No Tim Gunn. No Heidi Klum. And a controversial first elimination that caused a ruckus when fans declared that the wrong designer was sent packing. Yes, according to longtime viewers of “Project Runway,” its return to Bravo for its 17th season had a decidedly bumpy beginning.
It was clear to many that sweet-natured designer Frankie Lewis was out of her league when her curvy model was falling out of her so-called body suit as she walked down the runway. But the two new judges — Elaine Welteroth, former editor of “Teen Vogue” and designer Brandon Maxwell, who has dressed both Lady Gaga and Michelle Obama — joined “Elle” editor-in-chief Nina Garcia, the lone survivor from previous incarnations, in opting to snip snooty Cavanagh Baker for a too-simple but at least wearable outfit.
But after that initial misstep (Frankie was duly given the heave-ho on episode 2), the revamped show with its snazzy Instagram-ready new workroom began to settle into place. Karlie Kloss calmed down as the new host. Season 4 winner Christian Siriano became more assertive as the new mentor.
I did have issues with some of the more out-there challenges like the ones featuring body modifications such as shoulder horns and neck ruffles or when the designers were ordered to simply make an “elegant” ensemble. At least these were offset by the glittery Elton John-appropriate costumes inspired by the musical biopic “Rocketman” and one involving making custom dream dresses for female clients who were dedicated Big Apple civic workers and a teacher.
What was the biggest improvement was the wide-ranging diversity of the 16 competitors, whose ethnic backgrounds included Samoan, Syrian, Haitian-American, Colombian and Indian. Also new: We got to learn more about the models on the show, including their names. They, too, were a diverse lot in a variety of shapes, sizes and backgrounds. Plus, in a “Project Runway” first, there was a striking Asian transgender model named MiMi Tao, who knew how to work it when striding down a catwalk.
My fellow senior editor Daniel Montgomery wished for a Christian Siriano save — a super power given to Tim Gunn previously — since there was more than once that the eliminated designer should have been given a second chance. And I wished we got to see more of Swatch, Mood’s Boston terrier mascot, who maybe got 15 seconds of airtime this season.
But what really counts is whether the three finalists were deserving of their placement. And while I initially questioned Hester Sunshine‘s taste and sewing skills, the final runway was quite enthralling and Sebastian Grey definitely deserved the Season 17 crown. Take the poll below or leave your thoughts in the comment section about what you think was a much-needed tweak or a big mistake about the format.