We stepped off the runway and into a Daft Punk video last night as our All Stars took on an electrified black light challenge. In addition to eternal glowing glory, the winner's look will be featured in a vaguely outlined Pharrell project!
One of these judges is embarrassed for the other three, and it's not the guy who lives for Teletubbies.
Because there are three of us Project Runway lovers, and because we're assuming you watched the show too, instead of straight recaps for this series we're picking and choosing the parts we want to talk about most each week. First though, the episode stats:
The Winner: Austin Scarlett, who floated to the winner's circle on a cloud of romance, dreams, and fairy lights.
The Loser: Jerrell. We'll miss your quips, but not your insistence that your clothes have "ethnic flair."
And now, our highlights/lowlights. Be sure to chime in in the comments with some of your own!
Bright side / Burnt bulb:
While this week's challenge certainly opened the doors for gimmick (more on that in a sec...), at least the inspiration was slightly more rooted in design than, say, flags or gelato flavors. And it did succeed in pushing some of the more stubborn designers out of their drape-y or polka dotted comfort zones. Did anyone really knock it out of the park? No. That being said, I did find it interesting how all the designers this week simultaneously excelled and failed in comparison to their competition.
Bright side: Jerell was possibly the most ambitious of the designers in terms of the number of make-it-glow techniques that he tried to cram into one outfit. Additionally, he avoided an over-reliance on decorative tape (other than on his shoes) and just generally seemed to really embrace the difficulty of this challenge.
Burnt bulb: The end product was awful. It encapsulated exactly what's wrong with Jerell's designs when they really go off the rails. There were just way too many elements to ever look cohesive—the impressiveness of how many different materials and techniques he attempted to incorporate was lost in the complete chaos of his final look. Remember those magnetic lights he bought and talked to Joanna about? By the time the runway rolled around, I had completely forgotten about those too. And his model's sunglasses?
(All in all, Jerell's look reminded me of the video for Busta Rhymes "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See," possibly because one man's fiberoptic trim is another man's day-glo grass skirt.)
Bright side: Like Jerell, Michael gets points for attempting to bring in a lot of light-up features to his design. Where Jerell lacked a cohesive presentation, Michael's look for better or for worse (i.e., FOR WORSE) made a more singular statement.
Burnt bulb: Sadly, that singular statement was neon ninja Halloween. While he admirably tried to knock most of the types of equipment off of his designer to-do list, the technological features just looked disjointed from the overall look. Plus, his light-up shoulders and belt were blinking at different speeds, which really drove home the point that nothing in his outfit was literally or figuratively in sync.
Bright side: As much as it pains me to admit, this might have been my favorite Kenley design all season. It was stylistically striking, overlapping a cage-like jacket on top of a plaid. And the execution was flawless. Originally, I thought using tape was such a cop out, but when looking at Kenley's tape design next to Michael's, you can really see the difference in workmanship (however, it should be noted that Michael's outfit was more form-fitting, making the task of getting tape to lay flat more difficult).
Burnt bulb: RIDICULOUS lack of lights. Kenley's outfit was mostly a black light challenge, and if that HAD been the challenge, I would have wanted her to win. However, she basically avoided tangoing with the most difficult aspect of this challenge—the lights—by weaving the thinnest wire of lights loosely through her jacket. Clearly when she realized that she couldn't buy $700-worth of lighting material, she downsized both in budget and ambition.
Bright side: More than any of the other competitors, Mondo's design looked like it could have happened organically without the glow-in-the-dark parameters. He didn't fling crap onto his dress form, nor did he hide from using electronic materials. Like always, Mondo is great.
Burnt bulb: In avoiding looking gimmicky, Mondo's look was too understated. Which is a weird occurrence on a season of Project Runway featuring Mondo—especially in an avant garde challenge.
Bright side: Austin took a completely different approach from all the other designers and clearly it worked out in his favor. He also gets points for having a story behind his design that actually gave the lights purpose.
Burnt bulb: Austin shot for the stars (had to go there...) and came up a little short, didn't he? The execution wasn't bad exactly, it was just lacking. The judges were completely on-point when they said that the lights needed to be better integrated into the dress. All in all though, not too shabby Mr. Austin Scar-lit (Scar-light? Star-lett?).
When the designers said they were going to Barbizon, I immediately thought that they were receiving new models who had answered ads found in the backs of old Seventeen magazines. Does anyone know anyone who went to Barbizon Modeling School? 10-year-old me would be very impressed. Sadly, current-day me was disappointed to discover that it is also the name of a lighting company.
or... just look like one.
Final three predictions:
Mondo, Kenley, and Michael. I will OBVIOUSLY stand by my pick of Mondo for one of the final three contestants. At this point, Kenley seems like a pretty sure thing as well, since the judges love her. However, she is the only designer of the four remaining who has not won a challenge thus far (make of that what you will). Picking between Michael and Austin is rough because as much as I like Austin, I'm not looking forward to a finale where both he and Kenley are competing. Their aggressively girlie aesthetics are too similar for it to be interesting. Additionally, I'm not sure but the sneak peak made it look like the contestants might be designing for "real women" next week, which is a challenge that I see Michael excelling at with Austin falling behind (remember his last casual look this season? Those pants were real sad). All of this is to say, Rami and Mila, I wish you could be joining Mondo right now.
That word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
I love me an avant garde Project Runway challenge (hey-o Chris March), but we were reminded again last night that none of the designers (or judges for that matter) have a clear idea what the term means. To Kenley, it's big sleeves over the same dress she makes every week. To Austin, it's a sleek silhouette in the front, star party in the rear. To Mondo, it's kinda what he would've made anyway, but with Cadillac-fin boobs (good call Pharrell). To Michael, it's a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles foot soldier on her way to the prom. And to Jerrell, it's day-glo "ethnic flair." (Because everything he makes requires "ethnic flair," avant garde or not. Seriously Jerrell, just stop.)
Before we blame the designers for not knowing enough about fashion terminology, remember that the judges didn't appear to have a shared definition of avant garde either. You devotees who kept the channel on Lifetime for After the Runway heard Joanna Coles and Isaac Mizrahi debate that very subject, with Joanna saying she thought avant garde fashion was shocking, and Isaac declaring instead that it's "something we haven't seen before... It does not have to be shocking or anything—it just has to be new." Couldn't you have worked this out before the challenge, folks? Because your lack of clarity resulted in some looks that were kind of all over the place (and emphasizing that avant garde "does not have to be shocking" could've spared us a ninja headdress and a pair of wack-attack sunglasses).
Less is more
The past few episodes have been far more satisfying than the first few, and that's no happy accident. The Bravo reality TV format (sure, the show's on Lifetime now, but it was born of Bravo) ensures that the fewer contestants there are, the better the show is (see also: Top Chef). Consider last night's episode, where we were privy to not only all five of the designers' processes—including at seeing at least three different Michael C. dresses thrown on the cutting room floor—but some extra-great runway moments as well. They even had time to give us more back story on a few people—I panicked when I thought Austin was getting a loser's edit, but then I remembered there were only five contestants left and seeing someone Skype with his mom doesn't mean he's getting auf'd the way it would in episode one or two.
Longer cuts and more time in the workroom not only makes the show more interesting, it also makes it harder to predict who will win and who will lose. Yes, Jerrell's fiberoptics-meets-tribal mashup was iffy from go, but since all of the designs got equal screen time, at least I cared more. (Jerrell is an official member of my Anthony Williams "I Like You But I Don't Like Your Designs" Society, along with Sweet P. and Gordana.) I'm all the more psyched for the next few episodes knowing that my usual format for guessing who's on top is less reliable as more designers head home.
Photo bonus round!
In my search for photos of this week's episode, I couldn't help but notice that in the images the Lifetime bloggers posted, each designer looks delightfully similar to his/her model, complete with matching facial expressions. Behold:
Matching levels of enthusiasm and color palettes.
And the sad-eyed ninjas stand alone.
How much money would it take to convince Pharrell Williams to become a permanent fixture of Project Runway? Whatever it is, it's worth it. His comments were the best of the night (he was right—Austin's dress did turn out to be "the silent killer"), and his off-the-charts coolness inspired everyone to step up their game. Even the other judges, who are terrible, toned down their bullshit and deferred to his superior opinions. Best guest judge ever.
Isaac Mizrahi lives for Teletubbies? Can't say I'm too surprised, actually.
Final three predictions:
I'm with Annalee on this one. My dream team (at this point, because my real dream team would be Mondo, Rami, and Mila—I'm with Annalee on that one too) is Mondo, Austin, and Kenley, but I can't imagine the judges kicking off Michael this late in the game. If that "Mortal Kombat meets Grace Jones" (another bullseye observation by Pharrell) look didn't get him sent home, nothing will.
Someday, when someone makes the made-for-TV movie Tugboat Captain's Daughter: The Kenley Collins Story, this episode will be dramatized as the pivotal moment where Things Start to Come Together for our plucky heroine. Instead of making a cute little swingy dress...she makes a cute little swingy dress with a cute little swingy jacket! When Mondo snarks, "Wow, you're really stretching yourself," or another designer infers that she cannot tie her own shoes, she smiles indulgently, knowing that she is above such petty rivalries! When Isaac compliments the outfit on the runway, the camera zooms in on the a single tear that slips down Kenley's alabaster cheek—all she needed was someone to believe that she was more, MORE than polka dots and red lipstick! Triumphant music plays, and...cut to Kenley in the final three.
In actuality, this week's portion of drama was allotted entirely to Austin Scarlett, who preened, effused, and wilted theatrically all around the workroom and other PR environs. To me, everything about this episode screamed "Austin Scarlett's swan song": The fact that Mondo referred repeatedly to Austin as having become a "prima donna"; the fact that Austin took time out of fashion to have a heartbreaking Skype conversation with his mother, a former real-estate appraiser hit hard by the recession; his revelation that he felt like God creating the heavens; and, of course, the fact that his dress looked a lot like a light-up swan. That he won seemed to surprise Austin as much as anyone, but his creation, and the thought that went into it, underscored why Austin really is a designer, rather than merely a dressmaker (*cough* Michael) or a provacateur (ahem, Jerrell)—the guy may be a menace with a can of hairspray, but he knows how to tell a story with tulle, boning, and fairy lights.
As a tween in the 1980s, I have two major reference points for black-light couture: Tron, and the video for Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." Thus, my metric during the runway judging was, "How comfortable would each outfit be in one of these pop-culture environments?"
In related childhood news, my best friend growing up had a fiberoptic lamp that looked like a much more restrained version of Jerell's outfit. To my knowledge, though, the creator of the lamp never made repeated and troubling references to the lamp's "tribal" qualities, or "ethnic flair." Your point, lamp.
And once again I made it only halfway through After the Runway before falling asleep, but I did catch an important revelation, which is that Helen Mirren, according to Joanna Coles, loves Project Runway All Stars. Also, Joanna was called upon to classify past looks on her now-patented "hideous/fabulous" scale, which allowed for some of this very season's biggest turkeys (AHEM, Jerell) to be reevaluated in flashback. More like this, please.
Final three predictions:
Mondo and Austin are foregone conclusions here, so the question is, will PR fake us out—as it's done before—and have a final four instead? If that doesn't happen, my vote is for Kenley to be in, Michael to be out.
I'm actually more interested in the fact that the stakes for the last few shows have yet to be defined—or, indeed, even mentioned. In regular seasons of PR, getting to the final three is about showing at Fashion Week (ostensibly, at least, since there are always the fake-out shows, which means that anywhere from one to four more contestants beyond the final three also show at Fashion Week). What does it mean to be in the final three as an All-Star? I guess we'll find out soon enough.