“This has nothing to do with being a talented designer. This has to do with being a fast seamstress.”
Thank you, Anthony. I love it when a designer encapsulates an entire episode in a single sentence so I don’t have to. See y’all next week!
Okay, maybe that doesn’t sum up everything. But combine Anthony’s observation (delivered with a contrite Michael C. lurking in the background; tip of the hat to the cameraman there) with Kenley scoffing, “I’m not going to try anything new or take any major risks,” and it comes pretty darn close to nailing this episode. This challenge wasn’t about making something beautiful; it was about simply making do, and the number of Advanced Home Ec creations that paraded down that runway reflected that.
And yet, for an episode that contained not a single dress I would want to wear, this might be the best episode of All Stars since the premiere, if only because the severe time limitation made everyone extra-catty about each other’s designs, and the palpable sense of panic lent a nice bit of energy to a series that thus far has been somewhat laconic.
It’s hard not to laugh at Austin bemoaning that “normally a designer wouldn’t be in this predicament,” as if being asked to make dresses out of dollar-store buys and for a puppet are just a boring, predictable part of most designers’ humdrum days—but in all fairness, a six-hour time limit to design and sew a dress is ridiculous, as evidenced by the crooked-to-non-existent hems and glued-together bodices we saw on the runway. But as crippling as the time limit was, I’d argue that what really sunk the designers was the other half of this challenge’s description.
When Nega-Heidi announced the designers would be inspired by “a tasty dessert,” I wondered if Project Runway was about to bite RuPaul’s Drag Race (a show that liberally bites from PR), which featured an excellent episode last season in which the queens were asked to create looks based on different types of cake. Unfortunately—or rather, inevitably, given that this show doesn’t involve drag queens—it turned out to be a much blander version of that same idea: Design a look inspired by a gelato flavor. Why gelato? Apparently L’Arte Del Gelato won the product tie-in pool this week, forcing the producers to throw together a solution for the problem that most gelato flavors fall into the same neutral-to-pastel color range as pantyhose. That solution was to give the designers a corresponding swatch of fabric with their sample-size of their chosen flavor—what, you can’t spring for a small cup and full-sized spoon, L’Arte Del Gelato?—but even with that bit of gerrymandering, color choice turned out to be a big issue this week.
Unlike designing a garment based on, say, types of cake with a variety of shapes and associations to draw from, this challenge boiled the inspiration down to basically a single element: color. And while color is certainly a huge part of fashion design, and different colors possess a wide range of hue and connotation to pull from, it isn’t a strong, definitive inspiration in and of itself. When working within such an extreme time stricture, it helps to have strong point of view, otherwise you run the risk of a muddled, ill-conceived design that’s poorly constructed to boot… a design like April’s, a layered, crookedly hemmed, stiff-bodiced number that was supposed to evoke Violet Beauregarde’s transformation into a blueberry, but looked more like the deflated, tattered mess that would be left behind after she was juiced.
On the other hand, one of the designers who tried to move beyond her assigned color and create an actual “story” was also in the bottom, and a designer who made a garment that barely even winks at his selected flavor won, so what do I know? Not that Kara’s “pregnant cupcake” didn’t deserve to be on the chopping block, but the fact that the judges admitted to liking her dress more once they heard its inspiration—the differently colored tiers of the skirt reflecting the flavor progression of chocolate-cayenne—proves that a strong point of view goes a long way toward improving a garment. Of course, having not one but several unfinished hems and a hideously high waist kinda negates whatever “story” you come up with to justify your half-assed dress, so count yourself lucky there, Kara.
Speaking of lucky, this challenge was as tailor-made (Get it? You get it.) for Michael C. as the opera gown challenge was for Austin. A designer who struggles with innovation but excels at execution, Michael had this one sewed up (You get it again!) from hour two, when he tossed some fabric and thread at his dressform and it magically turned into a dress while the other designers were still unfolding their fabric. Hell, he even had time to recover from screwing up his measurements. The fact that he’s such a fast sewer surely gave him the upper hand when it came to creating a nicely finished, beautifully draped garment—which his dress was, a fact that was probably not lost on guest judge Miranda Kerr, who for some insane reason agreed to wear one of these hot messes. But it was also heavy-looking and overworked, and far too muted to evoke anything close to the zing of grapefruit. Who knew it was possible for a dress with a navel-grazing neckline to look dowdy? Maybe Michael C. is more innovative than I give him credit for.
That’s not saying the next closest competition wasn’t without problems of its own. Mondo’s eye-searing caftan was also well-executed, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t have been: If I can make a caftan in a few hours—and I can—there’s no reason Mondo shouldn’t be able to. And his choice of bright colors and literal-but-subtle evocation of his cantaloupe flavor was very Mondo in a way the loose, flowy dress wasn’t. But safety-vest orange and mottled lime green is not an easy color combination to pull off, even for a supermodel like Kerr. It may have been guest judge Diane Von Furstenberg’s choice for the cover of Cantaloupe magazine, but that doesn’t mean Kerr wouldn’t have gotten a side-eye or two wearing that thing to an “industry event.” (Now there’s some non-committal language for you!)
Nor could she have worn Mila’s “sour cherries and milk” concoction, which somehow managed to escape criticism for being extremely sheer. In fact, the judges praised how easy it would be to wear, which, considering Kerr was kvetching about not being able to wear a bra with Michael C’s dress, is laughable. Honestly, this was one of my picks for the bottom, and yet only my girl Georgina had anything critical to say about it. Her gripe that she didn’t like the way the red showed through the sheer white was valid—Mila’s not going to let a little thing like sheer fabric keep her from color-blocking, dammit!—but the layers also looked messy, and that horrible belt was screaming for Michael Kors to run in and bitchily request it be taken off.
Poorly layered and wrapped fabrics were a theme on this runway—six hours doesn’t leave a lot of time for patterning—with results ranging from “frumpy” to “Forever 21 clearance rack.” At least both Anthony and Kenley injected some structure into their designs, though Anthony’s origami top would have been much better served by the pencil skirt he originally had before switching to a less-sophisticated flouncy skirt (which more accurately evoked the lightness of his “green tea” flavor but also looked cheap as hell), and Kenley’s bright pink-and-yellow A-line dress registered more “pink lemonade” than “passion fruit.” (Yes, I’m nitpicking, but what else can you say about that dress other than, “Yup, that’s a Kenley dress.”) Rami’s overworked “kiwi” wrap top would have worked better without the mint-green panel and big black belt, but at least the flowy wrap skirt conjures up the phrase “chartreuse charmeuse.” (It might not actually be charmeuse, but for tongue-twisting purposes, let’s say it is.) Austin’s glued-together, one-shouldered white-and-gold number read more “toga” than “vanilla Madagascar,” but was pretty and wearable enough, while Jarell’s “fruit of the forest” (ahem) gown was positively Anya-esque in its flowing, multi-patterned sleevelessness, and would probably have made it into the top three if Michael Kors were around to make a bondage joke about its cage-like collar.
Yes, there was a lotta good-enough on the runway and even more not-good-enough, but it was nice seeing the designers genuinely thrown for once. They’re all such pros at the Project Runway game that they’ve pretty much worked out how to adapt to any weird material or inspiration the show throws at them, but time will always be the biggest challenge for this show’s contestants (well, except Michael C.), and as much as I like it when All Stars turns out beautiful garments, every season needs a collective face-plant or two to keep things interesting. The gelato inspiration was unfortunately too formless to result in any real fashion disasters (or any stunners, for that matter), and the designers are too well-practiced in the ways of reality TV to let their stress manifest in sewing-room drama, but within the professional, antiseptic confines of All Stars, this was as close to a train wreck as we’ll likely get.
• Winning last week gives Michael C. no confidence whatsoever, proving once again that his “don’t believe in yourself at all and you’ll go far” outlook is working for him.
• “The competition is getting very competitive.” Great, thanks Mondo.
• This challenge could never have taken place during the fourth episode of a regular season, which would still probably have at least a couple shitty sewers in the mix.
• Jerell on Michael C.’s dress: “So easy a chimpanzee could do it.” Apparently he didn’t see Mondo’s. Anthony did though, and he throws considerable shade, saying “caftan” like it’s a dirty word.
• The mobile Mood store that’s brought in doesn’t have the black jersey April needs. That seems like a pretty basic fabric to deny them.
• “Shit, white woman is flippin’ out back there.”
• Austin’s jeans and a white tank top might be the most disconcerting ensemble I’ve seen him in.
• Joanna Coles, ladies and gentlemen, setting new records for least amount of facetime in a Project Runway episode.