Theme: Unconventional Materials Challenge
Guest Judge: Kate Bosworth
Winning Designer: Bradon McDonald
Out Designer: Angela Bacskocky
Best Judge's Quote: "She looks like a slutty cat toy." — Zac Posen
In the kickoff show—aired just after the Road to the Runway special introducing us to each of the new designers—the group was taken to a small airfield where they meet Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn as well as one additional designer returning from a previous season. Kate Pankoke, an often bitchy, but definitely skilled young designer who was ousted in episode 7 of season 11, was delivered to the rest of the group via small plane following a viewer vote held online. The group was then treated to an aerial display as parachutists plummeted from above, delivering to them the materials for their first challenge—parachutes. (Side note: This doesn't really feel like an unconventional materials challenge. I mean, sure, it's not fun material to work with, but in past seasons we've seen couture made out of candy, floral wire and petals, and paper. Is nylon fabric really stretching their skills?) Designers were tasked with creating a piece representing their signature style using the brightly colored nylon, so after a brief battle over the most in-demand colors, the designers headed back to the workroom to get started.
Oh wait! Not before learning that the designer who wins the Project Runway title this season will be taking home a prize package worth nearly $500,000! That's a big boost from years past.
Once in the workroom, Tim introduced them to the Brother sewing room, the accessory wall—now provided by retailer Belk—and their HP Split x2 detachable tablet notebooks. Another new twist this season: Designers will now be managing their own budgets for materials. Apparently, they'll be receiving a GoBank account with all the funds at their disposal for the season and they can decided which challenges merit a splurge and which ones are worth saving on. We didn't get to see that in action this episode since the parachute fabric was the challenge, but it will be interesting to see how that shakes out in the coming weeks.
So, there was the usual workroom drama as people got on each other's nerves. A few catty personalities are already coming out, although it would appear there are also a few sweethearts—Bradon McDonald, Justin LeBlanc, and Sue Waller all seem OK in my book so far. My Most Annoying Designer award for this season so far goes to Timothy Westbrook, a "sustainable" designer out of Milwaukee who seems to care more about the performance his model gives while walking (oh, sorry, lurching) down the runway than he does making good clothes. I admit to putting on the closed captions and muting my way through his parts just to make it tolerable.
Once they finally got to the runway portion of the show, it was a bit of a mixed bag. I thought there was more good than bad, and there are even a few that showed glimpses of brilliance that make me excited for what may unfold. The guest judge for episode 1—joining series regulars Zac Posen, Nina Garcia, and Heidi Klum—was stylish star Kate Bosworth. They've also added a couple new things to the runway judging portion of the show. After talking with the designers post runway walk, the models wearing the best and worst looks come back out alone so the judges can get up close and personal with the pieces. I like that they were really looking at the construction and cut of pieces. Tim Gunn also plays a larger role in the runway show this year. He'll be watching the runway show with the judges and filling them in more on what transpired in the workroom. He's also been given a "save," which he can use at any time to save one designer being sent home. But he only gets one for the season.
But on to the clothes! Here are a few of our favorite looks from the evening and a bit about the designers who made them:
Designer: Justin LeBlanc
It didn't make it into the judges' top three looks, but I thought this colorful little dress by Justin was adorable. It felt so feminine and flirty and nothing about it said parachute to me. I love the detailing with the pattern at the neckline. I'm also a bit taken with Justin. Hailing from North Carolina, he's an assistant professor in the College of Design at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He's also deaf, so you'll occasionally see an interpreter lurking about this season, and he jokes that when the drama in the workroom gets to be too much, he can simply take out his hearing aid and cut himself off from the world. Lucky man.
Designer: Jeremy Brandrick
Again, this was not a look that landed in the top three, but I thought they were worth mentioning here. OK, yes, Jeremy made literal parachute pants, but I love the color-blocking and attention to detail. Obviously didn't see these up close, but they look very well made and they fit perfectly. Jeremy is another designer I'm keeping an eye on this season. He seems to have excellent taste, and I love hearing him talk in his refined British accent (he lives in New York now with his husband and twin toddlers).
Designer: Miranda Levy
So this one did end up in the judges' top three looks—and then got booted out after they realized Miranda had used more of the supplemental fabric than the actual parachute fabric she was given as part of the challenge. She got off with a stern warning this time, but the look is pretty great. Kate Bosworth said it best when she mentioned that lots of designers try to leave that little sliver of skin showing between the waistband and the bottom of a crop top and it just looks cheap, whereas this looks crisp and classy. Not sure how I feel yet about this Milwaukee, Wisconsin, designer. She certainly doesn't get along with fellow Milwaukee designer Timothy Westbrook and I have to agree with her take on him. Her military background may come in handy during the rigorous competition. Boot camp had to be worse, right?
Designer: Bradon McDonald
My favorite (and the judges' favorite) look of the night came from Bradon McDonald, a former professional dancer, who now lives in Los Angeles. Personally, I loved how this dress just flowed out behind the model when she walked. I thought it was a great example of showing the inherit properties of a fabric while elevating and transforming it into something very elegant. Not all the judges were in agreement about the cording detailing he did along the front and for the straps, but I thought that was pretty inspired, too. For me, he was the clear winner of this first episode.
I could go on and on about the losing looks, but let's just say they were pretty awful. Here are the three that ended up in the bottom (Miranda's piece made four). Designers Timothy Westbrook, Sandro Masmanidi, and Angela Bacskocky delivered the worst looks of the evening. There was (left to right) Roasted Martyr (Timothy), Hey It's My Va-Ja-Jay (Sandro), and Dollar Store Poncho (Angela). They didn't send home the person I thought (hoped) they would, but I wasn't surprised. They have to make sure the drama quotient stays high, right?
To see all the looks, view behind-the-scenes videos, and learn more about the designers visit Lifetime's Project Runway hub.