Can a predetermined outcome still be satisfying? One of the biggest problems dogging this lackluster season of Project Runway All Stars has been the utter lack of surprise, from the preponderance of uninspired “make a pretty dress” challenges to the judges’ kid-gloved critiques to the competitors’ savvy-but-safe choices, in terms of both fashion and workroom/confessional behavior. Not that there haven’t been bursts of inspiration on all fronts: I still love the “clothes off your back” challenge, I think Isaac Mizrahi has given some really great, thoughtful critiques amid all the back-patting, and Anthony brought a good amount of panache to the workroom proceedings before his dismissal. But overall, All Stars was a fairly dour affair, in large part because its predestined winner seemed to resent his very presence there.
Look, I’m glad Mondo won All Stars. He should have won his season, his clothes are generally some of the most interesting and wearable to walk down the runway, and his final collection tonight was the most solid of three really solid collections. But just because something feels right doesn’t always mean it feels good: Mondo’s been a pill this season, plain and simple, letting the chip left on his shoulder by his loss to Gretchen fester into a whiny, above-it-all entitlement. Right up through the final judging, it never seemed like Mondo wanted to be back doing Project Runway, back to the stress and the pageantry and the compromised ideals; he was simply doing what he had to do to get what was owed to him. And in a way, that’s what All Stars has felt like as a viewer, a necessary slog to get what we want. So: Was it good for you?
For me it was… fine. Tonight’s episode was just as padded as last week’s series of sit-downs, but at least we got to see more than a two-second glimpse of the actual garments. But three six-look collections are not enough to fill an hour, even with crackling behind-the-scenes commentary from Joanna Coles, leaving plenty of time for easily resolved drama—Will Austin finish his dress? Will Michael resolve his fit issues? Of course they will!—and lots and lots and lots of gushing from the judges. Had the two-part finale been compressed into a single hour—or hell, I’ll give ’em 90 minutes, to allow Angela time to e-nun-ci-ate ev-e-ry word—it would have been a fitting end to All Stars. Instead, it was as floppy and ill-defined as Michael’s six-inches-too-big waistline, with little in the way of dramatic tension. (Er, elastic? Metaphors are hard.)
But the clothes themselves made the episode worthwhile; with one or two exceptions, nearly everything that came down the runway was something some woman, somewhere, would want to wear, which is more than can be said for a lot of the things we’ve seen come down the runway on previous finales (or, frankly, this season). Plus, they oh-so-conveniently fit into an easily defined spectrum, which even more conveniently corresponded to the tastes and concerns of the three designers who were judging them.
Georgina favored ideas over commercial appeal—which, not coincidentally, reflects the more ostentatious, high-end attitude of Marchesa—and therefore responded most to Austin’s Fashion Mad Libs collection: “It’s about a vampire from the 18th century who’s lived many hundreds of years and now resides in Williamsburg and occasionally borrows clothes from her Hasidic dandy friends.” On the other end of the spectrum, guest judge Tommy Hilfiger was excited by Michael’s rigid commitment to an easily defined and sellable aesthetic… now why would he respond to that, I wonder? Isaac falls somewhere in the middle, an exceptionally commercial-minded designer who doesn’t let marketability completely overshadow a commitment to youthful whimsy. Sound like anyone you know? Second guest judge Ken Downing, fashion director for Neiman Marcus, also had some opinions, but they were difficult to hear over his audible tan, while Angelina fell asleep halfway through her 20-minute recitation of a single sentence.
Mondo’s “Therapy” collection straddled the line between capital-F Fashion and department-store fare, which, considering Neiman Marcus’ role in the prize package and Ken Downing’s presence on the judging panel, was a smart way to go. It highlighted his strengths—pattern-mixing, youthful appeal, casual whimsy—but still looked high-end and sophisticated, which Mondo doesn’t always manage to pull off. There are fingerprints on my TV from when I tried to rip that black-and-white dotted dress with the circular pockets off the screen and make it mine forever, and the pants in the same pattern were similarly to-die-for. His only minor stumble was the sparkly red gown, which seemed a little underdesigned for Mondo, leading the judges to think it was the surprise sixth dress made from leftover fabric. (Which, as last-minute PR twists go, was fairly inspired.) It did, however, lend a much-needed pop of color to the black-and-white collection.
In fact, all of the collections were seriously color-deprived. Michael once again let the prints do the talking for him in his collection, and they were saying “meh” in shades of black, white, grey, and khaki. Austin used hot pink to augment his otherwise black-and-white collection, both subtly, like the cute pop of pink tulle at the back of his leatherette pencil skirt, and not-so, like the triangle-hipped jodhpurs, which could be heard snickering at Austin’s assertion last week that his clothes can be worn by regular, non-model women. That said, his lacquered-lace black dress was seriously covetable, fabric-tumor and all, and his incredible petal-bodiced wedding dress likely sent scores of brides-to-be a-Googling for his bridal collection.
Tommy Hilfiger might have been offended by the wedding dress mucking up his precious cohesiveness, but Austin’s been a Project Runway alum for close to a decade now, and he’s made a respectable name for himself designing wedding gowns in that time. Bridal is Austin’s bread-and-butter; of course he’s going to use this opportunity to show what he can do; it was an exceptionally smart move, especially if he suspected—which I think he did—that he would lose the cash prize to Mondo. It was another savvy, safe move in a season defined by savvy, safe moves. Mondo may have won the cash and the opportunity to have Joanna Coles lint-roll him during his Marie Claire guest editorship, but Austin and Michael are still All Stars, and they’re going to be just fine. Plus, they’ll always have the memory of that glorious day when Angela awkwardly handed them plane tickets to Paris, like the non-losers they are.
- Thank God Neiman Marcus was able to shrink down the storied Accessory Wall to individual, portable backstage versions, or this whole endeavor would have been for naught.
- Hey, it’s Nina Garcia! Hi, Nina Garcia! I’m assuming she only agreed to come because her arch-nemesis Joanna Coles was safely ensconced backstage doling out awkward hugs to the designers.
- Austin wears clear nail polish because of course he does.
- Isaac likes how Michael “exults flesh,” which might be the creepiest complement in PR history.
- “It’s ’60s meets ’80s. It’s very modern.” Wait, so what decade is Tommy Hilfiger living in? The ’70s? The 2040s? Whatever decade it is, socks are OUT.
- “I feel really good, I don’t feel like I have to talk about it anymore.” Neither do we, Mondo. Neither do we.