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It’s Wednesday night — forget the problem sets and hundreds of pages of reading, it’s time to play the part of vicious fashion connoisseur. “Project Runway” is on.

A reality show about sixteen fashion designers competing for the top prize that easily stands-out on the rerun-driven Bravo network, “Project Runway” has deservedly attracted a rabid following amongst fledgling designers and pom-pommed boot-wearers alike. Admittedly, some may be skeptical at first, having become disillusioned by reality TV with its manufactured humiliation and shameless “stars,” desperate to extend their time in the spotlight to that elusive 16th minute.

But “Project Runway” is somehow different. The competitors, who range from established boutique designers to recent fashion-school graduates living in the middle of nowhere, actually, well, deserve to be competing for the $100,000 to start a line, the Elle Magazine spread and the free publicity. Frankly, the talent on most other reality shows is lackluster at best. As supermodel host Heidi Klum has repeatedly said, in fashion, you’re either in or you’re out (insert German accent).

Fortunately for the audience, though, the designers do have their moments of Joan Rivers-esque “What were they thinking?!” and it’s riveting to watch the artists clamor in their shared work room, riding the fine line between sheer brilliance and utter humiliation. Watching the garments develop from intricate sketches to runway pieces (during as little as 12 hours!) in challenges ranging from designing Grammy dresses to new postal worker uniforms is often ridiculous and always unbelievable.

This season has been filled with enough masterpieces and fiascos to satisfy any craving, and the personalities are even more diverse than the illustrious first season’s (of which many were tragically unaware of last year). Santino — the Rasputin look-alike everybody loves to hate — quickly took the lead with brilliant and intricate takes on dresses. Even so, the audience cannot help but feel satisfied at the extremely arrogant designer’s miserable failures … ahem … soundofmusiclingerie … ahem.

Meanwhile, nerds could find hope for coolness in young Diana who loves to mix technology with innovative fashion, though inexperience and overly abstract designs proved to be her undoing in the Banana Republic challenge, when Heidi auf Wiedersehen-ed her.

And while Santino has been busy infuriating (in a flamboyantly entertaining fashion) viewers and judges, alike, others have been competing for the hearts of misanthropes nationwide. Chloe’s spunk and confidence, and her ingenuity in the “Clothes Off Your Back” challenge make her easy to love. Daniel F.’s return to the show after failing in the first episode last season was intriguingly sad as he struggled with time constraints before getting the boot once again in the epic lingerie challenge. And who does not want to be friends with witty Nick or fast-emerging dark horse Daniel V.?

Fortunately, the minimal camera time devoted to the designer’s lives outside of the workroom actually serves only to maximize the drama. Demanding challenges, like designing an outfit for the great fashion icon Barbie, inevitably lead to short fuses. Whether it’s Andrae’s tearful breakdown on the second episode or Zulema’s jaded command to Kara, “I don’t care if you need to cry and cut, but you need to cry and cut,” during their team effort, there’s always something to satisfy those for whom the creative process is not enough.

Of course, this season is not entirely without flaws. The mention in the end credits that the judges confer with producers before picking who gets eliminated is often all-too-clear. Despite Santino’s strong start, his trend of repeatedly disastrous products in the last few episodes would have had him eliminated by now if it weren’t for the melodramatic attitude he brings to the show (though frankly, the losers’ designs were very bad too).

This factor also explains how season one’s tragically unskilled and bitchy Wendy Pepper — the most notorious skunk-striped single mother with technicolor makeup to appear on reality TV — was selected as one of the final three contestants to design a show for New York’s Fashion Week. Yet, even this manipulation and redundant product-placement hardly weaken the captivating power of “Runway.”

And for any persisting (read, foolish) skeptics: On how many other shows can you hear an angry man at work yell across a room, “Where the hell is my chiffon?!”

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