When Faith Hill showed up as the Project Runway guest judge last season, it seemed a bit fashion-random, as if someone threw a dart at a copy of Redbook to find the most innocuous pretty lady out there. We can't decide if this year's choice, Jessica Simpson, is a step up, back, or sideways: On the one hand, she has a very successful shoe line and never goes a week without appearing in a tabloid; on the other, should the style self-saboteur who wore the Mom Jeans that galled the world really hold anyone's fashion career in her hands?
Simpson entered flanked by guards about five minutes after the runway cleared, as opposed to coming from backstage with the other judges. She wore a glittery gunmetal minidress with a blousy top and snug skirt — a hair too snug, perhaps — and a slicked-tight ponytail, plus about five pounds of makeup. And she initially seemed as uneasy to be there as we were at seeing her, but then again, she is a Michael Kors aficionado. Maybe he finally called in a favor.
Heidi Klum, in an orangey-red pantsuit that looked better on her than it had a right to, kicked off the show with a rousing endorsement of the clothes she'd seen backstage, then sat down — without thanking Lifetime or Bunim-Murray — a few spots over from Runway exec producer Harvey Weinstein. Other front-row berths went to the adorable Jordin Sparks, Tyson Beckford, Jamie-Lynn Sigler (chewing gum the entire time), singer JoJo, and Jay Manuel, his silver hair hidden under a fedora and sporting pants similar enough to his own skin tone that if you looked at him out of the corner of your eye, he appeared to be half-nude.
Overall, the ten-designer show was a lot more polished than the last — with way fewer ghastly collections from the already eliminated designers who, historically, occasionally show decoy looks that seem to have been thrown together in the back of a van. Like or dislike the offerings, most were at least carefully made, as if everyone cared — whether finalist or simply filler. And there were tons of bold accessories, from sculpted headpieces to hair bands (alas made of cloth, not of Mötley Crüe) to the gold face paint on Casanova's girls. If we had to guess — and of course we do — we think the finalists are Valerie Mayen's ebullient rainbow collection, the clearly moved and weepy Andy South with his spindly metallic fascinators, and either Chris Collins or The Dreaded Gretchen, who claimed that this season was chockablock with "growth and self-discovery," which we assume is a euphemism for "the shame that comes from being chewed out by Tim Gunn." (As if to underscore that, she said she named her collection Running Through Thunder.) Her stuff was a tad drab, as were her mopey facial expressions, but maybe she was just regretting wearing what looked like a leotard under a translucent dress, which had the crowd craning its collective necks to see her butt cleavage.
After the show, as Simpson's guards leaped from the stands to hold back onlookers, and old faves like Uli and Seth Aaron milled around, we overheard Beckford give an interview about grooming tips for men. "Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate," he said. "And moisturize. Both those have slowed the aging process on myself." And then, while also advocating mani-pedis, we could swear we heard him conclude, "Some guys say, 'Oh, that's so gay,' but it's not gay to be good-looking." Somebody give that guy a book deal.