In "Project Runway," a new Bravo series hosted (nominally, limited as she is to simple, declarative sentences) by German supermodel Heidi Klum, 12 would-be fashion designers vie to win $100,000, a mentorship at Banana Republic, a spread in Elle magazine and a spot in New York City's annual Fashion Week.
The series is in the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" family, has echoes of UPN's "Next Top Model" and shares pro- ducer blood ties with HBO's "Project Greenlight."
Debuting Wednesday night at 10, "Project Runway" treats the contestants, the majority of whom are either from New York or Los Angeles and in their 20s, with an air of contempt and condescension, aping, I suppose, the fashion world itself, which if nothing else seems the province of genuinely haughty, hard-line appraisers of what's in and what's out.
I know this to be true, because Klum herself says, in the debut episode: "Fashion is all about what's in and what's out." She also says: "A model can make or break your outfit," and "You cannot start work on this challenge until your shoving trip tomorrow."
"Shoving trip?" That sounded interesting. Then I replayed the tape and realized Klum was saying "shopping trip." Right, of course, a shopping trip. Turns out, the 12 contestants each have to design a sexy dress for a night on the town based on materials they can only purchase at a grocery store. The idea is innovation, Klum tells us.
So one contestant fashions an outfit out of trash bags, crawfish and a laundry bag, while another makes a dress out of the husks from corn on the cob, creating something Ginger might have worn on "Gilligan's Island."
Hey, it's a look. "Project Runway" hints at backstabbing among the contestants, but no catfights ensue in Episode 1, although two people cry.
As on so many reality shows, the contestants move into nice apartments and begin, in on-camera interviews, to shape their TV characters, assuming they have one. Each week, a contestant will be eliminated and another will get immunity from persecution. The judges include designer Michael Kors and Elle's Nina Garcia.
So far, two flamboyant guys have taken the lead: Austin, 23, from New York, and Jay, 29, from Dallas, Pa. Jay, who is burly, with decorative facial hair and too-cool-for-school shades, gives his interviews wrapped in some kind of fur thing, like Elizabeth Taylor.
"Bit of a thick ankle, but I love a thick ankle," Jay says, appraising the model who will wear his clothes. This is how each episode ends, with models doing a runway in the outfits the contestants have designed that week.
Wednesday, the contestants select their models from among 12 beautiful women who are required to stand there as if being chosen for a pickup softball game or high school dance.
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)
Executive producers Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz, Heidi Klum.