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Claws finally come out on ‘Project Runway’

Reality show's models become clients as designers create party dresses, with varying degrees of success.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

At last! Finally! The wait is over! It has happened! What the hell am I talking about? The ousting of someone whose clock was ticking from episode 1? Not even. I speak of the claws! The snide remarks! The — dare I say it? — bitchiness!

Qristyl might have feared that her public squabbling with Epperson would brand her the ''b-i-t-c-h'' of the bunch, but it was two of her fellow designers who demonstrated much more obvious b-power this week. Nicolas has been trying on his catty-suit since the premiere, and last night, he scoffed at Epperson's work, comparing it to a ''rag.'' But he was nothing compared to Irina, who offered a triple-jubilee of nastiness that was totally misguided (at least according to the judges and uh, anyone with working eyesight) and, best of all, hilariously, bone-headedly contradictory.

''No one's really looks like crap, but I just think Althea's looked like crap.'' Well said, Irina! Are you this poetic off-camera, too? Unable to leave well enough alone, she went on: ''I think it would look nicer if she stapled it together.'' Rrrrrrrreeeeeeeow! (That was a mad cat noise, by the way.)

Don't get me wrong. As Michael Jackson famously told Paul McCartney, I'm a lover, not a fighter. I don't go around stirring up trouble and pitting people against each other. I don't even like witnessing that kind of strife in person. But after three episodes, I was beginning to feel a bit of dreaded ho-hum-ness in the workroom, a fear that this season would fail to produce anyone with a big ole personality to keep us entertained. What we saw last night was far from a smack-down. It wasn't even worthy of the wimpiest of my cats' hiss-filled wrestling matches. But I'll take what I can get.

As more than a few of you predicted in your comments last week, the models became the clients this time around. And if we were to look at the episode like an after-school special chock full of poignant messages to grow on (why wouldn't we?), the lesson learned would be this: Working as a fashion-industry glamazon doesn't necessarily mean you know anything about high fashion. The only designers who emerged from the workroom with their dignity intact were the ones who understood this fact.

Party dress or satin jumpsuit?
It was up to the models to articulate what kind of party dress they had in mind, and their words ran the gamut from indecisive to clueless. Louise's model, Fatma — the one who's been branded the villain — hoped for a bright red color scheme. Louise thought this was too garish for an event hyped as some kind of de facto coming-out ball, so she politely nixed the idea and went with elegant black. (It turned out beautifully, by the way. That, Qristyl, is how you make a LBD!)

Epperson heroically waded through the gibberish of Matar's vision that read like a stolen line from a poetry slam: ''flowy-strong-punk-cocktail-tiger.'' Huh? Meanwhile, as Logan dealt with a Smurf prom dress/lacy, leathery 1950s look (wha?), Shirin smartly held her ground with Ebony, who wanted — you'd better sit down for this one — a royal blue and gold satin jumpsuit. Listen, Ebony, we're all for you making a ''statement.'' But trust us, you don't want said statement to be: ''Greetings, earthlings. Care to join me at Comic-Con?''

On the other end of the spectrum, Althea and her model Tanisha fell into perfect creative harmony. As she toiled away, Tim mused that her three-piece ensemble had ''wow factor potential.'' So did Qristyl' that wow-do-you-really-expect-anyone-to-be-impressed-with-that-dreck? kind of way. After Tim deemed her slipshod jersey gown '' she's been rolling around in bed,'' Qristyl decided to start over. Alas, even on her second try she demonstrated about as much artistic ooomph as a plate of stale Ding-Dongs. Really, Qristyl? You're given free rein to create an outfit that should turn the heads of fashion tastemakers and this is the best you can do? A drab black jersey dress with a sad little flower on the shoulder? Oh well. At least it wasn't trashy. (Positive thinking!)

Now for the runway show. I have to say, I was more than a little irked that our beloved judging panel was once again splintered. This is getting ridiculous. We're four episodes into season 6 and only once (once!) have the three regulars appeared together in their critics' corner. For three weeks now, Michael Kors has been...where? At a championship tanning convention? And now Nina Garcia's gone missing twice in a row.

I understand these folks have careers and, you know, lives. But how Runway's Holy Fashion Trinity interacts as they're slinging arrows at the ghastliest garments and extolling the prettiest is one of the most amusing parts of the show. So, with all due respect to this week's fill-ins — industry vets with indisputable fashion bona fides — for the love of witty rejoinders and stares that'll put you six feet under, bring back Michael and Nina!

Nicolas, Gordana, Ra'mon, and Shirin all sent chic, if not exactly groundbreaking, garments down the runway. Christopher's leafy-green-lettuce dress was sort of jarring, and Irina's multi-colored dress and jacket with the girlish, oversized bow at the waist (blech) was more high-end mall than cutting-edge fashion. But both were attractive enough to avoid elimination.

The judges went more passionately gaga for Carol Hannah's bi-colored dress. (Question: Was Tim wrong about the off-the-shoulder top aging her model, or did she just tweak it to perfection?) They also gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to Epperson, who I like more and more. After an emotional phone call to his family left him teary-eyed even after he returned to his dress form, he managed to turn what could easily have been a hot honkin' mess — brown stretch dress with shredded appliqué overlay — into a sexy, innovative design that was reflective of his personal style and pleasing to his client. Epp might even have won this week, if Heidi didn't have such an exacting eye for breast-al perfection.

''Maybe it's because I've been working for Victoria's Secret for too long,'' she said. ''For me, they have to be perky and they have to be in the right spot.... I'm just obsessed with boobs. That's my thing.'' I'm sure Seal appreciates your dedication to your craft, Frau Klum.

The win ended up going to Althea — yep, the very gal who supposedly could have benefited from office supplies. Her three-piece ensemble exuded sophistication (love the belt detail!) and expert skill: It was comprised of three separate pieces, including an impeccably tailored jacket, which is not an easy thing to pull off in a day. Oh, and a side note to Irina: If you're gonna trash-talk the eventual winner, you'd better bring it, sister!

As for the bottom three, I was appalled ... that there weren't more outright disasters! Okay, maybe not quite appalled, but a bit disappointed. Much as I go gaga for those gorgeous displays of inventiveness that sashay across my TV screen, I also kind of love to sit on my couch and howl in disgust at the worthy-of-Vincent-Libretti monstrosities that go a-thud-thud-thudding down the catwalk.

‘You're really cute and I like your pants’Was Johnny's purple dress better suited to the deeply-discounted rack at Aunt Gertie's Bridal Shop of Dull-n-Dumpy Dresses You'll Never Wear Again After Your Sister Marries That Idiot? For sure. But compared to the epic failures from Runway seasons past, like that hideously constructed flesh-colored jumpsuit Santino Rice forced on poor Kara Janx all those years ago, Johnny's sad little frock was merely forgettable. And no, I haven't forgotten about Logan's ''Gothic Cinderella'' mishap. It certainly lived up to Marie Claire editor Zoe Glassner's assessment: ''No. Cheap. Tacky. Prom.''

But all in all, it was nothing more than the misguided efforts of a naive designer desperate to please his client. On his way to the prom, his own aesthetic lost its way. (I suspect it's stuck somewhere around Smurfette's bachelorette pad, the third groovy mushroom on the left.) And let's be honest: Ain't no way guest-judge Jennifer Rade was gonna put Logan's (sexy, manly) neck to the Guillotine. ''You're really cute and I like your pants!'' she said. Is it wrong to think that was all code for: ''You're really cute and I want to get in your pants!''? Woah...did I actually write that?

The costume designer proved the mouthiest of the judges, no more so than when cutting Qristyl down to size. After Valerie said that she was pleased with the dress, Jennifer icily cut in: ''But that's why Valerie's not a designer. Right?'' Deadly pause. ''Thank God.'' Ouch! If that wasn't enough to tell us that Qristyl had finally earned herself a one-way ticket to the Mitchell-ville, then Heidi's comment about her dress aging the model in dog years was the clincher. There's no question that Qristyl deserved to go — she did, after all, echo last week's evictee when she figured that a black dress was the ''safe'' way to go. And the shirt she was wearing on the runway? What was that, a reject from an ''I Am the Walrus''-inspired line of textiles? Still, I found myself feeling sorry for her. Lacking in original vision and creative zest, she just seemed over her head from day one.

While we're on the topic, poor Valerie! She was dogged by nothing but rotten luck during her short time on the show, getting auf'd not once, but twice. I'm sorry to see her go. She was gorgeous and seemed rather sweet. At least she wasn't obligated to wear Qristyl's losing dress to the soirée. That would have been sadistic. But Koji...I kind of feel like she should have sucked it up and worn the Smurfette thing in solidarity with Logan. I mean, she's the one who wanted lace, right?