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From going red to red-light district on ‘Runway’

It's a question of taste for one designer in a challenge geared to promote heart health on this week's episode.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

OK, Runway fans. Help me out here. As my deadline to turn in this recap ticks ever closer, I'm still not sure how I feel about this week's challenge. I'm all for the show championing excellent causes like heart disease awareness, but was the blatant Campbell's branding really necessary?

I applaud Campbell's for their commitment to coronary health. I do. That's fantastic and exactly what mega-corporations should be doing. I just can't shake my discomfort over the requirement that some element of the company's logo be incorporated into the garments. Could Lisa Walker (''VP of Innovation''!!) not have been content with the Campbell's name getting bounced around on national television and emblazoned on the screen a dozen times last night? I've grown to expect egregious product placement on this show, but isn't it just a bit out of place here? I mean, Thursday night was a different situation from season 4's Hershey's challenge, which was structured around candy and had no relation whatsoever to a deadly disease. I dunno. A company logo just doesn't exude seriousness to me. (Or, for that matter, sophisticated fashion.) Shouldn't the attention be on the cause and the women dedicated to it, not a flippin' soup company? I'm probably making too big a deal of this. (Moi, overreact?). Maybe it's because Campbell's makes me think of Andy Warhol. I was never a fan.


The designers were paired up with a group of gals who all had connections to heart disease. Immediately, we got a clear glimpse into how the various personalities in the room approached the challenge. In one corner, we had people like Amy, explaining how winning such an important challenge would mean the world to her (foreshadowing!). There were also Jay and Anthony, who cried while listening to their models' stories. (This week's theme hit a particularly personal note for Anthony, whose mother recently went through heart surgery. Hope she's doing well!) Then, across the room stood Jesus, who praised not his model's courage or spirit, but... her lack of cellulite. ''I'm really excited because she's really, really tiny!'' he chirped.

As is always the case when Runway tackles these ''everyday woman'' challenges, size matters to the designers. Oh boy, does it matter. I'm trying to refrain from going full-fledged rant here, but I'm getting awfully tired of hearing about how difficult it is to put together a garment for a woman who is not a size zero, two, four... or even six! Do I really have to explain why? The average American woman wears a size 14. It's doubtful that any of these aspiring fashion mavens are going to become the next Valentino, creating exclusively for teeny-tiny celebrities. Even ''Top American Designer'' Michael Kors has a ready-to-wear line for us regular ladies. So please, Runway contestants, stop talking about your non-professional glamazons as if they'd have been better off trying out for The Biggest Loser. Yes, I'm talking to you, Seth ''This is the largest challenge I've ever faced as a designer'' Aaron!

(Let's pause here to compose ourselves. OK.)

Maybe it's because the pool of contestants is slowly dwindling down to a manageable number, but it seemed to me that we got to spend more time than usual with the designers during their creative process last night. That was cool. I particularly enjoyed the shot of Mila sitting on top of her table, showing off her white jazz shoes. I had a pair during the Thriller era. I remember getting really upset when I scuffed them during recess.

So... the workroom. Everybody was freaked out about completing a formal gown in one day. Oh, and did I mention they were also concerned about their models' size? Complaineth Janeane: ''These women are not 34-25-35, so making a gala-worthy dress in 10 hours is daunting.'' OK, Janeane, here's me making a raspberry in your general direction. What's that you're whining about now? Your dress fell into a bucket of water? Whoops! Bummer. Karma is alive in well in the Runway universe, friends.

Elsewhere in the workroom, Emilio ragged on Anna, Jay, and Mila. Is the season's first challenge-winner going to be its resident trash-talker? The way he's been going at it the last few episodes, it sure looks that way. Grumpy grump! We also saw Seth Whatshissecondnameagain? ditch his Grecian gown and reboot with what he called a ''retro Campbell's soup approach.'' The final result was far too informal for a gala, but switching things up was probably the right decision. (Still not into this guy, though.)

Now, back at the top of the hour, Tim told the designers that ''red must be a prominent color in your dress.'' He never said they had to recreate the Red Sea, but that's pretty much what the runway show ended up being. I know, I know, designing a gala gown for 100 bucks in 24 hours is no mean feat. I just wish they'd played a bit more with colors and tones.

’Cause our eyes sure did take in a helluva lot of candy-apple red charmeuse and/or chiffon Thursday night. The proliferation of charmeuse is especially surprising, since these designers should know better than to swaddle such gargantuan women in shiny, bright material. Unflattering! Aaron Seth [sic] was the only one to go bi-color — a hue for each first name! And of the parade of pure crimson, only Jonathan's three-tiered column of a gown was in a deeper shade. I found it merely meh, but it earned him a ticket next to The Guy With Two Names in the safety zone. As for those who followed them there, I'm going to limit my comments to a few quick thoughts:

  • Emilio: Very simple, extremely BRIGHT mini-dress. Not sure it was fancy enough for a gala.
  • Anthony: Shiny, shiny... shiny suit of crimson. (You're supposed to sing that to the tune of ''Venus in Furs.'' What? Oh, never mind.) Vest was slightly off , shape-wise, and again, outfit was too casual for red carpet.
  • Jay: Nice silhouette, though a little Disney princess-y and too tight on the tummy. Lady looked like she needed to go to the bathroom.
  • Ben: Pretty enough... but WTF with that gold Wonder Woman belt?
  • Janeane: Huh? Bridesmaid nightmare. Old-fashioned, dowdy, poorly sewn. Those hems! You seemed to have stopped crying, Janeane. But with this hot mess, you've made the world weep.

Now on to the good!

Last week's winner, Mila, once again found herself in the top, alongside Maya and Amy. (Yay for the ladies!) Guest judge Georgina Chapman and Nina both applauded the playfulness of her starry-starry-night gown. The silhouette was lovely, but I agree with Emilio that the celestial bodies on the bodice and skirt screamed Old Glory. Also: the conundrum of this blasted branding! I was glad Mila didn't slap a literal logo on her dress, but if you didn't know that Campbell's had a hand in this challenge, would you even think of the soup meisters when gazing at those stars? I sure wouldn't. I'd be thinking of Betsy Ross.

Amy got even warmer praise for her flowy, sweetheart-neckline gown that had the very best movement of the night. The Holy Trinity-plus Ms. Marchesa were so in love with it that it was no surprise that they named She of the Pierced Lower Lip the winner. Especially considering that their assessment of Maya's dress — a mostly successful drape-y number accented with a gold sash thingie reminiscent of a heart — came off more as intrigued-bordering-on-puzzled appreciation than genuine admiration. By the by, did Maya skirt the rules by limiting her Campbell's branding to the clutch? Nina seemed to think so. Discuss!

As for the truly hideous, let me borrow a sound effect from Michael: mmm... mmm... mmm — uttered with his best ''Who farted?'' face. Anna turned her poor model into a linebacker with an astonishingly unflattering cut — apparently the only silhouette this self-trained, way-out-of-her-league designer knows. (I give you Exhibit A and B .) She could have improved it marginally by going with a longer length, but there was no getting around that ill-conceived racerback top. ''It looked like a bag, tied in the middle,'' noted Michael. Oh, how I felt for the poor woman stuck standing there in that monstrosity as the judges commented on her body. Pure, unadulterated pain.

Michael might have accused Jesus of working with the Five Quick Steps to Turning the Everyday Woman into a Two-Bit Whore handbook, but I'd argue that Jesse was sneaking peeks at the How to Maximize a Woman's Curves in the Least Flattering Way pamphlet. White shiny fabric on top? Check. Cropped long-sleeve jacket? Check. Bright shiny fabric on bottom? Check. Hard-to-pull-off skirt length? Check. Corsage that looks like a balled up napkin from the First Annual Soup Enthusiasts Convention? Check, mo-fos!

Pretty hideous, right? But leave it Jesus to out-crapify even that cautionary tale of what-not-to-wearability. ''Where do I start?'' groaned Michael, wearing his telltale expression. When Jesus' dress hit the runway, my first thought was, ‘Ooh, wildly age-inappropriate.' Then I got a closer look and realized that was the least of its problems. Truly, it was a $10 hooker dress. Rhinestone straps, really? Can you imagine, dear readers, how Jesus could have imagined such an eyesore would be fitting for a gala benefiting heart disease awareness? It was such an inexcusable piece of junk that Heidi had to steal/paraphrase Nina's signature line: ''I'm not sure about your taste.''

Adios, Jesus.