If you go to see a Radio City Rockettes show, you’re not expecting a lot of dramatic tension. It’s an exercise in unadulterated delight and joy—there are no bad guys in a Rockettes chorus line. Likewise, “I Get A Kick Out Of Fashion” goes out of its way to banish any trace of villainy. Even quasi-villains like Ven—more of an annoyance than a menace—get an image makeover from the editors. It’s not quite the Summer Of Love around here, but an Autumn Of Like? Sure.
The episode begins with one of the best challenge intros in memory: At Radio City Music Hall, the designers are treated to a private performance by the Rockettes. Then Heidi comes out, wearing a glittering green dress that pops in a leggy sea of red, and she joins the kickline. She doesn’t just hold her own with the pros, she looks right at home, flinging those gams into the air with perfect rhythm. Dmitry calls the whole affair “a wow moment,” which is the same nomenclature Project Runway forces the designers to use when they get a “treat” like, say, meeting a regional marketing executive from Bluefly.com. So it’s a bit disorienting when it’s true. Heidi Klum The Rockette is nothing but wow.
The challenge is to design a costume for the Rockettes to wear in a future show. Dmitry, the ballroom-dancing costume designer, should absolutely own this one, right? Yet it goes unmentioned for the entire episode that this task is right in his wheelhouse, which is odd. The producers typically play up those “this is YOUR challenge” moments. (Maybe it was deemed a boring storyline given the fact that he did in fact end up acing the challenge.)
The Rockettes’ director, Linda Haberman, makes an appearance. She was an assistant choreographer for Bob Fosse, Tim notes. And when the designers fail to react, Heidi says, “Isn’t that amazing?” The designers emit a groan of admiration, which you wouldn’t think would even be a sound the human body could make, but apparently it is. They’re all impressed in theory, but their amaze tank is running pretty low at this point. Haberman is quite gracious during the exchange. It’s clear that despite being the first female choreographer of the Radio City Rockettes, she is still accustomed to getting the “Oh my God, you KNEW BOB FOSSE?” treatment.
This challenge has a lot of pointers and parameters. The costume must be appropriate for a show that could run any time of year (i.e., no Christmas stuff). Tim wants the designers to “embrace a modern aesthetic.” And Heidi has her own criteria for the costume. “It has to be spectacular up close, but also for people, you know—who have tickets very far away,” she says, struggling to find a polite English phrase for the wretched scum who populate the back row. (“Rabble? No. Dregs of society? Maybe…”)
At Mood, a few of the designers run into trouble when their $250 budget doesn’t allow them to purchase the flashiest sequin fabrics—the ones that would seem to be ideal for Rockette costumes. This is a bit of a misstep by the production, one that is clumsily half-rectified later in the episode with a “bonus!” trip to Mood. Elena struggles the most. She has to settle for a garish royal blue sequin fabric, and she still ends up $150 over budget. I’ve always wanted to see exactly how it’s handled when a designer screws up like this, but it remains a mystery, because all we get are a zillion shots of Elena slumped over her blue sequins, looking mopey and distraught. After 10 seasons, I still only vaguely understand the logistics of the Mood shopping trip, and I guess Project Runway intends to keep it that way.
Back in the workroom, Tim tells the designers that they have two days to work on their garments, and that their first workday will end at 7:30. There’s a long pause as selections from the “Fairytale/Goofy” section of the Project Runway music library—thank God for digital, or else those tapes would have worn through long ago—and the editors try their best to squeeze some plausible “Can you believe he said that???” faces out of the designers. But the designers are in fact wearing pretty normal “I am listening to a person speak” expressions, because having the first day end a little early isn’t that freaking weird.
Anyway, after this setup, Tim delivers the punchline: “…because you’re going out for a lovely dinner!” He says it in a perfectly sweet way, yet he still can’t help sounding like a frazzled stepmother. “Put your shoes on because I’m taking you and your father out to a nice meal, and we are going to ENJOY EACH OTHER’S COMPANY!”
In the sewing room, Ven harrumphs that he’s sticking to clean, modern lines blah blah blah. For pete’s sake, there always has to be one of these guys on the costume challenges, doesn’t there? The iconoclast who is going to blow everybody’s mind by making a regular dress. Like those who have come before him, Ven imagines that he is zigging while everyone else zags. But it’s more like standing there picking lint out of your bellybutton while everybody else zags.
Apart from its primary purpose of devouring airtime, the Lovely Dinner serves as a vehicle by which the show can rehabilitate the personalities of its least appealing characters. Elena apologizes to Dmitry: “I’m sorry I was such a bitch to you sometimes.” Then Ven says that he thinks Elena is quite talented and talks about how he spent his entire childhood alone. Aw, jeez, so now we have to like Ven, too? That’s dirty pool, Runway.
The scene illustrates one disadvantage of the reality format. It used to be that forcing the audience to sympathize with someone simply entailed the director punching the button that lit up the “APPLAUSE” sign. Now, to accomplish the same feat, Project Runway must treat its contestants to dinner at a one-and-a-half-star restaurant. Making TV is hard!
Since the show is in such a hurry to reinvent Elena and Ven as sympathetic characters, it’s reasonable to conclude that one of those two people is going home tonight, but Sonjia gets her own “headed for a fall” edit. Her ideas begin and end with a bunch of purple feathers. If you cobbled together all the shots of Sonjia staring blankly at her dress form, you’d have a little art piece. It would be like John Cage’s 4’33” for television.
The designers have a lot of goofy fun in this episode, and those little glimpses of lunacy are fun to watch. Christopher makes himself up as a surprisingly good facsimile of Sonjia, and Elena puts on her half-finished garment and does some Rockette-style kicks. Christopher in particular seems to be a workroom cutup, and while he may not generate anything on the level of Santino’s “Where’s Andre?” routine, I do hope we get to see more of his shtick survive the final cut.
Tim visits. Fabio complains to Tim that his sequin fabric is a “bitch.” Tim’s verdict is that Fabio should “bitch-slap that bitch!” And that’s why Tim Gunn is known as the Shaft of prim, lily-white fashion-show mentors.
Sonjia’s lack of progress and lack of a plan—with half a day left in the challenge—makes Tim “so nervous!” He says Elena’s garment looks like a “band uniform.” He tells Ven to add details because otherwise, “What is it? It’s a short dress.” In short, Tim is unimpressed by the workroom progress. “I can’t even believe that I’m saying this,” Tim says—gamely pretending that this is a spur-of-the-moment decision on his part—“We’re going back to Mood. You have $100 to spend and 15 minutes to shop.”
Sounds like a certain production company was worried that a certain group of designers were going to create a bunch of crappy outfits for a certain world-famous troupe of dancing girls. And so we get this hasty Band-Aid. There are shades of last year’s shameful “All the designers get an extra bucketful of spending money even though Anya is the only one who needs it!” maneuver, although in this case the emergency bonus doesn’t lend a particular advantage to one designer or another.
In fact, this wrinkle adds the rare element of strategy into the game when Fabio inquires whether the designers can opt to stay behind and use the time to work. Indeed they can, so it becomes a question of what’s worth more to you: the supplies or the time? Fabio and Dmitry want to stay behind, and their colleagues seems to think this is a reasonable choice. Then Ven, he of the virtually colorless cocktail dress, would like to express his fondness for that particular strategy. This prompts much nervous glancing and “Can you believe this guy?” expressions among his cohorts. But he cannot be persuaded, and they leave for Mood without him.
Back at Mood again, Melissa only likes things that cost upwards of $190 a yard, so the $100 isn’t much use to her. Christopher offers her an extra $50, which seems to save the day. Sonjia appears to just wander around aimlessly some more. A fabric store will never cure what ails her.
What Sonjia needs is a patented Hewlett-Packard emotional connection moment! As a prelude, she says that she misses her boyfriend very much—in footage that was clearly recorded weeks earlier. I love when a designer’s hair, makeup, and clothes change dramatically from one testimonial shot to the next—Project Runway’s way of saying, “Yeah, we piece this shit together from whatever we got on hand, what are you gonna do about it?” The answer is nothing.
Anyway, Sonjia chats with her boyfriend for a bit, and even though the guy acts a little distracted, with his eyes darting all over the place—she probably called him in the middle of his fantasy football draft, so he’s having to manage a bunch of browser tabs—Sonjia is re-energized. You can tell because her workroom bumbling now has an upbeat techno soundtrack, the music of success!
Back at the boys’ apartment on the eve of the runway show, Ven says, “I’m excited” in his typical unexcited monotone. I mention this only because right after he says this, you can hear the sound of someone blowing into a party noisemaker in the background, an amusing “yee-haw” contrast to Ven’s lugubriousness. I’m pretty sure the editors only stuck this clip in there to make fun of Ven one last time.
I can’t be too hard on the guy, though, because the next morning, when Melissa is having a meltdown, Ven goes over and helps her out by hand-sewing some of the infinite pieces on her Mandelbrot fractal of a garment, which seems to exhibit exponentially more components every time someone takes a closer look at it. And… well… that’s awfully nice of him. I mean, it just is. He makes a sweet and kind gesture. Later, everybody ends up trying to help Melissa when chaos theory kicks in and her costume’s zipper does its best impression of an uncaged raptor from Jurassic Park. But Ven was the first on the scene.
Sonjia, however, is beyond help, and her colleagues regard her garment with various levels of disdain. Dmitry says, “When I look at Sonjia’s costume, all I can think is…” and then he makes this bizarre chicken noise worthy of the Bluth family: “Buuup bup bup bup bup!”
Runway show. The guest judge is, of course, Radio City Rockettes choreographer Linda Haber—oh, no, wait, it’s Debra Messing. Okay, she stars in Smash, so there’s a connection of sorts, but it sure does seem like Debra Messing is Runway’s “Break Glass In Case Of Emergency” guest judge. I mean, they even got her to guest judge on Project Accessory. That is not a line anybody wants on their résumé.
Fabio earns safety for his slightly classier version of a Caesars Palace strip club’s “lady gladiator” costume. Elena, Sonjia, and Ven are the bottom three. Elena has mangled her blue sequins into a garment that only the director of the Franklin Pierce Junior High Cougar-ettes cheerleading squad could love—or tolerate, at least. The judges are taken aback by the odd placement of nude patches on the bodice. “If I was sitting in the audience… I’d be like, ‘Oh, where’s her nipple?’” says Kors, clearly employing the hypothetical first-person. The crowning glory of the outfit is an outlandish blaze of sparkles on the chest. It looks like there was a rigging accident with a Studio 54 disco ball, and they deposited the sweepings from the wreckage directly below the neck of Elena’s poor model.
At least Elena’s outfit has amusement value going for it, though. (And indeed, that’s what ends up saving her.) Ven explains, as he has throughout the episode, that his work exhibits a blend of the modern and the classic. The judges pan his garment since it is, in essence, a plain dress with shininess added. “It’s just very glamorous mother of the bride chopped her dress off,” says Kors. Fun fact: If you feed this sentence into an English-language-parsing robot, its circuits will instantly explode.
Messing disagrees with the judges. She says, “I love the movement of the dress”—I have no earthly idea what movement she witnessed on this lifeless shell of fabric—and “I like the simplicity.” Ven nods. “As I said, I wanted to combine modern and classic.” Yes, Ven, you did say that. Those are two of the five adjectives you know how to use.
Sonjia hears it from the judges for her use of purple feathers. The judging panel argues, at length, that feathers would be utterly impractical for use in showgirls’ costumes. I mean, can you even imagine? Nina Garcia cannot. “You’re going to see 36 identical dresses full of feathers. Might be like a turkey-fest up there,” she says, as if any right-thinking American wouldn’t find a line of 36 dancing turkeys perfectly delightful.
The top three are Melissa, Dmitry, and Christopher, although Melissa’s pink-and-black salute to the London Olympics 2012 logo is more of an honorary entrant into the top three, since the judges talk mostly about the reasons that they hate it. Messing remarks that she is “very confused by the design,” so if you’re playing Empty Guest-Judge Remark Bingo, you can cross off “confused,” or at least you could if it weren’t the free square.
Unlike Melissa, Dmitry and Christopher leave no doubts about their high marks, and they both do it with concepts that could easily have gone wrong. Dmitry has managed to create a futuristic conception of a Rockette costume with shiny, body-tight fabric without erring into a cheesy spacesuit effect. The top of the costume slopes down and around the model’s body at an angle that manages to be arresting but not jarring. And the detail of the skirt is superb—the weighted tassels catch the eye first. But an elegant series of ridges along the waist are extremely flattering, too, complementing the flamboyant sweep of the tassels with their own more subtle illusion of movement—they look like chocolate is slowly melting along the model’s own curves.
Heidi says she loves it, and Kors says that it “looks like a couture-quality garment.” Only Messing protests, on the dubious basis of decency: “The only thing I questioned was walking that line with the Rockettes of being sexy but also being appropriate for little, little, little ones,” she says. She twists her face into an expression of concern for the Rockette’s all-important neonatal fan base.
Christopher has all of the judges in full swoon. It’s a glittering silver depiction of the New York City skyline against a nude backdrop—a concept that really ought to have been tacky but ended up with just the right combination of elegance and shameless glitz. “It’s a Bob Mackie moment,” Kors says, and while I prefer Dmitry’s costume in terms of visual aesthetics, it’s hard to deny that Christopher’s work does more to ignite the audience’s imagination—he uses the mythos of Manhattan to his advantage, just like the Rockettes themselves. A shoo-in for the win.
After the designers leave the stage, Kors is in Bravo-era form. He sets the scene for a theoretical Rockette show featuring Ven’s costume: “The curtain parts. Thirty-six blahs come out.” He gives Elena the “fabric hideosity award,” and I fully expected a red dotted line to appear under the word “hideosity” when I typed it in my notes, but no, it is a legitimate word. Well done, Michael! Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.
The line of the season (so far) comes when Kors notes that Ven is lost whenever he doesn’t employ his fabric-folding technique. Kors says, “Every time there’s no origami rose—that could be his drag name! Origami Rose!”
Christopher wins. “Now the Rockettes will be wearing my garment while kicking their asses off!” he says. Christopher, PLEASE. There might be children watching! Little, little, little children.
It comes down to post-apology Elena and post-helping-Melissa Ven, two characters who we suddenly sort of like well enough. The camera feasts on closeups of Elena, who looks utterly destroyed by the competition. She’s in full zombie mode. The judges allow her to twist in the wind for another week: Ven is gone.
In the workroom, a tearful Elena hugs Ven. “Stop crying,” he demands. Tim enters for his farewell. “Look who’s going home,” he says. “It’s a scenario I don’t think any of you wrote.” Wait, what? Is this really that big of a shock? The whole end of this episode is edited as if the Ven ouster is a real stunner, but Ven’s one-note star had been fading for a few weeks now. Now, all of a sudden, we’re supposed to believe that the designers will spontaneously fold a thousand paper cranes for their departed Origami Rose. I don’t get it, but still, I wish you a fond farewell, Ven. I’ll never forget those couple of minutes when the editors decided to not make you look like such a jerk—our little Autumn Of Like.
- Elena looks incredibly different without her makeup and hair done up. I’m not saying “uglier” or anything like that, just different. I didn’t recognize her at first in those opening scenes at the Atlas apartments.
- Speaking of Elena and cosmetics, in the L’Oreal Shameless Promotion Of L’Oreal Products Room, she is heard remarking, “Cake it on. Just cake it on.” I’m sure that’s just what a makeup artist likes to hear.
- Tim Gunn does a great job of concealing his reactions when the designers file out of the workroom. Every episode, when there’s that shot of him ushering the last hapless, desperate contestant down to the runway, I look for him to grimace at whatever half-finished garment is toddling by. But as far as I can remember, he has always maintained his poker face in these moments. That takes discipline.
- Good lord, next week’s challenge does not look promising.