• Lifetime
  • Samantha Plasencia and Tim Gunn on Project Runway

With 12 seasons under their belts, the folks at Project Runway have turned what was once a statement piece—a reality-competition show based on discernible talent—into a cable TV staple (once on Bravo, now on Lifetime). I’ve been a fan of the show since season four, and was pleased by the enhanced role for Tim Gunn last season. The latest season promises more of the same, which means sartorial disasters, lots of running with scissors, and deconstructing looks—and contestants.

The two-in-one premiere, consisting of a casting special and extended episode, introduces us to the designers. We get a feel for their aesthetics, and also learn that almost all of them want to dress “the New York woman.” And let me pause here to share my gleeful anticipation for the “everyday woman” challenge, in which the designers have to create a look for a “regular” woman; like, say, a stenographer from the Midwest or a middle-aged woman who wants a dress that will make her feel like Beyonce for a day. I’m taking bets on who will have a Ven Budhu-style fit (looking at you, Angela Sum).

The first challenge is to design an “unconventional” look for a spring collection. There’s a “trunk show” wherein the designers dig through trunks for fabric, and then attempt to barter with each other for a more suitable print. Amanda Valentine, the “redeemed” designer who won the fan-favorite vote, says she is back to show us all her “real self.” After sneering at her competitors’ shock at the time constraints, she makes an outfit nearly identical to her previous season’s looks. And it’s about this time that fans of the show are wondering if it’s too late to change their votes.

On the runway, some looks stun, and others just puzzle (the judges and contestants). Sandhya Garg, who impressed at the auditions with her “subversive” portfolio, wins the challenge, immunity, and the ire of her fellow designers, particularly Korina Emmerich and Mitchell Perry, the latter of whom scoffs repeatedly as the judges praise Garg’s look, a deconstructed day dress. Perry ends up in the bottom two with recent graduate Jefferson Musanda, but Musanda is sent home for his, per judge Nina Garcia, “bib and diaper” look.

There are certainly some talented and likeable contestants. Detroit’s Charketa “Char” Glover, a self-taught designer places third with her circle skirt and draped crop top, which hint at the coherence of the overall collection (which was part of the challenge). Samantha Plasencia, of San Antonio, showed some great pieces during the audition process, and places somewhere in the middle. And I’m already kind of pulling for Sandhya. She incorporates profanities into gorgeous patterns and prints, as a form of protest against the treatment of women in India. She also jokes that she voted for Amanda “because her brother [James Valentine of Maroon 5] is a rock star.”

I know what I said about the show focusing on skill, but it’s not above massaging some conflict out of its “cast.” The sneak peek at the season ahead shows Sandhya sobbing to Tim Gunn about being picked on in the workroom. The tears flow in almost every episode of Project Runway, but given the open disdain that Korina and Mitchell have already shown, Sandhya might have a real problem on her hands. Here’s hoping she sticks it out and makes it work.