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‘Runway’ gets red-carpet ready in L.A. debut

Designers give Ari Fish and her Martian nappy the heave-ho in the season 6 opener of "Project Runway."
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

Greetings from Planet Disco Soccer Ball! It's a place where designers do handstands instead of sketching, hold meaningful conversations with their fabric, and wear jumpsuits that look like a 1980s graffiti artist vomited all over them. Welcome! We hope you brought your shiny spaceman halter diaper to kick off the party.

Ah, I kid. And I kid because I love ... that Project Runway is back! It's been just over a year since we last gathered around the campfire to indulge in a little vicarious stitch-n-bitch, but it sure feels like longer, doesn't it? As we all well know, Project Runway's sixth season began shooting almost a year ago — i.e. in the olden days of yore when Heidi Klum was not pregnant — but due to corporate squabbling, it lived in limbo until last spring.

But now all that bad stuff is history. And after last night, I think we can all agree that Project Runway chez Lifetime is the same show we've been obsessed with since 2004. (Though yes, the commercial breaks were packed with a greater number of birth control and tampon commercials than we ever saw on Bravo, no? Gotta know your audience!) The relocation from New York to L.A. wasn't jarring. And as a New Yorker who understands just how tightly we're all packed into our fair city, I did appreciate the spaciousness of the West Coast surroundings: from the living quarters to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising work areas. It all looked so lickety-split new, too.

Of course, the real excitement was discovering the 16 new personalities that, by some masterfully impressive Def-Con 9 zillion action, Lifetime had managed to keep hidden all this time. But we finally got to meet them last night, when they were given 200 bucks to show innovation in a red carpet gown. It wasn't the most surprising or groundbreaking of challenges, but it was fitting for the new Los Angeles setting. And which characters stood out from the crowd? Let's start with the one who has seam-popping potential to bring a whole lotta drama this season.

I speak, of course, of recovering crystal meth–addict Johnny Sakalis. Due to his addiction, Runway rejected the poor guy three times before finally offering him a spot in season 6. And what did he do mere minutes into the first challenge? He had a meltdown. Succumbing to the pressure of the sewing room, Johnny took a teary timeout on the enormous red couches, where he seemed ready to pack up his tool box and get the hell outta Dodge. But never underestimate the healing powers of Tim Gunn, who strode on over to Johnny like an exquisitely articulate and debonair superhero (which is exactly what Tim Gunn is, come to think of it) and gave the dude a pep talk. Johnny then returned to the belly of the beast and banged out a flowy red dress that, far from getting him evicted, impressed Nina Garcia, Michael Kors, Heidi, and even scowly-faced guest judge Lindsay Lohan. When not looking like someone just reminded her of the state of her career, Lohan astutely (ha ha) observed that the dress' deep v-neck front and plunging back were ''sexy.'' Wow! Who knew the ''actress, singer, and designer of her own line, 6126'' was full of such insight? Simply astounding!

Mitchell ''I Can't Stop Smiling!'' Hall also flirted with disaster last night when he deep-sixed his sheer Victorian ombré gown because, he claimed, his model's measurements were way off. (Excuses, excuses!) I didn't much care for the original design to begin with, but I was even less of a fan of the last-minute replacement: a turtleneck muumuu made from what looked like 60 packages of L'eggs Everyday Support (in your basic opaque nude). What must the poor model have been thinking as she sashayed down the runway, offering the world one of television history's most egregious VPLs? My guess: ''If I get a wedgie before I'm safely backstage, I am going to make you eat these pantyhose, Mitchell!''

As far as first impressions go, Louise Black, Shirin Askari, Althea Harper, Irina Shabayeva, and Nicolas ''the Feather Prince'' Putvinski weren't really on screen enough Thursday night to make any lasting ones. I'm looking forward to seeing more from Epperson, the classy elder statesman of the group who, when he auditioned for the show, was named Rodney. Go figure. Loved everything about his purple frock except for the frouffy trim around the hem. Logan Neitzel is clearly being touted as the Resident Hot Guy. (And if you watched the premiere of Models of the Runway, it seems one of the catwalkers soon develops a mega crush on him.) I suppose he does have a certain Tim Riggins-y vibe to him. But what the hell was that footage of him screeching around a corner in his car? For a moment there, I thought maybe one of my cats (most likely Miko) had sat on the remote and switched the channel to Cops.

I wasn't blown away by Gordana Gelhausen's simple teal mini-dress, but I do find her Eastern European-accented nuggets of wisdom highly entertaining. She already won me over when she waxed non-sequitor-ish about spoons in an early promo video and last night, she added this equally intriguing entry to her résumé: ''If you give me a sheep, I can make you a sweater.'' (Which I originally heard as ''If you give me a sheet, I can make you a sweater.'' That would be even more impressive.)Then she talked about growing up where people grow potatoes. Excellent!

Speaking of which, it would seem that a pound of starchy vegetables has more brain power than Carol Hannah Whitfield, who had the misfortune of losing her train of thought just as she was attempting to refute the dumb blonde cliché. D'oh! I'm sure she simply got nervous and blanked out, but there's really no excuse for the hideosity that she sent galumphing down the runway — and that somehow made it past the judges. Apparently, no one ever taught them the following equation: an overly-tanned fabric + endless layers of messy, droopy folds = the sartorial equivalent of George Hamilton's pet Shar Pei.

But maybe they were too busy trying to make sense of that ridiculous silver romper from the mind of Ari ''I Could Be Sam Ronson's Kooky Twin Sister from Another Solar System'' Fish. If Runway history has taught us anything, it's that loony tunes like Ari who present conceptual installation pieces right out of the gate aren't usually the first to get Auf'd. (Dare we recall ridonkulous Blayne's crack-ho onesie from the season 5 premiere?) And I figured the judges might want to keep her around for a while, if only to give Malvin ''I don't differentiate between different color carpets'' Vien some competition for this season's Most Likely to Occupy an Alternate Universe award. (Seeing as he's already got the Most Likely to Be Mistaken for the Hair Love Child of Robert Smith and a Thompson Twin in the bag.) When the judges surprisingly sent Qristyl Frazier and her hot mess of a schizophrenic dress to safety, I was sure they'd have the sense to tell Mitchell and his musty muumuu to go stand by that fireplace with a glass of brandy. (Oh, Michael Kors.) But no. They gave Ari and her Martian nappy the heave-ho back to her home planet. It's a shame, really. What will the yards of lonely fabric do with no one to ask them what they want to be made into next week?

As for the winners and near-winners, I was rooting for the orthographically creative Ra'mon as soon as he mentioned that he'd gone to med school for neurosurgery (!) before heeding the call of his fashionista muse. Then I saw that gorgeous asymmetrical purple gown of his and he won my full support. (Heidi also gave it her foolproof endorsement: ''It looks expensive!'') I guess I can see why the judges ultimately deemed his design too safe and gave the win to Christopher Straub. His two-toned, dual-textured mini-frock had the edge on innovation and was more youthful as well. Hopefully the win — and immunity for next week — will help Christopher quit it with the self-conscious remarks about his lack of professional training. Dude, you're on Project Runway, so you must have done something right teaching yourself to sew! But ugh…those baseball hats you wear to the side? You don't have to go to design school to know that those are more than a little d-baggy. So let's loose 'em, mmmkay?