Overcome with guilt, Christopher spends the first scene of tonight’s episode reflecting on last week’s tense runway exchange with Andrea. “I didn’t know what to say up there,” he says, “so I just pushed her in front of a bus.” And that right there sums up why season 10 of Project Runway has so far been a refreshing change of pace from season nine. The show feels like everyone involved is trying just a bit harder. Parsons has been spruced up. The casting team invested a little more effort to find designers who are not utterly boring, so that the 90 minutes might feel like something less than a death march.
With this spirit of mild creative renewal restoring a pulse to the show, even the catchphrases are getting a facelift. Is “I pushed her in front of a bus” that much better than the classic “threw her under the bus”? It is not. Well, okay, it’s a little funnier, if you picture Christopher playing the Bugs Bunny role and Andrea as Elmer Fudd. In any case, this 15-percent-new zinger is just another indication that everybody is trying to keep the show fresh, and season 10 has shown us that the appearance of effort can make a bigger difference than you might imagine.
Let’s not kid ourselves, though: No Project Runway season can shine without a few stretches of glorious, unbridled whackadoo, and on the scale of Runway madness, the first 20 minutes of tonight’s episode clock in at the “Michael Kors Injects A Speedball Into His Eye” level. A mystery is afoot. Andrea disappeared during the night, and her whereabouts are unknown.
Over at Michael Kors’ flagship store on Madison Ave., Tim Gunn plays Hercule Poirot with gusto. “Andrea—she left the Atlas apartments in the middle of the night, unbeknownst to any of us,” Tim says. He pauses to let this set in, carefully gauging the reaction of each suspect—I mean designer. Tim continues, “We have not been able to contact her, but we have every reason to believe she is safe and sound.” Okay, based on what, exactly? Maybe they checked her horoscope.
When it dawns on everyone that they could all be implicated in Andrea’s disappearance, designers and mentors alike quickly improvise a cover story: The pressures of the fashion industry got to her. Yeah, that’s the ticket, it was the industry, and not the harrowing, soul-sucking, identity-deconstructing experience of appearing on a television reality show. Curse you, heartless fashion! Why can’t you be more like the warm embrace of TV?
Losing control of a segment that was supposed to be all about him, Kors reasserts himself as the sage voice of experience. He says, “I’ve been at this now for 30 years. It is tough.” That’s true. In 1982, Kors was a 6’6” triathlete. Just look what fashion has done to him. (He was always that color, though.) Advancing the same narrative, Elena says, “The fashion industry is a shark. If you can’t handle it, then maybe you shouldn’t be in it.” Good advice to remember the next time you find yourself inside a shark.
On to the challenge. The contestants must design something for a “woman on the go,” which briefly raises the hope that Andrea is simply taking a Method approach to this week’s design. Tim and Kors both emphasize that textiles are important. “Think about wrinkles. You don’t want them,” Tim says. Clearly someone never read The Secret.
While the designers are told to sketch, they’re more interested in conducting an investigation and gathering evidence among themselves. Nervous suspicion hangs in the air. What did Melissa see? She saw Andrea get up during the night, but that’s all, she swears! Come on, people, think! Every detail is important. Fabio says that he heard Andrea mention that she would be “sleeping in” today—he just didn’t realize she was talking about her departure from a basic-cable television program, THE LONGEST SLEEP OF ALL!
Later, Gunnar says some catty bullshit about Andrea, but his efforts to be the season’s villain are so blatant that I can’t get upset over his remarks. His petty ambitions only make me dislike him even more—so maybe he’s actually really good at being the villain. Anyway, he is sketching a skirt that has “an ombre effect, but with panels instead,” which is like making a ham sandwich, but with turkey instead.
Over at Mood, Buffi is trying hard to avoid pink. Then she stumbles on some pink fabric and decides to purchase it. She just can’t think of any colors other than pink. Try it for yourself. Let me see, ummm, fuchsia? Oh, goddamn—see, it’s harder than you think.
We head back to Parsons, where Christopher is feeling the heat. He is, after all, the prime suspect in whatever the hell happened to Andrea, and he demands a full accounting of the night’s events. Melissa again protests, perhaps too much, that she woke up this morning and Andrea was gone. Christopher solemnly replies, “Andrea giving up—something had to bring her to that point. And I really think I was partially the cause of it.” Is he copping a plea? Who is he protecting?! We don’t get to find out, because Kooan interrupts to make an announcement.
Looking around the room, Kooan first acknowledges the role he was supposed to play in this farce. “I know I’m the funky and weird person,” he says, thinking back to the index cards he so diligently memorized in the Bunim/Murray casting office. “But I thought about it for three days, and…[commercial break]…I think I should go.” Project Runway season 10 is now turning into one of those terrible improv comedy scenes where none of the performers knows what to say, so they all just kill themselves.
Once Kooan has made it clear that his decision is final, there’s more crying, but the tears are just as much “what the hell is going on, I don’t know where I am” panic tears as they are “I’m sad that Kooan is leaving” tears. AND THEN Nathan looks all shaky, and he says, “I want to leave.”
What the…? Luckily for Bunim/Murray, this is the moment of peak insanity. Sure, the producers like drama. They like combustible personalities. But you play with matches long enough, sooner or later the whole house is going to go up in flames, and for an instant, the Runway team must feel like their number is up. A second later, Nathan finishes his thought. “I want to leave…I’m not going to, but I want to leave,” he says. Ah, so he was just milking the moment. Listen, Nathan, I can understand why you’re desperate for camera time—I had to look up your name on the Project Runway website—but still, have some dignity.
Lifetime avoids disaster as the situation settles down. Tim Gunn appears behind Kooan, and he’s so stealthy about it that it looks like a camera trick, or that old vampire-movie effect where Dracula slides into view without moving his legs. Where the hell did he come from? Was he there all along, blending into the walls? Perhaps Tim prefers his charges to be caught off-guard. As he instructs the designers to gather together in a line, it becomes clear that this is his climactic Poirot-in-the-parlor-room moment—the exciting scene in which he reveals the culprit in The Affair Of The Mediocre Designer Who Was About To Be Kicked Off Anyway. He probably has a speech all prepared: “At first I suspected the one you call Gunnar Deatherage, for obvious reasons…”
Only the trouble is, before Tim can really get started, Kooan steals the thunder and tells Tim that he’s out. “YOU’VE made a decision to leave?” says Tim in reply, which is as close as Tim Gunn will ever come to saying, “WTF?” Having prepared to deal with just the one casualty, Tim improvises and pulls Kooan out of the room for a heart-to-heart (that we don’t see, alas). As Kooan approaches the doors for his final exit, he impulsively turns around and half-screams a triumphant “Make it work!” It’s like watching a flamboyant, Japanese, afro-wigged Richard Nixon prepare to board Marine One for the last time.
With a mere 24 minutes of airtime having been expended on this cavalcade of twists, “Women On The Go” cannot hope to sustain the pace for the remaining hour. There was more intrigue and excitement in the first few acts of tonight’s episode than there was in the entirety of season nine, if you exclude that one part where Bert fell down and Heidi laughed at the fact that he might have died. Still, even if this challenge is the zillionth “woman on the go” task in Runway history, it provides plenty of amusing morsels.
Like the back-stories, for instance. The designers all attempt to construct little stories for their garments. Fabio explains during Tim’s visit that his too-short, shabby-looking dress is designed for a woman who’s “on a day off.” Clever! Fashion for the woman who won’t be seen. Gunnar’s grand concept for his woman is, “She loves fashion, but she works in an OFFICE every day.” He says the word “office” as if he’s saying “rainbow fish tank on the moon.”
On his way out, Tim remarks, “I have never been more excited”—here he catches himself, realizing that his hyperbole is about to range beyond the realm of plausibility—“…about what you are doing. As season 10 designers.” He wants to be real sure everyone knows that he is describing his excitement level only in relation to the people in this room at this very moment. And in purely relative terms.
When Christopher returns to Parsons the next morning, he undertakes the quixotic enterprise of saving Buffi from herself. Perhaps having contributed to the implosion of one mediocrity, he feels the need to provide salvation for another. The back-story for Buffi’s garment appears to be “a Little Debbie Zebra Cake got caught in pink crepe paper at a little girl’s 7th birthday party,” and Christopher offers to help by providing some of his black material in lieu of Buffi’s pink. Insulted by his advances, Buffi heads to the sewing room for a loud bitch session. “My girl’s not wearing that. Uh-uh. That shit ain’t happening,” she rants. Hearing every word, Chris pokes his head around the corner and says, “Buffi.” Her head swivels up and her eyes bug out, and if you look closely, you can actually see the semi-transparent spirit Buffi starting to make its way out of her body as she practically dies of shock.
Little Debbie recovers nicely, though. After Chris apologizes, Buffi becomes the picture of good cheer! “No, babe! Don’t be sorry! You really helped me. To have to defend myself like this is awesome!” I know it reads sarcastic when you see the words on the page, and frankly, “To have to defend myself like this is awesome” would indeed be a pretty great “Fuck you.” But Buffi really sells it. She even reiterates the “it made me even stronger” B.S. in a testimonial, in an effort to convince the home audience of her earnestness. She may not be able to sew worth a damn, but she can at least think on her feet.
Only one designer in Project Runway has managed to make any waves after being brought back after elimination, and Raul, who was hastily retrieved in the wake of Andrea’s resignation, is not likely to follow in Chris March’s footsteps. (There was no indication of a replacement for Kooan, probably because if things kept up the way they’ve been going, they’d have to start dipping into losers of earlier seasons. The producers were on the verge of pulling the “that one guy who was really proud of wearing a hat” card out of their Rolodex.) At the last model fitting, we see that Raul has crafted pants with a waist that’s four inches too short for his model. Given the proportions of your average Project Runway model, this means that Raul was apparently making clothes for a banister, or perhaps a light-duty flagpole. He “rescues” the garment by sewing sloppy “leather angles” into the pants. The saddest part is that these aren’t even the most unattractive “leather angles” in Raul’s design.
We finally arrive at the runway show. Heidi is absolutely smoking in a leopard print dress, her best look of the season. Will she ever age? The guest judges are Hayden Panettiere and Rachel Roy, both of whom comport themselves quite well. (Roy is downright excellent.)
Lots of decent work on tonight’s runway, but not much of it is memorable. Nathan makes a serviceable mustard dress. “At least I can look at that garment and know I’m not going home this week,” he says. Nathan’s shooting for the “Participant” trophy. Aim high, my friend.
On the top of the heap are Sonjia, Christopher, and Dmitri. Bottom three: Raul, Buffi, and Fabio. That means Ven has to wait backstage with the other merely average designers, and he seems none too pleased about it, wallowing in self-pity from the moment Heidi calls his name for the “safe” group. In the lounge, Melissa frets over Buffi’s plight, saying that it would be “so sad to lose another roommate!” Ven shifts his eyebrows and licks his lips. That’s the right response to emulate sympathy, right? He reminds himself to study his human-facial-expression phrasebook tonight.
With little doubt over who’s going home tonight, all the runway tension revolves around who will be declared the winner. Sonjia’s gray dress has touches of drama—she gathers the fabric artfully near the shoulder and the waist without making it appear bunchy—but it’s also down-to-earth. Rachel Roy notes that there’s a cute little “peekaboo” hole near the model’s upper arm that will show more clearly after the dress has been washed once or twice. It’s an astute observation; she’s really wrecking the curve for the other Runway guest judges.
Like Sonjia, Dmitri receives praise for a dress that succeeds in being gentle enough for daytime wear, but he gets a few demerits for being too timid. And yeah, the craftsmanship on Dmitri’s gray dress, with its tasteful weaving across the chest, is impressive; the dress just lacks a spark. “I wish you took the idea and just went one step further, like with the shoulders,” says Panettiere. So there’s your note, Dmitri: shoulders. You can fill in the rest of the blanks. As for Christopher, the judges love his leather jacket and are fond of the black dress underneath. Flowing black garments are notoriously hard to judge on the TV screen—Michael Costello made a Project Runway career out of black clothes that looked like crap to the home viewer—and I think that phenomenon may apply to Christopher’s dress here. I guess it’s fine, but to me it looks like a slimmed-down version of that oil-slick monster that killed Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Of course, even a sentient pile of black goo is preferable to Buffi’s pink crystalline entity. Buffi may have been able to deliver her “Your criticism really helped me!” lines with a straight face, but this outfit defies her powers of persuasion. “Throughout the day, you could kind of dress it up differently, um, to create a more glamorous look.” Buffi claims this water-to-wine miracle could be achieved by adjusting the belt, but as Buffi fiddles with it, the belt’s like, “Leave me out of this.” Panettiere wishes that the garment were stronger around the shoulders, because she herself has broad shoulders and okay, Hayden, we get it with the shoulders already. Bodies have other parts, too, for pete’s sake.
While most of the judges are content to simply pity Buffi, Nina goes in for the kill. “You rely on this shape”—she is charitably referring to the pink sneeze as a shape—“to cover up the fact that your technical skills are not there.” Buffi says that a cover-up isn’t what she intended. Nina slides in the dagger: “Well, then, that’s even more tragic.” Nice try, Buffi. You may be able to talk your way around meek, sad-eyed Christopher, but Nina’s eyes are not even eyes at all, but rather tiny, bottomless furnaces where hope goes to die. There is no escape.
Loath to let Rachel Roy outshine her in the critique, Heidi has some sharp observations of her own. Fabio’s final design actually seems not-awful to me until I hear Heidi say that “it looks like it shrunk on her body.” She’s right. It’s bizarre, though, that Fabio comes under heavier fire than Raul, who has produced the leisure suit-pantsuit hybrid the world never knew it wanted, because it didn’t. The lapels of his horrid jacket have enough leather to reupholster a Ford Explorer, yet Kors is convinced that Raul “saved it” by removing the belt from his garment during the critique. I have no idea what the ochre oracle of sportswear is looking at, but without the benefit of his divine vision, I can’t see it.
Once the designers are backstage, a minor argument breaks out among the judges, who disagree over the winner. It’s a pretty civil chat, though. The kibitzing segment is mostly entertaining for its ample Kors lunacy. On the topic of Fabio, he sputters, “You would never, ever even wake up for it, other than the fabric!” in a tone that goes beyond nasal. I think he’s talking out of his forehead. He goes on to say that fashion is “like playing cards—you have to be able to say this isn’t working.” Which conjures the delightful picture of Michael Kors in a poker game at a Wild West saloon, laying down his cards and saying, “Fellas, this just isn’t working for me.”
Winner’s honors go to Sonjia, quite rightly. Buffi is out. As she waits for Tim to come in and read her last rites, Buffi decides to hide behind the couch. “Did Buffi already leave?” Tim says. She pops out and surprises him. Oh, ha-ha, she played a trick. Tim forces a smile, but he has just about had it with everybody’s tricks for one episode. He longs for the days when he was a teacher instead of the world’s most stylish camp counselor. So ends a Project Runway episode for the ages.
Let’s not forget, though, about this episode’s lingering mysteries. WHO was responsible for Andrea’s strange midnight departure? WHO prompted such a sudden change in Kooan’s disposition? WHO would nurse such a grudge against Project Runway contestants? In fact, the answer is already before you, should you dare to see it. If you look first in these very paragraphs, the truth will reveal itself. Who, indeed.
- Michael Kors provides the technical fashion name for the lapels on Raul’s jacket: “Vampyra points.”
- Kors: “This challenge was about how women have to deal with being dressed every day.” Christopher: “All day!” So, wait, women remain dressed all day? That does sound awful. I don’t know what I would do if I had to write these reviews while wearing pants.
- In the comments a couple weeks ago, someone compared Ven to the Elcor aliens from the Mass Effect, a race so affectless that they must precede every sentence with a statement of their emotion in order to be understood. I think of this pretty much every time Ven appears on screen now; it cracks me up. Watch this and tell me you don’t see the resemblance. I’m too tired to look up the name of this heroic commenter, but sir or madam, I salute you. (Edit: It was Mattman Begins.)
- Christopher on Fabio’s model and her very short dress: “I see her fish whistle from here.” Is this actual slang?