Project Runway Premiere: Fashion and Fabulousness Review

Emilio's winning entry, via Lifetime.

If half the Project Runway contestants designed their clothes as well as their sound bytes, this show would be a gladiator match.

But in its seventh season, and second since moving to the Lifetime channel, the show again seems to be favoring attractive, media-savvy young faces over edgier if less hi-def-ready talent. It's mystifying -- this rationale was responsible for last season, a disappointing jaunt of revolving judges, poor craftsmanship, and a lackluster villain ("Meana" Irina) who won the whole shebang with black sweaters and a screen-printed t-shirt, the sartorial equivalent of a long nap.

At least the producers cured the biggest irritation of that disastrous last cycle: they moved the show back to New York. Runway never belonged in Los Angeles, a town where wiping the Jamba Juice stains from your Uggs is a couture statement, and now that Heidi Klum and her cohorts have dashed frantically back to Manhattan, the show has regained some of its sass.

It's deeply satisfying to see Tim Gunn and perennially pregnant Heidi Klum herd their troops around Manhattan again, and the hyper-styled contestants seem more at ease in their Garment District confines.

We quickly meet Seth Aaron, who claims to be mid-30s (dubious) and festoons himself in the raspberry velvet jacket, black faux mohawk, and skinny tie of a twee Brian Setzer, and Janeane, one of several pretty 20-something ladies in the cast but the only one who doggedly tries to push a revolving door in the wrong direction and cries twice, apropos of nothing, before the first commercial break.

Anthony is firmly established as the flamboyant comedic relief - his quip, "it is hell being black and gay in the ghetto," was prominently featured in every trailer before the premiere - and Emilio, 43, and Pamela, 47, are the age outliers. (Project Runway is now cast by Bunim-Murray, the same folks responsible for the braying jailbait of MTV's The Real World.)

Jesse, a 25-year-old in a porkpie hat, causes the girls in my apartment to swoon... until he removes the hat and, Samson-like, immediately loses his power (such is the value of accessorizing, as Tim Gunn would be the first to tell you).

For their first challenge, the designers have one night to create a garment that expresses who they are as a designer--standard introductory Runway fare, only this time they are using the handfuls of fabric they snatched from benches in Central Park.

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