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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Project Runway: "Welcome to Los Angeles!"

Illustration for article titled Project Runway: "Welcome to Los Angeles!"
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Fear not, Project Runway fans. Amelie Gilette will be your guide through most of the season. But she's on vacation this week, which means that you have to put up with me. I know basically nothing about fashion but plenty about Los Angeles.

Ten months ago, Project Runway ended its fifth season and promptly entered several months’ worth of legal limbo and disappeared from the airwaves for far longer than its producers intended. In the meantime, the show moved to Los Angeles and switched networks from Bravo to Lifetime, both moves that fans of the series greeted with something akin to disgust. But after Lifetime finally won its legal battle to air the show, the sixth season, which was completed months and months ago, ended up feeling pretty much like, well, Project Runway. At its best, the series is one of the better ones for exploring the creative impulse and what drives people who make things to make those things the way they do. At its worst, it’s a parade of designs that never quite differentiate themselves except for the truly awful ones. Bits of both of those shows turned up in “Welcome to Los Angeles!” but perhaps more importantly, the series didn’t take any needless field trips to In and Out Burger or force the models to strut back and forth atop the D in the Hollywood sign. Nor did the show feature Heidi having to deal with being trapped in an abusive relationship with Tim or anything like that. So all of our worst fears were unfounded!

That said, the premiere, as with all reality show premieres, turned into a long string of faces that don’t ever really stand out from one another. To be fair, this is a general pitfall of the genre and also, to be fair, Project Runway is about as good at differentiating these contestants quickly through a handful of broad character traits as any other show has ever been in this genre. But it’s kind of a slog in this early going, as you attempt to get a handle on who’s going to be fun to follow as the season goes along. Because the show needs to show all of the designs from all of the contestants, it can’t just let all of them recede to the background either, so it’s a bit harder to tell who’s going to be a prominent player as the season wears on. But from the amount of screentime spend on their stories, it’s pretty clear that we’re going to be spending some time with Christopher, the one who didn’t go to fashion school and doesn’t care who knows it, and Johnny, the one who’s a recovering drug addict. He describes his meth addiction as possibly the darkest time in his life, and if it wasn’t, I’m not sure I want to know about the rest of his life.

The designers are tasked with creating a look for the red carpet, after a quick field trip to the Emmy red carpet (for last year, you slowly realize). Rather than specify which red carpet it will be, the designers are just told they can go with pretty much any red carpet, which leads to some wacky shenanigans down the line. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The challenge feels appropriately high-toned for the show’s move to a new network and move to LA (home of the red carpet), and it provides some great looks and some not so great looks.

As always, the best stuff in the show involves the designers working on their dresses, all 16 of them crowded into the same room and feverishly trying to get things ready in time. The freakouts this week involve Johnny weeping, Mitchell suddenly realizing that he had the wrong measurements for his model and Christopher coming out and saying, point blank, that his dress could be completely awful if he didn’t pull it off somehow. This is the section where the designers generally start to become different characters, but the sheer number of people Tim had to bounce between just made for a bit hyperkinetic feel in this section, and it was harder to get a sense of who everyone was, even though the show had tried pretty hard to do so in the early sections of the show.

But none of that mattered because the show brought on Lindsay Lohan as a guest judge, presumably the first in a veritable panoply of has-been stars that will be on the show this season, thanks to the new location. It appeared as though Lohan was forced to crawl out of bed against her will to judge this, but her comments ended up being fairly astute, so there’s less mileage in mocking her than there usually is. What is worth mocking is the bizarre, spacey Ari, who’s eliminated this week after her strange dress (designed to be equally appropriate for the VMAs and the Nobel Peace Prize, she said) just didn’t work. It kind of looked like a silver Fruit Roll-Up poorly strapped across the model’s body. I’m actually a bit sad that Ari’s gone, since she seemed like she’d be a good crazy contestant for the season, but this show has a bad habit of falling too in love with its blatantly wacky contestants, so it’s probably for the best that she went early.

Also, I was glad that Ari went because I felt bad for Mitchell’s apparently honest mistake (though I’d think that knowing your model’s measurements is generally sort of a prerequisite for this sort of thing). On the other hand, I thought the first look he had was kind of awful, so maybe he deserved to go either way. I also kind of liked Qristyl’s design, which ended up in the bottom three. That probably shows what I know about fashion, but I think what I responded to in it was the batshit nuttiness of it, which is probably why it was flagged to be in the bottom three in the first place.

I was pleased to see Christopher’s design get chosen as the big winner, even if I slightly preferred Ra’mon’s sleek look. Christopher’s dress took a more original and creative approach to the central problem, and though there may have been a few too many ruffles (thanks, Lindsay!), it still was a fun look overall. The rest of the dresses kind of settled into a giant morass of “pretty good,” which is the peril of these early episodes.

So, in the end, the best thing about the premiere of Project Runway, season six, was the fact that it was still the same show. There’s not going to be anything radically different about the series going forward. Heidi and Tim are still there. Nina’s still there. The designers are still the same bundle of creativity, highly strung nerves and borderline craziness. And this is still the sort of show that lets someone who knows nothing about fashion (me) pretend that he does on a weekly basis. That armchair quarterback aspect has always been the thing the show does best, and so long as it’s there, the show will probably be worth watching.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

  • I also like Shirin. Because I find her attractive. Shut up.
  • I watched about 15 minutes of the series Models of Runway that airs immediately after this one, but I couldn’t stomach much further. Doing a show about the models on the show must have seemed like a slam dunk, but this show just manages to turn hanging out with a bunch of models into a snorefest. Stick to what you know best, Runway producers.
  • Anybody else find the number of Bravo ads during the broadcast kind of weird?
  • Maybe this is my West Coast bias speaking, but I kind of LIKED the location shift in spite of myself. New York makes more sense as a permanent location for the show, but doing a season in Los Angeles doesn't strike me as the worst idea in the world. It certainly allows them to go for different energy.
  • When Qristyl says she imagined Lohan wearing her dress, I kind of loved the look of sheer contempt Lohan fixed her with.
  • "I don't call it plus size. I call it plus sexy."
  • "Are you being too hard on you?"