Season 9 of Project Runway kicked off with a one-hour special Road to the Runway where we were introduced to the new batch of designers and given a glimpse into their backgrounds. Episode 1 began with a quick run-through of 20 designers presenting mini-collections to the judges (Michael Kors, Nina Garcia, and Heidi Klum, of course). There were breathless sales pitches, pointed questions from the panel, and one very deluded young man who was convinced that Nina was seducing him with her eyes. Hmmmm.

The final 16 designers were announced à la America’s Next Top Model amid tears of joy and sobs of rejection.

In the first challenge Come As You Are, the designers had to create an ensemble from only the pajamas they wore to bed the night before and a single bed sheet. Guest judge Christina Ricci looked adorable in tangerine and Nina was rocking a bold, white, graphic statement necklace against a simple black top. Overall the runway looks were quite impressive but sadly, Rafael (the recipient of Nina’s intense stare) was out. Bert, the oldest contestant, was the winner with a gorgeous frock made of boxers (so many crotch references in this episode) and the sheet.

Episode 2, My Pet Project was the unconventional materials challenge. The designers had to create looks made entirely of items from Petland pet store. Tim Gunn had the quote of the week regarding a a little number made of wee-wee pads: “Wow it’s like a Depends dress, you never have to get up from your bar stool.” Is there something we don’t know about Mr. Gunn? The atmosphere in the workroom is getting decidedly snarkier as the competition progresses and personalities emerge.

Once again, the runway was great, so many of the garments transcended the materials beautifully. Alice + Olivia’s Stacey Bendet was the guest judge, Heidi’s sleek bun and scarlet lips looked fantastic, and Michael was in rare form. And Nina’s deep sigh and expression of utter sadness while commenting on what turned out to be the losing look was priceless. Olivier won this week with a very chic, structural frock made of cedar shavings and bedding.

And now Episode 3, Go Big or Go Home.
The challenge: Design an outfit for a stilt-walker. Yikes! And the designers are working in teams of two—there will be drama.

Contestants always cringe at the team challenges, but Bert and Viktor’s mutual sniping began the second Heidi announced they were working together and continued through the judging. Viktor took to calling his partner Bertzilla and Bert mused that his one regret in this challenge was that he was encumbered with Viktor.

The workroom was a hotbed of trained vs. self-taught snobbery and poor Fallene absolutely crumbled under the pressure, spending most of the episode in tears after Bryce lectured her on the importance of cutting fabric on the grain.

And on to Battery Park for the first-ever, outdoor and publicly attended runway with the lovely and curvaceous Kim Kardashian as guest judge. Once again, Nina showed us how to make basic black and white seem magical in a stunning architectural Giambattista Valli number.

Josh M. hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that all three of the bottom looks were “Costume, costume, costume” and the top three were “Ready-to-wear, ready-to-wear, ready-to-wear.” After Nina commented that their ensemble looked like a bad costume Viktor and Bert immediately blamed each other. It was rather disappointing when the judges seemed to find Bert more sympathetic (in the workroom Viktor was petulant and Bert was condescending, so…). But ultimately Fallene and Bryce both threw Fallene under the bus and she was sent home.

Anthony Ryan and Laura’s flowing, crimson ‘wow’ factor gown wins, but only Laura gets immunity next week. Only one winner and one loser, right?

The next episode promises not to disappoint: The designers have to create a look for Nina and the words ‘sad’ and ‘depressing’ came up a lot in the previews. Can’t wait!