‘Project Runway’ season 17 premiere recap: What were our ‘First Impressions’ of the new designers, judges and host? [UPDATING LIVE BLOG]

After more than a decade on Lifetime “Project Runway” returned to Bravo on Thursday night, March 14, for a 17th season that once again brings together 16 designers from around the world to compete for fashion supremacy. So who made the best first impressions in “First Impressions”? Find out below in our live blog with all the minute-by-minute developments as they happen.

“Runway” spent its first five seasons on Bravo before moving to Lifetime. But the fallout from the sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein resulted in Lifetime dropping the series, which was produced by the Weinstein Company. Then Bravo picked it back up. But the network switch isn’t the only big change for the show this year.

The competition series has gotten a complete makeover. Host Heidi Klum and mentor Tim Gunn didn’t return to the show, so taking their places are model Karlie Kloss and season four “Runway” champ Christian Siriano, respectively. Judge Zac Posen is also out, but Nina Garcia stuck around, and now she’s joined by designer Brandon Maxwell and former Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth.

But beyond that the competition remains mostly the same. The season premiere introduced 16 designers (get to know them in our photo gallery below), who introduced themselves to the judges with a design challenge inspired by the judges — no pressure. And there’s a lot more than that at stake. The winner of season 17  will get $250,000, a feature in Elle, a role in a Bluprint digital series, and $50,000 to put toward their own design studio. So who won the first challenge, and who was the first to go? Find out below starting at 8:00pm (all times listed are Eastern).

8:00pm — “Welcome to our new runway!” says Karlie, introducing the brand new seasons. And we’re getting a runway show right off the bat. The contestants are presenting some of their past designs to introduce the judges to their work.

8:03pm — “I like to design for women that are kind of shaped like me,” says Frankie Lewis. She’s the only one with a plus-size preview. She thinks she has an advantage because she’s used to designing for various shapes and sizes, and this season the models have diverse body types.

8:05pm — There are some bold, wow looks in that first runway, but the designers won’t have nearly as long to put together their looks in this competition. It all depends on how they’ll do with limited time and money.

8:07pm — Christian introduces the designers to their challenge — and it comes from the judges. Kloss, Garcia, Maxwell and Welteroth will show the designers the moments that first made them passionate about fashion

8:08pm — Kloss’s formative moment was an early runway show when she was a teenager. Maxwell shows a photo of his mother wearing a look during a fashion show for the family business. Garcia’s moment of inspiration was the first photo shoot she stepped into — looking chic on a boat. Welteroth’s inspiration was her first cover shoot with Serena Williams when she was working with Ebony magazine.

Team Brandon — Venny Etienne, Nadine Ralliford, Cavanagh Baker and Renee Hill

Team Elaine — Afa Ah Loo, Frankie Lewis, Hester Sunshine and Kovid Kapoor

Team Karlie — Lela Orr, Rakan Aldeen, Jamall Osterholm and Bishme Cromartie

Team Nina — Garo Sparo, Tessa Clark, Sonia Kasparian, Sebastian Grey

8:16pm — Tessa is a mother of nine — yikes! — so she can relate to Brandon being inspired by her mother. With nine kids, I wonder if “Project Runway” is like a vacation for her.

8:18pm — Time for the designers to get a look at their Brooklyn penthouse. Cavanagh is disappointed that there are twin beds — the last time was probably when she was in Europe. Meanwhile Frankie remembers her boyfriend breaking up with her and stranding her without a place to live; she’s currently couch surfing. So clearly these designers are coming from some vastly different circumstances. Renee can’t room with men because of her Muslim faith, but Sebastian reveals that he’s gay, so all good!

8:21pm — Welcome to Mood! Sonia is literally “shaking” to be in the iconic fabric store for the first time. Lela is an eco-luxury designer, so her focus is going to be sustainable fabrics. Meanwhile, Cavanagh doesn’t think $250 is enough to by good retail fabrics — um, has she ever seen “Project Runway” before?

8:24pm — Hester is frantic at Mood. She has a very specific jumpsuit idea but can’t find what she’s looking for, so she ends up with plastic organza fabric she’s never worked with before — maybe not a good idea for her first challenge.

8:25pm — Back at the workroom, Lela discusses the “red sculptural” piece she has in mind. Meanwhile, Frankie is making a body suit for a plus-size woman because she wants to “break all the rules of traditional fashion.”

8:26pm — “How could I have made this stupid mistake? I know better than this!” says Hester, who is baffled by her plastic organza and afraid she’s going to melt it with her iron. Not a good start. If that’s all she’s got she’s going to have to “make it work,” as a mentor once said.

8:30pm — Three hours before the end of day one, Hester is moving on from her oganza disaster and gets a pep talk from Kovid. She’s scrapping that idea and improvising something else. Meanwhile, Kovid is making a Grecian “goddess gown,” Frankie is moving forward with her body suit, but trying to avoid “hungry booty.”

8:32pm — “I’ve worked with a fuller figure before, but she looks broader,” says Cavanagh. She seems to be getting a serious villain edit, but we’re also seeing her vulnerable side. She reveals that she and her bother bonded over Cavanagh being featured in a magazine shortly before he died.

8:34pm — “You don’t want the toes of the camel!” Garo Sparo warns Frankie when she accidentally puts a seam in the wrong place on her body suit. He’s skeptical that Frankie has the experience to keep up with her fellow designers. I’m no fashion expert, but camel toe is definitely not going be a winning runway look.

Instagram Twist! On day two, Karlie and Christian introduce a new twist: this will be a Flash Sale challenge. In select challenges throughout the competition, America is going to vote on the looks the designers make. The winning look that the judges pick and the fan-favorite look will be manufactured on-demand by 19th Amendment and sold on BravoTV.com. America will make their choices from the designers taking pictures of their looks for Instagram.

Christian’s Mentor Session — Kovid wants to do a structured jacket, but Christian tells him to nix it — he’s got enough going on in his look. Kovid hops up and down from excitement just from getting advice from Christian, and he’s so sweet I want to hug him. Venny’s look has a lot going on and might be too much “patch-working.” Cavanagh’s jacket needs to be really special, otherwise she’ll be stuck with just a plain black dress. Christian is worried about Frankie’s flat-booty design and points out that fit will be crucial.

Model Fitting — More problems for Cavanagh. “I sewed something wrong,” she says. Her tweed jacket is “way too small.” Kovid’s fitting is going a lot better. “You’re a real goddess!” he exclaims when he finds out his model MiMi is the first transgender model in the show’s history. He’s so excited that he hugs her, and I want to hug him even more. He reveals that he and his boyfriend had to flee India because homosexuality was illegal at the time, so he can relate to MiMi’s struggle for equality.

8:46pm — Uh-oh! Frankie’s model is a lot taller than she thought she would be (which is surprising because all the designers got their models’ measurements). She’s going to have to think fast because all of a sudden her look doesn’t work. “I can’t help but lose it. I can’t help but be emotional,” she says, and she breaks down and cries over her fitting disaster.

8:51pm — Hester comforts Frankie, and so does Christian. She has to re-cut everything, she he advises her to do a less ambitious short so she can make sure to show something — anything! — on the runway.

8:53pm — Morning of the runway and Cavanagh doesn’t feel good. She doesn’t have her tweed jacket, and her look wasn’t what she wanted it to be. Kovid has “butterflies in my tummy,” and Christian is “so excited I could pee” when he brings in the models for their final fittings. Frankie is still scrambling: “It’s not the look I planned, but it’s not far off.” However, she needs help sewing her zipper; Afa gives her a helping hand.

8:55pm — Afa is mortified that Cavanagh has asked her model to hand-sew something. “I don’t want to sound like a douche-bag on TV,” says Afa, who explains that he’s helping Frankie because he likes her and not helping Cavanagh because … he doesn’t. Granted, she didn’t ask for help, but asking the model to help you sew is odd. That is definitely not the model’s job.

8:57pm — Cavanagh doesn’t like using her phone to take photos of her garment for Instagram. She uses professional photos for all social media because it’s too important for a cell phone. I wonder how many more classist statements they got on tape from her. She’s a treasure trove.

8:58pm — “In long term and in business, the only person who can help you is yourself,” says Cavanagh, who is unhappy that a team of designers is helping Frankie finish her look. As abrasive as Cavanagh has been portrayed, she’s not totally wrong. It’s not a good sign when it takes a village to finish one designer’s look in the first challenge.

Runway Show

9:02pm — “One day you in, and the next day you’re out,” says Karlie, borrowing that crucial page from Heidi Klum’s playbook.

9:03pm — I’m not sure how I feel about Venny’s hip feathers, but Nadine’s monochromatic look is fire. Cavanagh’s “not feeling too hot” about her look because it’s “basic,” though her model is “hot as hell.” Renee’s look is a showstopper and it even has a reveal — dynamite! I’m loving the open sleeves on Bishme’s grey look. Garo Sparo’s corset and butterfly top is pretty fierce. Tessa’s look is simple, but it makes stunning use of white straps across the back.

9:06pm — Afa’s gown is beautiful and fits his plus-size model beautifully, though he’s worried the train is too long. Poor Frankie covers her face when her look goes down the runway, and it’s worse when she turns around and walks back because there is some horrid wedgie action on the behind. And Kovid’s Grecian goddess is indeed that — flowy, commanding. “Yes, MiMi, work!” he says. I’m going on the record to say, never eliminate Kovid. He’s living his best life, and I’m with him every step of the way.

Judges’ Critiques

9:12pm — Lela, Venny, Frankie, Renee, Cavanagh and Tessa represent three highest scores and three lowest scores.

Venny — Elaine “would definitely wear the jacket.” Nina had a “great reaction” when she saw it. There’s a lot going on, but she liked all the ideas. Brandon thought it projected confidence.

Cavanagh — Brandon thought it felt “slightly basic” for the amount of time and money she had — “Well definitely had enough money left over to buy herself a drink.” Nina thought the look could have been more imaginative too. When she sees the plain back she gives the most withering “meh” look.

Renee — Brandon says “There was a quiet strength to this look when it came out.” Karlie says, “This look is a reflection of your skills.” Elaine says, “Job well done, I can’t wait to see what else is in store from you.”

Lela — Nina thinks it’s “Karlie’s essence,” but she would question Lela’s skill set “because there’s not a lot there.” Karlie didn’t think it was executed well in the “small details.”

Tessa — Nina thinks it looks expensive, “luxe,” the cut of the pants is “superb … all the details I love.” Brandon kept writing in his notes, “chic fisherman” — that’s a compliment.

Frankie — She explains what went wrong to the judges, and she starts to tear up again from the disappointment. Elaine says it “lacks craftsmanship.” Nina doesn’t think the fabric looks supportive, and when Frankie tries to show off the fabric a strip of it falls of. “I am sorry,” Nina concludes.

9:19pm — “Wait, is this the winner?” says Elaine when she gets a closer look at Tessa’s look. But Brandon says, “She is the one,” when he sees how well Renee did every single thing with her look. Brandon thinks Frankie has a “point of view” even though it fell apart, but Elaine and Nina question her basic abilities to dress a plus-size woman, which she claimed was her specialty. God bless her, but I think Frankie’s look is bad enough that Cavanagh should stay for her basic look.


9:25pm — Renee, Tessa and Venny are the top three for this challenge. And the winner of the challenge is … Tessa! so the gorgeous white straps won the day. Venny and Renee are also safe. I liked Tessa’s look a lot, so I can’t begrudge her this win, though I would have picked Renee.

9:26pm — Lela, Cavanagh and Frankie are the bottom three. Lela had a low score, but she’s declared safe, so it’s down to Cavanagh (basic) and Frankie (hot mess) for elimination. And the eliminated designer is … Cavanagh! That surprises no one more than Frankie, who collapses in tears.

9:28pm — When Frankie tells the rest of the designers backstage that she’s safe, everyone gathers around her to celebrate. As much as I like Frankie, that leaves a sour taste in my mouth because it’s suggests they were basically rooting for Cavanagh to be eliminated. However aloof she is, they knew her for two days. Why would they be so cold to her?

9:30pm — Cavanagh’s not happy to be going home. She thought her look was flattering, while “others” in the bottom were just slapped together. Again, she’s not wrong. Her design showed basic construction skill where Frankie’s didn’t. But the producers set us up to dislike her from the beginning with her villain edit. They seemed to find every bratty, entitled comment she made to give us reason to root against her. And at the very end she left on the same entitled note by saying she was ready to go home so she could “sleep on a comfortable bed with a real pillow.” That said, she did say all those things, so there is some truth to the edit, but I suspect she has more dimension than we saw.

Be sure to make your predictions so that the contestants can see how they’re faring in our racetrack odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before the next episode airs every Thursday on Bravo. You’ll compete to win a spot on our leaderboard and eternal bragging rights. See our contest rules and sound off with other fans in our reality TV forum. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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