I think he won’t be long on our screens. Make the most of it for your drinking games while you can.
A third guy named Keith rounds out the roomies for that apartment. He looks just like K Fed. A woman named Korto Momolu from Liberia blogs that she is a big fish in the small pond of Little Rock (okay, I’m paraphrasing) and now wants to make it in NYC. I guess Keith’s blog was boring? Because soon as he shook hands we cut to Korto. But that’s fine with me. Although maybe Keith Fed and Kelli can hook up and be our season’s version of Brit and Kevin. A Bettie Page lookalike named Kenley and another grown Holly Hobbie named Leanne wander in and shake hands with Korto. Leanne’s clothing line is Leanimal which makes me think of Garanimal and her clothes aren’t much better. She blogs that she is the “silent fashion assassin.” But I hope she’s not deadly.
Another one? This is like the stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera. Or, the Cyndi Lauper music video, whichever you prefer. Emily Brandle is 27 and looks a little like a stretched-thin version of Christina Ricci. Nah, we don’t need to hear her blog obviously because we don’t. Heh. Two more guys pour into the two men’s apartments. Daniel Feld meets Jerry, and Wesley Nault meets Blayne/Jerell. They’re both in their early twenties and look like extras from a Whit Stillman movie. Wesley has worked at Marc Jacobs. And Jerell still has his hat on! Wesley gives a shy, toothy grin and blogs that his clothes “are diviiine”. He is wearing dark long shorts (the kind your dad might wear) with a button-down shirt. If the designers are this style challenged it does not bode well for the season. But oh well. Mello Joe blogs that the reason he is on PR is that he wants to show his daughters “you can do exactly what you want – just go for it”. Aww.
Everyone has a printed note from “Heidi and Tim” inviting them to the roof. I hope the “fashion assassin” isn’t up there waiting for them all, or this series could take a grim turn. Sure enough, Heidi (in what look like 12” heels) and Tim wait next to a table set with champagne. It looks freezing up there on that rooftop. But everyone’s grinning. Heidi introduces the apartment building they are standing on as “Gotham City’s luxury apartment building, The Atlas”. Holy product placement, Batman! Heidi introduces Tim, who welcomes them all and calls them the most diverse group of designers yet to be on Project Runway. Really? It looked more like a twin convention to me. There are at least a few pairs who I can barely tell apart.
Heidi informs them that they have to wait ‘til tomorrow to get their assignment, so now it’s time for champagne. Tim uncorks the bottle and the cork flies over the edge of the building. Thankfully cork isn’t that heavy or we may have seen a gravity experiment in action. You know, the one about a penny dropped off of the Empire State Building? Heidi peers over the edge of the Atlas and shrugs. No, sorry. She doesn’t see any carnage below, and so the party continues. Now is when the ‘hub bub hub bub’ sounds are turned up in volume and we see people generally relaxing and sipping champagne. I notice they never have the contestants drink on the rooftop later in the season. Hmm, wonder why.
Oh, no. Heidi tempts Terri into analogising her design style. “It’s like if… Aerosmith was to meet Lauryn Hill, was to meet Michael Jackson, that’s what you’d see”. No, I’d see a therapist the next morning, with that mental image. (What’s Michael Jackson doing in there?) Heidi asks the same thing of Keith Fed, and clad in a sleeveless vest, he proceeds to blow so much smoke up her that a helicopter buzzed the rooftop. Only Tim’s frantically waving arms stopped them all from being flamestopped. Tim saves the day again! Next, Bettie Page-alike mocks Blayne’s orange skin. The two of them standing across from each other are like a storybook visual. Snow White and Orange Head. Still, it’s not nice to mock people, Kenley Collins. To their face.
Okay, so we’re catching up on the video blogs now I guess. One of the Whit Stillman extras (Daniel, I guess) shows us his hobby: a collection of butterflies on pins. I half expect him to say he wouldn’t hurt a fly. We see photos of his designs — somehow a chihuahua got in there. And there’s a domino dress. Okay. They all raise a toast and the party’s done. Early the next day, Tim goes from door to door ringing their bells and telling them to meet him in the lobby. Who wouldn’t follow Tim Gunn anywhere? Holly Hobbie One regrets not brushing her teeth. I doubt he noticed, Leanne or Jennifer.
Pied Piper Tim leads them all to a grocery store. This was the show’s first-ever challenge in season one and it will be this season’s first as well. Outside Gristedes grocery, Tim announces a “special guest”. It’s… Austin from season one! Using the designers’ penchant for multi-celebrity ‘lovechildren’ I will put it this way: If Quentin Crisp were related to Grace Kelly, and somehow borrowed some vogueing from Oscar Wilde’s love Bosie, the result might be Austin Scarlett. Austin races across the street to meet the group. His feet do not touch the ground. How does he do that?? Austin’s wearing a navy blazer, white scarf, white hat, white pants. At least he wears his hat outdoors, Jerell. Take a note.
So, the challenge is that the contestants have to design something using materials found inside the grocery. Points for innovation. Of course, next they all scramble around Gristides as if it’s a game show (which, well, it is) and fill their carts with odds and ends. Only Korto goes for fresh produce. Perhaps the others remember past food or floral debacles. Among other purchases made are plastic cups, beach balls, vacuum cleaner bags, and way too many paper tablecloths. It’s all brought back to Parsons’ sewing room. Suede enters the catchphrase competition with the use of “wackadoodle”. Which becomes instantly ironic when said by a grown man who wears a blue fauxhawk and refers to himself in the third person. Just saying.
Tim talks. "Winner = immunity, make it work", etc. The work begins. Joe makes an “Italian theme” garment made of potholders and pasta. Soup can labels round it out. Warhol meets fusilli? Kelli ‘Jackson Pollocks’ her vacuum cleaner bags and assembles the cute little dress with notebook rings. Daniel is melting and molding. Plastic cups onto muslin, at least. Jerell has a fresh hat (still indoors) and Blayne is trying to out-Fierce last season’s winner Christian with a catchword. “Girlicious!” he keeps saying. It’s already getting on Jerell’s nerves. I want to see Jerell take his hat off and swat Blayne with it like The Skipper did to Gilligan. “Take that, Malibu Elf. Who’s my Little Buddy now??”
Jerry doesn’t think much of the other contestants’ choices. He equates all of their materials to things he would “throw in the trash.” He especially dislikes Kelli’s use of vacuum cleaner bags and coffee filters. Remember that for later, okay? Stella is having a lot of trouble with her materials. Which are – trash bags. Looks like she chose a bargain brand, because they are super thin and useless. She spends most of the episode wondering what to do. Okay, after some joking around amongst the designers, it’s Tim Time. He walks up to Blayne first, and grimaces as Elfy introduces Tim to “Girlicious”. He’s even named his dress dummy that? Tim seems flummoxed. But he doesn’t get away without Blayne, who seems to have Catchphrase Tourette’s, hitting him with a “Holla at your boy, Tim”. Tim politely ignores it.
Tim tours the room and gives advice to each designer – as always, pertinent and helpful. He gives praise where deserved: Kelli’s design looks like “marbled paper” and is “fabulous”. I lose count of how many designers are using fabric, er, I mean a tablecloth. Of those, Korto’s is the most successful, since she had a nice design and chose a solid color. Still, it’s a paper dress. Tim encourages her to use the fresh produce she thought to buy. Jerry Tam smiles bravely in front of his lackluster white tablecloth/shower curtain raincoat. Tim seems dejected on his behalf. Keith and Suede’s gingham picnic tablecloth clothes are a mess. Keith’s is shaped like a party dress, and Suede’s looks like a costume for a chorus member in a high school production of The Music Man. Not good. Oh, and he blogs his name again in case we forgot it. Jerry blogs that he really would not want to go home on the first round. Uh-oh.
The struggle continues as the clock winds down to midnight. Holly Hobbie Two is gluing bon bons to her design. Jerry seems lost completely. He’s making a dress to go under the thin plastic raincoat, but the dress is made of baby wipes or something, hard to tell. Blayne fits in another wanna-be catchphrase. Oh, another day, another “Holla”. Stella fears she will be eliminated with the trash bag dress. Jerell pep talks her. (His hat’s missing!) Time to stop. Next morning the designers and models meet for the first time. Blayne has to adjust the mop diaper he’s putting his model Paulina in. He has to sew her into it by hand. “I’m gonna try my best not to poke you!” he sing-songs to her. Oh, Blayne. I don’t think she’s worried.
Kenley the mocking bird mocks Jerry’s ensemble as “American Psycho” and “axe murderer”. She couches it as “worry” how the judges will see it. Yes, her concern for him just oozes out of her canary-eating grin. The models are makeupped and styled, styled, styled. “Girlicious!” we hear Blayney Bird caw. Korto makes a mad dash to retrieve her vegetable collar from the fridge. It’s pre-assembled and ready to go. Jerry has made a tragic style choice and has given his model standard yellow dishwashing gloves to wear. Ugh. Her makeup is bland, her hair stringy, her thin white garment hangs unevenly. It isn’t good.
At the runway, Heidi reminds them all what’s at stake. Prizes, money, blah blah. Were you listening? I wasn’t. Now the judges. Michael and Nina, of course. And Austin, too. He’s introduced as Creative Director of Kenneth Pool and is dressed very Brooks Brothers chic today. He even wears serious specs. The various hot train wrecks parade down the runway. Heidi and Nina do not even try to hide their contempt for a few of the designs, notably Holly One’s (or Two’s?) candy and random paper napkin dress, and Jerry’s “What if Norman Bates wore the shower curtain?” ensemble.
Scoring time. Six remain and the rest retreat backstage. Those not still on the runway were mediocre enough to move on in the competition but not good enough (this week) to win. Daniel’s melted cup dress is praised for its risk-taking and “unexpected” use of material. I feel bad for Jerry. Michael and Heidi rip into his design and are not shy with their criticism. He looks as if he woke up in someone else’s nightmare. Poor Jerry. I really do feel bad for him. His photos earlier showed talent, and I’m not sure “paper or plastic?” is a good gauge of it.
The judges veer into sadistic almost, with their endless and colorful jabs. “Hospital plumber”, “freaky”, “mental patient” etc. I think he gets it, guys. After the fourth or fifth insult he winces and keeps his eyes shut. You can see how much he has riding on this competition. Did we really need to see him subjected to “Handi Wipes gone wrong”? (I’m hoping that was just added later as a product placement but I’m not counting on that.) Actually if this design had used, oh, say, actual fabric it would’ve been a nice fresh spring outfit. White raincoat, lavender slip dress underneath. To me he tried for something more subtle and was hamstrung by poor source materials, but my vote doesn’t exactly count here.
Heidi calls Korto “Kotto” and they all love her paper dress. To me, the tablecloth should have been verboten in this challenge. It’s a form of a fabric. It is a huge piece of fabric that can be sewn, even if it is paper. It’s much, much easier than piecing together paper cups or even the smaller vacuum bags and coffee filters. As such, Korto’s dress, while lovely, doesn’t belong in the top three. And for me, the tacked-on green and red vegetable collar doesn’t add enough oomph or originality. It doesn’t really seem to go with the yellow dress, either. Or maybe I’m just really sad for Jerry’s humiliated face. Anyhow, Kelli’s design is fantastic, with its manufactured hooks and eyes, and thumbtack embellishments. Well done, Kelli. Other than the fried-egg shaped cups in the bodice, I love it. Next, Blayne introduces “Girlicious” which translates to, “the back seat of my camper van just exploded on me”. Enough said. Or maybe not: A mop diaper playsuit does not equal Gaultier. But, he seems to have charmed the judges.
The judges’ panel confers and concurs privately on the six tops and bottoms. They rip into Jerry’s design again, and we see a glimpse of Jerry backstage looking as if he’s choking back sobs. He’s got his brave face on but you can tell he’s pretty crushed by this embarrassing debut. Now the six are called back to the runway. Kelli’s paper and clips dress wins. Korto, Daniel, and Blayne are excused. Stella and Jerry remain. Heidi tells Jerry his look was “memorable but not in a good way”. She tells Stella she “took the easy way out” with her trash bag evening gown. Without further ceremony Heidi tells Jerry “you’re out”. Jerry looks like he’s just been sentenced to a public execution, which, in a kinda sorta way, he has. Still – Jerry, your talent and designs are top level. This is just a blip. Non-fabric challenges are not an indicator of design talent in my opinion, but something for art students making ready-mades. Here’s hoping the brief exposure this show gave you will lead to bigger and better things, an expanded forum for your obvious talent. I liked your gravitas.
Goodbyes are said backstage and Tim gently urges Jerry to “clean up your workspace”. I will spare the Handi Wipes joke here. Jerry, I hope we see you again soon. And I’m not just saying that because your design scared me. I really do mean it.
And that’s the recap, folks. See you next week when it seems our designers have each other for models. I just hope the only groceries we see then are catered.