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Design with the least bite gets cut on ‘Runway’

"Project Runway" has never given me nightmares before, but that may change after last night's episode. And I'm not even talking about Ben's outfit, which incorporated one of my all-time biggest fears.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

"Project Runway" has never given me nightmares before, but that may change after last night's episode. And I'm not even talking about Ben's outfit, which incorporated one of my all-time biggest fears. (Thanks a lot, "Jaws.") No, I'm talking about that black thing of Amy's that is now haunting my thoughts like only a Sasquatch bosom could. Talk about your Bearded Ladies.

Actually, the whole episode felt kinda off, what with the inevitable Garnier Fructis Let's- Pretend-Hair-Is-Anywhere-Near-as-Important-as-the-Clothes challenge failing to yield more than one memorable garment. That and the fact that there was no mystery whatsoever as to who was going home.

To kick things off, the designers sashayed on over to the Atlas roof, where Tim and Garnier hairdo-maker Philip Carreon told them that they'd be designing looks inspired not by a giant bottle of Garnier Fructis hair gel — hey, don't laugh; it's totally gonna happen someday on this brand-happy show — but by one of the four natural elements: earth, air, water, and fire.

It was shortly after the trip to Mood that a sketch began to appear as to who'd be pulling a Michael Phelps and who'd be treading water in iron sneakers. In the former category, Jonathan had me at ''enveloped in a swirl of uncontrollable laughter.'' Seriously — laughter! As air! And what is the physical evidence of laughter but gobs of happy, hilarious air?

In the latter category, I give you Ben, who thought a woman's suit evocative of a killer sea creature would be a cool idea. Yeah. Yet the shark design alone wasn't what turned Ben into a moving target. Nay, it was his entire hour-long arc, which might as well have unfolded to John Williams' "Jaws" score.

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First he tells us he's tired of going unnoticed by the judges. (DUUUUUUUUHN-nuhn...) Then he shares his strange design concept. (DUHN-nuhn…) Then we get a sense, via Mila, that said design, in addition to being a tad — to quote Frau Klum — bizz-ah!, has high that-crotch-is-insane! potential. (Duhn-duhn! Duhn-Duhn!) And finally he makes the teary phone call to his husband (Duhn-duhn! Duhn-Duhn! Duhn-duhn! Duhn-Duhn!) and reveals how difficult it's been being away from home all these weeks. (Duhn-duhn! Duhn-Duhn! Duhn-duhn! Duhn-Duhn! Duhn-duhn! Duhn-Duhn! AAAAAHHHHH!) It was the "Runway" equivalent of the underwater, legs-dangling-innocently-by-the-raft shot.

If all of that supremely unsubtle foreshadowing wasn't enough to convince you that Ben Chmura was about to become chum in his own homage to Shark Week, there was also this telling moment, courtesy of Tim Gunn. Standing in the doorway, Tim called out to every designer that it was time to head to the runway — everyone except Sharky. ''Oh! Ben!'' a surprised Tim exclaimed when the guy suddenly appeared in front of him. Even more revealing was Ben's response: ''Yeah, I'm still here.'' Sad when you have to remind your mentor that you're still on the show.

Now to the runway. Jay had immunity, so he was obviously safe, but even without it, his asymmetrical dress probably would have qualified him for the next round. I wasn't over the moon about it — to my eyes, it was too similar to the white dress he did for the Marie Claire challenge — and I didn't quite get how it exemplified air, other than being flowy. Oh well.

Also reminiscent of the Marie Claire challenge of yore? The folded-effect bodice on Anthony's ''fire'' gown. I admire the Southern Belle's instinct to avoid an obvious, fiery red and evoke instead smoke and ash with gray and black, but I was disappointed that his design lacked the wow factor. Also, he meant his model walked like an Arabian stallion or some other priceless thoroughbred, not a Clydesdale, right?

As for Emilio, well, at least the dude put some freakin' clothes on his model this week — even if those clothes (sewn in the key of ''earth'') basically looked like a classier version of the outfit that got Ra'mon auf'ed last season for the very same hair-raising challenge. Coincidence or... Garnier Fructis conspiracy?! I'm joking. And tired.

With those folks shuffled off to safety, Jonathan, Seth Aaron, and Maya duked it out for the top spot. The Holy Trinity — joined by créateur fran¸ais Roland Mouret — had plenty of kind words for Maya's gray ''water'' dress: ''chic,'' ''perfectly beautiful,'' ''the entire esthetic is well done'' — all of which Nina tempered with concern that the gal was too referential to other designers. Maybe she is.

But my biggest probléme with the dress was that it was damn boring. Was it pretty? Sure. Flattering? Okay. But where's the pow that you brought last week, Maya? And sheesh, would it have killed her to add some color? Gray? For water? Really? If that's how she imagines H2O, I think I'll RSVP in the negative to her pool party.

Of course, it's not like Maya was the only one to eschew color this week. Seth Aaron has been shunning the stuff pretty much all season and he did it again last night. I agree with the judges that he is an impeccable tailor and that his outfit was both daring and visually arresting. But black pleather for air? I guess the New York City skyline at night is dark and technically chock full of air, but … do I buy that as evocative of the element itself? The cool wispy things sweeping out from the jacket helped. I guess.

Whatever their strengths, Maya and SA's garments couldn't out-shine Jonathan's. His dress was so delicious looking — literally; I scribbled ''crème caramel'' in my notes — and complimented his model Cerri so beautifully (''Pale understands pale''!) that I didn't even care that I failed to see how it captured laughter or that we've seen variations on that swoop-de-swoop flourish over the shoulder a million times on this show. (See: perfection.) And that fabric! His one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted textile was a fine example of how you can use your limited time in these one-day challenges to the best, most innovative effect without getting swallowed up in your ambition. He drove his concept. His concept didn't drive him.

Ah, but we can't say the same for poor Amy, unfortunately. Oh, Amy, Amy, Amy… She is clearly a bright woman with scads of novel ideas percolating in her fertile brain. But this? Holy mother of fashion — WTF?!

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Her element was fire. She wanted to depict the idea of an inner explosion and play with the concept of ''contained chaos.'' Fine. But why, why, why did that require the creepy shelf of chest hair that looked like the horror-movie offspring of Cousin It and Pamela Anderson? As Anthony pointed out, ''I don't know why Amy is choosing, in this moment, to give her model hairy t--s. She needs to Nair up there.''

Indeed. When a designer responds to the hair product challenge with an outfit that screams for a depilatory product, there is a problem, friends. A problem of such stratospheric proportions that Nina wants to reach for her barf bag and the designer herself is so confused that she repeatedly calls what is clearly a jumpsuit a ''dress'.' Huh? All I know is, that thing scared me.

Next to Amy's hirsute horror, it's hard to find much to fault in Mila's ''earth'' outfit — dull and dreary as it was. It's not like there was any real chance the judges' severely coiffed chouchou would get the ax, so we needn't waste time crying into our Op-art hankies for Mila. Off you go, Miss Mod, back to plot your next color-blocking move (or flat-iron your bangs with Maya), while we dissect Sharky.

To borrow an old favorite from Michael Kors, ehhhhhhhh. It pains me to say this, because Ben seems like a sweetie and he bravely, honestly admitted to the judges that he bit off more than he could chew with this challenge. But the bottom line is, even after Jay pitched in to help him finish, the suit was a failure. And unlike Inaccessible Conceptual Art Queen (seriously: check out this unwearable look from Amy's Bryant Park collection), he went too literal.

The little shark's teeth stitched onto the jacket sleeve actually seemed to offend Sir Quips A Lot — almost as much as that insane jockstrap crotch. Now, I don't believe sweet Ben really thinks women want to look like they're packin' down there, but it was a deeply unfortunate design choice. And unlike Amy's hideous, busted boob-weave, which was easily removed on the runway, there was no quick fix for Ben's sartorial misstep. So the guillotine fell on him. Poor guy. I felt bad for him. Sharky, we hardly knew ya.

What do you think? Did Ben deserve to go or should Amy's hairy art installation have been her downfall? Can Amy pull it together or is she simply too conceptual-intellectual? Did you notice that Ben's T-Mobile Sidekick LX got more screen time and a better close-up than most of the fashions? Who wants to help Anthony find his viscera? Will you be dreaming of great white sharks tonight? And does anyone say ''It's weird'' with more delicious venom than Señora Garcia?