Project Runway: "Finale: Part 1"
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Project Runway: "Finale: Part 1"

First, let me drape you in sadness: Amelie Gilette, your far more capable tour guide through the oft-coarse swath of reality-show muslin that is Project Runway, could not be with us this evening. Rest assured, she’ll be back for the big Bryant Park finale, but I’ve been tapped to cover the penultimate episode. Please try to hide your disappointment.

Before digging in, there are a few things you should know about where my head is at:

1. While I’m fascinated by the fashion world and this show in particular—I actually sorta like Robert Altman’s Ready To Wear, for chrissakes—my personal fashion sense could be fairly described as “inconspicuous.” In high school, I was one of the few students who wanted school uniforms, just so I would never risk standing out. This makes me predisposed to designers who are more conservative and tailored, and less into turning their models into modern-day conquistadors.

2. I’m more or less in step with Amelie on Project Runway 4: It’s been a pretty blah season, despite the fact that the designers themselves are perhaps the most polished to date. As much as I hate to admit it—because I like competitive shows that value talent above all other considerations—sometimes personality matters on shows like Project Runway. This season needed a wit like Jay McCarroll (still my favorite reality show contestant ever) or Santino, or even an actively risible poseur like PR3’s Jeffrey, to keep things interesting. Instead, the flat-ironed, “fierce”-spouting runt Christian wins Fan Favorite—and by a landslide, no less.

3. The one place where I diverge from Amelie (and many others, apparently) is that I like Rami more than most. As I said, I tend to look favorably on tailoring and craft, and despite his perverse draping fetish, Rami has generally been the most polished of the contestants. But I acknowledge that admiring the dude for his “professionalism” is pretty square; maybe he can sew me up a nice Grecian uniform to wear every day.

With all that throat-clearing out of the way, let’s get on with the show. Tonight followed the usual formula for penultimate episodes: The remaining designers are given five months to make a dozen outfits, and Tim Gunn drives around in his Saturn to meet their friends and family, and get an early look at their collections. The one twist tonight, of course, is that Chris and Rami had to battle it out for a final spot in Fashion Week by each pitting their three strongest looks against one another. Apparently, last season’s decision just to let all four finalists put on a show wasn’t in the cards this time, despite the similar problem of being left with four people who fall into well-defined niches.

In any case, I always enjoy Tim’s drop-ins, partly because he’s such a friendly and gregarious man and partly because it’s fun to take a peek at how the designers live and work outside the cloistered world of Parsons School Of Design. First up was Christian, who’s working in a tiny NYC closet that probably costs $2000/month. He seems the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing, but sweet Jesus, the pieces on display looked like he’s still lost in the European Art section at the Met. I’m sure a 17th century Spaniard would be delighted by his “romantic gothic” look, but Christian’s ongoing attempt to recreate the puffy shirt in Seinfeld has manifested itself in bird pants and a neckpiece that creeps over the nose like a burqa.

Perhaps worried that Christian would corner the centuries-old art museum piece market, Jillian counters with a line inspired by 15th century armor. Tim complains about her “cloudy day” palette, but her stuff looks impeccable as ever. She seems perpetually destined to finish a strong second for some reason—maybe because she’s so very, very sleepy—but it looks nice enough. Too bad she still can’t dress herself: The giant ‘80s turtleneck was alarming enough, but what in the world was she wearing on her head?

As for Rami, he predictably had the swankest working space. I’d guess that much of the animosity toward him from the peanut gallery this season has to do with the fact that he doesn’t really need this show to make a career. He’s got one of those already. His collection—again centuries-old and military, this time inspired by Joan Of Arc—reminds me a bit like a toned-down, more commercial rendering of Eiko Ishioka’s wonderfully ornate costumes for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

That leaves the charmingly eccentric Chris, who rather modestly describes his collection as “beauty with a quirk” before revealing the quirk: The use of human hair as trim! Hilarious. Oddly enough, I found myself thinking, “What did Chris do with the rest of the bodies? Is that bodice made of stitched-together buttocks? Are the backs of the dresses hooked together by teeth?” As is, the gag factor is powerful enough for Tim to claim, not unreasonably, that Chris “has been living in the monkey house.”

A few days before Fashion Week, we finally get the three-piece walkoff, which allows the show to have a runway-judging element that it usually lacks at this stage. The two lines are similarly “dark,” though only Chris’ crosses into full-on creepiness. And while you have to admire the finely brushed human-hair trim and the outfit held together by serial-killer-esque arrangement of safety pins, Chris’ collection was ultimately too costume-y for the judges, whose are on balance wary of avant-garde when the chips are down.

Rami, dat means you’re in.

Grade: B

Stray observations:

• So Jillian believes she’ll be “the next big thing.” Why do reality show contestants have such a screwy perception of what these shows will do for their career? The day the next Versace starts sewing dresses out of Hershey’s kisses and licorice twists, I’ll believe that such things are possible. Until then, Jillian types are advised to lower their expectations accordingly.

• How about Chris’ friend’s apartment? Are renters’ rights really this good in New York? You can barely sneak a cat into a Chicago apartment without upsetting the landlord.

• After looking at the finalists’ Fashion Week collections, Entertainment Weekly put Chris’ odds of winning at 10,000-1. I’m reminded of Kevin on The Office: “If someone offers you 10,000-1 on anything, you take it. If John Mellencamp ever wins an Oscar, I am going to be a very rich dude.”

• Human hair. Where’s Charlton Heston when you need him?

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