“It’s all about balancing art and commerce,” Michael Kors comments on Elena’s garment this episode, and it serves as a fitting description of what this week’s challenge is all about. While last week’s makeover forced the designers to think about garments for different sizes and styles, this week’s focuses on clients with a limited pocketbook. Lord & Taylor is developing a Project Runway-inspired line, featuring a garment made by one designer from each season. Our intrepid contestants have a day to make their potential contribution to the line, with the prize of having their clothes go into mass production, to be sold online and in department stores.
Having a design put into production is a big deal, but it’s also mass-market fashion: The muckety-mucks at Lord & Taylor are aiming for a garment to sell for between $200 and $300, so production costs have to be relatively small. That means no hand beading or shirring or any of those other tempting techniques that the designers love. It should be exactly as Dmitry describes his dress in the making to Tim: “It looks expensive and complicated, but it’s not expensive and it’s not complicated.” Fabric’s not an issue—the contestants get to choose from an assortment provided by the manufacturers—but cost is, as is the practicality of what they’re making.
No one has the kind of snide breakdown that Ven did last episode, but several of the contestants, notably Elena, can’t figure out how to make the switch from one-of-a-kind to mass-produced. Gunnar is the most unfazed by the whole thing, since he must repeat the mantra “I embrace the everyday woman” every day while brushing his teeth. The remaining male contestants all seem to be in control, parsing out their hyper-feminine dresses, while the usually collected women are all freaking out en masse. “I’m going to make the best gown ever!” Chris enthuses. “I don’t know… I sound like a tool,” he reconsiders. Whereas on the girl’s side: “My brain doesn’t work like this,” the pastel-clad Elena pouts, “I design upscale garments!”
Ven doesn’t speak much this week after last episode’s debacle, except to remind everyone “Men are usually stronger designers.” Just keep going there, buddy. Almost all the designers make things that look slightly Audrey Hepburn-ish. Ven’s dress has a trompe l’œil rose built into the front, a look that Chris describes accurately as “like a holiday garment”—though I prefer “giant boob flower.” Sonjia has the best burn for Ven though: “[That technique] isn’t sweeping the nation, and I think you need to move on.”
No one seems to be in more trouble than Melissa, though. In an effort to use material that no one else grabbed, she chooses a fabric that’s unforgiving and impossible to work with. “You’ve made a horrible mistake with fabric and the clock’s ticking,” is Tim’s sympathetic advice to her. As the Brother Sewing clock ominously counts down in the background, Melissa frantically scraps her work and starts over. But it’s always the calm and apathetic who are in bigger trouble than the harried and panicked. Alicia repeats several times that she thinks the judges will hate her drop-waisted dress, but shrugs, “I don’t care.” Red alert. Minutes before the runway, Sonjia bursts into tears when her dress doesn’t quite want to fit the model, and requires a patented Tim Gunn soothing as she sobs about things she would have done differently. “You just have to fake it on the runway,” Tim coos sagely. Fabio adjusts his head wreath.
After all that, Sonjia and Ven escape into the middle, along with Dmitry. Fabio gets approval for his asymmetrical number, but a wonky-looking zipper counts against him. Chris also has one of the higher scores, despite using the same floating-strips technique that he’s done twice already for the top of a long pink and back down. “This shredding, while it’s fabulous, I got it. Move on.” Michael comments. “This is just a subtle hint for next time,” Heidi adds in a stage whisper. Melissa’s revamped brocade number also lands on the higher end of the judges’ ballot, though the hemline was too severe for most women to buy it. Elena and her babydoll dress (plus harness) also ends up in the top, and she immediately starts weeping in gratitude. Heidi is confused.
On the lower end of things is Alicia’s bizarre popped collar Chanel-aping number, which gets the dreaded Nina “dowdy” stamp. Gunnar’s matte sequin dress also lands in the bottom, though not because it’s hideous so much as boring. “It is very expected,” Nina notes. But as the judges discuss in their cabal, there weren’t any horrible fabric explosions this week.
Christopher wins despite his repetition of the shirring technique, so now you can all go out and buy his “ballet dancer on top, opera on the bottom” gown. After long deliberation, the judges excuse Alicia, who I had figured for a goner. Poor Gunnar was left on the stage, trembling. But it was a cop out—this week all were reprieved, because after the mass exodus of earlier episodes, a few of these episodes have to be bye weeks. It’s a cop out, but I’m glad that Gunnar isn’t going. Alicia, on the other hand—I give her another two weeks, tops.