Project Runway All Stars Recap: Making Unconventional the Norm

A photo from the production of “Project Runway All Stars” in New York on Wednesday, July 13, 2011. Photo: David M. Russell/Lifetime ©2011 AETN. Photo: David M. Russell/Lifetime

As if an all-star season of Project Runway wasn’t exciting enough already, it’s also a boon for recapping purposes because, of course, we already know all the designers in the competition — looking very fierce and high-end in their new opening credits, it must be said. Look, there’s cute little Mondo in shorts, the ever-controversial Kenley Collins in short-shorts, and even season-one vet Austin, striding purposefully while carrying a garment bag that floats wistfully in the wind. Isn’t it great to be back?

After they’d all gotten together and gleefully squealed themselves out, the designers head into Chelsea’s Limelight Marketplace — probably the largest group to be in there in a while — and there’s barely time to meet the actual first-timers (host Angela Lindvall and judges Georgina Chapman and Isaac Mizrahi) before the first fashion showcase. Each designer must present a pre-made look they think best illustrates their aesthetic. So surely the first all-star challenge will then force them to tear another competitor’s look apart — bare-handed, if not with only their teeth — and re-create it, much improved, right?

Well, no. The runway goes off with no twists, and it’s not until after the obligatory “look at our pretty apartments” segment that the challenge gets revealed. (Oh, and you know, there’s also a good-luck video message from Valentino Garavani, no big deal; he’s promoting his virtual museum, but of course.) In what’s now the quintessential Runway season’s first task, the designers have to craft a look that’s inspired by the gown they’d presented to the judges earlier using only “unconventional materials” — specifically, in this case, 99¢-store produce. Austin’s corn-husk dress gets name-dropped specifically as a success from the past — no pressure there, then. Season eight cast-mates Michael and April buy the same mopheads, and should thus forced to duel using them as weapons (but aren’t, boo), but otherwise the store yields no particular messiness.

Underscoring just how short this challenge seems to be (a one-day challenge with a 10 p.m. mandated finish, perhaps because all-stars demand more time for beauty sleep in their contracts?), new mentor Joanna Coles makes only a brief appearance for her critiques. There’s no mention of underwear just yet, but she seems to develop a good dialogue with the designers she engages with — perhaps other than kooky-lady Elisa, that is. (Really, the visibly flummoxed Coles is probably just glad she didn’t have to crawl around Elisa’s seemingly bizarre under-table workspace.) While a respite from the 90-minute-long episodes of recent seasons is nice, it’s certainly a whistle-stop tour through the workroom this week, with some designs-in-progress hardly seen at all, and an inordinate amount of time spent on Austin fixing a glue-gun-burnt hole in his blue plastic dress.

Angela’s entrance onto the first judging runway makes it clear she’s inherited Heidi’s sparkle-centric wardrobe. And then, woo hoo — just as quickly, it’s time for the designs. There’s binders and bath mats and cheap-looking terry towels, hankies and plastics and yes, two sets of mop heads all woven together — but, really, for a challenge touting innovations and the incorporation of unusual materials, it’s not a particularly exciting combination. Just where are the corn husks? Or the coffee filters, the “wickety-wack” trim, the wicker baskets even — dare we suggest a Vincent Libretti cameo? It’s a question that must be asked. (Well, the one about the lacking creativity, not about Vincent’s return.)

Oddly, the judges miss an opportunity to make Michael and April gripe at each other over their similarly draped dresses — not that it seems to matter because the promos for next week’s episode suggest they get into it after BOTH PICKING RED FABRICS. (Eek!) Instead, Rami, Jerell, and Mondo earn the top scores, with Rami’s wonderfully constructed take on plaid well-deserving of the victory. Less lucky are the three ladies on the bottom: Gordana, Elisa, and Sweet P. Somehow, despite Sweet P’s raggedy striped terry-towel sundress, it is Elisa and her take on story-time that get sent home. This time, there’s no “auf” to be had, just a handshake and good-bye from Angela. As Elisa was arguably the most unconventional choice as an all-star in the first place, it’s particularly surprising to see her out of the running so quickly — she surely had more spit marks blessings to give. And yet it’s maybe fitting, because no one was going to accept the first elimination as gracefully as she did.

And in case you’re still maybe a little confused by what’s old and what’s new (or, to coin a well-used phrase, who’s in and who’s out) on this special season, here’s a handy little video primer. You’re welcome!

Runway Recap: Making Unconventional the Norm