After the first episode of Project Runway All Stars, my head was reeling from all the changes that Lifetime had made to the basic Project Runway model (as well as from all the fun everyone was having at the viewing party with Mondo Guerra at Beauty Bar, the first in an ongoing series).
That first episode revealed that flurry of changes that no one was supposed to find significant, but ended up overpowering the premiere. There's no Tim Gunn, no Heidi. In their place we're given Joanna Coles, editor-in-chief of Marie Claire magazine, and Angela Lindvall, who we're somehow supposed to believe is as famous as Heidi even though we've never heard of her. Michael Kors and Nina Garcia aren't there to judge, instead we have designers Georgian Chapman (of Marchesa) and Isaac Mizrahi. And the Bluefly accessories wall has been replaced by the Neiman Marcus accessories wall. The prizes up for grabs are entirely different with the All Stars show, too: Instead of winning money to help launch a fashion line, the winning designer gets to guest edit Marie Claire for a year and have a specialty boutique inside Neiman Marcus stores.
But the contestants still have to make clothes out of ridiculous things. In the first episode, the thirteen designers had two days to make something inspired by a piece from their own collection -- but this time out of items found at a 99-cent store. Rami Kashou, the one who was nuts about draping in season four, won the challenge with a structural piece made out of laundry bags and umbrella lining that "could have just stepped off the Paris runway," according to Lindvall. Elisa Jimenez -- who spits on her clients' clothes to "bless them," I kid you not -- was sent home because her design needed too much explanation.
Lindvall offered up a parting line much less catchy than Heidi's "auf weidersehen." She simply said "goodbye" and let the credits roll.
For the second episode, which aired last night, the designers were asked to make something couture and dramatic for a night at the opera -- in one day. This was business as usual for some, like season one's Austin Scarlett and season eight's Mondo Guerra, our hometown favorite, but it took others completely out of their comfort zone.
The drama started at the fashion store, when Michael Costello and April Johnston both wanted red fabric. Michael was worried about this because he and April each made dresses out of mops for last week's challenge, so he decided to buy black jersey instead. April, who bought the red to show the judges she can step out of her usual gray and black palette, decided to ombre dye (a process in which the dye fades from darkest at the bottom to lightest at the top) her dress with black fading to ox blood. All the other designers thought she was crazy, and most of us watching agreed.
Meanwhile, everyone was putting pressure on Austin because he was known as the "King of Couture" in his season, but I wanted to know why no one was putting pressure on him to shave the mustache that makes him look like he should be on a Dateline special.
Then the fashion show began and the dresses came down the runway ...
Kenley: A pink dress that didn't fit the opera theme, which of course had polka dots on the bodice. Someone get this girl to polka dot rehab, please.
Gordana: A violet dress, somewhat '20s inspired, with a bloused beaded top.
Rami: A magenta dress with a drop waist that he was worried would show imperfections.
Mila: A fitted black sequined gown with a military sash. Par for the Mila course.
Sweet P: A coral and flower print dress with a ruched bodice that would have looked at home at a Junior League luncheon.
Mondo: A gorgeous, slightly futuristic white dress with silver pops and a box on the sash.
Jerell: A simple empire waist gown with a sheer top.
Kara: A beautifully constructed strapless, floral taffeta gown with a full skirt and black sash. (As Isaac said to her, "Who doesn't love a black grosgrain sash?")
Anthony: A white, low-cut draped satin gown paired with "edgy" black gloves to keep it from looking too bridal.
Austin: A gold gown with black tulle embellishment that he thought "keeps her modest."
April: A red dress of various fabrics, which missed the mark with the ombre dye being the least of her worries.
Michael: A black gown with feathers and silver sparkle, super backless with a dramatic train.
As per usual, the highest- and lowest-scoring designers were called out on the runway as the other designers watched from backstage. The judges liked Anthony, Sweet P and April the least. They said Anthony's design was good but they weren't sure about his choice of accessories. Sweet P's dress seemed "more prom than couture," they said, and was poorly executed with a bad color choice -- coral is much more appropriate for daytime. And finally, April got poor marks from guest judge duo Badgley Mischka because they hate red and black together.
Austin, Kara and Michael had the highest scores. The judges loved Austin's dress, only making a comment on the disproportionate amount of fabric on the bust (which Austin quickly fixed). Badgley Mischka liked Kara's dress, but everyone else thought it was too simple. Michael's dress, however, blew everyone away, with Isaac saying, "I can't believe you made this in one day!"
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At the end, though, Austin was crowned the winner and is still the "King of Couture." It's probably for the best that he won, since he might have collapsed in a little ball and never stopped shaking otherwise. Sweet P was sent home for her prom dress flop, told that she'd "lost her way."
All in all, it was a pretty calm episode, without much inter-designer fighting or many bitchy lines from Isaac -- but there's always hope for next week.