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TV Recap: Project Runway Season 5 Finale, Part I

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And here it is… the Finale. This year, there were four final contestants instead of three. The judges just could not send Kenley home…er, I mean, Jerell won the last challenge so they could not send him home. There was no clear winner in the season’s final challenge, all were equally mediocre. So all four were asked to present a complete collection to the judges. Of those four, three will be chosen to actually compete at Bryant Park during New York’s Fashion Week.

Of course, by now we all know the truth. Because it was just past mid-season when Fashion Week occurred, in order to keep the suspense going as to the actual finalists, not four, not five, but six designers were allowed to show a collection at Bryant Park. Suede and Joe were eliminated by the time Fashion Week occurred in real time, but in TV time, the episodes in which they were sent home had not aired yet. And although only three of the remaining four were vying for the season’s big prize, the fourth also showed. Who was the fourth? Well, we’ll find out at the end of this episode. Based upon the collections they bring to New York at the end of two months and $8000, three will stay in the running and one will be cast onto the scrap heap.

As part one of the season five finale begins, the four exhausted-looking designers have just heard that they will each be allowed to make a collection. They seem passive (almost catatonic) until Heidi tells them they will also be expected to design a wedding dress as part of their collection. Korto groans in her vlog about it: “I thought we were finally gonna be freee,” she says. Perhaps she is assuming that wedding dress will figure in some sort of final challenge. Who can forget the infamous “thirteenth piece” challenge sprung on the finalists in season two? After Heidi lays out the parameters for their upcoming work, Tim Gunn escorts her off the runway. “Let’s walk into the sunset,” Heidi says, which reminds me of an old Hollywood film. More accurately, they’re walking into the Lifetime Network, but that doesn’t sound nearly as sentimental.

As Kenley Collins tows (hee) her large suitcase out of the Atlas apartment building, the other three designers ignore her completely. She doesn’t seem to bat an eye as she tugs (hee) her luggage past them in the lobby. The three other finalists do seem a bit schoolyard as they pull faces and snicker about her. However, Korto also has a point when she describes Kenley’s past behavior: “Rude as hell.” Since the verbal sparring of the last episode, it seems like whenever these three huddle they’re planning a meeting of the “He-Man Kenley Haters Club.” They all leave for home — to build their clubhouse. No, not really. To design the club T-shirt. No, not really. To create and construct their competing fashion collections. And Kenley tows her luggage behind her all the way to Brooklyn, bemoaning her outcast status.

Now for the “home visit” segments. These are the segments I anticipate each season with the most curiosity. What are the designers’ home studios like? Their environment? Their families or friends? Tim approaches Korto’s door first. They hug. Tim inquires about Korto’s workspace. Korto rents a workspace in some type of city-owned preserve called “Park on the River.” There are woods all around. She will later tell Tim her collection was inspired by the colors of the forest. Many of her dresses are “vivid green,” some are shades of yellow. One of her fabrics is snakeskin since a lot of serpents roam the woods. Continuing from phallic symbols to, well, their opposite, we’re shown a closeup of an elliptical shape sewn on the crotch area of a gown. “This gets a little sexual… I don’t want a snapshot,” Tim contends. Let’s hope not! I wonder if Korto will adjust that part of the gown by showtime. It does seem a bit crude and literal.

Korto shows Tim the assigned wedding dress. Tim’s basic response is that it isn’t wedding-y enough. It looks like a pale gold evening gown. Fashion feedback over, Tim and Korto return to Korto’s home to meet her family. They enter a small white house. Korto’s husband and daughter greet Tim at the door. Korto’s daughter is adorable, and four. Her name is Elyse. “You look like a princess!” Tim tells her. Tim meets an array of Korto’s family and friends, and is treated to a feast. An assortment of hors d’oeuvres are laid out on a groaning table. Korto also plans to entertain Tim; she kicks off her shoes, and joins a second person to play a traditional African drum song. As this song plays, we at home see photos of Korto’s early years and hear about her family’s exodus from Liberia. If they had not fled, her father faced execution. They arrived in America with nothing. Korto’s voice wells with emotion as she says she wants her daughter to know anything is possible, and that her own parents are proud of her whether she wins the final prize or not. “Just going to Fashion Week” is already quite an achievement. “They’re happy that I never gave up,” Korto concludes.

Next, Tim visits Leanne in Portland, Oregon. From Korto’s big circle of family and friends and awesome hospitality, we’re shown a quiet apartment with just Leanne and her boyfriend Nathan. We aren’t shown any food being offered, or any music. Leanne shows Tim her collection. In keeping with Leanne’s quick work pace during the show, the Leannimal’s collection looks finished. She has constructed an array of dresses and skirts in white and turquoise. Each piece features some sort of pleating. The pleating reminds me of one of those tissue paper centerpieces that is constructed of circular folds. One unfolds those into a three dimensional circular shape. As that happens, one sees the construction of the pleating. Leanne’s construction makes the pleats fall or lie flat based upon their movement. Tim finds the work “beautiful.” It is unusual. Leanne tells Tim she was inspired by “waves.”

Tim asks to see Leanne’s assigned wedding dress. He likes it, but judges it not to have the same “ease and flow” of the other garments. The gown is pure white, and in its case, the pleating sections seem to be stuck on. The shape of the gown is a traditional strapless A line gown. The pleats do not seem harmonious. Leanne frowns and invites Tim on a bike ride. A bike ride? Tim seems a bit nervous as he says he should check his insurance. Outside, Leanne puts Tim on the back of a tandem bicycle (‘bicycle built for two’) and the image is so scary and unexpected – yet oddly pleasant – that I had to write a ditty.

Tim Gunn’s Review (sung to the tune of “Bicycle Built for Two”)

Tim Gunn, Tim Gunn
Give me your feedback, do.
Use big words, like effusive and imbue.
Our ride upon a tandem
Might seem a little random;
But, if you’re sweet, and like my pleats,
I won’t put you in the canoe.

They pedal down a Portland street, Tim in his blue helmet. What will they ask of him next? At some point, Leanne pulls over and treats Tim to a seat on the ground. The isolated wooded setting is a bit creepy. Gentleman Tim is far too genteel to complain, but I will: Nice hosting, Leanne! As the two chat, we at home are shown photos of Leannimal when she was still just a pup. She says she was “always drawing” and loved to draw dresses. She designed her own dance costumes as a child. Tim thanks Leanne for letting him “experience Portland like this” and takes his leave, presumably to check for tick bites. Lyme disease, Leannimal. Bull’s eye rashes so do not match a nice pinstripe.

I hope Bravo put Tim up at the Four Seasons to make up for this, as he visited Jerell in L.A. Jerell shows the wedding dress first. As with Jerell’s final challenge garment, he’s made a little satin jewel box. Tim doesn’t seem to like it; he swats at the jutting top of the bodice. “This looked like it just popped out,” he says with a hint of disdain. It does look a bit like a Jiffy Pop pan when it’s about to burst. It doesn’t seem horrible or anything but it does seem out of balance with the swooping drape of the skirt. Next, Jerell shows Tim a shiny gold and black skirt outfit with long netting over it. The netting is suggestive of chain mail. Tim suggests Jerell edit it. “You want this to be believable,” he offers. “Can I still meet your family and friends?” Tim pleads jokingly. “Definitely!” laughs Jerell. Next, we see them knock on an apartment door. Several people wait in the living room. Tim meets Jerell’s mother and sister among others.

Jerell’s mother says he was always creative. He tells Tim he cut tube socks up as a child, to make Barbie dresses. Jerell grew up in South Central L.A., two blocks from the flashpoint of the 1994 L.A. riots. After that, he says, his parents decided the family should get out of there. Jerell chokes up as he talks about missing his father, who was always away because he worked as a long distance truck driver. As Jerell talks about the way his parents have inspired him to take risks and be confident, Tim appears to be moved; his face reddens, and his eyes well with tears. Jerell’s mother says she is very proud of her son.

I hope Tim didn’t have to drive that Saturn 3,000 miles. Someone offer this man a private jet! Kenley Collins’ home is the last stop on Tim Gunn Tour ’08. Tim, please, leave some bread crumbs behind you as you go! And if she asks to feel your finger, stick out a chicken bone. Tim knocks on Kenley Collins’ door. Kenley, rested from her fresh feasting upon tired souls, er I mean, by the solitude and silence away from the rooms full of strangers, greets Tim with a double air kiss. Her apartment is nice and tidy, with wood floors. It’s a fair size for a young person’s apartment, Brooklyn isn’t cheap these days. There’s a black and white photo of a young woman in 1940s attire on the wall. Is it Kenley? No, it’s her grandmother — “she was a calendar girl,” Kenley says. Next, we see photos of the two from Kenley’s childhood. Kenley says that her grandmother recently died and would be very proud if she could see what Kenley was doing.

Kenley shows Tim her collection. She says she was inspired to paint directly onto the fabric by Alice in Wonderland. I had a feeling Kenley was enamored of that book ever since that ‘avant garde’ garment which was suggestive of the Queen of Hearts. In part of the story, the Queen of Hearts has people paint white roses red. That notion is what has inspired Kenley’s collection. She has stuck with her preferred vivid, jewel-tone prints, but this time she has designed them herself, painted directly onto silk. “Fab!” Tim enthuses. Tim isn’t as keen on the green ropes Kenley has wound around one dress at the collar. “I’m into ropes! My father was a tugboat captain!” Kenley protests. Oh, Kenley. Save it for therapy!

Kenley’s wedding dress assignment has been fulfilled as a feathery 1950s tea length dress suggestive of a tutu from Swan Lake. It’s gorgeous, and constructed beautifully. Kenley seems thrilled with Tim’s positive reaction to her collection. Other than the rope collar on one dress, which reminded him of a hanging victim, he loved everything. Kenley cries with relief. The two air-kiss goodbye. It is a bit poignant that of all the finalists, Kenley had no visitors while Tim was there. There was also no socialising and no breaking of bread (that we saw). Chalk it up to life on a tugboat, I guess. Tim seems to have enjoyed the visit, however, and Kenley was pleasant toward him. Phew. Now — run, Tim, run!

Now the four designers arrive in New York City to prepare for Fashion Week. They will share a large suite at the Westin Hotel. Korto is the first to arrive. Leanne is second in. They agree to room together because neither wants to room with Kenley. Leanne moves her luggage into the room “to mark her territory.” Korto advises her to “pee on it.” What, is this Leannimal not house trained? Jerell arrives next. It’s strange Kenley will be last in, since she’s the only one who actually lives in NYC. Korto and Leanne whisper an apology to him that he will be rooming with Kenley. Korto promises to check on him “now and then to make sure you have a pulse.” The two giggle over that.

Speak of the devil woman and she appears? Kenley strides in, dressed in black, looking thin and chic. Her pale skin, red lipstick, and rather prominent natural fangs lend a suggestion of vampire, though. She tugs a suitcase behind her. There’s a bit of tension in the air. Jerell points out where Kenley will be sleeping. Suddenly, Kenley apologizes to the three “for being a bitch.” The three seem surprised but accept this peace offering. How contrite is Kenley? “It’s not worth it to be angry at people I’m never even gonna see again,” her vlog self says. In other words, they don’t matter. I wonder if, also, now that Kenley’s had her alone time and gotten her feathers smooth, she simply doesn’t want any distractions from her work in these crucial few days. “I’m not thinking about them at all; I’m thinking about Bryant Park,” she sums up in her vlog.

Room service wheels in a cart filled with bottles of champagne. There’s enough for a party, let alone four people. Shows like Jerry Springer reportedly keep the booze flowing backstage, so guests’ inhibitions drop onstage. I wonder if the show had a similar plan? Regardless, the four designers sip champagne and there isn’t a drop of drama to be had. Drat.

Five days before the runway show, the fantastic four set up their workspaces inside the Bluefly.com studio. Tim comes in, and congratulates them all but reminds them only three will compete. How will the three be chosen? “One more challenge,” Tim says. They will each have to design a bridesmaid dress to accompany the bridal gown they’ve already made. Their budget will be $150. At Mood, Korto buys some pale gold fabric. Kenley’s drawn to some dark blue. Leanne chooses turquoise and a pale gold. Tim is concerned about Jerell’s choice — a possibly “dark and somber” blue-grey. A lot of weddings in L.A. have dark bridesmaid gowns, especially evening weddings. Some even dress their bridesmaids in black. Still, it’s never wise to ignore the point of the Gunn. Tim leaves them all at the work studio with a “make it work.” They have until midnight to finish these new garments.

Kenley and Korto snipe at each other a bit but with big smiles and a little laughter. Korto vlogs that she won’t get angry at Kenley as long as “old Kenley” doesn’t visit. Shown Jerell’s work in progress, a strapless teal gown with a gold sash and sprig of silk flowers, Korto looks unimpressed. Jerell reasons that all bridesmaids’ dresses are ugly, so this dress doesn’t matter. It’s a strange, casual attitude to take since one designer will go home the next morning. Korto is making a dress very similar to her wedding dress. She believes bridesmaids should look just as pretty as the bride. “There’s nothing wrong with bridesmaids being cute, ladies,” she scolds us all via vlog clip. Maybe, but then 27 Dresses would never have existed, and we can’t have that on our culture’s conscience, can we?

And now…sniff…it is the last Tim Time of the season. The last Tim Time on Bravo, ever. Forget Bryant Park. It’s this scene I want to be marked for posterity. Where’s the "Pomp and Circumstance"? As Linda Loman put it, “Attention must be paid! Attention must, finally, be paid!” Okay, I’m alright now. (Ooh, did that equate Tim Gunn with Willy Loman? Sorry, Tim. Still, the sentiment was authentic.)

And now we are also treated to what is (hopefully) Kenley’s final whine fit of the season. Tim responds positively to Kenley’s already constructed “pleated bubble skirt” and idea for a boat neck bodice. He merely points out that she seems ambivalent. She immediately seems to interpret that as a criticism. And the whining begins. Tim praises her ideas heartily, Kenley’s smile returns, and he walks away with a “carry on.”

Tim looks at Jerell’s 'sample sale at JoAnne’s Fabric' creation, and worries. “Because this is the Olympics, someone’s going to lose by a thousandth of a second,” Tim points out, noticing the puckering. “It looks sloppy,” Tim sums up bluntly. Jerell seems way too relaxed. He picks up a skein of ivory yarn and describes a notion to sew it onto the dress. “Ohhh,” is all Tim can say. As to the sprig of silk flowers running vertically up the bodice, Tim advises Jerell to make the attachment invisible, as if it’s “growing out of the dress.” Tim concludes, “Don’t fight with Mother Nature.” Jerell quips, “Or Nina Garcia!” If the fashion thing for some reason didn’t work out, Jerell might have a second career as a comedian.

Leanne is assembling a turquoise, pastel bridesmaid dress with a small array of wavy pleats on the bodice. Tim walks past it, having noticed the changes she’s made in her bridal gown. He says that in its original form, “It was a masterful technical piece, but it wasn’t making music. Now, it’s making music.” The hemline of the bridesmaid dress is flowing a foot or two onto the floor. Tim asks her to bring serious thought to the length. She says she will make it short; “that’ll be cute,” Tim affirms.

Korto holds up her bridesmaid gown at her work station. It looks almost like the wedding dress — same fabric, color, skirt. Only the necklines are different. “I see two wedding dresses,” Tim says, perplexed. Since Korto has one fabric and can’t return to Mood, I’m not sure what she can do about it at this point. As Tim walks away, Korto stares at the gown studiously. Tim pauses by the door to the workroom and now his voice cracks. He tells them that it’s vitally important they each be able to stand by their work on the runway the next morning and defend it. Then, he becomes verklempt.

“I care deeply about each of you, and I don’t want to see any of you not move forward. You’ve worked so hard…” and here, Tim takes a deep breath. “I believe in you,” he concludes. Leanne smiles at him softly. Tim apologizes for his emotion, explaining, “I can’t help myself. I really…really care about you.” It’s wonderful when a teacher feels this way about his proteges. Tim tells them all to work hard and he will see them in the morning. Leannimal wipes a tear from her eyes. Kenley smiles at Tim. Korto wipes a tear away also. Tim still seems shaken as he leaves. “I love you,” he says, his back to them all. It seemed an impromptu speech, and was moving to witness even at home. This divine educator just seems so open and humble. Attention must be paid, indeed. Sincerity and decency are a rare thing to find, especially in a reality TV setting.

Sadly… how soon they all forget. The next morning, as Tim is telling the final four he’s sending in their models, he has to inquire, “Is anyone listening to me?” None of them had even looked up from their work. No one had so much as offered a hug the night before, either. Maybe when they are older they might realize people like this don’t come along often. The models come in for their fittings, and Kenley whines in her vlog about Korto and Leanne shortening their garments. She thinks they’ve copied hers.

On the runway, Heidi introduces Michael Kors and Neena Gah-see-ah. No guest judge today. The show begins. Jerell’s wedding gown comes out; she has a potted plant on her head. Or so it appears. He hasn’t listened to Tim’s concern about the bodice. The dress looks like a silk meringue that’s melting. Someone left this cake out in the rain. Heidi’s expression is priceless. She looks afraid and hypnotised at the same time. Nina stares at the gown as it leaves, as if it might bite her. His bridesmaid gown looks the same as it did in the workroom, the sprig just lain onto the front of it. Jerell loves it, though.

Kenley’s bridal gown is out next. It really is gorgeous, with a full tulle skirt that somehow moves as if made of air. The dress is strapless, with a feathered bodice and feathery skirt covering the tulle about halfway. There is also a matching hat to this ivory-colored confection. The hat is suggestive of the 1940s (what else?) and is adorable. Topacio models it perfectly, even blowing a kiss in a demi-curtsy at the end of the runway. The bridesmaid’s dress is simple, but the bubble skirt and sheer panel in the squared-off bodice set it off a bit. In the runway lights the fabric appears almost a subdued cobalt blue.

Korto’s bride walks down the runway holding what looks like dried leaves. Or a large cornstalk that died. The dress isn’t bad, just seems a bit overdone; there are tucked ruffles along the neckline, a puffed skirt below a fitted hipline, and a low back with ruffled straps. The bridesmaid dress seems almost like a sundress. It is very casual and summery. It’s simply too simple, a short A line halter dress with a V neck. Small tucks along the neckline are visible in closeup.

Leanne’s wedding gown puts an original twist on the classic “wedding meringue.” It has a fixed, heart shaped bodice, and two bubble shapes comprising the skirt. Within each of those shapes are multiple swingy pleats in that ‘wave’ outline Leanne is so fond of. At the end of the runway, Tia twirls, and the skirt fans out and back again. Nina simply watches somberly. Leanne’s bridesmaid dress follows Tia and it looks sea-green in this lighting. It’s fairly simple, a chalk sketch of the more complex wave design in Leanne’s collection.

Now the judges critique the designs. Kors loves Leanne’s wedding gown: “Chic, beautifully crafted… I knew it was yours.” Nina loves the fabric. She thinks the gown is “modern, dreamy, but it’s you.” Nina calls the bridesmaid dress “absolutely beautiful.” Heidi asks Leanne how these two dresses relate to the rest of the collection. Leanne replies her collection was inspired by waves; also the colors on stage are the same as the other pieces in her collection. Heidi raves about both garments. Kenley winces.

Michael Kors likes Jerell’s wedding gown “from the Empire waistline down” but not the “wings over her boobs, the jeweled boobs, plus, jewels under her boobs,” etc. He also dislikes the “flower pot growing out of her head.” Jerell is surprised when Kors calls all this “garish” though. Heidi thinks the gown is messy and the bridesmaid dress is “mumsy.” Nina dislikes the grey tulle in Jerell’s wedding gown; she tells him he didn’t put enough thought into it. That makes Jerell sad. Heidi asks him why he should go to Fashion Week; he makes a brief but valiant speech.

As for Kenley, Kors calls her on an Alexander McQueen influence. Kenley hotly denies even knowing who Alexander McQueen is. No, kidding; she just says she didn’t copy him. “Dead ringer, just walked the runway,” Nina agrees. They both love it anyway. “Romantic but not syrupy,” he says. Heidi calls it “crazy good” and says she can picture Kenley wearing it on her wedding day. “I will!” Kenley says, “I love you!” Leanne looks like she is about to hurl. Heidi also loves the bridesmaid dress Kenley made.

Heidi dislikes Korto’s wedding gown; she wouldn’t want to wear it. The judges all think the wedding gown is overworked and the bridesmaid dress is underworked. They also think the two looks do not go together. Asked why she should go to Bryant Park, Korto says she has a different point of view, a different culture, and would love to show that. Privately, the judges reiterate their previous comments; loved Leanne, liked Kenley a lot. “Kooky yet meticulous,” Kors says. Nina thinks Kenley would put on a great show. “Overkill” is their summation of Korto’s wedding gown, “boring” their judgment of her bridesmaid. “Overwrought” sums up Jerell’s wedding gown. Nina says, “All he does is embellish.” Decisions made, they call the final four back onto the runway.

Without embellishments, Heidi announces simply that Leanne and Kenley will compete at Fashion Week. “You’re in.” With huge smiles, both leave and hug backstage. Korto looks sad as Heidi tells her what they disliked about her dresses. Jerell is stoic, his expression nearly stating, “Just out with it.” Korto presses her mouth together tightly as her name is called, and lets her head fall as the announcement comes: “You’re in.” She thanks them in a tiny voice, and hugs Jerell. “Rock your wedding dress out,” he tells Korto, and does his elfin dance. Backstage, Korto hugs Leanne. Jerell exits the runway and the show with a quick “thank you” and that double air kiss. Nina and Michael don’t even smile at him.

“Tear it up, girls!” Jerell hugs the final three backstage. He vlogs that “adorned opulent bits” are what he’s all about. “If you want a basic white T, get one from Michael Kors,” he vlogs. Oh, ouch. No, you di’n’t! Jerell gets a paternal hug and kiss on the forehead from Mr. Gunn. Jerell bids everyone a chipper farewell. He makes his exit without drama. His final vlog vows to “leave a legacy that will inspire people.” But you already have, Jerell. You already have. Stay positive, stay opulent, and teach us all that bouncy elfin dance.

Next episode: Model drama, Leanne comparing something to Holly Hobbie (hee — who would do such a thing?). Kenley whining; she’s been given the Jeffrey Sebelia “love to hate them” edit – I wouldn’t be shocked if she actually wins this thing. Oh, and the actual Bryant Park runway show. Woohoo. Finale, everybody! See you then.

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