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Project Runway: Season Five

The Weinstein Company // Unrated // August 4, 2009
List Price: $27.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Casey Burchby | posted August 1, 2009 | E-mail the Author

Besides its focus on the world of high fashion, what makes Project Runway stand out from other reality shows is that its contestants are challenged creatively and intellectually. Rather than being a race to discover who can debase themselves the quickest (a la Fear Factor or America's Got Talent), PR encourages real artistic expression in a novel, dynamic setting.

I have always enjoyed the show whenever I happened to catch an episode here or there, but this is the first opportunity I've had to watch an entire season. I found myself absorbed by the widely divergent contestant personalities, their design abilities, Heidi Klum's chirpy goofball nonsense, and Tim Gunn's fatherly concern for his brood of designers.

We start out Project Runway: Season Five with a new cast of designers. The sixteen contestants come from all walks of life and range from recent college graduates to well-established professional designers. I would venture to say that all of them, with perhaps one exception, are truly talented.

Based out of Parsons The New School for Design in New York, each episode opens with host Heidi Klum presenting our cast of designers with a challenge to create a look, within some very stringent parameters. There are limits on time, budget, and sources for inspiration. Every challenge is different, often pushing designers to incorporate elements foreign to their individual styles. This, ultimately, is the real test of PR's contestant/designers - whether they can remove their own perspective sufficiently to meet the challenge and, by doing so, reach toward true innovation.

The Episodes

Episode 1: "Let's Start From the Beginning"
The designers' first challenge is to create a look with items found in Gristedes, a grocery store in New York.

Episode 2: "Grass is Always Greener"
With their models as clients, the designers create cocktail dresses using "green" fabrics.

Episode 3: "Bright Lights/Big City"
The designers' task is to create an NYC-inspired look based on their own photos of the city.

Episode 4: "Rings of Glory"
The challenge is to create a women's look for the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Episode 5: "Welcome to the Jungle"
In pairs, the designers create looks for Brooke Shields' character on her TV show, "Lipstick Jungle."

Episode 6: "Good Queen Fun"
Drag queens are paired with the designers, and they work together on costumes.

Episode 7: "Fashion that Drives You"
The designers must create a look using car parts.

Episode 8: "Double 0 Fashion"
Under the direction of Diane von Furstenberg, the designers create a look inspired by her Fall 2008 collection.

Episode 9: "What's Your Sign?"
Paired with previously-eliminated designers, the remaining contestants create a look based on signs of the zodiac.

Episode 10: "Transformation"
Recent college grads - and their moms - work with the designers to create a look appropriate to their nascent careers.

Episode 11: "Rock N Runway"
For one another, the designers create looks inspired by particular musical genres.

Episode 12: "Nature Calls"
Following a visit to the New York Botanical Garden, the designers create evening gowns inspired by natural forms.

Episode 13: "Finale, Part I"
The designers must complete their collections with a wedding dress and a bridesmaid's dress.

Episode 14: "Finale, Part II"
After editing their collections, the three remaining designers present their work at New York's Fashion Week at Bryant Park.

The episodes generally follow a set formula, with little deviation: the presentation of the challenge, a preliminary design session, a shopping trip for fabric and materials, a bit of coaching from Tim Gunn, the work session, and finally the runway show. After the show, contestants are critiqued by judges Heidi Klum, Michael Kors, Nina Garcia, and a rotating guest. At the end of every episode, a winner is declared, and the designer with the poorest marks is eliminated from the show.

There are some surprises here. Without giving too much away, there are some designers who improve markedly in terms of grappling with the terms of each challenge. Others remain stuck in their own aesthetic approach. The process of elimination did not go the way I had guessed during the first episode. Joe Faris, for example, while not the best designer in the group, was able to stretch his comfort zone and achieved good results on most of the challenges. On the other hand, Stella Zotis, a self-described rock-and-roll/biker leather specialist, did all she could to utilize leather in every challenge, even when it was totally inappropriate.

The winning designer - who I won't reveal here - turns out to be very adept at architectural forms and exceedingly creative in the construction of her looks. Unfortunately, she is a truly unpleasant person, and I reacted to her negatively. Her faux-whimsy and annoying fairy princess manner did little to cover her amoral personality. She was a sneaky whisperer throughout the season, quietly shit-talking behind the back of just about every other designer. Her win is understandable in terms of her ability as a designer; it's unfortunate that her lack personal integrity makes it so difficult for the viewer to enjoy.


The Package
Four discs are economically housed in a single-width keepcase. I appreciate this space-saving trend with multi-disc TV releases. The keepcase comes in a simple card slipcover.

The Video
The Weinstein Brothers' home video concern, Genius Products, presents Project Runway: Season Five in a vibrant full-screen transfer that replicates the show's somewhat over-saturated look. The transfer is fine; the original video is the problem here, with colors often looking pumped-up with artificial sweeteners. Although it makes sense for a show about fashion to be visually eye-catching, the approach here seems like a post-production afterthought rather than a prepared design scheme.

The Sound
The main audio track is a strong Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. Music is favored, and plays almost constantly throughout each episode. Dialogue is well-represented, although moments that are lost in the mix or were whispered too low for the microphones to pick up are helpfully subtitled.

The Extras
The package announces Never-Before-Seen Extended Episodes, although nowhere are we provided any detail about this. The episodes all run in the neighborhood of 45 minutes, which is standard for an hour-long show sans commercials. I can't tell where material may have been added.

The only extra feature is a brief, five-minute follow-up featurette called Wear is the Winner Now? The concept is self-explanatory, and in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I won't elaborate.

Final Thoughts

Project Runway is a terrific show and the fifth season is up to its usual standard. An inspired concept that challenges contestants to use the best parts of their brains, Project Runway is solid entertainment for anyone with an interest in any aspect of the arts. Highly Recommended.

Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.

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