SAMANTHA WAS ROBBED.
I mean, “He Said, She Said” is a great challenge and all, but let’s get down to brass tacks: Richard should have gone home, and everybody there knew it. I’m convinced that if my boy Zac Posen had been present at the judging, he would have set everybody straight. As it is, it seems like the judges—Heidi, Nina, Zac’s sub Rachel Roy, and guest-judge Bonnie Brooks—make the wrong call in a crucial moment.
After all, as Project Runway keeps reminding us, there are only seven designers left, so every garment, every seam, every stitch is crucial. This week’s challenge is for Lord and Taylor’s spring store windows; the winning challenge gets their design made into a ready-to-wear dress, promoted and sold by Lord and Taylor. The emphasis is on finding something between mass appeal and high fashion; it’s important the dress be expensive, but not couture-level pricey. In other words, it has to hit that perfect, magical sweet spot that pretty much every garment made in the fashion industry is trying to aspire to, in addition to evoking Lord and Taylor’s logo, a rose, in some interesting way.
Overall, the challenge has strong parameters—always a good sign—and a few very strong designs, right from the start. The nicest part of this challenge is that the designers are encouraged to spend on luxe materials—leather and silk and chiffon make their way into nearly every garment. Drama feels like it gets in the way of the dresses more than usual this week, though.
The real climax of the episode is the epic showdown between partners Daniel and Michelle in the front half of the episode. When Tim’s going about doing his first round of critiques, he (rightly) calls out Daniel’s highly structured pink jacket, pointing him toward something potentially more modern. Tim asks Michelle what she thinks, and Michelle admits she doesn’t think a 21-year-old with $500 burning a hole in her pocket would splurge on a pink jacket. Daniel takes the critique personally—very personally. Perhaps pathologically so. Michelle’s critique sends Daniel on some kind of self-hate spiral, complete with lots of tears, a whole lot about how he tries to design dresses to make him happy and Project Runway is beating that out of him, and the strangely repeated line that Michelle knows what’s youthful, and Daniel doesn’t, and he just wants to make that clear, that she dresses 21-year-olds and he doesn’t.
Considering Michelle goes on to win the challenge Daniel’s whole rant becomes somewhat prophetic. I haven’t liked Michelle in the past, but she’s surprisingly likable in this episode (which just goes to show, again, that she’s probably been edited into the enemy up till now). Michelle’s the only designer who breaks significantly away from the pink/red color scheme the other designers adopt. While everything else blends into each other in shades of coral, she makes a tunic-ish chartreuse dress that pops on the runway. Her enthusiasm about her dress and her excitement when it wins is adorable, and she’s not intolerably full of herself as some other winners have been on the way to a win. The last shot of the episode isn’t the classic workroom lights-out (one of my favorite little Project Runway traditions) but of Michelle and Layana walking up to Lord and Taylor in Manhattan to see her dress in the window, complete with taupe leather. It’s a really sweet little moment.
Not much else in the episode quite did it for me. Some of the show’s long-term editing arcs began to fall apart in this episode—turns out Patricia’s fine to work with; turns out Richard and Daniel and Stanley are all friends; and as I said above, it turns out Michelle isn’t that bad after all. The judging, too, seems to lose focus entirely without Zac. There’s a conspicuous lack of discussion about construction—something I thought would come into play for Daniel’s dress, which has a very confusing bunchy hemline, or Stanley’s, which has a somewhat experimental fit around the torso (and is also maybe just a bit too long). There’s also not a lot of talk about creativity, and even when there is, it’s deemed to be less important than consistency.
Samantha’s dress this week has lots of flaws—it’s got too much going on, and as much as I like the heart cutout, I get that it looks downmarket and way too young for what Lord and Taylor is going for. Still, Samantha’s look has edge. There’s vision behind it, and more than that, an idea of reaching different demographics—demographics that could very well be shopping at Lord and Taylor if it didn’t have a reputation for being quite so middle-aged and upper-crust. Rachel and Nina are generally on Samantha’s side, but there is this sneering sense of “not good enough” thrown her way, which seems undeserved. Especially considering that Richard’s dress is a total phone-in. I like the streak of color, and he does put it together really well, but it’s very poorly thought out. A jersey maxi-dress feels very generic, and that color-swirl thing has been done before, and better. Worst of all, there’s just no vision in it whatsoever. I think Richard might be struggling with the judges’ earlier critique of his taste—he keeps getting punished for expressing his style—and as a result he goes for something pretty basic here. I don’t mind the dress, but I much prefer Samantha’s daring. It’s a poor choice for fashion, but probably a better choice for drama.
In the end, Samantha takes her expulsion really well. She seems relieved to be out of the grind of Project Runway and eager to start producing the things that she wants to make—a feeling we’re beginning to sense from all of the designers. I’m glad she’s not too unhappy, but I feel cheated out of seeing her future designs. Meanwhile, I’m not convinced Richard has anything new to show us.
But we shall see. Now that we’re down to six designers, I think we’re down to the number that all end up designing collections for fashion week—three decoys and three finalists, if I remember correctly from past years. So we’ll get a chance to see what all of these designers can do with more time to think.
- Yes, I know, I went on a bit too much about Samantha. Sorry, she’s my favorite. Now I don’t really have a favorite, so this won’t happen again.
- Just as I thought it wasn’t going to happen this season, Bonnie Brooks throws in an “I’m confused” at Richard’s dress. Victory!
- Nina and Heidi are a lot more put-together this week—perhaps because they’re sitting on a panel with one of their major sponsors. President Brooks doesn’t have a lot to say, but she’s clearly making taste decisions that it would have been nice to hear more about. Towards the end, she just shakes her head at Heidi, and that seems to influence the judging.
- For what it’s worth, though I liked Layana’s dress, her style is also in a rut. She’s made several dresses with a very similar silhouette—she and Kate did something almost identical for Heidi’s perfume line. It’s a flattering silhouette, and it does work for this ready-to-wear challenge, but I could stand to see some more variety from her.
- That being said, Layana’s face when Richard said he’s still in is priceless.
- Daniel’s weirdest crying moment? “These are happy tears.” Oooookay.