by Todd O'Dowd
Well, here we are at the final stretch of Project Runway season 10 and for the most part it’s been a good season. Everyone that is left at this point has won at least one challenge and has deserved to be one of the last designers standing. It’s just such a shame that the last challenge is historically the one where the breakneck pace of the competition finally catches up with them and the results are never as good as they, the judges and the producers hope for.
The episode starts with the designers arriving at Ohekah Castle where Tim is waiting for them with legendary makeup artist (and frequent RuPaul’s Drag Race guest judge) Billy B. to explain the challenge. The designers must create an avant-garde look inspired by a color collection for L’Oreal using an archetype as a muse: The Enchanted Queen (Fabio and Christopher), The Seductive Temptress (Sonjia), The Wise Mystic (Dmitry), and The Artsy Muse (Melissa). The designers have two days and a budget of $400 to create a look that basically serves as a capstone for their time in the competition.
It’s times like these that I wish they would just make the final challenge more of a creative challenge rather than putting a restriction on it by making it “avant-garde.” First off, as Dmitry wisely mentioned, a true avant-garde outfit would take weeks to achieve effects that you wouldn’t normally see in regular clothing construction. At this point in the competition, the designers are weak, tired, and worn out on every conceivable level. It is truly unfair to them to put that expectation on them to create something that fits a very nebulous concept of “avant-garde.” And thus the quality, across the board, suffers in the final challenge.
If the producers really wanted to have memorable garments for the final challenge of the regular completion, they should make the challenge purely creative and not beholden to a concept per se. One of the best final challenges in the show’s history happened at the end of Season 4 (and again at Season 6). There the designers were taken to a museum (The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Season 4, The J. Paul Getty Museum in Season 6) and were tasked to make an outfit inspired by a piece of art that spoke to them. The results from the subsequent runways were some of the most inspired looks seen in the show’s history.
Another possibility is to recreate the final challenge from Season 3. There, the designers were tasked with creating an outfit that expressed their point of view and aesthetic, then had to run around the city with their models to create an impromptu photo campaign that sold their look. This is another great challenge because it forced the designers to boil their aesthetics down to the purest, easiest to comprehend form and forced the designers to think of not only the outfit but how to show it off to its best advantage.
Anyway, back to the runway, where Michael, Nina and Heidi are joined by actress Zoe Saldana on the judging panel again, and it was refreshing to have her there; while the other judges (Michael Kors in particular) were trying to find the most piquant turn of phrase, she sat there and calmly assessed each piece on its various merits. It’s a shame that the other three judges basically shut her down when it came to discussing the merits of each of the designers as they referred to the work from the entire season.
Christopher: It clearly borders on costume but it also is just a basic black gown with things thrown on it. Although I am not seeing any notion of an exaggerated hip; the hips look normal thanks to the top layer and are nowhere near exaggerated. All of that said, Christopher’s look does clearly read “Enchanted Queen,” which sadly made it better than most outfits on that runway.
Dmitry (Winner): It doesn’t really scream “Wise Mystic” as it does Blade Runner, but the idea that she travels through time and the various elements harking back to various times is a clever one. Also, it once again is a showcase for Dmitry’s impeccable tailoring skills. While I don’t know if it was win worthy per se, it is a dramatic look that definitely is worthy of fashion week. (Although if I see one more exposed zipper, so help me I’m going to lose it!)
Fabio: While the jacket it impressive as hell (and I love that it can be worn upside down), and I get the idea that she’s caged in her outfit, it felt too literal of a take on that idea, And it has to be said the palazzo pants were a bad idea. But unlike some designers, Fabio actually thought through his outfit and it gave him the ability to defend his work on the runway.
Melissa: Once again, I’m sorry to say that Melissa should have been eliminated. Nothing about this look screamed avant-garde, or even arty muse; with the gauntlets and the severe color palate and popped collar, it felt like a pastiche of a Nagel drawing. It just felt weak to me, and frankly deserving of the auf wiedersehen.
Sonjia (Eliminated): I felt horribly for Sonjia. She did not deserved to be eliminated. As soon as I heard Michael Kors talking about red carpet in regards to this outfit, I wanted to throw something at the screen. While I agree with Nina that doing it all in one color lent it to a Poison Ivy feel, and while I also agree that she used too much illusion netting and would have been better served if she had found a more artful way to connect the two pieces together, it was still cut beautifully and unlike Melissa it felt like an attempt at avant-garde. It’s a damn shame that she was eliminated. In fact you can feel the defeat in her very uneven decoy collection.
So one more week left before the finale, and you know what that means: visits home with Tim and a (by now de rigeur) final twist that will probably eliminate one more designer before they reach the tents at Lincoln Center.