This is what I was hoping for from this week’s elegance-themed episode of Project Runway:
But here’s what I got:
Almost everything turns out very nice, but the events of this episode, like the designer who ultimately gets sent home, play it a little safe. This is odd, in retrospect, considering that we’re now down to the top 10. One would think the drama would be ratcheting up and the risks escalating. But maybe I just don’t understand elegance.
The designers get invited to a champagne and caviar reception with Karlie and Brandon. When they arrive, Karlie is posing in a gown by Brandon while he takes photos of her. This seems exactly like a thing that is organically happening. There is also an actual photographer and creative director in the room as well, so I am now starting to doubt that this is a thing that is organically happening. Either way, it is elegant. The pair invites the designers to get in a shot with them and the grand plan is becomes apparent! They are taking a top 10 photo! Who loves a reveal?! I do! Just like Brandon Maxwell, designer, photographer, surprise-lover.
This week’s challenge is to create a look that embraces elegance. They each get to pick a clear lucite handbag from Brandon’s Spring 2019 collection and they are tasked with creating an elegant design that complements the item inside the bag.
They pick handbags one by one. Sonia takes a bag containing purple rhinestoned headphones; Lela, a small white bust of a woman; Sebastian, fuchsia orchids; Bishme, a teal mannequin hand; Venny, a bottle of rosé; Jamal, a large pink perfume bottle; Renee, lemons and limes; Hester, peacock feathers.
Tessa and Garo are the last two to pick bags and models. Tessa expresses trepidation because the choices left are the two curvier models, Kate and Asia. Brandon is quick to jump on this growing narrative that the curvy models are some sort of burden. “In life and in your businesses, when any woman comes to you, your job as a designer is to make her feel good,” he says. It’s clear he wants to say more, and both he and Karlie have tight faces, but he stops himself. Tessa is next to pick and she chooses a handbag with fake money and the model Asia.
In confessional, Tessa expresses regret for what she said and hopes that it doesn’t come back to hurt her when the judges critique. She definitely has that look that says, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” Yeah, I’d say so. This challenge is about elegance, and elegance is about understanding restraint.
Let me just zoom ahead and tell you that the word “curvy” is used so much in this episode that you’d think it was an Instagram caption written by the “I love my curvy wife” guy. The total insensitivity with which some of these designers talk about and work with plus-size women is an ongoing issue on Project Runway, dating back to season 16, when they introduced models ranging from size 0 to 22. This season, many designers have basically thrown in the towel when assigned Kate or Asia, throwing tents over them and calling it a day. It is, in a word, gross. Inelegant. Former host Heidi Klum rightfully pointed out the same thing that Brandon Maxwell says in this episode: “You have to dress real people, and real people come in different sizes: short, tall, more voluptuous, skinny.” It’s really frustrating that this attitude about curvy models persists, particularly from Tessa, who has done some really exciting work this season, and for whom I was personally rooting. Anyway, I’m going to get off my soap box, wrap myself in a bespoke tent, and move on.
I’m just saying.
The Mood visit and the first day in the workroom are fairly uneventful. The highlight: Hester reveals that she is making an evening gown with pasties! ELEGANT PASTIES! This woman! I scream! She has immunity, so she is going all out. She acknowledges that this is a risk. Uh, ya think?
Back at the manse, they drink and talk shop with each other. Jamall, who is 23, is looking for guidance from some of the more seasoned designers on how to build and sustain a career. He’s really feeling on the back foot after being in the bottom the last two weeks. He’s reached the point where he is seriously doubting his abilities.
Day Two: Tessa’s nervous about putting her model in an oversized jacket, because she’s curvy. We have to move on from this. Tessa tells Christian that in thinking about her model, Asia, she’s trying to channel her mom and something she would wear. My mouth actually falls open. Somehow curvy plus elegant now equals momcore? No offense to the drapey tunics worn in every Nancy Meyers movie, but this doesn’t make any sense. Asia is not Tessa’s mom. She’s a model; put her in some elegant clothes. Maybe it’s not that simple but, I don’t know, Christian Siriano seems to have cornered the market in doing it. This is disappointing.
Garo, meanwhile, is used to designing for women of all sizes and expresses excitement about giving his model something that will make her feel good and look good that and will support her. You know, like clothes.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Hester actually glues the pasties to her model’s skin using fabric glue. Sebastian is agog. Same.
In the end, both Tessa and Garo are safe with their looks. Tessa buries Asia in black pants and a thick-strapped blouse with a grey overcoat. The sleeves of the coat have cutaways so the model can pull her arms out and tie the sleeves around her waist to create a silhouette.
Garo puts Kate in an ivory, off-the-shoulder dress with a corseted back. It feels very successful.
The top three are Venny, Lela, and Jamall.
Venny puts his model in a simple fuchsia look: a going-out dress with thick straps that extend down past the bustline. The judges are into it. “This is what women want to buy,” Elaine says. Nina loves the color. “Venny designs for his women. He loves women,” she says.
Lela’s design is a black sculptural dress with bold white stripes creating a large checker pattern. She affixes an organza shoulder strap to one side. Nina loves the accentuated hips and the corset-like bodice. She hates the organza, which she describes as toilet paper. In private conference, Nina says that the fabric looks tortured. Karlie says it looks cheap. This is one of those designs, for them, that reads better on the runway.
Jamall, the eventual winner of the challenge, constructs his garment out of one solid piece of black and white plaid. He interrupts what wants to be a classic silhouette by attaching corners of the fabric to itself, creating swoops, diagonals, and little pockets. It comes out looking like what would happen if a Doctor Strange fight scene was a gown. M.C. Escher is gagging, honey. The judges are, too. “So nice of you to arrive,” Elaine gushes.
In the bottom this week: Bishme, Hester, and Sonia.
Bishme presents a black skirt with a bunched hem and a blouse made of a black, blue, marigold, and white print fabric. The blouse has a high neck and some very graceful draping across the back but both Brandon and Elaine tell the designer that it looks like he’s trying to do too much. Nina says the design doesn’t look like Bishme. Bishme says, “I agree.” In private conference, Brandon notes that elegance is subjective but that this ain’t it. Welp.
After having to scrap a planned kimono, Sonia sends a plain iridescent dress with a high slit down the runway. She pairs it with a black wrap that has a glimpse of pink on the underside. “Although it’s a beautiful dress, it’s not necessarily an idea,” Brandon says. He points out that the dress, though it’s well-made, doesn’t communicate with the bedazzled headphones. Sonia has described it as a look for a young DJ and the judges don’t see that story at all. Nina says: “It’s so classic so as to be cliché.”
Now Hester. Her design is a sea foam green taffeta skirt and sheer skintight top. She’s made pasties that match the skirt. And she’s given her model fembot styling. The tailoring of the skirt is exciting, but it’s Hester who’s bursting at the seams when the judges ask her about it. “I got immunity again and then I got a big budget, so I’m like, ‘Oh! I’m going to do something annoying!’” Love her. Elaine thinks the idea is brilliant but the execution falls short, particularly in choosing taffeta. The pasties are very pointy and the judges hate them.
They tell Hester that she is lucky she had immunity. I have to say, I don’t know about the strategy of going balls to the wall with a design if you’re not going to stick the landing. I’d be really curious to know what Hester learned from this experiment.
Sonia, after a very challenging deliberation, is out. Sonia says she feels okay about this result because she stands by her dress. “Not everything is right for you; not everything is where you shine,” she says sagely. Now that’s elegant.
Who I’m rooting for this week
I hope Kovid is having a good day; also rooting for a resurgence for Bishme. And my kingdom to anyone who can competently and enthusiastically design for a woman who isn’t a size 0 without making it sound like a punishment!