When Project Runway All-Stars was first announced, I had the fleeting thought that it might be nice if, in keeping with the “best Project Runway has to offer” concept, the series also consisted of remounts of the best challenges from the past nine seasons. The regular show has certainly revived challenges before, usually with a twist, and stuff like the “unusual materials” challenge and the “design a collection” challenge have become recurring features of each season. But I’m talking exact, verbatim repeats of challenges that have been done before and proven memorable in their own way: Another plants-as-dresses challenge, perhaps? Or a hairstyle-inspired avant garde challenge? And why the hell haven’t we had another wedding-dress challenge? Considering these contestants are “all-stars,” why not throw the weirdest, toughest, most ridiculous challenges from the show’s past at them, week after week?
Well, that hasn’t happened, not exactly; All Stars’ three challenges thus far have all hearkened back to previous challenges, but they’ve been watered-down retreads, not triumphant encores. The first challenge was a standard unusual-materials challenge: Not quite as good as the Hershey’s Store challenge, but not as bad as, oh, let’s say the one where they went to the dump or whatever. Last week’s was a standard pretty-gown challenge, in the vein of the wedding dress or pageant gown challenges of yore. And tonight’s ludicrous “design a flamboyant cocktail dress for Miss Piggy” challenge was a callback to one of the show’s earliest gimmick episodes, season two’s “All Dolled Up,” in which the contestants had to design a dress for the new, Bratz-aping “My Scene Barbie.”
Now, gross product tie-in squickiness aside, at least designing a dress for Barbie kind of makes sense: She has ostensibly human-like proportions (I know, I know, Barbie’s measurements are as realistic as her stamped-on underwear, but generally speaking), and she is a doll, which means her entire purpose is to wear clothes. Designing clothes for her just makes sense. Miss Piggy, on the other hand, is an anthropomorphized pig, and while she may land more toward the human side of the body-shape spectrum than the pig one, she’s still, you know, a pig—and one with a human hand up her ass at that.
And here we run into the problem with this challenge: It raises so many questions, none of which are answered by what’s happening on screen. The contestants are told Miss Piggy will be a judge this week, which they all smile and nod at like, well, puppets. But the problem is—spoiler alert!—Miss Piggy isn’t real. She’s a concept managed by the Jim Henson Creature Shop and brought to life by her performer, Eric Jacobson. So… is Jacobson giving the critiques? Is some faceless Muppet brass behind the scenes deciding which dress fits the Miss Piggy brand best and whispering in Jacobson’s ear? (I struggled similarly when Cookie Monster and Elmo guest-judged a Quickfire challenge on Top Chef. MUPPETS DON’T HAVE MOUTHS, THEY CANNOT TASTE THAT COOKIE!) If this were the Barbie challenge, this stunt would be the equivalent of a besuited Mattel exec sitting in the judge’s chair, waving around a Barbie doll, and giving critiques in a squeaky Barbie voice. The contestants are designing for a trademarked concept, not a person.
Another ridiculous question I was forced to contemplate during this episode: Is Miss Piggy plus-sized? I mean, she kinda registers as “bigger,” but that could just be her piggy features (not her ears though, her ears are perfect), and maybe by pig standards she’s positively lithe. Then again, Gordana raving about Miss Piggy’s awesome legs, juxtaposed with a photo of Piggy’s cankles—sorry Pigs, just keepin’ it real—kinda highlighted the fact that, for all the bitching and moaning from past contestants whenever they’re confronted with any body shape other than “female sample-sized model,” the All Stars were totally psyched to design for five lumps of felt arranged in a vaguely human-like configuration. Yes, in reality they were designing for their models, and the winning dress would be “converted” for Miss Piggy to wear while doing press for The Muppets, but the disconnect between what the challenge was being presented as vs. what it actually was highlights how gimmicky this episode was.
If your brain has recovered from trying to figure out whether Miss Piggy is fat, here’s another noodle-scratcher for you: What year was Miss Piggy born? A couple of the designers—Mila and Mondo—zero in on the ’60s and craft era-appropriate dresses, and yeah, I can kinda see how Piggy could register as “glam ’60s”; but even when the Muppets first appeared in the mid-’70s, they were an anachronism, vaudevillian relics of another time, so it’s not like they have official birthdates or anything. The Muppets and Miss Piggy are malleable concepts, able to fit into whatever era they need to, so drawing on a specific decade seems like an arbitrary choice.
“Genevieve, you are thinking way too hard about Miss Piggy,” I hear you saying. FAIR ENOUGH, but here’s the thing: All of these dumb stoner questions I’m bringing up highlight the problem with this episode, which is that it doesn’t make sense on a real-world level, and forces the designers to identify and solve for problems that don’t exist; it’s 100 percent gimmick, and even when Project Runway veers off into the absurd, it works best when there is still some relatable, human element to the challenge—make an outfit somebody, somewhere, wants to wear. Why not make the challenge “make a flamboyant, Muppet-inspired dress for Amy Adams to wear in this photo shoot for The Muppets.” There, I fixed the challenge, wasn’t that easy?
All analytical bitching aside, though, the challenge does result in some fun dresses, though several contestants miss the mark so thoroughly I'm forced to entertain the notion that not every single one of the designers is the Muppets super-fan they all make themselves out to be, over and over again, through gritted teeth. Considering how much he raves about his “client” during interviews—“I feel like I really do understand Miss Piggy. I feel in many ways we’re kindred spirits.”—Austin’s sad “robot with bows” pink-and-grey creation is a victim of the challenge’s confusing parameters. I don’t think anyone doubts Austin Scarlett could make a mean “flamboyant cocktail dress” with his eyes covered by a lacy ruffled eyemask; but the Miss Piggy factor muddled things up, and the result was a dress that Austin apparently willed into existence by repeatedly shouting the words “SHINY!” “BOWS!” and “WEIRD SCALLOPED BUSTLINE!” at his dressform.
Mila The Fashion Android, who does not need your love and scorns Kenley’s need for approval, comes closest to expressing the challenge’s problems when she worries about “translating her view” into something Miss Piggy would wear, a problem she avoids by making a dress that looks exactly like something Miss Mila would wear. Her black, striped-sleeve dress is chic and well-made, but it’s also very literal in its mod-ness. It borders on costume-y, but not the right kind of costume-y; Miss Piggy can do mod, but not of the severe black-and-white variety. Rami, on the other hand, also made a costume, but it looks, in the words of Her Pigness, “like a candy store exploded.” As Nega-Heidi alludes to, a beruffled, pink-and-orange polka-dot tango dress would have been a disaster in almost any other challenge, but Rami got that this wasn’t about making a fashionable dress, but rather about costume design. Kenly got that too, though her pink giraffe-print princess-seamed dress with a circle skirt and giant pink head-pouf isn’t exactly a huge departure from her usual approach.
It’s because Michael C. was able to hone in on the place where costume meets fashion that he wins this challenge: His purple-glitter-gift-wrap and giant vertical bow concoction is indeed flamboyant and over-the-top, but it also isn’t bordering on silly, the way Rami’s is. Of the top three, he deserved the win, though I think both Anthony’s beautiful feather-bodice, sheer-striped skirt combination and Mondo’s glittery sheath (minus the hideous helmet hair) were overlooked as contenders for the win. Kara’s sexy black dress with midriff-keyhole and hot-pink piping hits only the biggest, broadest Miss Piggy signifiers: sexy and pink. April’s black dress—she’s back in black after last week’s ombre disaster—is saved from joining Gordana in nightie-land by a structured, cartoon-ish bow, and Jarell’s sad, blousy top and dowdy petticoat skirt show that the poor judgment he showed in terms of fit and proportion last week might not have been a fluke.
That leaves poor Gordana’s sad, dusty-rose nightie and white gloves, which, intentionally or not, heavily referenced the outfit Miss Piggy’s Muppet Babies counterpart wears. There was definitely a point in the ’80s where Miss Piggy rocked some pastel-pink, borderline-nightie dresses, usually trimmed in marabou, so I can see why Gordana went there; but her dress ignores the “flamboyant” parameter completely, and earns her Project Runway’s favorite backhanded compliment: “It’s a really pretty dress, but….” Rarely are the adjectives “understated” and “sophisticated” considered negatives on this show, but in Gordana’s case they are, and it’s her refusal to—or, perhaps more accurately, inability to—play the silly game the producers wanted her to play that gets her sent home.
For a season that showed so much promise in terms of fashion over drama, this episode takes All Stars in a distressingly mundane, gimmicky direction that’s still devoid of drama, but also devoid of real fashion. Next week looks to be just as gimmicky—the shortest time limit in Project Runway historzzzzz—but hopefully the presence of Diane Von Furstenberg will keep the proceedings at least vaguely fashion-focused.
- The most ridiculous bit of Piggy pandering of all? Joanna Coles telling Gordana, “I don’t think comfort, when you’re dressing a mega-celebrity like Miss Piggy, should really matter.” It also shouldn’t matter BECAUSE SHE IS MADE OF FABRIC.
- In a similar vein: The judges nattering over the nip-slip potential of Kenley’s plunging bustline. MISS PIGGY DOESN’T HAVE NIPPLES. (Please do not take this as an invitation to show me evidence of Miss Piggy’s nipples.)
- One more: Joanna worrying about Kenly’s theoretical headband interfering with Miss Piggy’s hearing. Not a problem, because her “ears” are hovering somewhere below her ass, on the sides of Eric Jacobson’s head.
- “Pink is a happy color,” Gordana growls menacingly.
- I’ve never seen anyone look as uncomfortable while discussing humor and whimsy as Mila.
- “Sometimes we have moments of laughter.” Rami makes life at 4173 sound like a riot!
- Do you think Miss Piggy and Isaac replacement Eric Damon, costumer for Gossip Girl, rehearsed their bits beforehand?
- “It’s Parisian hog couture.” You dare make pig puns in front of Miss Piggy, Eric Damon?? For shame.
- “I’m not sure it it’s a functional dress. Can you hula-hoop in that?” This is a real critique, delivered by a puppet, on a show that is ostensibly about fashion. The fact that Austin responds so smoothly to it shows how well he’s adapted to being an on-camera personality.
- Austin’s Spanish bullfighter getup nicely complements Rami’s dress.
- “Let me tell you, sleeves are not easy,” says Mila. Somewhere, Anya smiles deviously to herself.
- Everyone’s getting grabby with the Neiman Marcus accessory wall. Excuse me, the beautiful Neiman Marcus accessory wall.
- Mondo would like to remind everyone how great Joanna Coles is and also that she is definitely on this show. No, really. Well maybe if you’d stop blinking all the time you’d see her!
- The material for Mondo’s dress looks almost exactly like one of the Miss Piggy-themed nail polishes that were released last year. Just sayin’.
- I know I’ve talked a lot of shit about Miss Piggy tonight, so I want to make it clear: I love The Muppets, and I actually enjoyed most of the Piggy banter during judging. But Miss Piggy and Project Runway are definitely two tastes that don’t taste great together, at least not as imagined here.