heidiWhen Season One of Project Runway premiered, I was 12 years old. Solidly in the prime of my awkward phase, and having just started seventh grade at a new, all-girls school with exactly 16 people in my entire class. I had been wearing a uniform every fall, winter, and spring weekday since kindergarten, and would continue to do so for the next six years. To be fair, there are lots of positive outcomes of wearing a uniform — a blossoming fashion sense is just not one of them. I distinctly remember wearing an almost-knee-length denim skirt and a fully buttoned-up striped button-down to a seventh grade dance. (Granted, I would still choose that over some of the things I see 12-year-olds wearing to dances now, but that’s a conversation for another time.) I liked clothes and admired my mom’s style (still fabulous), but I hadn’t quite figured out how to do it myself, and I certainly didn’t understand much about fashion design or the industry as a whole.

So when Project Runway aired in December of 2004, innocent, braces-clad, barely-pubescent, Girls’ Life-reading Kelsey was all in. It was like nothing I had ever seen on television, and it was (and remains) fascinating to see the designers’ expedited creative process, from conception to runway in one hour of television. In honor of the show’s 14th season premiering last night, these are 14 of the show’s early standouts that fueled my love for fashion and helped escort me out of my awkward years. Let’s be honest, the first three seasons were the best anyway.

SEASON ONE

1.  Austin Scarlett’s Corn Husk Dress (Episode 1: Innovation)

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I mean hello, this was the series premiere. The designers had $50 to shop at a Manhattan grocery store, and this is what the brilliant Austin Scarlett came up with. This was no doubt the gold standard for unconventional material challenges for seasons to come.

2. Kara Saun’s Postal Worker Uniform (Episode 8: Postal Challenge)

kara saun postal worker

Not a dress, but I have to give props to one of my original favorites, the lovely and brilliant Kara Saun. This Post Office uniform showed me that design touches every aspect of our lives, and good design makes a huge difference.

3. Jay McCarroll Final Collection Gown (Finale)

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Imma let you finish every other designer, but Jay McCarroll had one of the best Project Runway finale collections of ALL TIME. It’s true. Jay’s parade of bright, colorful, innovative designs on headphone-clad models was one of the first displays of pure fashion inspiration I had ever seen, and this finale gown was an obvious masterpiece.

SEASON TWO

4. Chloe Dao’s Sporty Mini (Episode 2: Clothes Off Your Back)

projectrunway5Chloe Dao was a powerhouse designer from the season’s outset, taking the short dress she was wearing (on a tiny frame, no less) and turning it into this bold, unique, beauty.

5. Nick Verreos’ Barbie Dress (Episode 3: All Dolled Up)

nick barbie

How much did you just adore Nick V.? To me, this Barbie outfit is the perfect encapsulation of Nick V. as a person—vibrant and joyful.

6. Daniel Vosovic’s Orchid Outfit (Episode 8: Inspiration)

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This orchid-inspired outfit is an all-time Project Runway standout because it clearly evokes its inspiration while still being completely chic and wearable. I don’t understand how this top exists, all I know is that Daniel Vosovic is some sort of fabric whisperer.

7. Daniel Vosovic’s Garden Party Dress (Episode 9: Flower Power)

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I still think about this dress whenever I see purple orchids, because like I said, Daniel Vosovic is a beautiful genius.

Click to the next page for some Season Three dresses you will definitely remember. 

8. Kara Janx’s Garden Party Dress (Episode 9: Flower Power)

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Only Project Runway could have taught me that a skirt made of moss could be this chic.

9. Chloe Dao’s Final Collection Gown (Finale)

chloe finaleChloe Dao taught me how difficult great tailoring is, and how gorgeous meticulous tailoring can be. The back of this gown is a masterpiece in itself, and hearing the judges rave about her tailoring only confirmed my admiration.

SEASON THREE

10. Michael Knight’s Coffee Filter Dress (Episode 1: Wall to Wall Fashion)

Michael-coffee-filter_lMichael Knight had this simple, ingenious idea when the designers were told to design the first outfit of the season using only materials found in their apartment. I would wear this any day of the week.

11. Jeffrey Sebelia’s Punk Couture Gown (Episode 9: Couture du Jour)

jeffreyThis challenge basically taught me what couture meant, and Jeffrey was my primary instructor. The dress is legendary for its remarkable detail and craftsmanship. It’s loud, exaggerated, and downright glorious.

12. Uli Herzner’s Tie-Dye Mini (Episode 11: What the ELLE?)

6a00d834518cc969e200e54f7a64878834-800wiTwo days and $250 to express her point of view as a designer, and Uli created this masterpiece. For the win, a trip to New York Fashion Week, and a place in the Project Runway Hall of Fame.

13. Laura Bennett’s Finale Collection Gown (Finale)

LauraBennett_Spring2007_26Though Laura Bennet was a somewhat forgettable contestant overall, this dress was certainly not. My jaw dropped when I saw this stunning gown walk down the finale runway.

14. Jeffrey Sebelia’s Zippered Mini (Finale)

projectrunway_finale_jeffreysebelia_1Every time I would see zippers used as adornment on a dress after this I would think to myself, “Not as good as Jeffrey’s.” His collection was bold, wild, and just the right amount of punk, and this dress was undoubtedly my favorite.

Did I miss any of your early Project Runway favorites? Leave a comment!

(Featured photo: Wikipedia)