‘Project Runway’ ad presses the flesh

pr12_key_artProject Runway launches its new season — its 12th — a week from tomorrow on Lifetime, and honestly, I haven’t been all that excited about it. No more Michael Kors. More gimmicks. No Texans in the cast.

But I have to say, the new ad campaign for the season has me, ummm, intrigued.

Now, I know the models in this photo are not the contestants. It’s just one more gimmick for the aging franchise. But if you have to have a gimmick, using racy nudity of hard-bodied men (and, admittedly, women) isn’t such a bad idea. And Heidi dressed as Marie Antoinette (and Tim Gunn standing beside her in a pose that’s slightly evocative of something S&M) probably has the desired effect: I’ll be watching.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Project Runway’ jumps the shark?

PROJECT RUNWAYDo you hear that slight ringing sound? That’s the death knell for Project Runway.

Well, maybe not dead, but if this isn’t its last season, it’s in earshot.

Last year, Lifetime buried the lead when they casually mentioned that Michael Kors would be back only for the finale, with Zan Posen replacing him in the judge’s chair. At the time, I felt it was a mistake, and felt the decision basically meant Kors was off the show for good. No, folks emailed me — he’ll be back. It was just a “scheduling issue.”

Uh-huh.

The new season begins July 18, and the judges, once again, are Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia and Posen, with the addition of Tim Gunn not only as mentor but spy now, filling in the trio of behind-the-scenes goings-on, and even exercising a veto to save a designer. Tinker, tailor, solider, spy indeed, Mr. Gunn.

And there will be virtually no role for Kors this season.

This isn’t good news. Posen is a good designer but makes for dull TV. (Remember last season’s creepy “I go to high school proms every week” non-sequitur?) Season 11 was the dullest since the first season on Lifetime. The addition of a mystery contestant and Gunn’s new role have the whiff of desperation to prop up an aging series. (And this season no Texans among the 16 designers.)

It may be time to say, “Auf Wiedershesen.”

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Kors you’re out, Posen in on ‘Runway’

I got a press release from the Lifetime network, teasing the big change in the next cycle of  Project Runway, starting Jan. 24: All the designers will compete in teams! Big news, huh?

Eh. Teams is reality TV competitionspeak for “we set up folks to fight more.”

No, what really interested me was that in discussing the return, they noted Heidi would be back with Tim Gunn and Nina Garcia and new featured guest judge Zac Posen.

No mention at all of Michael Kors.

Then, later down, we find out Kors will be the final celebrity guest judge during Fashion Week.

Auf Wiedershesen.

Gotta say it: Bad move. Kors’ catty quips, as only a gay man can be, are for me the raison d’etre of Project Runway. I love me sum Tim Gunn, and me likee Heidi’s brush-off, but Kors is the tart souffle to Nina’s logy cheese course. We’ll have to see…

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Heidi Klum dishes on the new season of “Project Runway”

In anticipation of the new season of Project Runway, which premieres Thursday night on Lifetime, Heidi Klum did a conference call with journalists about what to expect this time out, and who is her personal favorite of the designers. (Hint! He’s gay!) Here’s an excerpted version of the interview.

Question: Who can we expect to see as guest judges [this season]? Klum: Obviously I can never give too many guest judges away, but some people that I was allowed to mention was Patricia Field. She’s very well known for doing Sex in the City, The Devil Wears Prada. She does a lot of full movies and television. For our very first challenge that we did in Times Square we also had Lauren Graham. I can give her away. A lot of people did see her when she was out with us here in Times Square. Hayden Panettiere has been one of our guest judges. Also Krysten Ritter, and I think I’m not allowed to give anymore away.

What’s it been like being back for the tenth season for you, as the host and judge?  It’s been amazing. It’s been ten years and we all would’ve never thought that we would make it this far. Michael always says that we’re on longer than I Love Lucy, which we always laugh about and I can’t believe it. Ten seasons is a milestone. It’s a long time. And I have to tell you even though we’ve been doing it for ten seasons I still love coming to work every season. I love being with Michael and I love being with Nina and Tim. They’re all so much fun, and we have become a family. It is always exciting to see these new designers, to see their story. They all have a different story to tell and they’re all passionate.

Can you tell us how you think this group of designers compares to past groups, in terms of talent level?  It’s always hard to compare because I never like to say that this season we have more talented designers than previous seasons because they were all always talented. And each year fashion evolves and fashion becomes different and so do our designers. I think we have some on this season that are not that talented and we quickly see that. We have some that are really amazing that have come up with new things where we sit there and we’re like, “Wow, we haven’t seen anything like that,” or, “You have a different technique.”

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

“Project Runway” crowns a gay winner — we just don’t know which one yet

Ever since Project Runway moved from Bravo to Lifetime two years ago, its entertainment quotient has taken a nose-dive. Season 8 was the most boring until the current season, an All-Stars edition which brings back players from Seasons 1 through 8. (Season 9 also crowned a controversial winner, someone who had been a designer for only a few months.) This version has been marred by dumb competitions and a substitute slate of less interesting judges. (No Tim Gunn! No Heidi! No Michael Kors! No Nina Garcia!… OK, that last one’s not so bad.)

But the one thing you can say about this season is: Whoever wins will be a gay guy.

That may seem like a ho-hum moment, but considering just how gay the show is — from the judges to the mentor to the contestants to the audience — it’s rather remarkable how poorly the gays have fared over the years. Last season, every male contest was gay (though one claimed not to be but… I mean, c’mon!); two were in the final three, but lost to a straight woman. Since the beginning, at least seven gay men have made the top three, but none has won since Season 4′s Christian Siriano. He may even be the last truly deserving winner.

That changes tonight. In the second of the two-part season finale, the three finalists are all gay: Austin Scarlett (Season 1′s fourth placer), Michael Costello (8′s fourth placer) and Mondo Guerra (8′s runner-up). Kenley Collins was kicked off fourth.

The fact Kenley and Costello stayed in the running so long — or that either is considered an “all-star” — is another one of the problems with the series: You become acutely aware what flashes-in-the-pan some of these designers were, and that they got further on the show than their talents would bear out. (Costello continues to steal others’ ideas, then drape a goddess dress to eke through.)

Mondo was the deserving loser a few seasons back, and Austin has become such a fun personality over the years (especially after his travel-fashion series with Santino Rice), so our loyalties are divided. But we’ll be watching for sure.

So … who do you hope wins?

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘Work of Art’ season 2

“Happy families are all alike,” Tolstoy began Anna Karenina; “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I think that sort of applies to the current slate of reality competition shows. Pretty much they all follow the same format: An “initial challenge” (reward on Survivor; quickfire on Top Chef, etc.) that typically comes with a built-in advantage; an elimination challenge (the heart of the competition), usually on a ridiculously tight schedule; judges sniping about why this gown made in 45 minutes completely out of trash bags is not runway-ready; then a panel where the winner is selected and the bottom three are singled out; interviews are sprinkled throughout with the contestants pointing out each others’ flaws.

The only thing missing from that description is the actual talent involved. That’s where Tolstoy comes in.

There are competition shows about hair-cutting, cooking, fashion designing, dancing, singing, extreme traveling and wilderness abilities; but none are more peculiar for a contest than making art. (Maybe writing a novel; the problem is, it would take years to film.)

It’s almost a boondoggle if you think about it: People’s taste may be subjective, but at least on Project Runway you’re weighing dress against dress; on Work of Art, starting its second season tonight, you might be comparing photos with sculpture with graffiti with performance art and painting. On Top Chef, contestants may literally be comparing apples and oranges, but here, it’s watermelons and race cars.  If there is a more esoteric enterprise, I can’t imagine it.

Which is not to say Work of Art is a meaningless exercise, although even more than Nina Garcia, the taste levels of the judges are at least as puzzling as the execution of the contestants. When China Chow drones on that one artist’s style recalls Keith Haring, she acts as if there could be no greater insult to a gallerist than reminding someone of someone else. Since when did Michael Kors design a dress that didn’t have some predecessor in history?

The highfalutin nature of the show means that it really fits in the Bravo stated profile better than, say, any of the Real Housewives franchises (remember when Bravo had opera?). It challenges you a little to consider what art is, and how creativity is funneled in different ways. It’s a show meant for a sophisticated urban audience. (Sarah Jessica Parker is one of the producers, as if it could have been called Art and the City.) There’s a slightly self-congratulatory aspect to it, as if you feel more cultured in evaluating artists without the bother of going to an actual museum.

So how “unhappy” is this show? Artists are temperamental folks, and pretty arrogant, but part of the fun is seeing how their egos are shaped by the others’ around them; and even some of them allow their libidos to influence their styles and their affections for other contestant.

Work of Art is no better or worse than most competition series, but I do enjoy the creative process being given equal time to all the bad behavior on TV. If that’s patting myself on the back, so be it.

Premieres tonight on Bravo at 9 p.m.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones