The LA Project

By

Published August 21, 2009

It’s worth noting, right there in the name, that Project Runway is not the first Weinstein/Miramax TV production with ambitions at cultural revolution. That would be Project Greenlight, which the brothers Weinstein–and the bros Affleck and Damon–promised us would change (in)dependent filmmaking forever. In light of the hubristic move to Lifetime, I bring this up not to rub in the ratings failure of Greenlight per se, so much as the floundering careers of its two seasons’ purported winners. When the closest thing to a hit a star-is-born reality show produces is  the Battle of Shaker Heights, which grossed $280,000 on a $1,000,000 budget, despite the presence of then-teen star Shia LaBeouf, one might say that, Harvey, you have a problem.

 

On his other Project, this problem has been nicely obscured by the astroviral potential of outré outfits and outré-r personalities. Yet as Heidi, Kors, and the rest fly Bravo’s fabulous coop, a certain question of credibility takes the fore. Of all the show’s winners, only Season 5’s Christian Siriano has managed to make an impression, selling a collection to Saks last year. But what about Jeffrey Sebelia? Or–remember her?–Chloe Dao. I’m not here to suggest that his is a make-it-or-break-it season for the show, only that this observer is starting to suspect that, unlike becoming an American Idol or the Next Food Network Star, success in fashion is–as in, say, academia and architecture–a slow-burn thing that can neither be bought nor bestowed. Thus the crisis of credibility, and confidence: Are we really seeing the best there is or just the wackiest? Is $100,000 and Nina Garcia really enough to lure the true top prodigies against their better judgment now that the surroundings are less Make Me a Super Model and Real Housewives and more Cook Yourself Thin and real housewives?

 

Perhaps it was the harsh L.A. light, but Gunn and Klum looked awfully pensive on their rooftop meet-and-greet last night. “I really like your hair; I always find it very interesting to see how people dress,” Heidi scowled, more or less, at the goth-pompadour-ed  Christian-a-like Malvin, by way of introduction. In face, Malvin seems serious, and likeable, enough. But it’s Tim and Heidi who’ve waltzed away with the spotlight here, having at some point during that legal wrangling with NBC Universal graduated to Mulder and Scully territory: a Platonically perfect couple, in both senses of the adverb.

 

It would be tempting to count the ways the candidate selection has been tailored to Lifetime. There seem to be many more straight men than in the later Bravo seasons. And yes, contestant Qristyl Frazier calls herself a plus-sexy designer. But Ms. Frazier also figured in the most refreshing change on last night’s premier, a sign that perhaps the show knows, like you and I do, that it’s about time to create a real star alongside the reality TV sensations. In previous seasons, the otherwise bland Qristyl–her shortcomings being a matter of taste, rather than ability–would have been the one in the bottom three to go. Last night, Qristyl remained, as did Mitchell, whose model provided wildly ambitious measurements, and walked out in a sheer nightgown as penance. In years past, the obviously untalented space cadet Ari Fish would have been kept on for drama, or at least visual interest; she was sacked without pity this time.