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'Project Runway': Back to the workroom

January 14, 2010 | 11:01 pm

Proje4463 Let's be honest: "Project Runway" is all about the contestants. While we have high expectations for the fashion challenges, it's no fun if the designers are deadly serious. However, we've all seen the "I didn't come here to make friends" archetype a million times before, which is why good-guy eccentrics (see: Carla Hall from Season 5 of "Top Chef") are fun to watch. This is why I hope Anthony Williams is around for a while on this season of "PR." Something about his sassy Southernness reminded me of Kayne Gillaspie from Season 3. The way he added "... and I'm thirsty!" after all the other male contestants listed their weight displayed a kind of off-the-cuff wit that means he'd be very fun to watch. 

I also hope Ping Wu stays for at least a few weeks. It seemed clear that, while her clothes might be eccentric, she knows what she's doing, and I can picture her having a ferociously loyal clientele full of women not afraid to spend a lot of money to look unique.  

The first challenge of Season 7 was pretty basic: The contestants grabbed as much fabric as they could, discarded all but five bolts and then set to work creating a piece that represented who they are as designers. I had a feeling Ping, who used herself as a model, would do quite well in the challenge: While I'm sure some people had flashbacks to Elisa Jimenez from Season 4, who did "spit marks" on her clothing, I was intrigued by Ping's background and interest in anatomy, a physical and scientific background for a designer with such a flowy style.

Isn't it funny how a few years ago Nicole Richie was just Paris Hilton's annoying nobody sidekick and now she's a fashion expert? That said, I like the way she dresses, and she came off as intelligent and interested in the episode as the guest judge. The judges didn't care for Jesus Estrada's long faux crocodile gown, Christiane King's contrasty dress (which seemed sort of like a toned-down pageant dress to me) or Anthony's floral dress with the hip "appendage" and lack of cohesion. I thought it was funny that Seth  Aaron Henderson named his outfit ("Little Tokyo"), but I could tell when it was coming down the runway that the judges would love the punky, girly look for its craftsmanship and point of view.  While Nina Garcia mentioned that Ping's garment lacked "hanger appeal," Nicole deemed it her favorite of the show. The judges picked Emilio Sosa's flirty, hand-woven dress as their favorite, and really, when Nina describes something as looking both "very special and very expensive," you know it will win. 

There were several designs that I think could have been called onto the floor for further discussion, like a red dress with devil horns, a skirt with poufs to really accentuate both your hips and your stomach, a top with a seashell-looking thing on one breast, a hot pink garment with odd sleeves, but I don't think there was enough time for the judges to yell at everyone who missed the mark. In the end, Christiane headed home, with Jesus edging her out. I disliked some of the other designers' looks more than hers, but somebody needs to go first, and it's probably hard to pick who gets cut first. Insert conspiracy theory here.  

Otherwise, the season only seems different in two ways: It's back in New York (which, sorry L.A., feels so right), and it has a new and annoying advertiser, Hewlett-Packard, who generously offered the use of notebook computers to the designers because that is obviously much more convenient and easier-to-use than a pad and pencil. That said, I am looking forward to the challenges ahead and seeing why Tim Gunn referred to this as the "season of the sashay." 

-- Claire Zulkey (follow me on Twitter @Zulkey).

Photo: Contestant Anthony L. Williams. Credit: Barbara Nitke / Lifetime Television