Project Runway: “The Ultimate Hard And Soft”
B+

Project Runway: “The Ultimate Hard And Soft”

B+

Project Runway

“The Ultimate Hard And Soft”

Season 11, Episode 4
B+

Project Runway

“The Ultimate Hard And Soft”

Season 11, Episode 4

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Tim makes a point of telling us early on that this episode of Project Runway is brought to you by Glade 2-in-1 candles, which, let me just say, makes absolutely no sense at all. The challenge is to make a line of dresses using only materials found at the florists’ or the hardware store. Two… materials… in one… challenge?! But anyway, besides the jarring notes of requisite sponsorship spiels, “The Ultimate Hard And Soft” is a fashion-heavy episode of Project Runway—light on the drama, for once, which lets some pretty gorgeous creations steal the spotlight.

I do enjoy the average week-to-week drama of a good episode of Project Runway, but the last couple of episodes were getting a little repetitive—Dream Team lost every challenge, slowly hemorrhaging its weakest members, while Keeping It Real stayed big and unwieldy, propped upright by a few strong players. So Tim and Heidi make the executive decision to switch up the teams this week: Dream can choose two members from Keeping It Real, and Keeping It Real can get one of their members in return. My immediately thought was that Daniel would be the first guy picked off of Keeping It Real, but surprisingly, Benjamin makes a strong case for Stanley, and Michelle adds Layana. Michelle then unexpectedly gets poached by Keeping It Real, which, again, from my point of view suggested that Keeping It Real once again had the stable of the best designers.

Well, I’m wrong. Dream Team wins this challenge, and the judges think it’s a lot closer than I did. Stanley and Layana are two solid, steady additions to the team—Layana is emerging from Daniel’s shadow to prove herself a strong designer in her own right, and Stanley, apparently, is an incredible teammate, able to corral many artistic visions under a single theme. Their collection is, apparently, inspired by Dior—it has a lovely retro look that manages to be graceful and elegant, even with plumbing pipes and rope. Samantha’s vision, a metal mesh that integrates leaves under the fabric, instead of over, meets the judges’ approval and wins the challenge. Samantha has been wasted in the former version of Dream Team for a long time, so it’s a great win to watch.

Meanwhile, Team Keeping It Real loses, but avoids getting the dressing down it rather richly deserves (in this critic’s opinion). The collection has a gorgeous, even voluptuous use of flowers—plumage cascading off of shoulders and down cleavage—but it feels uncontrolled, which leads to a look that comes off a little too DIY. The judges’ verdict on their collection is that it “lacks cohesion”—we’re well-prepped for that verdict with some clever editing—but I think it more crucially lacks polish. Dream Team’s former missteps have managed to mask the fact that Keeping It Real has been, well, a bit of a hot mess. Maybe if Keeping It Real had settled on a theme beforehand this week the messiness could have been avoided, because it does seem rather like nobody quite knows how to finish their outfits. The visions are not fully formed—the designers are each choosing a direction and running with it. The judges quickly narrow down the weakest links—Amanda and Joe (colloquially known as the cat sweater guy).

Both Amanda and Joe have pretty unique attitudes for Project Runway designers—Amanda has a kind of studied indifference to the contest, which seems to belie a certain insecurity in her own designs. I liked her at the beginning because she seemed to be the only designer who had perspective on the competition, but by now I’ve noticed how rarely she seems happy with what she puts on the runway. And Joe is uninterested in playing by the judges’ rules. Sure, dresses could be flattering, but they could also look like they’re devouring the model. I like the idea in theory, but I wasn’t blown away by his dress this week, a sweater-y, shapeless number that doesn’t feel like an interpretation of material so much as just a bunch of material piled on a model. It’s well-constructed—he knows his tailoring. It’s more that his vision is caught between two different goals.

What’s interesting is that in the final hours before the runway show, Joe manages to save Amanda’s dress from looking rather unfinished and hideous. I don’t mind Amanda’s dress from this week—it is a great design, if a little generic—but the moss material hangs so badly that it looks shapeless and stiff. Of course it’s also shedding, which is the main problem. The team stands around it, stressed out over what to do. Joe takes a quick look at it and solves the problem with literally two brilliant strokes—cutting the back panel and adding it to the front. And yet Joe is eliminated. I’m not convinced he’s super happy designing with Project Runway, so maybe it’s for the best, but he’s got more vision than Amanda—that much is obvious. Still, it’s hard to not feel bad for Amanda when her team members more or less throw her under the bus during judging. It’s kind of hilarious how quickly they all name her—maybe this has been building up for some time—but she clearly doesn’t know about it until the moment of truth. That is going to make team work next week pretty interesting.

The episode ends on a cliffhanger—weirdly? The designers are mysteriously informed there is more business awaiting them after the runway show. I do not know what that is. I do not know what to tell you. Maybe bizarro Heidi Klum will invite them to travel with her to a world of pure imagination. We can only hope.

Stray observations:

  • Guest Judge Bette Midler!!! That’s all. She’s a good judge. She’s very nice and encouraging and is not confused once.
  • Nina has to shade her eyes from the glare on the runway in every episode, huh?
  • “I was thinking like, RuPaul meets Gilligan’s Island.” Oh, dear God.
  • So, overall standings: Stanley and Layana have always been on a winning team; Michelle is now the only designer left to have always been on a losing team. Has it occurred to anyone yet that Michelle is the problem? She is certainly not easy to work with.
  • Zac Posen would like to remind us, once again, that fashion is a balance of art and commerce. OKAY ZAC, WE GET IT, YOU’RE BOTH A BRILLIANT ARTIST AND BUSINESSMAN.
  • Benjamin made his own loom to weave his own textile, and the result doesn't suck!
  • My personal choice for the win would be Stanley's dress, which is perfect in nearly every way.

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