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One designer gets the blues on ‘Project Runway’

Designing something retail-worthy (and blue) proved to be difficult for some designers and one's love for ruffles got her tossed
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

Happy Friday, Runway friends! Before I plunge into the Blue Period Ruffle Kerfuffle that was last night’s show, allow me a quick moment to plug “Project Runway Talk,” a new series (produced by our award-winning “Idolatry” guru Jason Averett) in which EW superstar Dalton Ross and yours truly will be interviewing “Runway” ejectees. Starting today, we’ll be taping the chats every Friday morning, so be sure to check back here later for our premiere episode, which is sure to BLOW. YOUR. MIND. (Hyperbole? Moi? Nevah!)

Now back to our regularly scheduling programming.

I’ll give last night’s challenge this much — after the ill-defined cinematic mess of last week, the Macy’s task was at least clear: Design some blue stuff that people who buy our in-house brand Inc. would like! And if you do this well, we’ll let you create a “holiday dress” to be sold in “select” Macy’s stores and on our Web site! Why blue? Well, I’m glad you asked! Because it’s got both “soft, romantic hues” and more “electric” tones. In other words, variety — as opposed to every other color on the spectrum! Oh, and the best thing about Inc. is that “it’s only available at Macy’s!”

Wow. Somebody alert the good folks at Guinness so we can get that last fact into the 2009 “Book of World Records.”

Anyhoo, after Tim explained the sponsor-friendly challenge, the remaining 10 designers pitched their ideas to Macy’s representative Martine Reardon, then paired off into teams of two. No one was too jazzed about this part, but they dug the whole Macy’s angle. “This is the best challenge any designer could ever, ever hope for,” Irina opined. Woah — really? Macy’s is the apogee of your artistic hopes and dreams? Well hey, at least she liked something. Cause for the rest of the hour, she pretty much hated on everything else — starting with the idea of a uniformly blue dress. “You just feel like you’re a walking color,” she sneered. (Hey! Cookie Monster and Grover resent that anti-monochrome remark!) Then there were all her disparaging comments about Gordana:

“YOU’RE STRESSING ME OUT!” (as repeated by Gordana)

“Katie’s looking OK in my dress. However, the look Gordana is working on is sort of a disaster.”

And finally, of Gordana’s blouse: “It’s so sad and depressing-looking and I need to sort of liven it up.”

In the end, Irina forced herself to squeak out the faintest of praise for her teammate: “Gordana could have been more proactive, but the dress looks a lot better on the model than on the mannequin.” Madame G., meanwhile, suffered under Irina’s totalitarianism. “I didn’t get any direction. I was so frustrated!” she fumed, moving her facial muscles for what I’m pretty sure was the first time all season. (Perhaps speaking expressively was a no-no in the communist Yugoslavia of her youth.) The stoic-of-face designer might not be a go-getter, but she’s no dummy, either. She knew that had she not delivered a decent-looking top, Irina “would have completely, as they day, thrown me on (sic) the bus.” Well, jeez. I hope she’d at least give you exact change for fare.

Naturally, because she holds advanced degrees in equal-opportunity beyotchery, Irina made time to diss Shirin and Carol Hannah, who were getting along just fine, thankyouverymuch, and were minding their own business. “Their stuff looks like it was bought in, like, a discount store,” Irina said, lip duly curled. “It’s very, like, $10-shirt-on-sale-for-$5.99 kind of thing.” Not according to Tim. Dressed not in his usual tidy suits, but in jeans, a striped Oxford and a plaid blazer that were all very hip-professor chic, Tim mused that the ladies “had the potential to knock people’s socks off.” Yes, even though they were incorporating one of his pet peeves! “Never mind,” he said, shaking his head. “Don’t get me on leggings!” To which I say: Word, brother. Having lived through the leggings trend in my teens, I’ll be damned if my 34-year-old gams are gonna embrace those things again now.

Althea and Logan also hit their contented stride, whipping up a sexy suit with a skirt so short it would have made Amanda Woodward weep tears of joy. (Althea sure likes her suits, doesn’t she? The second outfit was OK, but that crotch was, if not insane, seriously saggy!) No team exuded more happy-happy-joy-joy than Christopher and Epperson. Epp gushed about how relieved he was not to wade into another stew of acrimony (Qristyl flashback alert!), while Christopher dubbed them the “Dream Team.” These two fellers sang each other’s praises so enthusiastically that they could have spent an hour volleying ever-kinder words of bromance back and forth, à la: “Christopher, your stuff rules.” “No, Epperson, man, you’re awesome!” “Dude man, I love you!”

Louise, on the other hand, must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed that morning — not the cranky side, mind you; the clueless side. After narrowly avoiding the ax last week for an ill-conceived design that should have been a piece of cake for a retro-loving gal like her, she vowed to wow ’em this time around by going “a little more over-the-top.” Smart plan. And Lady Macy’s liked her sketches enough to pick her as a team leader. So far so good, sister!

But then… Who does she go and choose as her partner? Freakin’ Nicolas, the only remaining contestant who has been consistently dreadful all season long! Nicolas, the guy who pitched a leather vest to Lady Macy’s! I repeat: A VEST. MADE. OF. LEATHER. It didn’t bother Louise that Nicolas had immunity because, she said, her designs “were so strong, I’m pretty confident we’ll be in the top.” Oh my. She might have sensed that between selecting Nicolas and misplacing the envelope with the cashola at Mood, she was looking at some seriously nasty harbingers of doom. The kind from which not even a preternaturally understated personality and an uncanny gift for imitating birds can protect you. Caw-caw! (Name that “Idol” reference!)

Nicolas, of course, loathed Louise’s vision. He vented plenty, vilifying ruffles as if the harmless staples of little-girl fashion were as evil as trousers with pleats. “I. HATE. RUFFLES,” he seethed. “I believe ruffles were created to hide flaws. Ruffles make me sick.” Now I know what I’ll be wearing when Dalton and I do Little Nicky’s exit interview. Mmmwaaahaaa!

Whenever a designer gets a little too excited about their work on this show, alarm bells go off in my head, because boy-oh-boy do the “Runway” producers relish setting up these folks for a rude awaking on the catwalk. This week, the warning sirens started blaring as soon as Christopher misinterpreted Tim’s critique. Which was this: he didn’t understand why they paired a sheen-y shirt fabric with a dressier charmeuse, but figured that, with certain adjustments, the guys had the “potential for serious reinvention.” Key word? Potential. Yet poor Christopher was so wrapped up in being one half of the “Dream Team,” that he took Tim’s words to mean: “We reinvented the shirtdress. That’s pretty cool.” Guy learned soon enough just how wrong he was.

Because — yay! — Michael Kors was back and with him, the semi-righting of all that is well and good in the “Project Runway” judging world! Now, if I were a season 6 contestant who’d spent a good portion of my time standing under those scorching lights getting critiqued by mere stand-ins for the Real Deal, I’d have been pretty frickin’ STOKED to see Sir Quips A Lot finally sitting in his rightful seat again. I’d have applauded until my hands bled, hooted and hollered until I was as hoarse as Paula Abdul when she attempts to “sing” live. Not this group. They clapped with the same level of passion they’ve shown all season.

What they sent down the runway in their very own Macy’s Day Parade was equally underwhelming. To be fair, the challenge was as inspiring as a trip to the dry cleaner’s. Don’t get me wrong: Other than the positively abysmal customer service I’ve received at the New York City flagship location, I have nothing against Macy’s, nor do I think poorly of Inc. per se. Still, what’s exciting or inspiring about either brand? With the exception of Martine Reardon (duh), my guess is the judges don’t know either.

Take how reluctant they seemed to cheer Top Two-ers Carol Hanna and Shirin, who made a perfectly respectable two-toned dress and an aquamarine tunic paired with (shriek!) leggings. “I think she’s done a...uh...very good job of interpreting the Inc. brand,” said Reardon, proving herself to be as wary of effusive praise as Irina is fond of rewarding herself with it. Michael and Heidi dug the tunic, with Frau Klum pulling out her beloved “it doesn’t look cheap” chestnut.

They were slightly more convincing in their praise for Irina’s chevron-patchwork dress. Kors rightly gave them props for being the sole team to present a design with a pattern (take that, Muppets!) — and a handmade one at that. The judges even gave the thumbs up to Gordana’s formerly controversial top. And so the Queen Beyotch and She of the Immobile Face won the night. I can’t really quarrel with that decision ‘cause those garments were perfectly pretty. But in the annals of “Runway” greatness, those babies ain’t gonna stand the test of time.

As for the stinkers, Christopher busted out the waterworks as soon as Heidi asked him to explain himself. It was here that he learned that, far from reinventing the shirtdress, he’d given birth to an “unattractive nightshirt riff on Americana” that might have looked fetching on a librarian circa 1979. (Nice to have you back, Kors!) The judges also harshed on look No. 2. Michael called it a “teal charmeuse disco pumpkin” and Heidi, sporting crazy huge claws-of-steel rings on her fingers, likened its neckline to a lobster bib. “Your two looks had nothing in common with each other...” she said. “Except how clueless they both were.” Zing!

Lack of a cohesive vision was not Louise’s problem. Nope. Her dual looks were perfectly in accord as homages to Angela Keslar craptastic rosette-ery. The skin-tight shift dress with ruffles was fug, but it was the cocktail dress with a warped hem that took top marks in turdiness. As it limped down the runway, the camera cut to Michael, whose head did a herky-jerky dance of distaste. Later, he sniffed, “This truly looks like a bridesmaid’s dress with a shower loofah ruched up the front of it.” Shaking her head, Zanna Roberts (aka Another Marie Claire Staffer Who’s Not Nina Garcia) added: “If I walked into Macy’s and saw racks of this, I would walk straight back out. I’d think I’d walked into a bad bridal shop.” Oh, the dreaded bridal shop zinger! Even Reardon chided Louise for failing to capture the Inc. brand. Which is kind of funny, considering that she’s the one who chose Louise’s designs.

After reminding Nee-ko-lass just how lucky he was to have immunity, Heidi delivered the rather obvious verdict: “Louise, you’re out.” Long dramatic pause, followed by the duhn-duhn-duhn music fading back in. Uh-oh! Could she be making good on her previous comment that “one or more of you will be out”?

“Christopher...” Heidi intoned, dragging out the moment for utmost dramatic effect.

“You’” Cue Christopher’s second breakdown of the night.

It’s true that I’ve been hard on Christopher in the past two challenges, but I do think he’s one of the strongest designers in the competition this season, so I’m hugely relieved that he didn’t get the boot. That would have been ridonk — and a surefire sign that the show had gone off the rails. Bullet dodged!

What did you think? Did the Macy’s Day Parade Challenge stack the deck? Was it Louise’s time to hit the trail? (“I certainly made it a lot further than I had expected,” she said. Awww … ) Did Irina deserve another win? And what about her “holiday dress” they flashed at the end? What’s the holiday? National Mariah Carey Butterfly Appreciation Day?