Lifetime’s newest reality series feels like a “Project Runway” knockoff for Goths on speed. Dark, frenetic and full of torturous time constraints, the show is, by say, designer Christian Siriano’s standards, a hot mess. Even host Alexa Chung looks like a Dickensian waif sporting a strange, starving English choir boy look in the premiere episode. Still, when measured by the yardstick of reality television, the show is clearly constructed to give viewers what they want — conflict and confrontation.
The show takes elements of the fashion process and amps them up to manic levels by pitting four designers against each other in each episode. The first challenge allows two hours to complete a task — here transforming a football shirt into an outfit for soccer moms. From there, two designers are eliminated and the remaining pair have 24 hours to create a three-piece collection based upon a pre-chosen theme. The winner receives $10,000, and by next episode, the craziness begins anew.
Without the time to get to know the contestants — be it their personality or artistic sensibilities — viewers aren’t given much to root for, especially when none of the first challenge pieces are even finished. All of the supplies, including a limited array of fabrics, are included in the darkened work room, only adding to the crazed, claustrophobic feel of the show.
Talent, like art, should not be rushed. Clearly, there are plenty of clever designers around, but when forced into these rush jobs, the results are less than stunning. Viewers looking for polished fashion and couture really won’t find much here. The first part of the show, where designs are put in front of judges on rolling seamstress dummies, looks like a mash-up of high school home-ec disasters. The collections produced in a mere 24 hours mean unrealized potential and unfinished hems.
On the plus side, judges Cynthia Rowley, Derek Blasberg and James LaForce are far more likable and approachable than most TV experts, offering thoughtful and constructive commentary — they aren’t all quips and sound bites. Chung also grows in likability as the show progresses. Particularly fun are the three seamstresses who help the contestants in the final challenges, offering realistic counterweights to the sometimes impractical, often-delusional designers.