Project Runway Post-Show Chat, Week 1

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 15 2010 2:11 AM

Project Runway Post-Show Chat, Week 1

After each episode of Project Runway ’s seventh season, a gaggle of Slatesters will gather to dish about the show.

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June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

June Thomas: The first week of Project Runway is always a bit of a blur. The producers have to introduce 16 designers—and get them down the runway. That doesn't leave a lot of room to signal who's the kook, who's the no-hoper, and who's the bitch. But this episode was particularly turbo-charged, and it was great.

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There was a lot less of the manufactured suspense that we're used to having in the announcement phase. Instead of a lot of shots of Heidi looking sadistic and the contestants looking nervous, Heidi just announced the winner (congratulations, Emilio Sosa ), and a minute later, it was " auf Wiedersehen , Christiane King ."

Hanna Rosin: I have to say, I could have used a little more tension. As a challenge, "make a dress that reflects your design aesthetic" was a little flat, the equivalent of my editor telling me, "Write something." It's as if, after the disaster of last season, they have to remind us of the original formula, "make it work" and all.

That said, they did wring some drama out of Janeane Marie Ceccanti and Seth Aaron Henderson . She is like a walking Abilify commercial, and you can't imagine her making it through the season. Her outfit was also utterly forgettable, practically institutional.

Seth was the surprise of the evening. The whole episode I was trying to pin him down. Is he Pirates of Penzance ? Vegas lounge lizard? Dan Zanes ? It never occurred to me he would make a fine dress. Did you guys like the dress, by the way? The back was lovely, I thought, but the front was straight out of the Delia's catalog.

David Plotz: June and my beloved wife, Hanna, I'm honored if a little scared to be permitted to bring my Y chromosome to this discussion. Lifetime's commercials—vitamins specially formulated for women, weight-loss pills for women, calcium for women, cereals for fat women, hair-care products for women, based-on-a-true-woman’s-story movies ( The Pregnancy Pact !) suggest that I am not Project Runway 's target audience. But if Slate can have three women write about Friday Night Lights , it can certainly allow a guy into the Project Runway conversation.

Seth's gingham milkmaid hooker dress didn't interest me as much as his architectural hair, which was not even the most vertical of the Season 7 men’s, suggesting we have finally reached the grim cultural moment when men spend more time on their hair than women do. 

Heidi, who seems to be a one-person pregnancy pact (what is this, her fourth kid?), seemed a little more robotic than usual in the premiere. She's surely bored with saying exactly the same thing week after week, season after season, and I felt like her boredom was showing. I don't know how many more seasons they can do with exactly the same formula, same words, same catchphrases, same everything.

J.T.: David, I think it can go on forever as long as they sign up talented contestants and the judging makes sense. After all, we tried change last season, and look how that worked out.

I did not think that Seth deserved to be in the top three, but perhaps that's because I'm sad that the judges like him. One look at the way he styles himself—I swear his runway outfit made him look like the ringmaster in a satanic circus—and I immediately took against him. But every reality show needs someone viewers love to hate. (I did like the back of his dress, well, other than that monstrous red zipper. I hated the fabric, though. It read very old-lady to me.)

Let's talk about the winners and losers. In every Week 1, only six of the contestants count: the top three and the bottom three, whose dresses we actually get to see for more than a millisecond. The rest are just extras.

I was glad Emilio won. He seems like a nice guy, but most important, he made a beautiful dress that was lovely to look at and showed off his technical skills. It was another short challenge, which is something I don't care for in general—would it kill the producers to give the designers enough time to think and to make properly finished garments?--but it did separate the contestants. In just over a day, Emilio managed all manner of braiding and appliqué and complicated inlays. The dress looked like something young women would want to buy, but it also had an expensive, high-end look. In fact, it was one of my all-time favorite Project Runway dresses.

D.P.: Totally with you on Emilio. Loved the dress. The other designer I wanted in the top three was Anna Lynett , the artist who made that very sunshine-y cute dress .

H.R.: June, you say only the top and bottom three matter. But I thought there were some real doozies that got away. Jay Nicolas Sario —one of three people on the show to refer to himself in the third person—had that dress with poof-balls stuck on it , an homage to paint-ball victims everywhere. And right after that came Pamela Ptak 's pink flying nun . Those two definitely stuck with me. 

J.T.: At the bottom of the pack, I would have been fine with any of them going home.

The judges were right about Jesus Estrada ’s dress— not sexy, not fashionable, dated —but I kind of liked the chiffon train. Anthony Williams was safe because he brought the sound bites—"I’m sweating like a Baptist preacher"—and made a naked appeal to demographics when he described himself as "black and gay in the ghetto" and started ragging on the Miss America pageant. But he got the worst note that the judges can give: They questioned his " taste level ."

D.P.: I am already over Anthony, who seems like a character in a canceled sitcom. Ping Wu , too, is going to wear out her welcome soon; she’ll probably be auf 'd by Episode 3. I'm most looking forward to either the success or failure of Type A egomaniac supervillain Pamela Ptak (who probably fired the other vowels in her last name just to keep the "a" in line). Her pink dress, with its gasp-inducing absence of a back, had the odd effect of making her model look simultaneously naked and fat.

J.T.: Ping is clearly this season's wacko—and although I can't see her lasting too far into the show, she's interesting and amusing, and she certainly has a point of view.

H.R.: I was sure that Ping was going to end up like Elisa, that yoga freak from Season 4 who spit on her fabrics. Especially after she started dancing in front of the mirror and giggling into her wrist like a Japanese teenager. And that weird tea cozy head thing? Her outfit did not translate on TV at all. It was impossible to discern its construction; it could have been strung together by that single suspender for all I know. But then the judges decided it had a kind of eccentric Rei Kawakubo charm and declared her the artiste of the show. To me, it was a lesson on the arbitrary nature of taste. It really could have gone either way.

J.T.: I totally thought of Elisa the spitter when I saw Ping. Despite being the contestant who appears to have the least-developed command of English, she spun a good story about her clothes. That always wins over the judges—and it does feel like a necessary talent for someone who wants to be a "real" designer. High fashion can be very conceptual. If you can conjure a whole world for your clothes to fit into, you can get around that whole "wearability" question.

H.R.: Yes, June, but isn't that where Brüno comes in? ("My collection is all about stones and hopping toads ...") And remember what happened to Malvin the egg man from last season? He was high concept, too.

J.T.: Christiane was the first person to be kicked off the show . Her dress was just too generic (and the blue fabric was garish—that old "taste level" thing again). Project Runway is a tough place for black women—I'm still feeling bad about Korto ’s fate in Season 5—but Christiane’s outfit was boring and badly made, and that should earn you a ticket home.

H.R.: I have to bring up the subject of ethnic hierarchies on the show. They do seem to prefer the Persians. The woman who sewed my wedding dress was a Persian seamstress, so I understand it’s in the blood. But the show seems to accord the Persian women a certain authority and respect. Other ethnics, meanwhile—Ping, Anthony, Jesus—are played for comic relief.