Welcome to the very first episode of Project Runway New Zealand, in which the designers had to make a cocktail dress inspired by a soft drink so inspiring nearly everyone used white. Henry Oliver ranks the results.
Watching the first episode of a competition-based reality show always feels a little sadistic. Who is going home first? Who will have their hopes and dreams crushed after one episode? Who, for the next year or so, will be subjected to the following social interaction:
‘Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?’
‘Yeah, I was on Project Runway.’
‘You were? I don’t remember seeing you.’
‘Yeah, I, ah, didn’t last that long.’
Tonight, the contestants all arrived in bustling Auckland (an actual big city that always looks like a parody of a big city when TV producers try to make it look like a big city) to begin the journey of a lifetime, or make some clothes for people at home to nitpick. Fun!
The challenge was to make a cocktail dress inspired by a fancy Scandinavian soft drink (shouldn’t that be mocktail dress?!? Sorry!) Anyway, the results were a bit lacklustre to be honest, but, from the two-second clips of future episodes and the end, that looks like opening night nerves.
So… without further ado (or specialist knowledge, expertise or industry insight), here are my definitive rankings of the designers from episode one:
Poor Nicole. I mean, she can obviously, technically, make clothes. But maybe she doesn’t know what Scandinavia is or, at least, what Scandinavian design looks like. Yet another reason why Auckland needs an IKEA.
She said she used leather because Scandinavians “have a lot of dead things”. The judges said: “A lot of look,” and “the opposite of Scandinavian,” both of which were, let’s be honest, pretty charitable assessments.
It’s a pity though, her tarot card reading could have been a recurring feature. Sorry Nicole!
Eesh! I love that he knew it was well below par as soon as he saw his competitors’ work come down the runway. “My ship started sinking pretty quickly,” he said. Accurate. Like Nicole, he can obviously make stuff well, but I don’t know if there’s any taste there. His menswear looks they showed all seemed like the Y3/sports goth stuff that was everywhere a couple of years ago, but it at least looked a little interesting. This plain white dress with a purple thing on top was… I dunno, nothing. Still, dude’s got some talent and I anticipate a mid-season surge once he figures it out a little.
She describes her aesthetic as like “a unicorn pooped on Elvira.” So… maybe this just wasn’t her challenge.
Judy is a mystery who got almost no camera time. That means she’s going to be around until episode four at least. Maybe she just didn’t say much except “the dress looked really nice on the runway”. Nice! What? She’s obviously got some skill, but she made a boring dress.
Had to watch back about five times to remember this one. Looks slick, but sale rack slick.
Matt, the “Kiwi bloke who loves to go on the old sewing machine and give it a go”, didn’t want to make a cocktail dress so he just made what he wanted. And, it appears, what he wanted to make was… Wellington in the ’90s? Sure, it’s cold in Scandinavia, but that doesn’t mean you can make a thick winter jersey into a dress, slash that back and call it a cocktail dress. Now, I’m all for contestants doing whatever they want to do, but if you flout the challenge you gotta knock it out of the park.
Camille is the season’s hippy weirdo. There’s always one. Not that drawing with your eyes closed is as cool as spitting on your fabric to mark it, but we’ll work with what we got. Camille’s dressed showed promise in the workroom and the bare bones of it were cool, but the finished version looked like primary school arts and crafts project. It reminded me of that scene in Six Degrees of Separation when Donald Sutherland talks about how you’ve got to take paintings away from children otherwise they’ll keep painting and ruin them. Unfortunately, Camille just kept painting.
If this was in the UK, they might have called this dress High Street, but I guess that means something different here. Or, it did before all of New Zealand’s legacy fashion brands moved to Britomart. Still… commercial, colourful, geometric, well done. Beau seems like a cool dude too, even (or especially) when he talks in the third person.
Every episode of Project Runway includes a designer who is so far behind, every time they’re on camera, they have their head in their hands, are wrestling with a sewing machine, or are running two-metre sprints from table to model to machine in an endless loop. Today that was Lenon, who had an elaborate, labour-intensive design but barely finished a paired-down version of that dress. But even though the model had to hold it on, it actually looked interesting. Not Scandinavian as such, but, if you squinted, a little punk maybe. A DIY Vivienne Westwood if you wanted to be generous.
Lenon has style and a good eye. I predict a long, rough road deep into the competition with as many triumphs as disasters.
Jess is kind of the protagonist of the show. She was there first and acts like its central character and conscience. That’s not to say she’s winning it, but get used to seeing her every week for the next couple of months.
Her dress? I liked that it flowed and moved, but seriously why is everything in white? Do they think that’s Scandinavian or was there something about that Höpt shit that made everyone have the same colour idea? (‘What did it taste like? Nothing? Go with white then.’)
Misty is cool and so is her dress. I like pockets, so if she wants to do big bucket-like pockets, why not? Kind of like a cocktail dress version of painting overalls with a splash of that gross green heaps of kids clothes come in. Still, I liked this. Simple, clean and a little odd.
Kerry is the predictable front-runner. He’s worked for Karen Walker for eight years and has her logo tattooed on him. (That’s weird, right? To get a tattoo of your employer’s logo you have to be either an over-zealous stan or be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Or both.) Anyway, I didn’t like the jacket (and hated the red belt) but liked the simple angular dress and appreciated the slight colour gradient in the episode’s sea of white.
Caitlin’s obviously a contender and produced the most finished, could-buy-that-right-now look of the episode. One of the judges mentioned Chloe which is a huge compliment and not entirely off-base. And colour! Even though it was peach – maybe she mixed up watermelon and just plain old melon – she used colour!
Something tells me Benjamin is an American Psycho fan. He’s extremely driven (“I just want to be big. Huge. Fashion.” Um, WHAT?), takes himself super seriously, thinks the guy who worked for Karen Walker for eight years (Kerry) has no taste, likes “clean simple clothes” with “no exuberant look-at-me crap”, seems unimpressed with his own design and shows no emotion when he wins. Most likely to succeed. At all costs.
And his dress was, if not the most polished (Hi Caitlin!), definitely the most interesting. I mean, I didn’t LOVE it (I wish it was a practice mock-up for a dress in a different fabric), but it was dramatic (the judges’ favourite word) and, dare I say it, fashion not just, y’know, clothes.
Discloser: An earlier version of this post mistook a judge saying “Chloe” for “Céline”. Thanks to a kind reader for pointing this out. It will never/probably happen again.
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