July 30, 2010 01:00 AM

Project Runway returned to Lifetime last night in its new, 90-minute format, and just as Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn promised, the competition kept the contestants on their toes.

After greeting the designers at Lincoln Center, the new home of New York City Fashion Week, Klum announced a sneaky twist: None of the 17 hopefuls were officially on the show yet, and had to perform one last five-hour challenge before moving into their Big Apple apartments. One or more would be going home.

Designers were able to choose one piece of clothing from their suitcase to incorporate into their outfit – but ended up having to pass that item off to another contestant, costing some their favorite things, like Puerto Rico-born Casanova‘s $1,070 (!) Dolce & Gabbana pants.

Back in the workroom, we saw what the contestants were really made of: 33-year-old Connecticut resident Jason literally stapled his kimono-like dress together, while Chicagoan Peach, the oldest of the bunch (she’s 50), got a bit flustered over her flimsy fabric. But everyone managed to “make it work” – for better or worse.

The show’s extra time seem focused on the runway, where we saw a little more of each garment, a peek behind the scenes of the fashion show and even a few whispers between contestants.

But despite this being the first episode, the judges weren’t at all lenient.

After awarding 28-year-old Oregonian Gretchen the win for her flirty black frock, they selected a bottom six: April, Casanova, Ivy, Jason, McKell and Nicholas. Following a scorching judging session in which Klum, Nina Garcia, Michael Kors and guest judge Selma Blair called outfits “small-town hick” and “fascinatingly bad,” they ultimately sent new mama McKell, 29, back home to Utah for what Klum called a “butt ugly” blue dress. Auf wiedersehen!

Though Gunn praised McKell’s design, and designers like Ivy and Casanova created uninspired, even distasteful pieces, McKell was the only one to go. While this year’s contestants are definitely a mixed bag, we look forward to seeing what the remaining 16 create in the weeks ahead. — Kate Hogan

Tell us: Did you enjoy the longer format? Did you think more than one designer should’ve gone home? And who are your favorites? (For now, our money’s on Gretchen, Andy, Christopher and Kristin.)

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