Whenever the challenge doesn’t involve a special guest, I feel a little let down. Having Michael Kors introduce a challenge is the Project Runway equivalent of a “stay-cation”—no amount of peppy self-delusion will change the fact that it doesn’t feel very special. Nor did Kors sell it very hard. Dude woke up early, hauled his ass down to the pier, told the driver to keep the engine running, stood in front of a boat, plugged his sunglasses line, and got the hell out of Dodge. (We were supposed to get the impression that Kors would join the designers on their pleasure cruise around New York Harbor, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t.)
The designers were told to create resort wear, which seemed like a ho-hum task. Yet in the bizarro world of Season 8, it’s OK to have some faith in the producers. Because in time, there was a twist: Tim Gunn walked into the workroom with the dreaded black velvet bag o’ buttons, he paired the designers off into twosomes by random draw, and suddenly it became a team challenge—a pretty devious one, at that. The contestants had to assemble their teammates’ concepts instead of their own. However, they would still be responsible for their own designs on the runway. Thus everyone was at the mercy of someone else’s construction skills.
Mondo got paired up with Michael C., which surely caused gnashing of teeth in the control room, where everyone was praying for a Team Luxe reunion. In a desperate attempt to preempt further emotional abuse, Michael began his working relationship with Mondo by calling himself a useless clod: “I’m not the fastest, best sew-er, and I don’t know if you already know, I don’t use patterns, I do all draping stuff—”
“Well, let me just say this,” said Mondo, employing a phrase that most human beings would use before saying something to ease the tension, “I’m not real excited about this because your construction is awful, and the fact is, you have immunity.” No, Mondo. Not you, too.
And Michael just looked at Mondo with those dead eyes, because Michael’s brain wasn’t really there anymore. It was far away on his magical fantasy island, where he lives with Heidi Klum and Nina Garcia in a castle made of rainbows and chocolate, and every night they tuck him in to his race-car bed and tell him that he is the best designer in the whole galaxy.
Ivy was teamed with Michael D., and this made her unhappy. She is, at least, ecumenical in her hatred of Michaels. With zero faith in her partner’s sewing skills, Ivy ditched her “pants and a simple top” design and reworked it as “two pieces of cloth that attach to the model in some fashion.”
The team of Gretchen and Casanova delivered less conflict than I expected; the hottest it got was Gretchen telling Casanova that his outfit looked old. They both did a fine job of assembling each other’s designs, as Gretchen guided Casanova with a set of freaking enormous sketches. “I have no problem with my eyes,” Casanova said in a testimonial. “Oh my god, she thinks I’m a retard.” Probably true, but he’s not exactly unique in that respect.
Mondo spent much of the day pouting around the workroom, wondering if he should maybe just go home right now and quit fashion forever. (Strange that Michael C., the one designer who has a decent case for storming out of the competition, is practically the only one who hasn’t threatened to do so.) Then Mondo actually looked at Michael C.’s work, saw that it wasn’t that bad, and realized he might have been overreacting just a touch. “Sorry for being such a bitch,” Mondo said, and we all breathed a sigh of relief as one of the most likable designers stepped back from the dark side.
Michael Kors accompanied Tim Gunn for the workroom critique, and Kors really grabbed the reins, ensuring that Tim couldn’t slip a word in edgewise. Tim looked (rightly) irritated by this, as he realized that picking names out of a ratty velvet bag would end up being his only meaningful contribution to the episode.
Kors told Casanova that his outfit felt old, and Gretchen was delighted to have her comment echoed by the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Her face contorted into a just-can’t-conceal-it rictus grin of self-satisfaction. Then Kors gave Gretchen the same “it looks old” critique for her design, and her disposition became somewhat less sunny. It was another of those crisp one-two punches of editing that the show has been landing with regularity.
The final pre-runway frenzy was dominated by Ivy and Michael D., with Ivy unleashing every arrow in her passive-aggression quiver. Her hapless partner fretted over the sewing machine as she sat behind him and sniped orders at him, stitch by excruciating stitch. The designers were allowed to “take possession” of their own designs 10 minutes before time was up. When that moment came, Ivy grabbed at her garment and repelled Michael D. out of the room by sheer force of scowl. He stumbled into the hallway and tried to remember what happiness felt like.
The challenge played out perfectly, because Ivy’s lack of trust in her teammate backfired on the runway. Her design—essentially a faded seafoam green undershirt and slip—was one of the nothing-est creations the show has ever seen. It was the type of simple frock that a dancer in the Olympic opening ceremonies might wear, so that when a thousand of them danced together in formation, they would form a tidal wave or some such. But not even a thousand more of Ivy’s thing would make it any less boring.
She was joined in the bottom three by Mondo and Casanova. I can see why the judges reacted poorly to Mondo’s vivid design—a striped blue two-piece bathing suit with a botanical-print windbreaker and visor—but I don’t think that using primary colors automatically makes something “junior.” Guest judge Kristen Bell was “confused” by it, because every starlet judge this season is confused by things they don’t like.
As for Casanova, he missed the “resort” angle entirely and created (with Gretchen) a beige ensemble that your aunt might wear to interview for the treasurer position at her local League of Women Voters chapter.
The judges’ focus lingered mostly on Ivy, and she reacted by blaming Michael D. She cast aspersions on him. She impeached his character. Why, you might even say that she “threw him under the bus.” If you were a cast member on Project Runway, you might say this again and again, in every possible permutation, until the words lost their capacity for meaning. Even then, you would continue to repeat it, pushing the phrase “throw him under the bus” beyond language into the realm of synesthesia. What does “throw him under the bus” taste like? Madness.
The top three were Michael D. (as sewn by Ivy), April (Christopher), and Andy (Valerie). Michael D. was the odd man out—that black evening gown didn’t seem like resort wear, but in any case, it was not attractive. The left shoulder looked like Batgirl got into a fight with Catwoman and lost. The judges gobbled it right up, though. They have a taste for misshapen black dresses lately.
On the other hand, Andy’s bathing suit-plus-wrap was my favorite design of the season so far. The flowing fabric of the wrap fell away to reveal the bold lines of the one-piece suit underneath, and the effect made his model captivating as she walked down the runway. If she were in an advertisement for a tropical island, I would want to go there.
April won out over Andy, which wouldn’t have been my pick, but I won’t complain. She designed a two-piece bathing suit enveloped in a semi-sheer black mini dress, with some modernist architectural details around the neck. It was sexy. Kristen Bell was inspired. “I often describe myself as a super-punky, edgy baby doll,” she said, and you know what, I believe her.
The elimination came down to Ivy and Casanova, which meant that either way, this was going to be a big one. Casanova’s lucky streak came to an end. I never imagined at the beginning of the season that I would say this, but I’ll miss him a lot. The producers sent him away with Project Runway’s highest honor: a clip montage. Then he said something incoherent about grabbing one of New York’s testicles and turned out the lights. It was a fitting farewell.
— “Cheers to Michael Kors sunglasses!”
— Tim Gunn at the end of the boat ride: “All right, designers, has this not been fantastic?!” Designers: [half-hearted grunts]
— “She’s glammypuss over the top.”
— Christopher sighting! The Project Runway Season 8 contestant known as “Christopher” was briefly visible in the 70th minute of tonight’s program. Did you spot him?
— “When is he going to exasperate his bag of tricks?”
— Mondo: “My resort wear is me in my underwear and a T-shirt.” Gretchen: “Well, you kicked it up a notch from that!”
— “Sad? Zero. Disappointed? Maybe a quart.”
— “You made something for a 70-year-old woman to go sit in a mall and get home early to watch television.”
— “I almost peed my trunks.”
— Somebody told Kristen Bell before the taping that “I would wear it on the red carpet” is a good way for a celebrity like her to praise the designers. But she didn’t realize that it should only be applied to things that someone would conceivably wear on a red carpet.
— If you thought Bell came across as self-absorbed and a bit clueless, just look who we get next week: January Jones! Holy crap. I am so angry that I won’t be able to recap this...
— ...because I’ll be in Japan for the next couple of weeks to cover video-game stuff. The good news is that the estimable Donna Bowman (and maybe the equally splendid Noel Murray) will be doing recaps while I’m away, so huzzah!