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Going small is a tall challenge on ‘Runway’

I did not have high hopes for this episode when I saw the promos. More to the point, a fashion show that would be of interest to the head buyers of Kids R Us is not what we signed up for.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

I did not have high hopes for this episode when I saw the promos. Now, I like kids. I love kids. I do. But I can't stand reality shows that feature 'em. (See: "American Juniors." Better yet, don't.) More to the point, a fashion show that would be of interest to the head buyers of Kids R Us is not what you or I signed up for when we got addicted to "Project Runway." And it's certainly not why Nina Garcia gets out of bed in the morning. I mean, please.

Thank gawd, then, that Tim Gunn (so woefully underused thus far this season) came back to the workroom at the end of day one to tell the designers that in addition to the kids' clothes they'd whipped up for the 11 adorable little girls Heidi introduced on the runway, they'd have to design a companion piece for their grown-up models.

This came as a relief to Jonathan, who'd reacted to the tots like they were those homicidal, cornfield-dwelling beasts from Stephen King's imagination. ''I am scared of children,'' he said. ''I don't surround myself with children. I don't have any children. They are very small.''

Proud papa Seth Aaron, conversely, was psyched from the get-go. After he and his rocker man boots covered every square inch of Mood in search of the perfect houndstooth stretch cotton, he strutted around the workroom dispensing advice to his colleagues. His philosophy on children's fashion? Kids want fun duds, not a ''dull, boring Easter dress.'' (Pretty sure he was directing that barb at you, Emilio.)

Also important? Something called ''comfrit.'' He told the judges his design was ''all about'' this. Comfrit? Huh? Is that like a pomfret? Or more like pommes-frites? Oh! He meant comfort. Time to invest in some diction lessons, Seth Aaron. Your pronunciation issues make me uncomfritable.

Ten designers from season seven showed their lines at New York Fashion Week. Warning: May contain spoilers from the show’s season finale.

Last night, the producers devoted a few minutes to reversing the Mila-is-the-pariah narrative they'd launched in the previous episode. There the Severely Banged One went on, talking about her new Zen attitude and laughing and joking with her peers, even when they (and by they, I mean Emilio) teased her about her obsession with color blocking. They were all so happy and supportive and getting along! There were butterflies and rainbows and unicorns! Okay, maybe not. But even Mr. Frowny Pants Emilio showed a softer side last night. I do believe I saw him crack a smile. So there's that.

Anthony, of course, was his usual adorable self. I suppose such an unrepentant chatterbox could get tiresome when you're under such heart-stopping deadlines, but his Steel Magnolias effusiveness sure lights up my TV each week. And it thrills me that his abundant charm goes over so well with his colleagues, who last night challenged him to put a sock in it — or rather, some cloth over it. Alas, he lasted just 14 minutes and 56 seconds without speaking. An eternity for him! And how's this for delicious irony: Anthony, visibly distracted at the sewing machine, asking the two little tykes yapping away near him, ''Do y'all have an off switch?'' Magpie mano a mano!

Many of you have remarked on the breakneck pace of the runway shows — a speed so lightning fast that we're all left scrambling to press pause on our remotes to fully appreciate (or recoil from) each and every look. Well, I'm fully expecting to get thumb blisters from all the freeze-framing and rewinding I did last night, trying to take in two outfits at once when the camera barely lingered on either of them.

From the little I could see, Anthony acquitted himself well with a cute reddish-pink-skirt-and-printed-top little girl's dress that echoed his grown-up model's classy, simple crimson frock. (Loved the ruffled V-neck. Flattering!) Ben's adult outfit — a chic, two-toned purple top and grey skirt — was far superior to the mini lavender dress, which was cute, but just-this-side-of-Amish plain.

While Maya (who was barely in the episode — what's up with that?) went for complementing yellow jackets and dark pants (meh, overall), Mila went for more of the mod same. And Emilio ... well, he'd been as open as a busted oyster shell about his lack of inspiration for this challenge. And it showed. The kid's dress looked like it belonged on an American Girl doll — one a good deal taller than little Lauren. While the second look ... well, that was a hell of a lot of puffy-sleeved pink for a grown-up.

I doubt even Jonathan himself was surprised to find himself in the bottom three this week, given his aversion to the whole underage element of the challenge. I admire his goal of trying to give young Fabriana ''a little girl's dress, but with an edge,'' but come on! That yellow frock with the organza petals belonged in the dress-up box, while the complementary look was overly conceptual, barely wearable.

''I get what you were going for,'' said Michael Kors. ''But she looks like she got caught in a tornado of toilet paper.'' Dingdingdingding! You are correct, Sir Quips A Lot. But so was Jonathan, who had self-deprecatingly (and hilariously) imagined Michael telling him that Fabriana ''looks like a 7 year-old waitress for Benihana. It's as if Memoirs of a Geisha met Barney!'' His Kors imitation was impressive. He and Santino Rice should launch a traveling "Runway" vaudeville act.

If anyone was helped by the lack of screen time, it was Amy. At least initially. When her B-O-L-D bold ensembles first appeared, I thought her multicolored, petal-effect trousers were interesting in an avant-garde, Björk-on-the-Volta-tour sorta way. Hmm… maybe she'll pull this off after all, I thought.

But then came the close-up during judging and my-oh-my was that unfortunate. Suddenly, the trousers' true identity came screaming through. These weren't clown pants, as Tim had warned. These were the offspring of David Lee Roth's fringe chaps (circa ''Just a Gigolo'' ) and Flea's infamous stuffed animal pants. Plus! The fabric disks themselves were frayed and unfinished and just generally busted.

Amy didn't do very well by little Caitlin, either. (Who, it must be said, seems like a funny kid. ''Alison, ready for the circus?'' she asked the model. Ha!) Still, the young'un looked cute enough, like a creative, original, opinionated kid who loves art class and proudly dances to the (off)beat of her own fashion drum. And really, who could even notice her outfit with that grotesque cascade of orange and blue roof shingles overpowering everything in the room?

Well, it was overpowering everything but the sad, pathetic output that was Janeane's this week. Oh, Janeane. The poor girl spent the entire episode looking like… not so much a deer in the headlights, but Bambi forced to relive his mother's execution ad infinitum under the glare of the hunter's blinding high-beams.

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Before Heidi even announced the challenge, Janeane was drained, still licking her wounds from the evisceration she received from Joanna Coles. She missed her husband. She knew her outfit lacked innovation. She prayed she'd be safe. But by the time she had to defend that tragic red jacket and matching symphony of dull in front of the judges, Janeane had to know she was toast.

She's been struggling for weeks, churning out piece after uninspired piece and treading water like a panicked puppy, so when the judges gave her the boot, I can't imagine that part of her wasn't relieved to get the hell out of there. And boy did I feel bad for little Ixele who, as the judges laid into Janeane with increasing venom (''It's a design competition… It looks like a cheap mall outfit,'' said Heidi), retreated behind Brittany. Poor kid. At least Heidi, in her best mommy voice, gave the girl props for owning the runway.

As for the top scorers, I was lukewarm on Jesse's red-and-gray dress duo, which was well tailored, but the details on (she-beast) Alexis' dress looked cheap to me. Especially the red, shiny buttons. Puzzled, I was. Still, dude made a coat and two dresses, so points for ambition.

On the other hand, I luuuuuurved Jay's chic meditation on rippling shades of plum. Gah… It was just so very urban and sophisticated, yet still age-appropriate for both parties and eminently wearable. No ''conceptual toilet paper twins'' here! But are we to assume he went too sophisticated for the judges' taste (is that even possible?), considering who ended up nabbing the win?

That'd be Seth ''I know what kids like'' Aaron. His zipper- and grommet-embellished ensemble for tykes made the judges go goo-goo-gaga. That outfit struck me as awfully Hot Topic-y when I first saw it come together, but the longer I stared at it, the more I realized that of all the designs, it was the most, well, kid-like.

It was fun, cute and looked like actual kids' clothes. Clothes that kids can actually romp around in. The judges said it had whimsy. And apparently that held more weight than Jay's über-urban elegance. (As Tim always says, it's a matter of taste.) What's more, the Holy Trinity (plus Tory Burch) went absolutely bananas for SA's mod-meets-New Wave jacket that Valeria rocked on top. Michael called it the best-tailored garment they'd seen all season. Much as it pains me to type this — if you hadn't noticed, I've not been impressed with SA these past few weeks — Professor Perma Tan was right. I gotta give it Seth Aaron. He might not be hooked on phonics, but he pulled it off on the catwalk.

What's your opinion on this week's episode, "Runway"-ers? Are you, like me, feeling jazzed that the obvious dead weight is gone and the real competition can begin? Did you laugh when Tim told Janeane, ''You are really rocking Halloween here!''? And are you kicking your heels together at the prospect of next week, when the designers will be shoppin' (strategically! thoughtfully!) for materials at a hardware store?