Season 5 Premiere of "Project Runway": Haven’t I Seen This Before?

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Cover image for  article: Season 5 Premiere of "Project Runway": Haven’t I Seen This Before?

Tim Gunn emphasizes innovation to Project Runway designers, but what about the producers?

The season’s premiere episode, which aired last night, was underwhelming. The designers were asked to construct designs out of materials found in a grocery store and then urged by guest judge, Austin Scarlett, a Season 1 designer, to be innovative as he had been with corn husks, which ultimately led to his winning this very same challenge that was given during the pilot episode of the design competition series.

It seems that one of the worst things that judges Heidi Klum, Michael Kors and Nina Garcia can say in reaction to a design is, “Haven’t I seen this before?” and yet that was what I found myself saying in reaction to the episode itself. What happened to innovation?

Years ago when designer Michael Knight auditioned for Season 3, the judges were disappointed when Knight showcased what he would have done if given the same challenges that had been given in seasons prior. Of course the assumption should be that each season’s designers will be given new and innovative challenges but that didn’t seem to be the case with season 5’s premiere when, for the first time in Project Runway history, the premiere episode recycled an old challenge.

The challenges featured on premiere episodes are crucial. The cast of designers are still strangers both to one another and to the audience. Everyone is still polite and relatively well-rested. Without emotional breakdowns and personality clashes to entertain, the challenges themselves must be entertaining and innovative. And in this case, perhaps because the selection of designers was weak or because the challenge had been done before, the episode was uneventful as the designers proceeded to make dresses out of tablecloths, shower curtains and other cloth-like materials that can be found in a grocery store.

The winning design (shown right) was constructed out of vacuum cleaner bags and coffee filters. I believe the judges were ultimately won over by the hook closures made from a notebook spiral. The losing design was disturbing, featuring yellow dish-washing gloves and what looked like a hospital gown. The judges agreed it was something you’d wear to either perform surgery or a murder.

Other notables included Daniel’s design made entirely out of melted and molded plastic drinking cups and Korto’s yellow table cloth dress topped off with tomato “brooches.” Both were wearable and well executed.

Fans of Project Runway seemed baffled earlier this week when it was days before the fifth season was to premiere on Bravo (before the show migrates to Lifetime for Season 6) and the network remained mum about what was to come – no word on contestants, challenges or guest judges (but Bravo sure was busy pushing that dreadful new show, Date My Ex). And then earlier this week, in an unusual move, the veil of mystery was dropped completely and challenges and guest judges were announced for episodes through September. But the descriptions of the challenges are rather vague and it seems the only juicy bait is a quote by Tim Gunn in which he said "The fifth season has already proven to be the most drama-filled yet and the show hasn't even premiered. I'm on pins and needles to see what the designers will bring to the runway this season.”

Really, Tim? I’m not.

Next week's challenge will be green-themed and wil be guest judged by Natalie Portman.

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