Bravo's Project Runway

At last, there is a worse supermodel hostess on television than the supercilious Tyra Banks, doyenne of UPN's completely awful but compulsively watchable America's Next Top Model.

The winner is the stunningly wooden Heidi Klum, the emcee of Project Runway, which debuted last Wednesday night at 10 on Bravo.

Obviously taking its cues from Top Model, where the wannabe mannequins are put through a series of humiliating paces, which usually involve flouncing around in underwear, Project Runway offers a contest among 12 fledgling fashion designers, the winner to be rewarded with $100,000 and a catwalk show.

Their plots are nearly identical—each week both shows' contestants face a challenge, are critiqued, and then one gets the ax—but with Project Runway you won't hate yourself quite as much in the morning. Maybe this is because the designers actually have to do something, as opposed to the teenagers on Model, who are put through their phony tests—serving tea in kimonos to mean Japanese businessmen, rappelling Mount Everest—because otherwise you'd just have to watch them walk back and forth for 10 weeks.

And of course there are male aspirants on Project Runway as well, which makes a nice change, though it is disconcerting to see the women repeatedly dissolve into puddles of self-doubt while the men fairly crow with bravado.

On the first episode, the designers are given $50 and let loose in a supermarket, instructed to purchase whatever they want and make it into an evening dress. Most of them go for aluminum foil and ribbon—hey, that's what we'd buy too—but one guy buys corn.

You would expect that the over confident fellow who stays up late tailoring butcher paper into a foil-edged frock coat and layers it over a garbage-bag dress would be an early favorite, but perhaps he is playing too consciously into the judges' prejudices. The panel, composed of Elle fashion director Nina Garcia, Michael Kors, and Patricia Field, kick him to the curb, with Field, believe it or not, snorting derisively at his trash-bag gown.

In a surprise and delightful turn of events, the corn guy, who resembles an incredibly young Yves St. Laurent (not, one suspects, entirely an accident) and whose dress looks like it's meant for a wood nymph, wins first place, and for a moment drops his foppish hauteur and appears genuinely grateful. Apparently the judges, all fashion people themselves, are willing to overlook the fact that his husks shriveled overnight.

 
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