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Project Runway 9, Premiere – Come as You Are

Project Runway 9, Premiere – Come as You Are

Welcome back, Fashionistas, to the latest season of Project Runway. The ninth season premiere actually gives us two shows for the price of one: Project Runway proper and Road to the Runway, which tells us about the casting process and introduces the 20 designers who will be on the show. (Sort of. More on that later.) Tim Gunn, Seth Aaron Henderson from Season 7, and Zanna Roberts-Rossi from Marie Claire all give their opinions about the process and the contestants. Seth Aaron and Zanna are also on the panel selecting said contestants, and we do get to see them at work during the casting process in which they talk to the designers and examine samples of their work.

On Road to the Runway, the designers seem to have been grouped by shared characteristics. The first batch to be introduced are those designers who may have been cast for the drama factor, as some of them seem to have … attitude problems. One of them, for instance, goes on and on about another designer’s squeaky voice and incessant chatter. Mind you, these people have just met each other.

The second batch are more interesting – and more likely to appeal to the more sentimental members of the audience, as they’re the ones who’ve overcome some kind of adversity. Becky Ross, for example, was raised by members of a fundamentalist cult. Anthony Ryan Auld is both color-blind and a survivor of testicular cancer. He’s 28. Rafael Cox was homeless during part of his childhood. Bert Keeter is 57 and had begun a designing career back in the 1970’s. He’d done well, too – until a couple of his closest friends died from AIDS in 1992. Grief and alcoholism sidelined him for years. Now, he’s been sober for three years and feels ready to try to regain his old career.

Next up are the self-taught designers. In a few cases, “self-taught” simply means “didn’t go to design school.” For example, Kimberly Goldson’s mother was a fashion designer herself, and may have taught her daughter some of the basics before dying when Kimberly was 17. In other cases, the designer is literally self-taught. David Chum is an artist who wanted to try his hand at fashion design, and therefore studied books on the subject.

There are also designers who brought unexpected items to the judging. Most of these are people who specialize in menswear and thus displayed their menswear collections. The casting panel reminded one of them that nearly all of the challenges involve making clothes for women. The last group consisted of designers who’d applied multiple times to be on Project Runway. Seth Aaron had been in this group, as it took him four tries to make the cut. Serena da Conceicao had actually applied to be on the very first season. Amanda Perna had applied to be on the seventh and eighth seasons.

Onto the ninth season proper. We’re shown the usual shots of designers arriving in New York. Serena tells us she had postponed her own wedding to be on the show. Right away, there’s a problem: There are 20 designers and only 16 slots for the show. In other words, four designers are going to be sent home immediately, without so much as getting a chance to check out Atlas Apartments or the workroom at Parson’s. The 20 applicants have to bring examples of their work and show them to Michael Kors, Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia, and Tim Gunn.

The designers and their collections wait in a large room. The judges call them into their room one at a time and examine their collections. They also ask the applicants who they would imagine actually wearing their products. Kimberly, for example, sees her customer as being an urban, but glamorous, woman. Bryce Black presents a feathered cape that Heidi eagerly tries on. Anya Ayoung-Chee horrifies Tim by telling the judges that she’d learned to sew four months ago. He wants to cut her then and there, but Heidi really likes Anya’s clothes and wants to give her a chance anyway. There is already lots of online speculation as to the veracity of Anya’s claims of inexperience, with people saying she’s flat-out lying. I’m going with the idea that Anya, who hails from Trinidad and Tobago, probably knows how to use a sewing needle perfectly well. She might not have learned to use a sewing machine, especially a high-end one, until recently.

Joshua Christensen is one of the menswear specialists, and he is making quite a career change, for he used to be a banker. David tells the judges he’s inspired by cocoons and chrysalises, and Nina finds him “one-note,” which bodes ill for his chances. Fallene Wells is another menswear designer and made the knicker-like trousers she’s wearing. Gunnar Deatherage had made a … flamboyant pink dress for the Kentucky Derby. Danielle Everine assures the judges she can make anything, and Serena tries to prove that by bringing items from several different collections. Bert, who is plainly the oldest designer, jokes that he’s 102 and tells his story about AIDS, grief, and alcoholism. Heidi thinks his clothes look too simple. Anthony also repeats his story about color-blindness and cancer.

The judges discuss the designers, beginning with the ones they didn’t like, while the latter wait nervously. Eventually, Heidi and Tim announce the judges’ decisions. David, Gunnar, Amanda, and Serena are out. David is upset and tells us he does not want to go back to waiting tables. Serena reminds us she’d postponed her wedding to be on the show.

The sixteen designers who did make the cut celebrate with the traditional champagne toast. Heidi then sends the designers to their apartments at Atlas. After settling in and checking out their new digs, the designers go to bed – only to be roused by Tim at 5 a.m. He announces they’re holding a “come as you are party,” which means just that. The designers have to leave in whatever they’re wearing and bring a bed sheet. One of the women asks if she can put a bra on first (and is told no), while one of the guys expresses relief that he hadn’t been sleeping naked.