Project Runway returns tonight on Lifetime for its twelfth season, staying true to its “Let’s finish one season and start the next one right away!” policy. If you’re anything like me, you love the show and have watched since its Bravo days, but you get kind of tired of the same old stock challenges every season. The show can get pretty predictable. Thankfully it looks like season 12 will come with a few changes, like the triumphant return of a former contestant and the chance for Tim Gunn to save a designer from being auf wiedersehen-ed out of there. But I think we all know there will be a few categories of challenge we can always expect, because it’s hard to come up with new ways to stress out fashion designers. After twelve seasons, you kind of have to rework the old stuff. So let’s take a look at some of the challenges you know we’ll see. And then get ready for a night of FASHION.
1. The Unconventional Materials Challenge
This one’s a given. Tim Gunn lets the designers loose and encourages them to ransack a store that sells things you would never think of as clothing materials. Some designers “make it work” and others fail miserably, gluing a balloon onto some toilet paper and tying it around their model’s waist before sticking a bowl on her head. Or something similar. In season 1 the challenge was in a supermarket, and in season 9 it was a pet store. But the one that sticks out in my mind is season 3, when the designers had to use items found in their apartments and Michael made an adorable dress out of coffee filters. REMEMBER? We already know this season’s first episode challenges the designers to (spoiler) make an outfit out of a parachute, so there’s that.
2. The Women Who Aren’t Model Size Challenge
This is also known as the challenge that makes you yell at the TV. A group of fashion designers who are used to creating clothes for size 2, statuesque models, are challenged to give a makeover to an average woman. Some of them embrace it, but a lot of them just act like jerks. Never mind the fact that, when they become a famous designer, women of all sizes will wear their clothes. Remember in season 9 when Olivier complained that he doesn’t make clothes for “fat” people? Never have I wanted someone eliminated so badly.
3. The Family Member Challenge
This is sometimes one and the same with the non-model challenge, as designers must dress their competitors’ mothers and sisters. Sometimes those mothers and sisters cry, like in season 4 when neck-tattooed Jeffrey worked with his arch enemy Angela’s mom. Other times the family members just come to visit and end up distracting the designers as they lament they fact that they’re living in a tiny apartment making clothes at Heidi Klum’s command. There are tears, always.
4. The Sponsored Challenge
The show’s gotta make that money, and it also has to have prizes for the designers, so sometimes a little product placement is necessary, whether it means designing especially for the company that will sell the winner’s collection or, as in season 10, designing an outfit based on the color of a Lexus. Get ready to hear the brand name approximately 500 times.
5. The Team Challenge
I hate team challenges, because there’s too much drama. I can watch Real Housewives for drama. On Project Runway, I want fashion. That’s why I sat last season out. It was all about teams. When Tim Gunn gets out that bag of buttons with people’s names on them, I have a physical reaction. Unfortunately there’s at least one team challenge every season, so I’ll have to suck it up and deal.
6. The Celebrity Client Challenge
Remember in season 6 when the designers had to make maternity clothes for Rebecca Romijn? Or all the times they’ve had to make something for Heidi Klum to wear on a red carpet or sell in her clothing line? That’s a lot of times. A lot. The fun part is you get to see how articulately (or not) celebrities can actually talk about those fashion lines they’re so passionate about. This season’s celeb judges include Kate Bosworth, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Kaley Cuoco.
7. The Personal Challenge
Get ready for more tears. The designers are challenged to create a design based on their own history or personal experience. One of the most emotional instances came in season 8 when Mondo created a brilliant print representing his HIV-positive status, which at that point no one knew about. Tears all around.
8. The Field Trip Challenge
I love when Tim Gunn announces the designers are taking a “field trip,” because it makes me feel like he’s my elementary school teacher and we might stop at McDonald’s on the busride back to school. Field trips can range from jet-setting, like in the season 3 trip to Paris, or just a visit to a New York landmark like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in season 4. The designers must get inspired by their trip and hopefully bring home a souvenir or two.
9. The “Inspired By An Accessory” Challenge
If you’ve ever bought a pair of shoes and then wondered, “What the hell am I going to wear these with?” consider yourself lucky you didn’t have to create an outfit based on an enormous hat that looks like a lobster. Season 8 was the crazy hat challenge, and season 4 was the hairstyle challenge. Maybe this season they should create an outfit around the cronut the model’s holding. You never know.
10. The Deconstruction Challenge
Did you ever take apart your jeans and create a horrid-looking handbag out of it? This challenge is like that, except on a more professional level. In season 2 the designers had to create a new outfit out of the clothes on their backs (But I like this shirt!) and in season 4 they had to desconstruct a bunch of jeans and put them back together into something new and fabulous.
Other things to expect? Some kind of gimmick wherein four designers make final collections but only three move on, which they for some reason treat like a surprise even though they do it practically every season. Also expect the clear frontrunner to lose and then come back to win the All-Stars edition. Hellooo, Mondo and Anthony Ryan!