Project Runway Season 17, Episode 6 Recap: I Need a Hero


Let’s talk about game theory!

Actually, I know nothing about game theory, but it seems like people on Twitter are experts in it and they think it applies to our political world in cogent ways and I’m like “That’s cool, but I’m just trying to get my Sim to stop walking into walls. Can you help?”

Oh, wait! I also know that Constance Wu in Crazy Sexy Asians was a game theory expert, which must mean that game theory is the study of how to perform the impossible feat of besting Michelle Yeoh. The dark arts!

The challenge

Heralded by video game sounds and summoned by a cartoon superhero version of herself, Karlie enters the runway and tells the designers that this week they have to create a video game character and design her look. Karlie is clear that the look should be functional as well as fashionable. This is key!

She then introduces three experts in the field: Robin Hunicke, one of the ten most influential women in games, who also started a program at UC Santa Cruz to encourage women, POC, and queer people to come into the game world; Mitu Khandaker, a developer with a PhD in virtual reality game design; and Nina Freeman, who was on the 2015 Forbes list of most influential game design figures.

Each expert takes a team of design-testants and gives them a rundown on conceiving games and thinking through characters. There’s a shot of a couple designers staring over Nina Freeman’s shoulder as she shows them a black screen full of code that is unintentionally hilarious. Can you imagine being brought on this show to make clothing and all of the sudden you’re Sandra Bullock in The Net?

Sebastian is really into it, though, which is why he’s a better designer than me. He starts thinking about incorporating algorithms, the building blocks of games, into his design. Nina Freeman notes that the great thing about code is that it makes the possibilities limitless.

At Mood, Christian gives them 30 minutes and $300 but cautions that they have to avoid being too costumey. As someone who lives for a costume, I am sad. And as someone who loves the schadenfreude of someone wearing a costume when they definitely should not be wearing a costume, I am despondent.

Christian is so frustrated that no one is using colors. Tessa tries to act like brown is color. A couple designers tell Christian that they’re using red. He’s annoyed that everyone is either monochrome or red. Rakan says he’s different because he’s using a “bordeaux” colored fabric. Christian is like, “Okay, that’s red.” Rakan is like “Actually, it’s bordeaux.” I could watch this forever. It’s like a “Who’s On First” routine for aesthetes.

The workroom

Back in the workroom, the designers are paired with illustrators who will help them flesh out the character. Rakan is envisioning Zenobia, an ancient Syrian queen character. Garo’s character is a fashion editrix. No, not just a female editor—a fashion editor who is also a dominatrix. I have some notes about this, but I’ll hold off.

Venny is making a “woman savior of the world.” According to Venny, she looks for people who are in pain, wraps them in her cape and “warps them to heaven.” I’m going to call her Rapturina.

Lela is making a character who can conjure the wind and “create cyclones, storms” so…like Storm?

Jamall, internalizing last week’s critique about construction, decides to go basic and show off his tailoring skills with a James Bond–style character. Cutting to the chase as always, Christian reads it as a plain suit and worries that Jamall has overcorrected.

Christian’s off-the-cuff (LITERALLY! BECAUSE FASHION!) critiques are especially delicious today. He gets a glimpse of Venny’s design’s long-sleeved lace shirt and quietly groans, “Looks dated.” He sees Jamall attempting to put a white broad collar with a black suit jacket and Christian just mumbles, “Scared.” He elaborates that he’s scared she’ll look like a chic waitress. And then he disappears into a bolt of tulle.

Hester! Is making a character who jumps through stars to get to a rave! She has a jet pack! Am I high?! This is amazing.

There’s a totally random moment during which Bishme, wearing satiny silver gloves, rubs Tessa’s face while she squeals in delight. There is no context for this whatsoever. I wonder if I’ve imagined it, but it appears every time I rewind. Who can say? Is this game theory?

The runway

Jamall is stressing while he sews, and his model waits beside him. They make small talk about his stress. I would actually watch a whole hour of aimless chatting between models and designers. Just watercooler talk. Would this be interesting to anyone but me? Probably not. But what can I say? Normcore is my kink.

Speaking of kink, let’s get into the looks, starting with Garo’s editrix! He ends up in the top three with a red jersey dress that has a black corset skirt on top. Though Nina is flustered by the insinuation that this dominatrix editor is in any way like her, she loves the look and the accessories: a whip and red Kanye West sunglasses. I know you don’t know what I mean when I say Kanye West sunglasses, but I call them Kanye West sunglasses because one year I wore them as part of a very lazy Kanye West Halloween costume. Glad we cleared that up.

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(They are actually called shutter shades.)

In private conference, Nina points out that the S&M theme isn’t an original way of showcasing a powerful woman. Elaine argues that the lack of skin showing is a bit of an innovation. Brandon cuts to the chase by asking Nina to wear the glasses and crack the whip just once. She hesitates but eventually does it, ever so gently. So, that’s what staff meetings are going to be like from now on, I guess.

Hester is also in the top three with basic black pants and long-sleeved crop top hyped to the hilt with orange and pink organza lining the arms, a clear backpack, and cutouts in the pants that are lined with see-through material. The judges love it. Robin, this week’s guest judge, says it could be animated right away. Elaine calls it virtual-reality Wakanda. However, she thinks it’s a little kitsch. Nina is here for the kitsch, though. She loves it.

Tessa, who makes another appearance in the top, gives us The Miller’s Daughter, a grounded character who inherits a mill and has to run it to prove that she can, to herself and to the world. It’s actually a wonderful, off-kilter idea for a game heroine and you can totally see what the game play will be. NORMCORE! Give it to me!

The design is hammered wool overalls with a bib that comes down to form a pocket pouch. She also carries a sack of flour that Tessa made herself. Nina loves the rootedness of the look. “It’s ready to ship,” she says. Robin says she got a little bit emotional because it’s exactly what she wants to see more of in game design. This character is strong, she doesn’t have to trade away any parts of her self or her femaleness to appeal—her capability is self-evident. As is Tessa’s.

Our bottom three this week are Rakan, Venny, and Jamall.

Having run into a tailoring issue, Jamall has had to cut the netted hooded blouse from underneath his Lady Bond look, so down the runway he sends a very well tailored black suit with some zipper accents, even though the illustration includes the blouse, which has a sort of dark Spiderman feel. Robin points out that one of the traps that people fall into in creating female characters is putting a male-identified outfit on a woman. A woman doesn’t have to be a female version of a man, she notes. In private conference, Brandon asks the model if she feels exposed and the model concedes that once she starts to move there’s a real danger that this runway show is going to become a burlesque.

Rakan’s Queen Zenobia is in a red lycra bodysuit under a silver faux-leather sleeveless jacket with a long tail. Elaine thinks that the jacket, which Rakan sees as armor, is choking her. Brandon is not here for the lycra. Robin is diplomatic: Material failures can happen in games, too. Well, diplomatic…but also clearly not here for it.

Now let’s talk about Rapturina, Venny’s character. She’s got a white, fitted lace blouse tucked into wide-leg cobalt blue pants with a white lace cross cut into one leg. And then! On her back she has a cobalt blue cape that is ruched in the back like a little beret. Well, a huge beret, actually. Also, there are feathers coming out of the sleeve. This is so much. Lord!

The look is very Mother of the Church. Like Taraji P. Henson playing a Shirley Caesar impersonator. Brandon says that this look needs Jesus. From head to toe, it’s a disaster, says Nina. Robin thinks that the beret cape calls to mind a Ninja Turtle shell. They realize that the lace cross exposes the model’s underwear. (Which is a bit of a theologically confusing message, I have to say.)

In the end, Hester gets her second win, making her the first person to win two challenges. Living for this journey!

After Jamall is excused, it comes down to a final two of Venny and Rakan. Ultimately, Rakan is cut. After a rocky couple of weeks—and some weeks on top as well—it does seem like this is Rakan’s time to leave. He’s gracious in exiting. In confessional, he summarizes the experience by saying it just wasn’t a match, which is probably the best way to conceive of a reality show exit. Now, that’s game theory.

Who I’m rooting for this week

Tessa and the Miller’s Daugher! Hester and the space rave! Bishme the Baltimore boo! And this superhero drag queen:


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