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Project Runway: "Sew Me What You Got"

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Fashion has changed a lot in the roughly eight or so years (read: 13 months, which is approaching infinity for a reality competition show hiatus) that Project Runway has been off the air. Babydoll dresses and skinny-leg pants have dominated, making women look either fat, pregnant, or both. Men wear vests and ties in the hopes of looking like Justin Timberlake (who looks like he's wearing a retro '70s day-trader costume, anyway. Nice choice, men.) Roberto Cavalli is putting leopard print on everything at H&M; for some reason. And shoes have never been uglier. In short, Season 4 of Project Runway couldn't come along at a better time. Why? Well, if we're gonna look at ugly clothes, they might as well be made out of plants, or fashioned from recyclables, or constructed in under 12 hours, or reflect the idea of envy with a giant red tumor on the shoulder, right?

Of course, not everything the contestants have made on Project Runway over the years has been ugly. Some of it, like Jeffrey's stuff last season, was "Ugly-pretty" (read: punk ringmaster wear). Some of it was ugly-weird (see: tumor dress). And of course a lot of it wasn't ugly at all, like Michael's coffee filter dress in Season 3. But when things are ugly on Project Runway, they are often spectacularly ugly—which is why we watch. (Well, that and the general excitement of seeing these people make something creative out of virtually nothing. Oh, and the bitchiness.)

On tonight's episode, there was, thankfully, one dress that could be added to the pantheon of spectacularly hideous Project Runway garments: the blue "fabric poo" dress made by Elisa, the most annoying person in the world. How annoying is Elisa? Let me count the ways: She talks about her "art lifestyle." The first thing she said to her model was, "I'm just going to hand measure you." She does furious yoga in a corner when she first wakes up in the morning. She wants to "imbue her fabric with a natural element," like grass stains (although those really made a huge difference, didn't they?) When her model was tripping over the 18 pounds of fabric sewn onto the back of the dress in those awful aqua suede boots of death, Elisa said, "the sculptural quality of the dress literally tangled about her." Oh, and Elisa used to make costumes for giant marionettes. Basically, if Elisa was a word she would be, "Ughhhhh." Which is, of course, why the judges had to keep her around.

The biggest sin in the eyes of the Project Runway judges isn't hideousness, or annoyingness, or 18 pounds of grass-stained fabric attached to the back of a dress by a person living the "art lifestyle" of their dreams, it's being boring. So, despite the fact that she has the most designer-y name, they kicked off Simone Le Blanc.

It's ironic, though, that the judges hate boring things so much, because this challenge was unbelievably boring, especially for a first challenge. We've seen it before, many times. They do some variation on the "show us who you are as a designer" challenge every season. But it usually comes later on in the game, when, say, the audience would actually care about who these people are as people, let alone as designers. In the first episode, I don't want to see unknown contestants express themselves with $50,000 worth of textiles. That's dull. I want to see if they can make something out of groceries, or if they can rip the upholstery off a chair and make a serviceable skirt. That's got a "wow factor."

Though it was fun to see the fat guy in the Hawaiian shirt (Chris) slowly amble to the tents, panting. He's my favorite so far.

Grade: B

Stray Observations:

—Early hatreds: Jillian, because she manages to weigh down all of her words with both snobbish-ness and complete bitchiness ("I'm….not…going..home."), also she's a proponent of culottes, and Rami Cashew, because he designed something for Jessica Alba.

—Early loves: Chris (see above), and Ricky, but only because I want to see if he has enough zany hats to last the whole competition.

—At what age should you stop calling yourself Sweet and/or Mean P? 47? 48? I hope Kit Pistol drops the "Pistol" before she hits 40.

—It's so great to see Tim Gunn not next to Veronica Webb. Incidentally, if Pixar ever needs anyone to voice a gay slug, they totally know who to call.

—So many changes in product placements: The Macy's Accessory Wall is now the Bluefly.com accessory wall, the Atlas apartments are now the Gotham apartments, but the make-up room will always and forever be located in L'Oreal Paris.

—Does the fact that they keep showing the contestants writing "Make it work!" on the board bug anyone else? Just checking.

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