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TV Recap: Project Runway Season 5 Finale, Part II

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Three days before the Bryant Park runway show, Korto Momolu, one of the final three, says her “heart breaks” for her “Jerelly.” Jerell Scott was sent packing in the previous episode which means that three women will compete for the Grand Prize — a first in Project Runway history. Leanne Marshall takes note of this precedent in her vlog: “It’s pretty awesome.” And yes, it is! It’s almost like they were… super women. What would their super hero powers be, I wonder? Meanwhile, at the Westin, the three wearily wash their faces, dress, and leave for a busy day of sewing.

Tim Gunn enters the Bluefly.com workspace and announces that he’s very proud of them all; they will cull their collections down to ten ‘looks’; and they must leave right away to cast models for their shows. “I’m leaving and so are you!” he calls out saucily. In a big, empty room, the finalists sit with “model casting director” John Pfeiffer. A diverse group of models parade before them. Korto wants models with lots of hair; she has a vision for their hairstyles: “Big Asian buns.” Kenley tugs at a model’s headshot trying to wrest it away from Leanne, who wants “alien looking girls.” Soon, models are cast and it’s time to return to Bluefly.com to show their collections to Tim.

Kenley’s viewing is first. She shows Tim a fitted strapless cocktail dress. The print is purple on white, with wavy lines suggestive of a zebra print. There is a Technicolor wad of fabric stuck to one side of the skirt. A large dark rope serves as the border between the two unrelated fabrics. It looks as if some sort of explosion happened along the side of the skirt and the skirt gave up. Tim stares perplexed at the creation.

As Tim shares his reaction, Kenley’s facial expression telegraphs, “Who asked you?” Bravo did, Kenley hon, that’s who. Tim is wondering aloud, “Why is there a rope at all? It looks arbitrary. It looks contrived.” Kenley curtly informs Tim she disagrees. “Alright, alright,” he gives in quickly. “I like the rope so I’m leaving it,” Kenley whines in her vlog, obviously ticked.

Still trying to help the helpless, Tim asks which look her “signature model” will be wearing. Kenley says Topacio will model the wedding dress. Tim hints to her that the judges have already seen that. “Yeh, and they loved it,” Miss Humility utters. “Was that your interpretation from yesterday?” Tim hints again. “Yes, wasn’t it yours?” Kenley asks him and seems shocked to hear “no.” Tim begins to explain. He thinks they liked her “execution” but… “But they called me a knockoff?” Kenley interrupts, ready to rumble. “They’ve done that to me four times already!” Because it isn’t enough to second-guess Tim Gunn to his face; by all means, blame the judges as well. “I’m sick of it! It’s insulting!” Kenley continues.

Tim walks away, subtly raising an eyebrow. He tells her her decision is her responsibility. Behind his back, Kenley makes a face and rolls her eyes. Tim reaches Korto’s work table. Korto has decided to remove her bridesmaid dress, but wants to keep the wedding dress. However, she and Tim recall Heidi’s distaste for it. Tim tells her to think about it. Leanne is having trouble deciding which piece to edit out. She says her least favorite piece is still unfinished. That seems like two reasons to jettison it. However, the outfit is also the only pair of pants in her collection. Tim encourages its inclusion.

Kenley informs Tim she will put the wedding dress last in the runway show after all. She’ll put Topacio in something else. Tim blows her a kiss. The importance is because each designer’s “signature model” will be the one standing before the judges with them after the shows. So whichever garment that model wears on the runway will be the piece judges consider during their final deliberations. It could matter little, or it could be the thing that pushes someone to or from the win. Korto makes a decision, too: She will create two new looks for her runway show. From scratch. “I don’t want to go home thinking woulda coulda shoulda” she explains.

The three women go to Parsons to consult with L’Oreal makeup artist Collier Strong. Korto tells him her palette was inspired by nature. Collier plans ‘earth tones’ for the models’ makeup. Kenley asks Collier for “cherry red, almost pink lips” and vlogs that she wants a “really fresh” look for her show. Leanne breaks out the W word once more, telling Collier “my inspiration was waves.” She wants a modern look. All three like what Collier comes up with for their models. The designers also confer with Tresemme for hair styles; the women are happy with the plans.

After the final model fittings, Tim returns to the Bluefly.com space and tells the three women they will show in this order: Kenley, Korto, Leanne. Then, he gives them a pep talk. “You are going to Bryant Park. You’re going to be on the biggest fashion stage in the world. I am just so incredibly proud. Whatever the outcome is tomorrow, the outcome is.” And — group hug! Tim asks them for one and they rush in, giggling. It’s nice that they ended the ‘night before the show’ on such an up note. Thanks to the indomitable style of Tim Gunn, of course.

The next morning, we see the three women brushing their hair and such as they prepare to leave their Westin suite for Bryant Park. Kenley narrates that this is the biggest day of her life. She also adds that last year, she snuck into the tent and was “kicked out right away.” Leanne tells Korto she has waited for this moment a long time. Korto says this is like a coming out ceremony. She narrates that she deserves to win and what she does is different than the others. The three actually walk from the Westin to the tent – it doesn’t even look like it’s daylight yet. At Bryant Park they marvel at the length of the runway.

Kenley has a long, tearful vlog speech now about how her parents haven’t been part of her life for the past three years. She doesn’t say why, though. She says her dad has been a big influence in her life. She doesn’t say why, though. “He’s gonna be proud as hell, though. He’s gonna love it,” she confides to the TV audience. Say “tugboat,” Kenley. Say “tugboat!”

Two hours before the show, Kenley is hand-steaming her creations. Leanne discovers that the top she was going to put Tia in has mysteriously grown three sizes like the Grinch’s heart. She and Tia are baffled; Tia cries. What could have caused this anomaly? Two words, Leanne. Steam and machine. Although, I’m not pointing any fingers…

The producers have supplied the finalists with a small team of students to help with last-minute emergencies and necessities backstage. ‘It’s about time,’ is my first reaction, and my second kinder reaction is, ‘What a good idea.’ Korto gratefully puts them to work; Kenley doesn’t want their help. “They don’t know how to iron painted fabric; no one touches my clothes,” she vlogs. I can’t really blame her for being nervous about new pairs of hands.

An hour before the show, the seats are filling inside that tent. We see past contestants. We see Fern Malick and Christian Siriano greeting actress Michelle Trachtenberg. And Magic Mirror sees…Uncle Nick! And Daniel and Wesley! The tent is packed and conversations seem lively. Kenley is torturing model Topacio backstage with her Victorian-style corset pulling. The zipper won’t go up. “Suck it up!” Kenley orders. Topacio handles it with a smile. The model couldn’t possibly be thinner, so that seems a tailoring problem. The zipper finally moves and everyone’s relieved. As for the mysteriously loosened garment Leanne discovered just before runway, she’s switched things around, putting that on a slightly larger-framed model. A “make it work” moment for both designers.

Since 2008 is a Presidential election year, the outside of Bryant Park is festooned with red, white, and blue banners. Only these say “Vote for Fashion.” Good to have one’s priorities straight. And I’m only barely being facetious. Inside the tent, Heidi Klum – clad entirely in black – appears on the runway to huge cheers. She introduces Nina and Michael, and then has to explain the guest judge quandary. Jennifer Lopez fell prey to a sudden “foot injury” and canceled at the very last minute. It’s been explained elsewhere that no celebrity could be found to replace her that quickly, so Tim Gunn was asked to fill in. He has said in his own blog that he agreed to do it only if they could not find anyone else; also that Heidi had to reassure him. She had faith that he, a longtime educator, could put any possible personal feelings and experiences aside and judge each collection objectively. It’s a mark of the man’s integrity that he was so concerned about fairness and how his filling in as judge might affect things. But, I think no rational person would doubt his ability to be professional and fair. They would certainly have a hard time finding anyone more qualified.

Heidi introduces Tim, who walks smiling onto the runway to huge applause. Backstage, Kenley sees this on a video monitor and spits out, “Are you kidding? Okay, maybe I should’ve improved my attitude.” No, Kenley. You should have improved your attitude because that would denote decency, maturity, professionalism, and integrity. Not because the cameras were on (not that it stopped you) and also not because the person might rise in perceived position over you one day. You should also have improved your attitude out of respect — for the man’s qualifications, history as an educator, courtesy toward you which was unfailing, and because it would’ve been the right thing to do.

Now I’ll try to take a page from the zen master’s book and put my outrage at that remark aside. It’s time for Kenley’s runway show. She steps onto the runway and as her mother snaps her photograph, Kenley says she was “inspired with painting, fantasy things, Alice in Wonderland – I made my dream wardrobe.” In the audience, Kenley’s mother nods and smiles through tears. Her father and sister are more stoic. “Enjoy!” Kenley calls out as she leaves. The show begins.

First piece down the runway is a strapless dress. It has a black bodice, thin blue sash at the waist, and a cape-like skirt. The skirt is hot pink with big black stripes. Second dress is emerald green, with long puffed sleeves, a high collar, knee length hem. It has a semi-fitted silhouette. In closeup, we see those green ropes are still wound around the poor girl’s neck. The next piece is the vivid print mini Kenley showed Tim earlier. Nothing on it has been altered. The rope is still there. By contrast to these fussy garments, the next dress, Kenley’s bridesmaid mini, looks bright and refreshing. The solid color does not compete with the design elements. Also, this shade of blue is beautiful. It doesn’t really go with the rest of the collection but could be viewed as standing out in a good way.

Harvey Weinstein nods in approval as a pink and black tutu dress walks by. The skirt is huge; it has gently tucked flounces making up a ballerina silhouette. Black tulle fills out the layers. There is a brief, strapless hot pink and black bustier atop it. The look is styled with a small top hat, which has a 1940s-style puff of netting atop it. Tamed to one or two colors, Kenley’s style comes out much more. If the silhouette is the least fussy, her bold prints seem to overwhelm. This dress is pretty. The next dress is a sleeveless black sheath with a high feathery collar. It’s unusual. But there’s that rope at the hemline.

An ivory dress with a full skirt is next. It has short sleeves and flowers are hand painted diagonally down the entire front. It too is a simple yet pretty look. It’s impossible to tell from TV viewing alone whether the hand painting is gorgeous or is “really, really amateurish” as Leanne contended, but it looks pretty from here. As embroidery or as a print it would look good also. The next dress is another sheath shape, but with puffy, ruched short sleeves, a high collar, and a Bird of Paradise floral print. It too is hand painted onto fabric. Despite the handiwork, this dress looks cheap to me. The skirt is so stolid it’s as if she skimped on fabric.

Yet another type of look is up next, as a black A line skirt hemmed to mid-thigh is paired with an emerald green short sleeved blouse. The blouse has an impressive ruffle which borders a V neck and sits up stiffly behind the model’s head like an Elizabethan ruff. It’s a bit reminiscent of Daniel Vosovic’s orchid-inspired blouse in season two, but it’s different enough. Kenley’s tea-length, ‘Swan Lake’ wedding gown is last, and the crowd applauds. I’ve already said this gown’s gorgeous; but this time I notice the shoes don’t match it at all. They’re white, not ivory; and the pseudo-Victorian boots are too casual for the elegant romance of the gown. Kenley’s models all return with Kenley for a final runway walk. As Kenley walks by, her mother reaches out and grabs her hand. Aww.

Korto appears on the runway next. She wears a sunny smile that matches her bright yellow print dress. The audience applauds warmly. She dedicates her runway show to her husband and their daughter, Elyse. “Everything I do, I do for her,” Korto says simply. “Enjoy it!” she calls out as she leaves. She adds a “Don’t I look hot?” over her shoulder. Actually, I want that dress too. It would look flattering on many body types, and I assume Korto made it. Too bad it’s not in her collection but it certainly goes well alongside it.

First up is a teal green evening gown. It has a subtle mermaid silhouette. The gown has a halter back, a high neck, and a matching necklace of chunky beads. She also fans herself with a woven teal fan. As the next dress, a gold mini, walks by, I can read Nina Garcia’s lips: “I like that.” This dress is one of the new pieces Korto sewed, and it’s beautiful. A pleated skirt, yellow belt, and gracefully puffed three-quarter sleeves. There is a softly scooped neckline adorned with a shell and wooden bead necklace. The back is a deep V shape. After that, a tightly fitted very short mini dress in vivid grass-green. The fit along the top seems a bit off. Korto’s voiceover tells us she wants people to know who she is “as an African woman” and to “appreciate it.”

A unique white pant outfit is out next. It’s shining, blazing white, with a high collar, no sleeves, flared, ‘bell’ leg pants, and a flat ruffle comprising half the bodice. A green and yellow print mini dress follows that. Its skirt moves easily; again there is a halter back, and it has a wide, bright yellow sash. The dress is reminiscent of a summer field dotted with dandelions. Korto’s revisited wedding gown is out next; for a look she sewed in the two days prior to Bryant Park it’s very good. Well, it’s very good regardless; simple and elegant. The skirt is long and full, the bodice diagonal, the fabric gold. Another vivid green mini dress follows it, this one with a thin gold snakeskin belt. Its collar is hard to describe: it stands high on the model’s neck like a coat collar turned up, but where it meets the bodice, it’s loose.

Next, in another dazzling white fabric, is a gown with a large ruffle cascading down the front. It’s yet another halter back, and it has a split skirt. The skirt portion is similar to the jettisoned wedding gown: fitted past the hips, then fuller. But this time the transition is softer. The skirt becomes fuller at the bottom, floating into a sort of train as the model walks away. A yellow full skirted mini is next; this time, there is a diagonal strap breaking up the bare halter back. A vivid green gown gets applause; another diagonal back, but this time it’s got a beaded green necklace comprising half a strap in the V neck bodice. Its long skirt is slit in front, past her thigh. Maybe it was the emotion of the event, but the model looks nearly in tears. Korto tours the runway with her models and reaches for her four-year-old as she walks by. The little girl walks the runway with her mother and the final model to the crowd’s applause.

Leanne’s out next; her speech is simple and without emotion or dedications. She simply says she loves her collection, lost “millions of hours” over it and hopes they all love it too. First out is a short, turquoise skirt paired with an eggshell blouse. The skirt is a soft bubble shape, the blouse strapless. The silhouette is tailored to show off a small waist. This is the look Tia was to have worn, until the top became mysteriously floppy and increased diameter. The audience doesn’t seem to know, though, and applauds the look. It fits this model well. The skirt’s circular pleating moves gently as she walks; the gently folded ‘wave’ of the blouse is like an abstract sculpture. This would look stunning on a woman with a small waist and beautiful shoulders.

The next garment reverses the colors: turquoise strapless bodice, eggshell poufy skirt. The poufs are made of evenly placed darts, the seams creating hollows in the fabric. The bodice has pointy tucks on top, in a bird’s wing shape. Next is the pant outfit Tim hoped Leanne might finish. The pant is a 1930s bell flare similar to the silhouette Korto used; Leanne’s is in eggshell, with a high waist. The blouse is unusual: a button-down shirt front, but only in the middle. The sides are cut out above the waistline, exposing part of the model’s midriff; there is a V neck with ‘waves’ covering the shoulder blades and tops of the model’s arms. The effect is lovely, if a bit strange. Still, I bet someone rips off that half-blouse idea before the year’s out.

A gold skirt with ‘wave pleats’ on either side is next. It is paired with a white top and white casual belt. The top has gently flounced, elbow-length sleeves, and bare shoulders. A strap connects front and back, however. The blouse is darling; the skirt reminds me of Leanne’s discarded wedding dress design that had the pleat sections seemingly stuck on top. The next look, a white bustier with gold ‘wave pleat’ skirt, receives crisp applause from the audience. The skirt moves beautifully as the model walks; the pleats bounce and shimmer like actual waves. This particular skirt’s pleats are arranged diagonally atop horizontal ‘waves’ and the construction in closeup, even on TV, is stunning.

A blinding white short outfit is next. Micro shorts are paired with a long sleeved white jacket. The jacket has a ruff collar, but what makes it different are the rounded pleats. The myriad pleats lie flat atop each other, but ruffle like wind across water as the model walks. What looks like Leanne’s seafoam-green bridesmaid dress is out next, and it’s been topped with a very short white sleeveless jacket. At the top, the jacket is gathered on one side; a small array of pleats, suggestive in formation of a sprig of flowers, adorns the opposite side. A halter back mini is out next, and by now the pleats begin to seem repetitious. Its skirt is comprised of wavy pleats, turquoise backed with white. Tia in the long strapless turquoise gown is next. The top seems a bit loose on her; understandable since it was fitted on another model. This is more of a basic evening gown, a flowing skirt slit in the front. A mere two pleats, more like layers, stretch diagonally across the hips, uniting the piece thematically to the collection.

And now, Leanne’s wedding gown – a strapless, stiff bodice suggestive of a corset. There is a turned-down tip of a petal shape just under the bustline. The skirt features two ‘bubble’ shapes atop the other, the bottom shape larger and taller than the top one. Large, swoop-shaped ‘pleats’ comprise the skirt but in their larger form they are more like rose petals. As the model walks it seems the back of the skirt threatens to trip her up. This gown is all in a soft white. Leanne and her models tour the runway together to tumultuous applause from the audience. Post show, past contestants and others are asked their opinions, which seem evenly divided among the three finalists. Asked her opinion of her own show, Kenley tells a reporter, “I think everyone who has good taste liked it.”

Back at Parsons, Heidi Klum, Michael Kors, Nina Garcia, and Tim Gunn confer without the designers present. Somehow it seems fitting that for the last season on Bravo, the four original castmates would be together. This decision rests with them. They note this is the first time the finalists were all female. “Definitely the year of the women,” Kors smiles. The judges also all agree that each finalist had a distinct point of view, and implemented it “without hesitation.” They call the designers onto the runway. Heidi congratulates the final three for making it this far but reminds them: “There can be only one winner.”

She reminds them of the prizes at stake: “A spread in Elle magazine, a 2009 Saturn Vue hybrid, an opportunity to sell their line on Bluefly.com, a year of representation from Designers Management Agency, and $100,000 to start their own line, furnished by Tresemme.” Wow, that’s a lot, even if the dollar isn’t worth what it used to be. Maybe the prize is in Canadian currency? Heidi introduces Michael Kors, Nina Garcia, and “a really hot hottie” (Heidi’s words, folks!) Tim Gunn.

The models join the three designers on the runway. Heidi reminds the models the winning team “will receive a fashion spread in Elle magazine.” It’s a good thing Kenley isn’t being judged for what she’s wearing: an electric blue dress, white shirt, and red cardigan. With a tree branch growing out of her head. The hats she used on her models were cute; but this just looks bizarre. She looks like she’s dancing the part of a laurel tree in an Isadora Duncan revival.

Michael Kors is curious: Did Kenley do all the hand painting herself? Kenley nods. “Pretty remarkable…hat’s off to you,” Kors compliments. Oh, if only that meant Kenley’s topper was literally off. A tree grows in Brooklyn? Or just out of Kenley’s skull. Back to the collection; Michael Kors loved it overall, thought it was “full of charm and spirit” and that she worked with separates well, while still “maintaining her look.” He loved the green ruffled blouse with the black skirt. Tim Gunn soberly tells her he loved her “concept, hand painting, and impeccable construction.” He thought she had a “profound point of view.” Nina praises Kenley’s “fantastic collection, wonderful spirit.” She didn’t like the Bird of Paradise dress, though. “Reminds me very much of Balenciaga,” Nina says to Kors. “Yep,” he agrees, to Kenley’s shocked reaction. Heidi tells them she heard people say that at the show. Kenley shakes her head.

Kors tells Kenley, “It is necessary to know what’s going on.” Kenley nods. Nina tells her the fashion editors will know even if she doesn’t. “This makes four times you guys have told me that. Yeah, maybe I need to do some research,” Kenley snarks, to Nina’s amusement. Heidi just smiles and moves on to Korto. Kors praises Korto for “injecting” her background into the collection “without it becoming a costume.” He tells her the green gown with the bead-necklace innovation at the top is his favorite. Nina admires the effortless cohesion of the collection as well as its palette. “I think that dress would appeal to many women,” she adds. Tim calls Korto’s wide-sleeved mini dress (one of the new pieces she sewed) “sublime on the runway.” Heidi thinks it’s obvious Korto put a lot of work into each piece, “but some pieces look overworked.” Nina cautions her against going “overboard with the decoration.”

Michael tells Leanne her first look “set the tone immediately.” She tells him the shirt was “over-steamed” and she had to do a last minute switcheroo. “Welcome to fashion show hell,” he retorts. He returns to his serious voice to praise her “divine” workmanship. Tim informs Leanne the “blue vest with white pants” was his favorite; “smashing, smart.” Nina liked that Leanne showed them skirts, pants, shorts, a jacket and a long dress. Heidi thinks the collection had elements she had not seen before “like these petals” but that there were “a lot of them.”

Heidi asks each of the three why they deserve to win. Korto says it’s been a long journey but she saw she is able to do this. “There is so much more that can come out of me,” she promises. Eww, sounds messy. Leanne praises herself as “extremely innovative.” She points out that half of her collection was “sustainable textiles.” She says she possesses the talent and ambition to take it to the next level. See? Quiet, yes. Meek, no. Kenley gets choked up and says that she has it in her to take this far. She moved to NYC three years ago “with a lot of personality, good or bad.” Tim smiles at that. Kenley wipes a tear as her leaves bobble and she says, “This is something I’m very passionate about.”

“Can’t do it otherwise,” Michael Kors says, and he speaks from experience. Fashion is not an easy field to make it to the top of. The hopefuls and their models all leave the runway so the judges can choose. About Kenley, they admired the fit, the cohesion, and the hand painting. “Couture-like,” Nina admires. But she points out that Balenciaga “did an entire collection of painted…” They all agree that if Kenley didn’t realise how similar her designs were, she should have. Personally? I find it difficult to imagine how a woman so “passionate” about her career would never pick up a fashion magazine or read a fashion blog, or even hear who was showing what. But, anything is possible. Maybe Kenley rides the Staten Island Ferry all day, longing for her tugboat days.

The judges love Leanne’s collection too. “Unfettered” is Kors’ word. Nina likes that Leanne “thought about sustainable fabrics.” Tim likes the elegance and sophistication. Nina and Kors like that Leanne made an elegant collection out of renewable materials; “It could’ve looked granola. It didn’t at all.” They worry that she will become “stuck in the petals” however.

Tim loves Korto’s silhouettes and how she brought in her African heritage. Michael thinks Korto is at her best when she edits herself a bit. He loves the green gown, as “deceptively simple” but with “enough of a twist to keep my interest.” Nina notices that Korto has a “gift” for dressing “many sizes.” That is no small ability (pun intended) since almost every designer in the program’s history has melted down over even a mention of “plus size.” Also, Leanne’s “old lady dresses” comment comes to mind. I agree Korto could make any woman feel beautiful and confident and that is indeed a great gift to have.

The three designers return for the verdict. Here it is. Heidi tells Kenley she is out, but will have “a bright future in this industry.” Backstage, she hugs her family and cries. Her parting vlog comment is “it’s bull…” Nice! Now, it’s between Korto and Leanne. Both stand quietly, hands clasped in front. “Congratulations… Leanne,” Heidi announces. Leanne Marshall is the season five winner.

Leanne closes her eyes and smiles. Korto’s head drops forward. Heidi tells Korto she is “very talented” and “really understands what women want.” After the double air kiss of doom, Korto gives Leanne a warm hug and retreats backstage. She bursts into tears, and her family comforts her. Heidi walks onto the Parsons runway and hugs Leanne. Tim hugs and kisses her. Nina and Michael remain seated, though Nina says, “That was a beautiful collection.” Tia runs onto the runway cheering. Leanne’s family also joins her on the runway. Looks like a mom, a dad, a brother, and her boyfriend Nathan, but we’ve only ‘met’ Nathan on the show before so it’s hard to be sure.

“My dreams are happening — it’s unreal,” Leanne vlogs. She and Nathan hug on the runway. Congratulations, Leanne. For a quiet sort who looked like an Adrian Tomine illustration, and blended in so much few could tell her apart from Jennifer in the beginning, you raced up from behind. Talk about a dark horse. Well done.

And that’s it for season five recaps – looks like Bravo’s Project Runway Reunion Show won’t air. So thanks for reading along. It’s been fun writing the coverage. For the two ‘losing’ designers — you haven’t really lost; you still are highly talented people who add beauty to the world by virtue of your creations. And if you want to return to reality TV, there’s always this show. Stay creative!

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