Project Runway returned tonight after…well, not quite ever going away. Bravo is airing a shiny, 90-minute-long reboot while Project Runway: All-Stars is wrapping up a winter run. So many projects; so long the runway. I am very excited to be recapping this new version despite having to Google every other word I hear on this show and my reaction to every look being to sincerely shout “Florals? For spring! Groundbreaking!!!”
Karlie Kloss steps into the stilettos first worn by Heidi Klum, while Christian Siriano takes over mentorship duties from Tim Gunn. I love this for many reasons, not the least of which is the outrageous height difference between the two of them. Returning to judge is Nina Garcia, Editor-in-Chief of ELLE. (Hi.) She’s joined by Elaine Welteroth and Brandon Maxwell. All four judges, including Kloss, take it pretty easy on the contestants in the premiere, so it remains to be seen how their personalities will mesh and who will have the most sharp-edged critiques. However, Karlie Kloss has a line in the final runway that ripped every follicle from my wig. But more on this in a minute.
The show opens, as usual, with a rapid-fire introduction of contestants, represented by looks from previous collections in a First Impressions runway. The judges are stoic throughout, although every time someone takes off a jacket Brandon shouts “Oh! A reveal,” which is actually hilarious.
Some standouts: Renee Hill, who has NINE children, and showed a voluminous black coat that was cinched at the waist; Frankie Lewis, who designs for women of size and is couch-surfing after breaking up with her boyfriend and moving out of their house; Hester Sunshine, who is holding down this season’s eccentricity slot and describes her style as “high fashion whimsy”; and Samoan-born Afa Ah Loo, whose thing seems to be form-fitting gowns that have a huge floral train. “GROUNDBREAKING!” I shout sincerely at my TV.
For inspiration, each of the judges brings in a photo that represents the moment when they realized fashion was their calling. I am immediately hysterically crying. Karlie shows her first runway at age 13. Brandon shows his mom serving Joan Collins–in–Dynasty realness in a fashion show at his grandmother’s clothing store. Nina shows a photo taken during her first shoot—it’s black and white and on a yacht and everyone is wearing wide-legged white pants and I’m obsessed. Elaine shows the first cover she worked on for Ebony, which features Serena Williams rocking a blue bathing suit. Confidence is the through line here, and in the confessionals, a lot of the designers seem to have picked up on it.
The design-testants are broken into four groups, each assigned a different judge’s photo as a starting point. And off they go. We get a little more information on Cavanaugh Baker, who doesn’t think $250 at Mood is enough to purchase the fabrics she needs; Frankie, meanwhile, is flabbergasted by how much money it feels like to her. Hmm, one wonders if this pairing will face off at some later point in the series, perhaps in roughly five paragraphs. A mystery!
Other strands: Hester picks organza to make a trench out of even though she’s never worked with the fabric before. It’s like someone on Top Chef deciding to make ice cream. I am already shouting at the screen. Lela Orr is very into sustainability and vows to use as much of her material as she can. Kovid Kapoor is delighted by absolutely everything; he is perhaps the happiest person ever on reality TV.
As time ticks away, Frankie—who is making a strap-covered bodysuit to echo the one-piece Serena wore—slowly melts down. Her model is taller than she anticipated, so she has to start over; there are questions about her skill set; she needs help sewing an invisible zipper. It’s a whole thing.
Meanwhile, Cavanaugh asks her model to make herself useful by hand-sewing something and Afa has opinions about it. He gives a reaction grimace that makes me laugh every single one of the 12 times I rewind the scene and watch it.
In a new twist this season, viewers will get to vote on an audience favorite from the final runway. The winning design of the challenge and the audience’s favorite design will both be manufactured on demand by Nineteenth Amendment and sold on BravoTV.com. Everyone is very excited about this because money; I am very excited about this, because lewks on demand in my mailbox.
Our final six are Lela, Venny Ettienne, Frankie, Renee, Cavanaugh, and Tessa Clark. Venny’s dress adorned with feather fringe gets high marks, as does Renee’s very chic dress with a fitted bodice, a billowing skirt, and a wrap that becomes a shawl and then a scarf. “Two reveals!” Brandon shouts. The winning design comes from Tessa, whose sleek black tunic held up by long, loose white straps builds on Nina’s boat-set photo. Brandon calls it “chic fisherman.” Obsessed.
Our bottom three are Frankie, who experienced major construction issues to the point where she gestures to a strap on the model’s bodysuit and the strap comes off. Nina is actually incredulous, because she doesn’t know what fabric Frankie used or why she would choose it for a bodysuit. Karlie offhandedly tells Frankie that she has “questions about her taste level,” which is somehow so devastating it hurt my feelings.
The judges aren’t impressed by Lela’s skill set either; Karlie has questions about her execution. But they let her go to sustain the planet another day.
Cavanaugh, who worried that the judges would think her black crop top and skirt are basic after a grey jacket design fell through, watches her fears come true. Nina asks what the back looks like and, when the model turns to reveal just a regular back, a look of abject horror crosses Nina’s face. It’s life-giving. But, alas, when your design prompts horror, it’s hard to stay in the competition. Cavanaugh is sent home after getting a light villain edit, which doesn’t seem super fair given the outcome.
Who I’m rooting for at this point
Renee, whose design legit wowed me; Tessa, who seems like a very low-key force to be reckoned with; Kovid, the source of all joy in the universe; and Kovid’s model, Mimi, the first trans model in Project Runway history.