How is it there are only six designers left? It seems like just yesterday I was trying to remember who the hell was who, and scoffed at people like Bert and Anya making it past the first few challenges. But here we are! It really is down to the wire, and this week, there were three different birds sitting on it: an Amazonian Parrot, a Cockatoo, and a Raven. The challenge: design a look inspired by one of these three birds.
At first, the contestants thought they were working in teams selected by chance: Laura Kathleen and Anya, Viktor and Kimberly, and Bert and Joshua. At first they bemoaned another team challenge, but all six of them were content with their pairings - even Bert and Josh, erstwhile antagonists, were okay with the outcome! But then - psyche! Turns out the pairs were going head-to-head instead. Oh. How sad was it to see Laura and Anya's elation drop quickly into disappointment? Honestly, this was one challenge that I would have loved to see in partnerships, simply because the pairings were so interesting.
Alas, it was not to be, and so each duo set up about inspecting their assigned bird for any signs of artistic inspiration. The goal: a high fashion look, which, if selected by the judges, would be the focus of an "advertorial" (if there is such a thing; I'm dubious) in Marie Claire - and the winning designer would receive $20,000.
To me, it was kind of an odd challenge. It was plainly obvious that the producers were trying to put as much pressure as possible on the contestants at this point in the competition. Another team challenge, seemingly? Stressful! Just kidding, it's a head-to-head competition... even more stressful! Then, they raise the stakes by tacking a hefty cash sum onto the prize package, and before we knew it, all the designers were hawk-eyeing each other in the workroom. If that weren't enough, halfway through, Tim Gunn told them they had to design a second high fashion look inspired by the same bird (what gives?) and then three hours before it was all over he told them that no, never mind, they'd only send one look down the runway.
What gives, Project Runway producers? I felt emotionally exhausted at the end of this episode, and I didn't even make a garment! In fact, I don't even think I got up off the couch at any point, even during the commercials. This should tell you something! I mean, other than the fact that I'm lazy.
Poor Kimberly seemed to be struggling the most during the challenge, as she tried to break out of her comfort zone but couldn't manage the chutzpah to make it happen. I felt badly for her, and it honestly seemed like one of the worst funks I've seen a designer slip into, barring actual illness. "It's just one of those days," she told Tim, and it really was. Her fabric had stains on it, she somehow managed to get hot glue on it too, and she sewed through her finger. Between her listless demeanor, persistent bad luck, and the talking heads where she spoke about losing her mother, stepfather, and brother... I was seriously worried for Kimberly's livelihood last night (both in the show, as well as her emotional state!).
Luckily, Tim Gunn was there to support her, and I'm not gonna lie, I teared up when he gave her a hug and called himself her biggest cheerleader. How wonderful is that man? I love that Project Runway is a show that acknowledges how taxing it is, creatively, physically, and emotionally, and I love that Tim Gunn is there simply to support them through the process. And really, let's face facts; I just love Tim Gunn, full-stop.
Of course, Viktor was side-eyeing Kimberly all episode, keeping track of his competitor and her seemingly inevitable spiral into self-destruction - even claiming that she nicked some of his ideas. To be fair, all of the designers kept careful watch on their competition, and through the comparisons, some interesting discussions emerge, about Kimberly and Anya in particular.
For once, the Bert-Joshua interaction wasn't the most attention-worthy part of the episode; it was obvious from the start that these two have polar opposite aesthetics with comparable skill level and therefore it was simply up to the judges' taste. With Viktor and Kimberly, and Laura and Anya, though, there's an acknowledged divide in construction ability. Kimberly even stated herself, that Viktor had the upper hand in terms of constructing garments. And, of course, Laura and Anya have a more exaggerated version of the same thing: Laura's been sewing since she was eight, whereas I have food in my pantry that's older than Anya's sewing experience.
And, according, to Joshua and Viktor, this means that Anya and Kimberly shouldn't be rewarded for their inexperience - not when Josh paid $100,000 for an education and Viktor puts in so much effort on the construction of one garment while Kimberly scraps her original and makes a new one in three hours. He even stated: "This is a sewing competition," and Josh basically echoed the same sentiment when he was repulsed by Anya's lack of consideration for how the model would get in and out of her garment.
This wouldn't be an issue, except Anya and Kimberly won their matchups, and the truth comes out: this is not a sewing competition. Michael Kors reminded us: Project Runway is about design, and while, sure, you can't send clothes down the runway with loose threads and uneven hems and hot glue everywhere, the merit of the design almost always takes precedence over the construction skills that went into it. And at the end of the day, Anya had a better design than Laura's, even though she had to sew her model into it. And Kimberly had a better design than Viktor, even though she made it in three hours.
It's a tough pill to swallow, if you're not Kimberly or Anya, and I'm bracing myself for the conflict to escalate between now and Fashion Week. But from a fan perspective, I see it similarly as the judges. Both Kimbo and Anya tried to do something different, and successfully put well-designed and interesting garments down the runway. As contestants and designers, they made good choices. And both Laura and Viktor's outfits, no matter how impeccably constructed, had feathers on them, and were deemed too literally interpreted. The judges gave them both credit, though - Viktor for his "fascinating, unique, and romantic" feather technique, and Laura Kathleen for stepping out of her comfort zone to try something new.
As for the Bert v. Josh showdown (the tamest we've seen!), the judges almost loved both outfits entirely. Bert's fell short for the lack of exuberance and being generally uninspired by his bird, and Michael Kors hated the flower detail on Joshua's joyful number, calling it the "drunk-in-the-Caribbean party corsage." But in the end, the overall refreshing tone of Josh's dress beat out Bert's well-made but uninspiring piece.
So, Anya nabbed the win for this one, and presumably they figured out a way to get her model in the dress before they shot the "advertorial." That $20,000 could probably have bought a well-placed zipper or something, right? Josh, however, was not happy about this decision, and his declaration that Anya was "playing [the game] well" made me think that Josh has his suspicions about Anya and some sort of Trinidadian beauty queen witchcraft. Perhaps the secret is in a Caribbean party corsage? Only a drunk trip to Trinidad and Tobago can tell us.
Frankly, though, I appreciate both Anya and Kimberly in particular for their ability to make it work. How many episodes have these ladies appeared to have been in trouble, with either a workroom calamity or a bad critique from Tim Gunn - only to pull their design together and put something good on the runway? Not only do these two have an eye for editing, but they also can clearly, if you pardon the phrase, fix their shit. That's impressive to me, and I'm behind both of them going to Fashion Week, for sure.
Who isn't going to Fashion Week, though, is dear old Bert, who has been in a revolving door in and out of my heart this entire competition. I am sad to see him go, though, just because it's been rewarding to see him finally fit in with the other designers. He and Josh went from bitching at each other to acting like the married couple of the workroom. (Josh cooed, "Beeeeeert, see you at home tonight!" and Bert just replied, "Yes, dear." Adorable!) I also love his and Laura Kathleen's awkwardly amiable father-daughter dynamic, and it hurt my heart a little bit to see them both in the Bottom 2. But even Bert confirmed that the judges made the right decision, and it was thus that the self-described 102-year-old made a classy exit - leaving behind good friendships with the other designers, finally. It felt like closure!
So, next week is the last challenge, where the Final 3 are chosen and the contestants can start to smell the tents at Fashion Week! Right now it's looking to me like a shoo-in for Viktor and Anya, with the third slot up for grabs between Kimberly and Joshua - if they have more faith in Joshua editing himself, or Kimberly putting forth some showstoppers. Unfortunately, it seems that unless Laura Kathleen pulls something amazing (and I hope she does, frankly), she's going to be sitting this one out. How about you guys? Who do you want to see a collection from? Who do you think will break down next week? Only time will tell...
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