In September, Heidi Klum said her final auf wiedersehen and announced that she was stepping down as host of Project Runway after 16 glorious seasons.
This news came in conjunction with Tim Gunn's reveal that he would also be leaving the show to join Klum in a new Amazon fashion series. Their departure left a substantial pair of tasteful shoes to be filled. Enter supermodel Karlie Kloss (the show's new host), and Project Runway season 4 winner turned designer Christian Siriano (the show's new mentor). This season's rollout was majorly hyped–the stars' faces were plastered all over the subway and Youtube. So are the two newcomers making it work? Let's take a look.
At the judging panel, Kloss joins some familiar faces and some new ones. Nina Garcia, Editor and Chief of Elle, returns to her throne. Poised and scrutinous as ever, Nina spends a lot of time shooting looks of disbelief at ill-fitting seams and poorly constructed crop tops. She sits beside newcomers Elaine Welteroth, former Editor-In-Chief of Teen Vogue, and fashion designer Brandon Maxwell. The judges have proved to be pretty discerning, not holding back when it comes time to give criticism where it's due. In the first episode, Kloss tells a teary-eyed contestant that she questions her "taste level." Ouch. When that same contestant's strap pops off of her model, Nina's jaw visibly drops. The absolute drama.
That brings us to the contestants. It's a real Who's Who as they lean into the usual tokens of reality competition TV. Here are some of the more memorable contestants. There's Cavanagh, the villain; Frankie, The Underdog; Kovid, The sweetheart; Nadine, The Headstrong One; Hester, The Quirky One; Sebastien, The Frontrunner; Tessa, Easygoing, but lowkey a threat; Renee Hill, Visionary; Afa, Meme-maker; and Lela, Miss Sustainability. But it's too early in the season to have a real impression any one of them just yet.
For all of its changes, the show is pretty firmly rooted in its usual tropes. There's always going to be a contestant who purchases a fabric that they've never used before, someone who wants to go home, and somebody who has conflicts with their model, etc. Of course, since the show's inception in 2004, there's been some cultural changes too. Now, social media plays a role (as was to be expected) and the designers have to photograph the outfits to get a sense of what it would look like in a feed. This season, viewers will also be able to get more engaged by voting on their favorite looks on the runway. Once the audience decides and the judges deliberate, the favorite look will be manufactured and available to buy on Bravo.com.
The gripes so far are small. Are the innate ads cheesy and obvious? Yes, but that's nothing new. Does Karlie Kloss have a delightful German accent? No. However, she's done a good job of guiding the show. Kloss brings in new energy that was needed as things started to go stale over the last few seasons. Siriano also proves to be a worthy replacement with his fresh perspective on social norms in fashion and the actual design process. The former contestant also brings in a wealth of wisdom that can only come from a shared experience. While only three episodes in, Project Runway's off to a good start and we're looking forward to see how it unfolds.
Sara is a music and culture writer who lives in Brooklyn. Her work has previously appeared in PAPER magazine and Stereogum.
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