Either you're in, or you're out

By Charles Campbell

The second season of “Project Runway” debuted Wed. night on Bravo in a cutthroat two-hour premiere that set the tone for the rest of the season. The reality series pits amateur fashion designers against one another in challenges, each episode culminating in a runway show and nail-biting critique by a panel of judges in the industry. At stake is the opportunity to launch a label of their own, but as evidenced by last season, simply the exposure of being on television is enough to give these emerging designers a boost.

This publicity “Project Runway” offers has clearly affected the level of competition in the new season, attracting a body of people whose ability rivals that of the prior season. Sixteen designers introduced in the premier, herald from a range of backgrounds, ages and experience, though when it came time to unveil their designs (made entirely of muslin with only $20 for supplies) a clear was that the cuts–both of the designs and the contestants–have become more aggressive.

Yet the quality of personality in the first season’s contestants has been sacrificed. While Heidi Klum, Michael Kors and Nina Garcia return with their brisk, spot-on assertions, making us less-informed viewers blush from our comments made during the runway show, the contestants, unfortunately, offer little in the way of entertainment.

Emmett, a menswear designer and clone of Hayden Christensen, has all the charm of an automaton, appearing more likely to shoot laser beams from his unblinking eyes than offer a witty comment. Drama provided by Zumela receives little more than eye-rolls from her deadpan competitors. Perhaps this is just indicative of stage fright, of the first episode of new contestants with large, colorful shoes to fill. But the warm, dynamics between last season’s characters is stubborn to emerge.

Already, things seem uneasy in the workroom at Parsons. Santiago surfaces as the strongest designer, featuring imaginative, unexpected garments from meager means. (The second challenge, “Clothes off your back,” forces contestants to construct a garment from nothing more than the outfit they wore to a party.) The greasy skeleton man is, however, short of immodesty. First laughing at the critiques made by judges of his competitors’ work in the first round, he later returns from the second challenge boasting, “They didn’t want to give it [1st place] to me twice in a row.” Confidence may be an important characteristic to have when entering the fashion world, but one hopes Santiago will soon take those socks off his wrists and stuff his fat head with them.

Unexpectedly, Daniel Franco, the first eliminated from season one, has risen to the forefront with his earnest personality. Behind a curtain of showmanship, his confidence wavers every challenge and from that shines his charm. He is the brown-eyed puppy that continues to piddle on the carpet but you cannot help to love, and his success thus far is enjoyable to witness.

Though the quick witticisms of Jay McCarroll and flamboyance of Austin Scarlett are noticably absent, the fiercer talent on “Project Runway 2” may provide enough entertainment value alone to last until Heidi’s last “Auf Wiedersehen.