Like Love Actually, we begin the new Project Runway season in an airport. Every time I’m in airport (or every time I watch Love Actually), I’m reminded of the classic Lindy West jeremiad against the movie and her utter outrage at the fact that this supposedly romantic story of people coming together begins in a place as soulless and maddening as Heathrow airport. Do I want to believe it’s possible to find love, actually, in the Auntie Anne’s scented air of a bustling terminal? Absolutely. Do I believe, actually, love and companionship are lurking just behind that over-crowded airport charging station? No, I do not.
Nevertheless, the 18th season of Project Runway opens with the hopeful designers meeting for the first time in the lobby of the TWA Hotel at JFK. The minute I glimpsed the dramatic white architectural swoops and the huge windows, I was caught up in the reverie! Maybe, finally, actually, this is the time and place where two strangers will be stitched together as soulmates. Or, since this is Project Runway, sew-lmates.
That seems to be the hope of the producers, as host Karlie Kloss and mentor Christian Siriano announce that the very first challenge will pair up the designers, and each duo must come up with two space tourism-themed looks: a happy hour dress and a jumpsuit for going out and about. Even if this wasn’t a team challenge, I would’ve already bounced, because the idea of space tourism disgusts me. Everybody talks about seeing the Earth as a tiny blue marble and nobody talks about how the process of blasting off in a rocket ship def makes you vom and also how space has no Duane Reades so if you forget a toothbrush, you’re out of luck, and I happen to believe that space is dirty. I don’t have evidence of this last theory but it’s probably true. So space? I’m sorry babe, but you’re out. On top of all that, the designers have to work with a total stranger with whom they will be in mortal combat for the rest of the season. It’s like that movie Gravity except if Sandra Bullock had to murder George Clooney immediately after they fixed the ship. We’re 12 seconds into the season and I’m already stressed.
I’m just going to say it: I’m not here for a team challenge. I mean, as a viewer, I love the drama of it. But put me, personally, in a team challenge and I’m going to get in the ride-share driven by contestant Brittany and bounce. Working with people you love can be a chore, so working with a stranger whose style you don’t even know is a whole other galaxy of drama. Double elimination? I’m sorry babe, but you’re out, too. (I’m just saying, the electoral college itself is a team challenge and we all know how well that’s going. Just something to pray over.)
In the end, none of the partnerships are complete disasters and a few of them actually produce some great looks, although interestingly, the most cohesive teams aren’t the ones who end up in the top two. We’ll get to the winners in a second. But first, some superlatives from episode one, “Blast Off.”
Asma Bibi, who designs modest yet trendy full coverage looks, is paired with Jenn Charkow, who describes her aesthetic as “modern goth.” It’s not a good match and at the height of tension Asma tells the confessional, “On a scale from 1 to 10, I’m 100% irked about this.” Obsessed.
Best line, runner up
ELAINE! The peppy, poncho-wearing, personality-filled Alan Gonzalez designs a silver and white fit-and-flare dress that scandalizes Christian. The judges aren’t really here for it, which lands Alan and his partner, Dayoung Kim, in the bottom two. Elaine Welteroth (in a STUNNING sequined champagne jumpsuit), borrowing a line from Nina Garcia, tells Alan she has questions about his taste level (mark your bingo cards!) and then says his look is like “old-school Destiny’s Child.” No shade to Miss Tina Lawson, but that is a read.
Brittany Allen’s aesthetic, which is “if Dolly Parton and Betsy Johnson had a baby and that baby was raised by Anna Wintour.” Rush this Netflix drama into production, please.
Description that makes me go “Hm… okay”
Sergio Guadarrama, who, along with Brittany, ends up winning the challenge, describes his aesthetic as “politically-driven evening wear.” I’m intrigued but I’m also gooped because I don’t really know what that means. Sergio is a fascinating presence in the premiere, getting an edit that makes him look a little prickly. We’ll have to see how accurate that is, though at one point he does say, of his own volition, “I think Christian is an amazing designer but I don’t think he understands how technically advanced I am as a designer.” So, he’s confident!
Alan, in the workroom, realizes he’s left his organza at Mood. We then get a flashback to a scene we’ve already peeped: Alan buzzing around Brittany, leaving the organza behind, and buzzing off-screen while Brittany does one of those “Ok, wtf” head shakes. It’s the most low-stakes, high-shade episode of Cold Case ever.
Best drag name
Contestant Tyler Neasloney is also a drag queen who goes by the name Kim Ono, which is short not for kimono, but for Kimberley Onassis. Is she a relative of Jackie O? Unclear! It’s just the right amount on non sequitur to be slightly absurd. I have no choice but to stan. Call me Stan Onassis!
Victoria Cocieru, a native of Moldova, has a presence in the premiere that can only be described as “beloved late-’80s sitcom character.” There’s adorable language barrier issues throughout, like when she says the word “workaholic” and Christian hears “alcoholic.” At home I heard “orca-holic”and I’m very interested in this idea of being addicted to Shamu. Later, when Christian is giving her and her partner, Veronica Sheaffer, his critique, Victoria gets distracted, flits away and starts tossing compliments at Sergio. Christian is like “Uh, hello?” Classic Nick at Nite shenanigans and I love it!
With mere hours to go before the runway, Delvin McCray decides he’s going to take a break and lie down on a nearby fainting couch. Christian questions this decision but Delvin replies, “stress is the number-one killer.” I don’t know if this is scientific but it sounds believable.
On the other hand, Mr. Delvin McCray, age 26, irons his own white lab coat and puts it on before doing anything else in the workroom. His intention is 1) to pay tribute to the couture ateliers in Paris, and 2) to do the most. Well, the most, second only to…
Most doing the most
In an attempt to come up with a backstory for their two looks, Geoffrey Mac and Melanie Trygg decide that they are designing for a woman who is taking her military family to space and stops by the bar (where are the kids? Unclear.) before going out on a safari. A space safari! Riding around in a little space Jeep looking at Martian chimpanzees. I don’t know what any of this means but they certainly figured it out because they were the other team in the top two.
Contestant I would die for
Dayoung! Full stop. Would. Die. For. Her.
Contestant I would die for, runner up
Nancy Volpe Beringer! She’s making history as the oldest PR contestant at 64 and she only started designing three years ago. What did you do today?!
Asma and Jenn are sent home in a double elimination! I don’t know about this. I don’t know about any of this.
Personal favorite design
Delvin’s breathtakingly well-constructed jumpsuit in red and white to echo the lines and look of the TWA. It was enough to make me want to go to space. Or at least go to an airport.
Brittany’s little black jumpsuit that is accented by PVC strips on the arms and gold buttons at the cuffs and the hem. The judges loved it and you can buy it right now on 19th Amendment! Have fun in space!