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Project Runway: Threads Invites Teens to the Design Table, Brings Past Winner Christian Siriano Back Into the Fold

The latest franchise from Project Runway is geared toward teens and tweens--but only as far as the contestant pool. Project Runway: Threads is a design competition for teen and tween designers, but if the first episode is any indication, they will still be charged primarily with creating adult fashions; kind of a bummer for those of us hoping to see how teens might design clothes for themselves. The show also brings back Project Runway's youngest-ever winner, and fan-favorite, Christian Siriano. After distancing himself somewhat from the franchise, and launching his own global fashion house, Siriano returns to PR to critique the designs and help choose a new winner each week along with judges from Seventeen magazine, and Internet fashion icon/YouTube sensation Ingrid Nilson.

Lifetime will air eight, one-hour episodes over the next two months, each featuring three different teen/tween designers and their assistants (all three designers on the premier episode chose a parent) as they navigate challenges and compete to win a $25,000 prize package. The adorable levels are off the charts, which more than makes up for the somewhat cheesy production value.

Comparisons to Fox network's Master Chef Kids are inevitable. Kids are way more fun to watch in reality competitions these days because kids are better competitors. Maybe it's because they aren't allowed to swear yet, or they've retained enough innocence to be gracious winners and losers, but when kids compete they do it more honestly and politely than their adult counterparts. I think what we're talking about here is children on these shows exhibit empathy, and that's a refreshing change for reality television.

In the premier episode we meet Kenzie (12), Bradford (13), and Cambria (12). They are fresh-faced. They are adorable. They each bring a parent along as their "assistant." Unfortunately none of these parents seem very adept at things like "design" and "sewing" but when you're a kid, you probably want moral support more than anything else. The show opens with each young designer showing a dress in the "Show Us Your Style" challenge; the best dress earns the winning designer an advantage in the next design competition. Cambria made a pretty, shiny, sparkly hot pink dress with a skirt that can be removed to show a shorter, flirtier skirt underneath. A neat design that earned her the advantage: the option to "steal" another designer's assistant for 30 minutes during the next challenge. Not sure what the advantage is here, since none of the assistants are actually good at sewing--it's really more of a disadvantage for the person who loses their assistant (she chose Kenzie's mom, Molly) than an advantage for Cambria.

The designers are then charged with creating a red carpet dress. The FIDM workroom is outfitted with Brother sewing machines, and stocked with a selection of fabrics from Jo-Anne Fabrics & Craft Store. As the kids begin designing their red carpet look, host Vanessa Simmons (daughter of rapper/reality star Joe "Rev Run" Simmons) pops in to give them a second challenge: create a complimentary "street style" look. The kids are stressed, the parents are flustered, but it's kind of a softball challenge--the kids are actually given a plain, white dress to transform rather than working from scratch.

Bradford's mom Dana would rather be watching football than sewing, but tries her best to execute Bradford's vision--which is pretty sexy for a 13-year-old. Kenzie is well traveled, and her looks actually reflect that; you can see hints of Burberry and Dior in her work, which is crazy 'cause she's 12; her mom, Molly, is even more stressed than she is, and hopes her shoddy execution doesn't hurt Kenzie's chances to win. Cambria--who taught her dad to sew a month before the competition--has an eye for color and pattern, but the critique of her red carpet fabric as "too casual" left her in tears. She recovered quickly and repurposed the blue floral for her street style look and whipped up a red ball gown to complete the challenge. Ultimately Bradley's sleek, black-and-gold gown and accompanying wrap skirt and denim top wowed the judges and he was declared the winner. Kenzie and Cambria take it like champs--no tears, no storming off stage, no food-stamping. The adult designers on Project Runway could really take a cue from these kids on how to act like an adult.

If PR has lost its luster, Project Runway: Threads may be enough to bring you back, and for Siriano fans, his presence is more than enough. This is a low-commitment, high-return reality experience. Now if only Tim Gunn would show up.

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