All stars, start your sewing machines, because the ultimate fashion showdown has finally begun! Though, in a way, Project Runway All Stars is more like an inverted season than an ultimate one: New judges, new runway, new prizes, no Tim Gunn. Really, the only familiar thing about the show is the thing that usually changes every season: the list of contestants.

For the Project Runway superfan, it’s a strange but exciting sensation to see the show turned on its head that way. All these designers we loved are back, but everything else about the show feels so … alien. But after nine seasons of the same ol’, same ol’, I’m more than willing to give this topsy-turvy version a shot.

Speaking of the contestants, the first to arrive is MONDO! I am mondo-happy to see him again. Love Mondo. I wish I could be as good at anything as Mondo is at simply picking out a tank top.

mondo-mondogreat.jpg(Thinking about how that will never, ever happen.)

He greets Michael, his buddy from his season — they’ll be bonded forever thanks to their mutual hatred for Gretchen. We all will. Mila, madame of the black and white, is already talking her big game about her basic aesthetic. Our beloved Anthony is back too, and I’m rooting for him to stick around as long as possible, if only for his hilarious quips. I hope he’s the next to get his own TV show, a la Chris March and Mad Fashion.

But Anthony’s got competition in the spunk department too, thanks to Austin and his sky-high blonde bouffant. “Somebody had to put the ‘star’ in all-star,” Austin purrs at us. It makes me uncomfortable that a man with a mustache is so much prettier than me.

Kenley is on a mission to show that she was misunderstood last time — which is why I’m anticipating even more meltdowns. The rest of the all-stars roll in so quickly that I can barely keep up: There’s super-hip April, charming Rami, sweet Sweet P, natural Kara, wildcard Gordana, fierce Jerell and crazy Elisa. It’s a diverse and talented group, for sure. And not even a fully villainous character in the bunch! (The operative word being “fully.” Mila and Kenley definitely have potential.)

Let’s Hear About Those Fabulous Prizes

The show’s host, model Angelea Lindvall, greets the all-stars at Limelight to tell them, for what appears to be the first time (doubt it!), about this season’s prizes. And designers sure are glad that they blindly signed away three months of their lives without knowing what they were fighting for (again, that never happened), because it’s the biggest prize in the show’s history: A boutique to sell their line in select Neiman Marcus stores and on their website, a fashion spread in Marie Claire and a position as guest editor for one year, a huge collection of Brother sewing equipment, an office pimped out by HP and Intel, and a cash prize of $100,000 from L’Oreal Paris. That’s a whole lotta juicy prize, worth “close to a staggering half a million dollars” says Angela. Austin begins to sharpen his nails on his scissors, his scissors on his nails. The bigger the prize, the bigger the bloodbath.

Then it’s time to meet the new judges: First, the freakishly perfect Georgina Chapman, founder of Marchesa, will be playing the role of Nina Garcia. I can’t wait to see how pristinely coiffed and dressed she’ll be every week. She’s also insanely articulate, and her work speaks for itself. (Someone at Project Runway should call Simon Cowell and explain how it is possible to cast a beautiful woman who actually knows what she’s talking about as a judge. They do it on this show all the time!)

Next is Isaac Mizrahi, America’s favorite eccentric fashion uncle. He’ll be our Michael Kors this season: He’s been there, designed that, and the only thing he has more of than money, is opinions. These eerie casting changes make me feel like we’re watching Project Runway: Alternate Dimension.

To reintroduce us to this group and their different aesthetics, each designer has brought a recent look to show off to the judges. And as soon as the first zipper is unzipped, they’re all side-eyeing each other, sizing up the competition and their clothes at the same time. Most of them talk about their admiration and respect for each other, but we know (or hope?) that won’t last for long.

Each look takes its turn down the runway. I think it would have been more fun if the looks went down nameless, and the judges had to guess which designer brought which look. Because, really, that wouldn’t be too hard to figure out. Kenley’s is a big, bright fluffy blue gown. Elisa’s has wings and weird writing, of course. Anthony’s short party dress is bright and has fun details. Mondo’s look is super futuristic, but still whimsical.

It makes me feel like a total nerd, but pretty much down the line, each look reminds me of what each designer brought to the table, and why I loved them (well, most of them) last time they were on the show — of the seasons I’ve watched, that is. Really, the only designer I don’t really remember is Gordana, because I missed season 6. There, I admitted it!

After showing off their work, the designers head to their new loft, where Elisa picks and greets her bed with a kiss. Kenley explains to us that that’s funny because Elisa is she of the “spit marks” — but how could we ever forget? Then it’s time to gather for a little AV fun: Valentino and his very tanned partner Giancarlo Giammetti have sent the all-stars a special video, and they’re all, especially the queens, simply beside themselves.

michael-valentino-OHMYGAWD.jpgMore like Project STUNWAY! (Wow, worst pun ever?)

They clap and gasp in ecstasy. They wipe away tears, and items from their bucket lists, for the living god of fashion took time out of his day to send them a very special, very hard-to-understand message! I’m not entirely solid on what that message was, but I think it had something to do with sewing your wishes and designing your dreams. You know, shop talk.

The Challenge: “The Unconventional Challenge”

Angelea Lindvall isn’t even trying to bring the beautiful coldness of The Klum to her hosting, which I appreciate. Imitation is the sincerest form of inevitable disappointment. Heidi always seems like she’s keeping her distance and trying to strike a little fear, but Angelea’s chipper and warm. Anyway. She explains that they’re going to kick off with the challenge that the fans love and the designers usually hate: The anything-but-clothes challenge. YAY! These are the all-stars, so they better step it up with the unconventional materials. If I see a tablecloth or a shower curtain walk down that runway, I’m going to lose my sh*t.

They each get $100 to spend at the 99 cent store. (That’s 101 items! Otherwise known as HEAVEN.) And the look should be inspired by the look that they showed to the judges earlier. Appealing to the designers’ egos already? PRAS, you’re a clever girl.

The store is full of all sorts of small, cheap, mostly practical items like housewares and office supplies — not exactly beautiful or inspiring. Sweet P just tries to find bright colors. To Michael’s horror and April’s complete lack of concern, they both choose to go mop-heavy in their purchases.

The Workroom

April says that entering the workroom for the first time “is like entering the gates of Hell … but also a good opportunity.” Later, they’ll get their first mentoring session with Joanna Coles, editor of Marie Claire. I’ll try not to hate her for not being Tim Gunn, because then I’d have to hate everyone who isn’t Tim Gunn. And while that might be fun and rewarding in its own way, it’s no way to go about life.

Right off the bat, Elisa drags her cutting board off the table and puts it on the floor. Her free-spiritedness is already too exhausting to bear. Of course, April and Michael’s mop-dresses immediately look exactly the same. Jerell tells Michael that they need to have a “woman to woman talk” to sort that out.

Joanna’s here! As noted, she’s no Tim Gunn (because WHO COULD BE?) but she’s insightful and straight-to-business, which I respect.  Mix Tilda Swinton with Tabitha (you know, the one who Takes Over), and you’ve got Joanna.

Mondo says that Gordana’s streamers-dress looks like a pinata. “I hope her model is full of candy.” Haha. Like a model could be full of anything besides bones and Smart Water. Joanna and Elisa immediately have trouble communicating, because Joanna is a to-the-point Brit, and Elisa is a butterfly with wings of shimmering, new-age nonsense.

At the end of the night, Austin (almost) has the first meltdown of the season: His glue gun burned a hole through the front of his bright blue plastic dress. He covers his head in his hands and says he wants to pull his hair out, but he manages to keep it together. The next morning, he figures out a way to patch the dress. Well now that the crisis has been so easily averted, his funeral hair-shroud just looks silly.

austin-hairscarfofthestars2.jpgThe Runway

A Neiman Marcus big wig joins Angelea, Georgina and Isaac in the judges’ chairs. I didn’t bother learning his name, so we’ll just call him Marcus.  

The designs come down the runway so fast that I simply couldn’t type fast enough to judge them all — but at least the judges did. Austin‘s plastic frock is fun, sparkly and surprisingly wearable. Kara‘s is cute, but a little costume-y. Jerell‘s model looks chic, but he used mostly scarves as his materials, which seems a little too easy.

Elisa sent down … A SHOWER CURTAIN? Bah! Adding insult to too-easy injury, her “high art” looks just … well, high.

elisa-flyinghigh.jpgLiterally the only situations in which I could imagine someone wearing this (Coachella? Some sort of “living poetry” art house thing?) involve lots of drugs.

I love the structure in Rami‘s outfit. It’s big and bold, but still sort of classic. Sweet P‘s looks like a blind woman put together an outfit at Wal-Mart. Neon belts everywhere. Not cute. When Mondo‘s walks down the runway, I’m in love anew. I can’t believe something so elegant could be made out of trash bags. Hobos, up your game! (Ahhh! Sorry, just kidding, that was super insensitive. The heat of competition got to me.)

Kenley‘s looks like an overgrown napkin, while Gordana‘s pinata is slightly less pinata-esque than I feared. (The glory of low expectations!) It’s Anthony‘s turn, and eeeeek. Too short, too tight, too tacky. Anthony, noooo!

Mila, snore. I get the feeling I’ll be pairing those words a lot. Michael‘s mop dress is lovely, but then April‘s comes down directly after, and even though it’s longer, it still looks very similar. 

Angelea says goodbye to the safe designers, leaving the highest and the lowest scorers on stage: Sweet P, Mondo, Elisa, Rami, Jerell and Gordana. WHAT? No reckoning for the identical mop dresses? I need a mop to soak up my fake indignant rage.

On to the judges’ comments:

The Good: Rami. He turned laundry bags into a tweed-like dress, and it’s powerful and expensive-looking. Isaac applauds his execution: “You mastered those elements. You made them your bitch.” (I think I’m going to like his feedback the most this season. The man knows how to craft a dress AND a soundbite.)

The Bad: Sweet P. Her dress looks “ragged” says Isaac. The color blocking isn’t precise enough, says Georgina. I think the materials and the colors are awful together.

The Good: Jerell. Georgina says it’s beautiful and wearable, and Isaac loves the blue-neutral tone.

The Bad: Elisa. Elisa explains that she “does a lot with sacred geometry,” and then I couldn’t hear anything she said after that, because my eyes rolled back so hard that they double-headbutted my brain and I blacked out.

The Good: Mondo. It’s fun, even though it’s black, which Georgina loves. It’s “flawlessly executed,” and Marcus would love to see it in a “real” fabric. It’s “snappy!” says Isaac.

The Bad: Gordana. It’s too many ideas and elements, says Georgina. Gordana admits she has a hard time editing. But Isaac loves the flow of the streamers, so I think she’ll be safe for this week.

In deliberation, the judges rave about Rami’s translation of cheap items into such a rich look, but it almost looks too similar to his original look. Jerell’s was beautiful, but maybe didn’t push the boundaries enough, while Mondo’s dress was whimsical and polished.

Sweet P’s look walked the line too closely between eccentric and odd. Angelea says she wouldn’t be caught dead in it, which would be a death knell for SURE if Angela were Heidi — but she’s not, so now I don’t know WHAT to expect! Gordana’s streamers had good movement, but she needs to learn how to edit. And speaking of odd, the judges seem to not even know what to say about Elisa’s look.

The Results

The Winner: Jerell is safe, which leaves it down to Mondo and Rami for the first challenge winner. And the winner is … Rami and his Burberry laundry bags.

Mondo looks let down. (Always the bridesmaid…) But this initial near-win will just spur him on to even further excellence, I hope. I love Rami, too, and he earned the win. That dress was a spectacular transformation.

You’re Out: Gordana is saved by her streamers, which leaves it down to Sweet P and Elisa. And the one who’s safe is … SWEET P! Thank goodness. Which means Elisa is eliminated.

Well, she was far from my favorite, but I can’t help thinking that Elisa’s elimination screams of lost potential. Maybe not where fashion is concerned, but certainly where quality reality television is. We barely got another taste of her (eww, I’m not going to say spit…) kookiness, and now she’s sprinkling her acid-flavored pixie dust and flying back into the ether. It’s like … c’mon, she didn’t even spit on anything yet!

Elisa leaves with her head held high (that’s easy when it’s always in the clouds, anyway) and tells the judges “have happy every days.” Aww.

Well, Project Runway lovers, I hope you’ll have happy every days, too — especially Thursdays, if you’ll keep coming back and recapping this season with me each week. Will you, please?

And so, what did you think? Will this special All Star season live up to your hopes and dreams? Or is the absence of Michael, Nina, Heidi and Tim too much to bear? And which designer do you hope will see his/her dream come true in the end? Right now, Mondo, Austin and Anthony are my top three — don’t bother asking if that’s because of their fashions or their fabulous personalities, because that’s the best part about Project Runway. I DON’T HAVE TO CHOOSE!

We end with a promo. This season on Project Runway, there will be drama, thank goodness! And along with the heightened competition, we’ll get crazy challenges, fabulous guest judges (including Miss Piggy!) and tense judging sessions for the designers and their extra-big, extra-fragile egos. So, unlike America’s Next Top Model: All-Stars, which had almost nothing to do with modeling, this season of Project Runway will actually be about what the show is supposed to be about. Thank God and the ghost of Tim Gunn. I think we can make this work.

(Images courtesy of Lifetime)

Meghan Carlson

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

Meghan hails from Walla Walla, WA, the proud home of the world’s best sweet onions and Adam West, the original Batman. An avid grammarian and over-analyzer, you can usually find her thinking too hard about plot devices in favorites like The OfficeIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and How I Met Your Mother. In her spare time, Meghan enjoys drawing, shopping, trying to be funny (and often failing), and not understanding the whole Twilight thing. She’s got a BA in English and Studio Art from Whitman College, which makes her a professional arguer, daydreamer, and doodler.