Winding down toward Fashion Week — only four designers still competing. Korto, Leanne, Jerell, and Kenley ready themselves for the last challenge before the three finalists are chosen. Their personalities still hold: Korto resolute and dignified; Leanne quiet and determined; Jerell humorous and confident; Kenley… well, Kenley.
The morning after the “hip hop” disaster, Kenley still blames Leanne for the outfit’s failure and her near dismissal. Jerell is the last male contestant, and living single is – well, working his imagination perhaps. Jerell entertains himself with an impromptu play. The stars are Tim Gunn’s bobblehead figure, a bottle of pancake syrup, and a piece of fruit with a face drawn on it. It’s kind of like Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Except in an expensive New York apartment. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, Jerell uses the carpet squares as a stage. Tim seems to figure in all the impromptu theater on Project Runway. Remember Santino’s Tim Gunn: The Musical or skit involving Tim and Red Lobster?
The stress is also showing between Kenley and the other women designers. They are no longer on speaking terms. More on that later. For now, the weekly model question is asked. Korto, last week’s winner, decides to keep her model Katrina. Xaviera, Suede’s model, is out. Heidi, in a leopard print mini dress, tells the four designers to meet Tim downstairs for a field trip. They pile into a van. Tim and Kenley are in one row of seats, the other designers all behind them. The group jokes about what the challenge might be. The van turns into The New York Botanical Garden. Founded in 1891, it covers 250 acres in the Bronx, has fifty curated display gardens, a fifty acre forest, and over one million plants. Should be enough scope for this challenge: Design an outfit inspired by a flower or plant on these grounds.
The range of colors, shapes, and types of flowers are “really therapeutic,” Jerell says. Tim quips, “It’s therapeutic unless you’re Joan Crawford, and a control freak, and you don’t want the bloom to fade,” drawing upon the film Mommie Dearest for his awesome pun. Remember that scene in the movie star’s garden, where she hacks every plant and tree to pieces, because she’s gotten old? I do, and Tim’s marvelous reference kept me laughing loudly for a good few minutes. The image transplanted into that serene setting… Kenley walking next to him in her ‘50s hair… I don’t know. She’s not mad at you, Leanne. She’s mad at the dirt.
Each of the four designers receives a digital camera, as with ‘inspiration’ challenges past. These look pretty sweet: They each get a different color camera, too — handy in case anyone squabbles over whose camera is whose. As strange and tense as the group dynamic has become, that’s probably a good precaution. Well, the four colors could just be to showcase the product’s range, but I prefer to think of it this way — it’s just more fun.
The group has one hour to tour the grounds, snapping photographs. Jerell finds a rose bush in purple and mauve hues. Leanne nearly gets stung by a bee. Korto is reminded of her mother’s garden in Africa. “I’m gonna win this one for my momma,” she says. Kenley is excited about using bright colors. Soon, time’s up. A passing city bus and an Olsen Elle cover later (is there only one issue of Elle left in existence?) they’re all back at Parsons. Tim tells them they have thirty minutes to choose one photograph to base their design upon. Their budget at Mood will be $250, and their work time will cover two days.
Jerell chooses the photo of those large purple roses. Korto chooses a bright orange cone-shaped flower. Kenley chooses a closeup of some jagged-edged purple leaves. At Mood, she races around in search of “tulle, tulle, tulle.” She also finds some “freaking awesome” fabric resembling purple fish scales. Leanne pulls some lavender fabric to match the lavender plant she feels inspired by. Tim questions the chartreuse fabric Jerell is placing next to his purple and maroon ones. Jerell rethinks it and decides to go without it. Korto has a stack of satiny saffron. Tim leads everyone back to Parsons. But what’s that? A folded heap of dark tulle? Who’s left that behind? Hmm. More on that later.
In the workroom, Korto spreads out her saffron-colored fabric and some lighter lace and admits, “I have no clue what I’m doing.” Jerell and Leanne agree that they dislike these “early stages” and prefer to be well into the work. We see a closeup of Leanne’s sketch; it has tight, intricate, rounded pleats winding from the hip to the shoulder. The bodice underneath this embellishment is square, the long skirt gently flounced.
Kenley begins wondering aloud what happened to her tulle. “Do you think you left it at Mood?” Jerell asks. “Okay, I wanna kill myself,” is Kenley’s answer. Well, thanks for letting us know, but that didn’t answer his question. Kenley searches under the tables, in bags, and can’t locate the missing fabric. She’s worried because she needs the tulle to make the skirt fuller and wider. She decides to stuff pockets of fabric with paper. Jerell and Korto whisper to each other that they both have extra tulle but are not going to “assist Kenley in any way.” After all… say it with me… this is a competition. Korto doesn’t feel bad for Kenley, because Kenley is “rude to Heidi, rude to everyone.” Jerell is eager to see “how this pans out.”
Next morning, Jerell walks into an Atlas apartment door, with a cheerful greeting. Happily, he’s figured on Korto and Leanne for conversation rather than the maple syrup and the melon. And hopefully for Korto and Leanne, their conversation is more stimulating. Kenley is left out of the mix altogether; she sits alone as the others ignore her. Kenley vlogs that she “doesn’t feel like talking to the other designers” yet she stares or glares at them from her perch. The three don’t even seem to glance her way. If she doesn’t feel the three are worth her time, why is she watching their every motion? The editing implies that she wonders if they took her tulle.
Back at Parsons, Kenley asks to buy Jerell’s tulle. He declines. What would the rules be on that anyway, I wonder? Tim enters the room; he asks Kenley what’s the matter. She tells him, and he says as long as it’s on her receipt she can return to Mood and retrieve it. Naturally she is relieved. Tim sends in the four models for a fitting. Korto and Leanne vlog about the “pressure.” Kenley loves her gown on model Topacio. Jerell looks it over and thinks it looks like a dragon. And does he say that it looks “a little like syphilis?” Doesn’t syphilis have a purple rash as a symptom? And why do I know that? (Junior high — mandatory ‘health class’.)
Tim brings in Collier Strong. He is the consulting makeup artist for L’Oreal Paris. Collier will consult with the designer/model teams on an appropriate look for this runway show. Designers show him their sketches and fabric swatches. He comes up with a creative hair and makeup design for each model.
Back in the workroom three designers laugh and talk while one designer sits in the corner sullenly sewing. Guess who? Yes, it’s Kenley, who is styling herself into a lifelong victim. “It’s just me, by myself … I’ve had to deal with that my whole life, being left out. I don’t know why.” Well, after watching the aired episodes, do you have a little more of an idea now?
Tim comes in and gives Kenley permission to go to Mood and retrieve her tulle. And by the way — he treats Kenley no differently than he does any of the other competing designers. He is courteous and cheerful to one and all, there to do a job and do it well. Style isn’t just about fabric and fashion. The most important kind comes from within. Style’s Epitome tells the group he will be back later in the day to check on them.
Kenley tells the other designers she’s leaving for Mood. “Ciao,” says Korto disinterestedly. Jerell snickers at that once the door swings shut. We’re shown photos of a younger Kenley as she talks about her rough life. “I was taught to be tough,” she says, adding that half her childhood was spent on a tugboat. Huh? “I could be as loud and obnoxious as I want. It probably had an impact on who I am today,” she continues in her voiceover. Couldn’t it just as easily have made her into a sailor or someone who likes to pull heavy objects behind her? I don’t see what being the daughter of a tugboat captain has to do with her personality. Does she like to hear the toot-toot of a passing horn? Why does being on a tugboat require “toughness”? Did the other kids in design school call her “Tugboat Annie?” Did they make her watch the old Marie Dressler film until she cried? I’m not following the story very well, I guess. So far the secret behind her professed “lifelong battles” remains exactly that.
Seven p.m. at Parsons, and Mr. Gunn quietly enters the workroom. “Hi, Tim,” the group greets him. Tim begins with Korto’s design. They both are “bothered” by the lace. It has overtaken the gown. Tim advises her to “bring just the right critical analysis to this” and to “work, work.” Kenley tells Tim she loves her dress. Tim is concerned that the ‘petals’ at the bottom of the gown look more like fish scales than like the leaves in the photograph. “Cool,” Kenley says proudly. She says she wanted it scaly, upon which Tim reminds her this is “a botanical theme, not an oceanic.” Jerell and Leanne exchange glances. Kenley emphasizes to Tim that she “loves it” and he leaves her work station with a vague “well, love it, but get this to work.”
Tim examines Jerell’s gown. On Jerell’s dress dummy is a sleeveless, layered gown in shades of purple. There is a cluster of large sequins at the lowest point of the heart-shaped bodice. Tim likes it but says Jerell has a lot of work left. Tim approaches Leanne’s gown; it’s a solid shade of lavender and looks fabulous from the waist up. But, “from here down, I’m seeing Hello, Dolly,” Tim says, gesturing toward the lower part of the skirt. In the back, the skirt is suggestive of a ruffles and bustles, similar to a Gibson Girl. Or a community theater musical. A bit overdone. “I think I know what to do,” Leanne says, and Tim seems satisfied to hear that. Before leaving the room, Tim calls each designer’s attention by naming the four in turn. He then announces that he is very proud of them. Kenley’s eyes well with tears. “Work, work, work,” Tim says, and with a “take care" to the group, he leaves.
This sense of finality is getting to the designers as the hours tick down toward their final runway challenge. Leanne, age 27, cries in her vlog and says she wanted to show at Bryant Park since she was twelve. Jerell also cries, the next morning at Atlas as he irons his clothes. The combination of relief, sadness, and stress are taking their toll on him. He’s relieved he’s made it this far but will miss being there, and he is still worried about making it to Bryant Park. “This is certainly the biggest moment of my life to date,” he says as emotions overwhelm him. Korto, in her own Atlas apartment, having made her bed for the last time there, reads the 23rd Psalm aloud. That psalm is about walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and fearing no evil. It’s usually read aloud at funerals – it’s a strange choice. Or maybe she’s just gearing up for another day of dealing with Kenley.
At Parsons, Tim tells the group to “have fun and wow everybody” and that they have an hour with their models before hair and makeup begins. Jerell calls after Tim that his “suit is cut great.” The models enter for their final fitting. Kenley vlogs that Korto is an awful designer and she doesn’t like anything Korto does. “I don’t like what any of the designers do,” she adds. She sums up Jerell’s designs as craft projects, Leanne’s as “pleated details with a muted color palette,” and dismisses them with a “that’s been done.” When you give Bettie Page her old wardrobe back, Miss Collins, then point a finger.
Heidi wears a pant suit for the final challenge’s runway show. And she can count! “There are four of you here, but only three will earn the right to compete at New York Fashion Week,” says Ms. Klum Seal, and without taking off a shoe. She reminds them of the challenge parameters (a design inspired by Nature), then introduces the judges. The guest judge this week is Georgina Chapman, co-founder of and designer for Marchesa. Marchesa, inspired in part by Jazz Age fashion icon Marchesa Casati, is a fashion house which features extremely elegant evening wear. Their gowns fluidly combine old Hollywood glamour with sophisticated lines. Their creations are soft, feminine, and eclectic.
First gown down the runway is Korto’s. Its color is exactly like that of the flower in her inspiration photograph, but the comparison ends there. The flower has tiers of oblong petals; the gown is a typical, plunging V-neck satin evening gown. As the model turns, Korto worries in voiceover about the “janky beadwork” which curves up the sides with the strips of lace. The gown’s train is rectangular and plain. Leanne’s model Tia walks gracefully down the runway in the lavender gown. The pleats resemble a prom gown’s ruffles but the fit and style are flattering. In color and structure it does bear a resemblance to its photographic origin. Heidi frowns as Tia turns and reveals a dark purple chiffon train that seems tacked on.
Jerell’s model Nicole comes out next. This gown looks couture. In a heavy fabric, Jerell has stacked layers over layers in alternating colors. The colors complement each other; he’s done a good job of choosing tones and shades. These are darker than the roses in the photograph but one can see the connection. The top layer of the gown is gathered from the center over each side. It reminds me somewhat of an Elizabethan gown, but with a completely modern twist. The shape is not at all historical – it must be all the gathering and sensuous draping. The heavy fabric. Only the large sequins gathered in one place on the bodice are suggestive of a flower – the center of a bloom. The voluminous skirts and softly bunched train could be suggestive of the entirety of a rose, but it’s all more abstract than derivative.
And now for a literal interpretation. Kenley’s “scaly” dress comes out. Kenley interpreted the leaves in her source photograph as ‘scales’ and decided to make a dress that looked like a fish. It’s a sheath dress with tightly clustered rows of pointy panels at the bottom. The pointy panels are very large, and layered atop each other, look like large fins or scales. It isn’t pretty like a mermaid, it’s kind of creepy. The gown itself is tight like the snakeskin image Kenley wanted to evoke. The hanging purple flaps covering Topacio’s bottom legs bounce up and down as she struts. This would make a great costume for Sid and Marty Kroft’s Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. Kenley, there’s always Six Flags.
The brief runway show over, explanations begin. Leanne is first. She talks about structure and softness inspired by the lavender plant. Georgina admires the balance Leanne struck between those two ideas and also praises the tailoring of the bodice. Nina thinks the gown is “harmonious and feminine” but she and Michael Kors agree the bustle is problematic. The dark purple fabric “looks like it got thrown on” Kors says, which in effect is what happened. Leanne tacked it on at the last moment, thinking she had to mimic more than one color in the plant.
Korto says her source flower was simple, vivid and pretty. Michael likes the shape of the gown but says it is not sophisticated. “Beauty pageant” is Michael’s and Heidi’s association with the simple design. Korto begins crying. Georgina questions the fabric choice. Nina thinks the lace and beading are overworked. Nina also does not see “much of Korto in there.” Korto protests quietly that “this is all me.” She nods as Nina says Korto “threw too much in” and went too far in an effort to impress them.
Heidi loves the bodice on Jerell’s dress. Jerell tells them he was inspired by a “cluster of roses in plum and purple.” Heidi says she “kind of wants to yank it up once” referring to the bodice. The bodice is a bit low, but the model’s concave bustline isn’t doing it any favors either. What should be filled with cleavage is merely weighed down by the fabric. Also the model is slouching and frowning. Despite all that, the judges’ overall impression is positive. “It’s off, but in an interesting way,” Kors says. He notes the point where the sewing seemed to fall into “hack and sew.” Jerell blames the time constraints. Georgina asks him what he’d have done if he had more time. He says he’d have lined the skirts for a cleaner, more billowy effect. Kors says, “You keep doing this and it makes me nervous.”
Kenley’s up next. She says something general about her leaf photograph. Georgina thinks the gown is “not very organic,” probably not good news when the inspiration was Nature. Nina thinks the gown looks “like a reptile.” Kenley laughs. Nina’s “but not in a cool way” stops the laugh quickly. “The whole thing is kind of creepy,” Nina continues. Kenley says that she “wanted to stay away from pretty” and when she “hears gown” she “thinks old, eww.” Kenley’s smile gets bigger and her voice gets shriller as Nina and Michael counter every explanation. Kenley wanted to avoid old? It is old. She wanted to avoid cliche? It is cliche. “It is nooooot!” Kenley shrieks. As the camera pans past the oversized fin, scale, hanger downy thingies at the bottom, Heidi says they are not elegant. “I wasn’t going for elegance, Heidi,” Kenley sneers. Yeh, Heidi. Take that. Who wants elegance? In an evening gown?
Kenley’s open disdain for the judges’ opinions drives them to discuss Kenley in front of Kenley. Their conclusion? Annoying. Kenley’s reaction? A smirk and an eye roll. They should just judge her facial expressions and ignore her dresses. Combination smirk and eye-roll? A perfect ten. “We’re fans,” Michael Kors says. I do have to admit, Michael, no one does snort, sneer, smirk and mock like Kenley does – and all without a word. What? You meant her designs?
Heidi asks each of the four designers why they should go to Bryant Park. She also asks who they’d like to take with them, and why. Jerell says it’s his dream, he’s shown his point of view consistently and he’d love to show them more. “As for the second part of that question,” he says, Kenley’s “fifties silhouette has been done.” Kenley interrupts him with a “that’s not all I do” whine. Jerell apologises: “I didn’t want to throw you under the bus, but they asked me which two designers.” Kenley cuts him off again with “they didn’t want you to elaborate on why.” Leanne grins like the Grinch as Jerell cuts her back with “they’re gonna get to you in just a second” and Kenley huffs dramatically. Michael Kors’ facial expression watching the Kenley/Jerell exchange is weary. Georgina Chapman looks mildly frightened.
Leanne tells Heidi her show won’t be boring and she “wants this.” She chooses Jerell and Korto to accompany her to Bryant Park. Leanne thinks “they are on a level” with her but she sees “the same shapes” from Kenley. Korto explains to Heidi that she’s older and married with a kid but still has her dreams. She will show parts of her culture on the stage at her show. “You will see who I really am,” she says. She chooses Jerell and Leanne, “Not just because of what they do, but because of who they are as people.” Hearing this, Kenley laughs to herself.
Kenley whines about being “trashed” but then justifies her position at Bryant Park by saying she “takes the most risks” and “with sophistication.” She also says she will “put on a show” at Bryant Park, and “do a great job.” She continues, “As far as arguing with people, I feel like I’ve been fighting my way through life, so it’s force of habit.” All because of growing up on a tugboat? What did you fight your way through, Kenley? Seasickness? Kenley repeats again that she fought her way through life, and apologises “to everyone…that’s just me.” She’s been in tears throughout her “I saw something nasty in the woodshed” justification. Kenley chooses Leanne and Jerell to go with her to Bryant Park. “I don’t think classic puts on a show” is her given reason. To her credit, actually, “people want a show” is not a bad reason. I disagree that Korto is “classic” in her designs, or that classical pieces don’t “put on a show” – but people do hope to be ‘wowed’ at the Project Runway finale. Making a case for the theatrical has its merit.
Backstage, Korto is angry with Kenley for “dogging her out.” She points out she didn’t do the same to Kenley. Actually, they both took veiled digs at the other out there, although Kenley was the one who limited it to the work. Korto’s comment was “who they are as people.” Kenley tells Korto that she just “went through what you did, times ten, so don’t.” Korto retorts, “don’t what? I’m gonna speak my mind.” Did the two of them transfer personalities on the runway? Leanne and Jerell bookend Korto on the backstage sofa, each leaning their head on their outside hand. Glum. Kenley does the same pose, only apart from the group, perched on a chair.
The judges confer with each other. They think the designers are scared, and tonight’s runway was full of construction problems, and questionable taste. They thought Leanne’s gown was soft and feminine. Georgina could see Leanne in the gown and thinks she “has a signature.” Kors wishes the designers would take more joy in their work; he wants to see the joy in their creations. Heidi says Leanne is somber herself. Nina agrees. Of Jerell’s gown, Georgina says he was the only one to intrigue her enough that she wanted to see more. “Elegant with an edge” Heidi sums up. Nina and Michael want more polish, and fear seeing “a mess” at Bryant Park.
The judges all agree that Korto’s gown was “beauty pageant.” They love her sense of color, though, and ability to construct well. This particular gown, unfortunately, “was every cliche.” Michael Kors assesses Kenley’s design aesthetic with “fun, flirty, fifties” but says today’s garment was “a total loss of taste.” Georgina couldn’t see anything of Kenley’s “flirty florals” in the gown. The judges continue discussing Kenley, worrying about her “attitude.” Kors worries that she might “take a knife out and kill” a buyer who didn’t like a dress. Nina laughs, and Michael says Kenley “is rude!” Heidi takes a left turn by saying she is “intrigued” and wants to know what Kenley would do at Fashion Week. Kors agrees immediately: “Her clothes are entertaining!” Suddenly everyone’s on board the S.S. Kenley.
The four judges try to decide which of the four designers will go to fashion week. “They all want to go,” Heidi winces. “They’re all so distinct” Kors appraises. The designers line up on the runway. Jerell wins the challenge. And who is in or out? They all are! That’s right. They all are. Fish dress, prom dress, beauty pageant dress and Norma Desmond’s dress are all going to Fashion Week. It should be entertaining, folks! Kenley was right: Give the people what they want. Apparently, what Bravo thinks we want is more drama. Next week, it looks like Bravo more than delivers. Yes, the others still hate Kenley. And she still cries about it. One of them won’t get to compete at Bryant Park; it will all depend upon their actual collections. Ooh, the drama, and the trauma, and the something nasty in the woodshed. So let’s tow those DVRs; we're setting our course for the H.M.S. Hysteria. Wouldn’t want to miss a moment. See you there.