Project Runway: "Go Big Or Go Home"
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Project Runway: "Go Big Or Go Home"

Let us now salute the bag of buttons. By providing the random draw for the show’s team challenges, that humble velveteen satchel has produced more drama over nine seasons than any of Project Runway’s other ploys. I bet the producers’ mouths water in Pavlovian anticipation whenever they pull the ratty thing out of storage. They inhale its accumulated aroma of cigarettes, sweat, and stale hand lotion—the smell of petty conflicts to come.

Heidi begins this week’s fun by striding out onto the runway on stilts. She’s pretty good on those things! I am impressed. We can add stilt-walking to her list of many talents, alongside “having an amusing accent” and “besmirching the legacy of Art Linkletter.” Seven more ladies pour out from backstage. They are also on stilts, and they’ll be the designers’ models for this challenge. Is it some sort of tie-in with Big Apple Circus? Nope, there’s no promotional angle to be found. In fact, practically no effort is made to justify this episode’s premise. It’s a bunch of dames on stilts that Heidi found somewhere, probably in a crawl space next to Seal’s old LPs.

The other announcement is that the runway show is going to be outside, and weirdly, this inconsequential change of venue is treated as the big source of excitement in this episode. Okay, the outdoor runway show is a “Project Runway first,” but it’s also a Project Runway first that the designers are making clothes for TEN-FOOT-TALL CIRCUS FREAKS, FOR PETE’S SAKE. Yet Heidi, et al., are blasé about that whole part of the deal. Death-defying super-sized models on a precariously thin catwalk, yawn.

The designers are divided into teams of two by random draw from the button bag. Bert and Viktor are the first to be paired up by the bag, in its eternal wisdom. “My heart dropped,” Viktor says. Sounds like the kind of thing he’d say in a private testimonial, but in fact, he whines in front of the entire group.

Bert is not pleased: “He acted in such a childish way. ‘Oh, gee, look who I’m stuck with.’ I don’t appreciate it, and I don’t think it’s professional.” Even though we don’t like Bert anymore, he’s right. Having been slighted, Bert silently formulates a plan to make Viktor’s life miserable for every last goddamn minute of this challenge. Spoiler: Bert succeeds in this plan!

Other notables: Anya and Olivier join to form the “Dream Team,” and then they are ignored for the rest of the episode. Consistently terrible designers Bryce and Fallene will be providing your pathos this evening. Danielle and Cecilia come together in the “Wait, Who The Hell Is Danielle?” Team.

Back in the workroom, Viktor describes his vision as “kind of like Queen Victoria a little bit.” Bert makes a face like he is chewing on a clove. Queen Victoria, of course, is the dowdiest monarch in the history of the British royal family, which is itself a living monument to dowdiness. So as Viktor prattles on about sexy boobs being pushed up by some hot bodice action, Bert objects: “That’s not Victorian. That’s Elizabethan.”

Viktor responds with a “whatever” and bitches to the interview cameras, “Bert’s a know-it-all. He’s just really obnoxious.” See, Viktor just wants to say neat-sounding words; he doesn’t want the burden of worrying about what they mean. (In fairness, the majority of Project Runway contestants take this same approach to the English language.)

In any case, it’s clear from this first spat that the Bert-Viktor team is an antagonistic pairing of two unlikable people—a no-lose situation for the viewers.

The designers finally get to go to Mood, with a generous $500 budget. Rugged mountain-woman Julie spends much of the time saying reasonable things, which her prim teammate Josh then interprets as sheer stupidity. She wonders aloud if their garment might have big sleeves. “Couture means big sleeves?” Josh sneers, which is not what she said. Later, Julie pulls a certain material and asks if it could be pleated. Josh is mortified: “Anything in the WORLD can be pleated!” 

After returning to Parsons, the designers get a feel for their partners’ working styles. Kimberly is mystified by quiet Becky. “She just stares,” Kimberly says with awe. “You wonder what’s going through her mind.” Thoughts, maybe.

Bryce hectors his partner, Fallene, over her inability to cut fabric along the grain (which does seem like a straightforward task). He asks, “Did you ever go to school? … You never went to school?” There’s no doubt that Fallene is in over her head—she spends most of the episode admitting as much before conveniently declaring, two minutes before the runway show, that “I’m thinking I could have made this work!” Still, where was all of Bryce’s magnificent schooling last week, when he sent an industrial accident from the Puffs Plus factory down the runway?

These are minor tiffs, though, compared to the psychological warfare happening at Viktor and Bert’s table. Bert believes Viktor is immature. Viktor thinks Bert is immature. Bert thinks that it is immature of Viktor to say that he is immature. Viktor says that he doesn’t want to argue about the garment’s top anymore. Bert: “Well, maybe I do!”

That is Bert’s approach in a nutshell. As Bryce says, “Bert will fight you on anything, even if there’s nothing to fight about.” And indeed, he challenges Viktor on every point. He’s like a third-rate trial lawyer, whose only tactic is to object to every motion, in the hopes that his obstinate dickishness will lead to victory… somehow?

Poor Tim Gunn arrives and approaches Viktor and Bert’s workspace, expecting to speak with two grown-ups. Instead, he ends up playing kindergarten referee as the two morons bicker over ownership of a design that is, not for nothing, awful. Viktor finally makes a sideways peace offering: “I’m at the point where I’m just trying to get it done.” Tim recognizes this as progress. He says, “Getting it done is important.”

But wait, was that a thing that Tim just said? Bert has to argue with things people say! So he does: “Well, you can’t do that when you just walk out of the room when someone doesn’t agree with you.” Tim looks like he is ready to walk out of the room and keep walking until he hits a gin martini.

Now Tim is in a bad mood, and it carries over when he visits with Fallene. Slouching under her team’s huge, puffy, black tutu, Fallene says, “I feel like I have a black cloud over me!” Tim is not in the mood for jokes, even half-kidding ones. “Fallene, you need to own this look,” he scolds.

Had Tim been in a better mood, he would have recognized the need for one of his fatherly pep talks. Instead, his coldness sends Fallene further down her spiral of failure. Unfamiliar with the arcane craft of cutting fabric, Fallene produces a bodice that doesn’t even approach a proper fit on the model. The bodice simply should not be. It’s the fashion equivalent of a misbegotten lab creation. Listen closely, and you can hear it croaking, “Killllll meeee…” Bryce does just that.

Fallene wakes up the next morning mopier than ever. “I wish I had my soul right now.” There’s not much sympathy among her roommates. Becky says, “Well, maybe you’ll find it today. Maybe you’ll find it under a table waiting for you.” Yeah, your soul’s probably just behind that pile of newspapers, Fallene, or in the van. Now shut up and put your shoes on.

Having scrapped the bodice, Bryce sets to work on a tube top, which sends Fallene fleeing from the room in despair. (It IS a pretty sad tube top.) She decides to occupy herself by smashing together some fabric and feathers to make a little hat. It is by far the best thing this team will make.

Bert chimes in with the un-self-aware observation of the night: “Fallene’s sweet. Bryce really pushed her around a bit. He’s very, sort of a bossy kid.”

Runway show. Fallene has yet another breakdown backstage. “I don’t even feel like a designer.” Tim knows that Fallene is dead in the water, so he puts himself on Encouraging Pablum Auto-Pilot and lets his mind drift to more pressing concerns. “You’re going to be fine!” Hmm, do I need to pick up eggs? I think those eggs in the refrigerator are old. “You have an investment in this collaboration!” I really ought to read more fiction. When was the last time I dug into a good novel? It’s been a while.

“It is my dream to do this show once outside, in front of all of our fans,” Heidi says to maybe a hundred people. She introduces the guest judge, Kim Kardashian. The most sarcastic graphic in Project Runway history appears on screen, billing Kardashian as a “fashion entrepreneur.”

Josh and Julie’s outfit is the funniest of the day. In a challenge where the models are on stilts, they trot out a pair of high-waisted pants with a vertical stripe pattern that makes their model’s legs look even longer—and her torso more ridiculously squat. Giraffe on the bottom, Munchkin bullfighter on top.

The top of Bert and Viktor’s dress is a huge, lumpy muffin made from upholstery you might find at a rich grandma’s house, on chairs that nobody is allowed to sit in. The two apparently imagined what it might look like if one of those chairs vomited copiously after a big meal, and from that vision, a dress was born. There are some stiff gold tatters along the bustline, too, reflecting one of Bert’s core design philosophies: “Nothing says ‘class’ like some random shit tacked on around the top there.”

At least Bryce and Fallene’s outfit tells a story. It is the tale of a ballerina who only got half-undressed before she fell asleep last night, and then she woke up and remembered she had to go to a stupid outdoor runway show, so fine. The end.

The proportions on Becky and Kimberly’s pantsuit are just right, and the faux-military ringmaster feel makes for a fun look on the gargantuan model without getting too circusy. Kimberly complains that the jacket’s half-collar looks too Star Trek, but I didn’t have a big problem with it. Not a terribly memorable design, but it’s capable, although the same cannot be said for their model. She herky-jerks her way across the stage as if she’s a Transformer in the final throes of death.

Anya and Olivier are lucky that there are three clear disasters on the runway, as their design offers little to admire. The rainbow-speckled print—it looks like a waterfall as viewed on a scrambled cable-porn channel—has potential, but the team doesn’t do much of anything with it. Their efforts are focused instead on a bizarre patchwork of gray blotches that form some semblance of a blouse.

Cecilia says that her collaboration with Danielle is “dramatic,” and that’s about right. The chiffon billows beautifully as the model walks, and it speaks to the team’s craftsmanship that those huge clouds of fabric don’t devolve into a sloppy mess. That said, the color scheme—tan and light aqua—is reserved, and putting aside the large scale, the overall form of the outfit feels pretty normal. It’s like watching a gigantic paralegal amble down the catwalk. A paralegal with a cantaloupe in her hair.

The stunner of the show is Anthony Ryan and Laura’s outfit, a flowing red ensemble that wows with motion and color on the bottom and draws the eye up to rich, detailed feather work on the shoulders. It’s the fashion equivalent of a good red-velvet cake.

The top three are Anthony Ryan/Laura, Danielle/Cecilia, and Kimberly/Becky. Heidi admires the feathered shoulders on Anthony Ryan and Laura’s design, noting, “You can always tell when the designers did a lot of work.” Anthony Ryan: “I did not hand-sew any of that. It was all the hot-glue gun.” Satisfied that Heidi has made a sufficient fool of herself, Nina Garcia pipes up, accusing Anthony Ryan of being too “referential” of other, more famous designers’ work. She says that this is the second time that she’s had to call out Anthony Ryan’s derivative ways, but it’s the first time we’ve heard it. So it’s a confusing moment for the 99.99 percent of viewers who did not see Nina's Twitter complaint last week.

The bottom three are Viktor/Bert, Fallene/Bryce, and Josh/Julie. They have to sit backstage while the top three appear before the judges. As they wait, Josh observes that everybody in the bottom three made “costumes,” while everyone in the top three made outfits that don’t look like complete ass. He suspects there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Out on the runway, Michael Kors says that Viktor and Bert’s thing looks “like curtains at a really tacky catering hall.” Kim Kardashian decides to riff on this theme. She says, “It’s almost like in the movie The Sound Of Music, when they took the drapes off and made their clothes—like Marie Antoinette days.” Viktor and Bert stare blankly. Sensing that she has done that not-making-sense thing again, Kardashian reaffirms, “It really does look like curtains.” Nice save!

Bert disavows responsibility for the outfit, and when Viktor’s asked for his feelings on the matter, he says, “I own it.” Heidi then goes on an excruciating tangent, pretending not to know what Viktor means by this. In the end, Heidi somehow conceives Viktor’s clumsy attempt to accept responsibility as him “throwing Bert under the bus.” Ugh. Can we please invent a new phrase for this? Viktor: “It just feels very horrible. The weight. It’s like somebody punched you in the stomach and threw you down the stage.” Hmm, well, let’s keep brainstorming.

Attention turns to Fallene and Bryce. “This has literally no effort put into it,” says Kim Kardashian, icon of the Protestant work ethic. Heidi asks who should go home. Bryce says, “I think it’s both of us. I think this is a team effort.” What a gambit! He upends Heidi’s whole worldview, and she struggles to recover. It’s like watching a robot try to understand an M.C. Escher painting. She replies, “Unfortunately… [ETERNAL PAUSE OF OUTRIGHT BEWILDERMENT]… it would be only one.”

Anthony Ryan and Laura have the winning design, and Laura is named the winner, partly because of Anthony Ryan’s gracious decision to give her most of the credit. Note that we didn’t get any rich-princess chatter from Laura in this episode, as if the editors wanted us to forget how obnoxious she was so that we could enjoy the win. If you go only by this week, Laura seems like a delightful young talent. We’ll see how this plays out in coming episodes. I think Laura’s nouveaux-riche trappings may be a thing of the past.

Fallene is out. Tim says, “Fallene, we’re going to miss you,” blah blah hug blah blah OK please leave now. Tim is tired of consoling this woman.

She packs up her workspace and gives her valedictory: “Right now, I’m having a breakdown, but when I get home, things are going to be different, and I hope I do inspire people to follow their heart.” Indeed, there’s nothing more inspiring than a nervous collapse. Oh, and there’s her soul! It was next to her scissors.

Stray Observations:

  • “Me and Julie could basically flop genders.”
  • “I feel like I am running around with my head cut off.”
  • Olivier sure likes piling crusty crap onto his models’ eyelashes.
  • “The hair is KUH-RAZY! I mean, MY GOD!”
  • “It’s in my HP computer!”
  • “Julie is rocking, like, mountain woman, and Josh is like, BEDAZZLE IT!”
  • “Mae West never wore pants her entire life.”

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