March 6, 2013

'Project Runway' is Back - With a Twist

Fans of fashion's preeminent reality show, rejoice! "Project Runway" is back for an 11th season. While it's already started airing, it's still early enough for you to catch up and keep up with the fashion and the drama.

Heidi, Tim and Nina have all returned. Unfortunately, the legendary Michael Kors did not return as a full-time judge. Hopefully, we'll see him as a guest from time to time. In his place is fashion designer Zac Posen, and it looks like he'll fit right in.

The big twist this season? It's a team challenge. The wanna-be designers split into two teams, and it's clear from their poorly disguised reactions that this is not what they signed up for. They're all designers, with a point of view, and it's clear they don't think there's anything to learn from each other.

In the official extended preview (above – no spoilers here) guest judge and former contestant Christian Siriano points out that team challenges are daunting for competitors on several levels. They're there to showcase their individual talents and potential, so less ethical contestants might give misleading feedback to better their own chances. Strong personalities in direct competition with each other often can't play nice together.

If the team motif persists throughout the season, how might it affect the competition as we've come to know it? Will designers have less sovereignty over their designs? If so, some of the show's most memorable moments – like Leanne's season five Marlene Dietrich-inspired dress for DVF or Christopher's season 10 Rockettes costume that gave a nod to the NYC skyline – might not be possible this season. Incidentally, I'm still convinced the Plum Card at American Express is inspired by Leanne's plum gown from that aforementioned AmEx challenge. It was so popular that the DVF brand sold it exclusively to AmEx cardholders after the episode aired.

The contestants are the usual mix of crazy, talented and quirky that we've come to expect from the casting team. Highlights include:

  • Sydney, Australia, native Benjamin Mach, who sports a bleach-blond pompadour, a bow tie and some big ideas about design. He's already working on his own brand: NARCISSUS by Benjamin Mach. I think the brand name might say it all.

  • The likable Amanda Valentine, who works as a wardrobe stylist and costume designer. She seems like a relatable, down-to-earth type despite her family's tendency toward Type A personalities.

  • Part-time funeral director and designer Cindy Marlatt, age 59, from Kent, Wash.

  • Daniel Esquivel of Austin, Texas. He's got a funky mustache and weird posture, and the first garment he ever made was for his sister (specifically, a corduroy gauchos-and-vest combo).

  • Joseph Aaron, who might be totally forgettable-looking without his funky round glasses. He said if he weren't designing, he'd be some kind of scientist or food chemist. Who would've guessed?

  • All-American redhead Kate Pankoke, who calls herself an "old soul" and answers every interview question with an overwrought academic dissertation.

  • Interactions between these cast members should be even more fiery than usual, considering they'll be relying on each other to impress the judges. Will you be tuning in? Episodes are airing on Lifetime network and are also available on the Lifetime website.