Project Runway: “Back to New York”

Season 7 of Project Runway is, as the title suggests, back to New York. That declaration seems to be the show’s attempt to erase the sins of the previous Los Angeles-set season, or perhaps simply to pretend that it was all part of some bleary, barely-remembered Hollywood bender.

I live in L.A., so I’m not one of those people who believes that the city is a cultural black hole that swallows up everything good and pure in the world. Still, it was good to see the new crop of designers arrayed on the rooftop of the Atlas apartments in Manhattan and sewing away furiously in the familiar Parson’s workroom. If nothing else, we are at least spared the sight of Tim Gunn in beachwear this season. (By which I mean, sans tie.)

The good news is that this season’s designers seem to be a slightly more diverse and interesting crew than the previous group. A few may even break out as genuine Project Runway characters—particularly Ping, who marched around the workroom with all of her fabric wrapped around her like some kind of elegant bag lady, and gregarious Anthony from Atlanta. Also, promises have been made that judges Michael Kors and Nina Garcia will be consistent presences this season (although that still didn’t stop them from bringing in “TV personality” Nicole Richie as a guest judge).

Less encouraging was the inexcusably dull first challenge. The designers were sent to Central Park, where they found piles of fabric strewn over benches and had to grab as much as they could in three minutes. Their task: to create a garment that demonstrated their unique aesthetic. Umm…isn’t that point of every challenge? The ridiculous parameters they must work within are sort of the point of the show. I miss the days when the first challenge involved setting the designers loose in a supermarket and watching as they struggled to make chic cocktail dresses out of corn husks and trash bags.

The first episode of a Project Runway season always feel a little crammed as we’re introduced to more designers than we can possibly care about. A few of the garments that came down the runway were good, a few were bad, and most were simply forgettable. I wasn’t nearly as crazy about Seth’s farmer’s-daughter-meets-punk-princess dress as the judges were, but I loved Emilio’s intricate and flirty purple cocktail dress.

I was sure that Jesus—whose brown ballgown looked like a naughyde armchair—would be aufed, but Christiane got the boot. Ping’s drapey shawl contraption was a little avant-garde for my taste, but at least it wasn’t boring.

As we start the long journey to Bryant Park, let’s hope we can say the same about this season.