Project Runway All Stars: World Beatdown
Because there are three of us Project Runway lovers (well, today there are just two—enjoy the sunshine in California, Kelsey! Eat some House of Nanking for me!), and because we're assuming you watched the show too, instead of straight recaps for this series we're picking and choosing the parts we want to talk about most each week. First though, the episode stats:
The Winner: Mondo, for the second week in a row! You go, Mondo!
The Loser: Mila. A sad, color-blocked trombone plays her off.
And now, our highlights/lowlights. Be sure to chime in in the comments with some of your own!
In a perhaps ill-chosen instance of product placement, the designers are at the U.N. Well, on the capacious green lawn of the U.N., anyway, since apparently the U.N.'s media outreach department has some firm parameters. ("You can have our six least-popular flags. No, Sweden and Brazil will be appearing on House Hunters International, so that's a no go. The lobby? Let me check. Nope, that's not going to work. How does the lawn sound? You may have to shout over the traffic on the FDR Drive, but that shouldn't be a problem, right?")
If you weren't totally sure what all goes on at the U.N., thanks to the incisive commentary of Angela Lindvall and Austin Scarlett, you do now. Kind of. Seriously, that was the most awkward fourth-grade social-studies report I've ever heard. When Austin was like, "The U.N. is where world leaders come to solve the tremendous problems weighing on the earth," I was so hoping that there would be a cutaway to Mondo just doing his most deadpan of deadpan faces, because the moment called for that in a big way.
Making dresses inspired by flags seems like a dicey challenge, overall. Besides Wonder Woman and possibly Austin Powers, has anyone ever really rocked a flag-inspired outfit? If the point was to go high-concept and color-focused, it seems like there would be some more aesthetically pleasing ways to get that done, although maybe that was why the gelato challenge existed. Anyway. The most exciting part of the flag-picking is that it gives Kenley a chance to inadvertently admit that she'll stop at nothing to shift hypothetical blame: She reveals that she was happy to be picked last, since that way if her look was bunk, she could blame it on...the flag. Would anyone else have liked to see how that worked out for her at judging?
Foundation garments have really lit a fire under Joanna's ass this week, because she stomps into the workroom and immediately starts laying into all the male designers, none of whom have designed a gown that allows for a brassiere. (And in Michael C's case, wearing underpants would also be a challenge, as the back of his pageant-y draped gown, representing Greece, is so low that it's all but showing coin slot.) Not shockingly for this show, Austin, Michael, and Mondo seem entirely unbothered by the panty-prohibitive design of their garments, and Joanna's praise of Kenley and Mila's looks thus seems to hinge somewhat unfairly on the fact that both dresses can accomodate undergarments. It's a low bar, but I guess there's got to be one.
Indeed, the question of how gender factors into design seeps beyond the workroom this week, brimming over at judging into a little tiff between Isaac and Georgina wherein Isaaac ruminates that female designers seem to be concerned with designing what they would want to wear, while men are able to universalize and design for everybody. Which is, of course, why you see the average woman walking to work in Hussein Chalayan and Alexander McQueen creations, while Miuccia Prada, Donna Karan, and Diane Von Furstenberg toil in obscurity. Thanks for clearing that up, Isaac! Anyway, Mrs. Weinstein and guest judge (and female designer) Catherine Malandrino are not having this, so they rip off Isaac's penis and turn it into a jaunty brooch, and then proceed to give the win to a dress that cannot be worn by anyone by a model. So, business as usual.
On the unwearable tip: I do applaud Mila for making a dress—inspired by Papua New Guinea, likened by Isaac to "communism," and otherwise straight out of the Mila black-and-red-and-colorblocked-all-over playbook—that the judges found disturbing, as I am all for disturbing that crew. But really, didn't it kind of look like a woman who had walked to a cocktail party in her Forever Lazy and was in the process of unzipping and stepping out of it? Jerell, always quick with a zinger, I'll give him that, noted on After the Runway that it looked like "an angry box of French fries." Big talk, though, coming from someone whose India-inspired look could be packaged and sold at Spencer's Gifts in the Culturally Insensitive Costume section next Halloween.
I was hoping that After the Runway would yield some great trash-talking, and it might have. I don't know, because I fell asleep soon after Jerell made his French-fry crack, but I think at some point Kara Janx showed up and was asked whether she would have sent Mila's or Jerell's look home, and she chose Jerell's and he gve her some bitchface. My only other scrawled note on the show was that Austin decided to dress up like a Whiffenpoof and Kenley was wearing both a cape and white gloves. If anything really amazing happened, let me know in the comments.
One man's crutch is another man's Crutch(TM)
To paraphrase what Joanna warned in the workroom this episode, there's a fine line between settling for something you know you can do and pushing yourself to do something more. This dilemma was clearly a central one for this challenge, and possibly for this whole season. All the remaining designers have very identifiable tastes. This can be a good quality, in the sense that the designers are branding themselves; it's important to be able to see a hot pant or caftan and immediately think "That's so Mondo." Without a defined perspective, you end up being, well...Kara Janx, which isn't such a bad thing, I guess, since it got her through more than half a season of Project Runway All Stars. The flip side of this, however, is that an overreliance on one type of design can be a crutch (possibly a '50s inspired polka-dot crutch?). While having a limited range as a designer has been a point of criticism by Nina/Michael/Heidi/Tim in previous seasons, the All Star judges seem to care way less about this point. Exhibit A: After eight episodes (EIGHT) of Kenley designing forehead-smackingly similar "retro" looks—as cleverly stated by Michael Costello, she lives in The State of Kenley Collins, repped by a polka-dotted flag—Isaac was only now compelled to demand that she push past her comfort zone next week. But why wait until next week? Why couldn't they have told her, "You've been stuck in your own perspective since day one and we've had enough"?
This week, we got comfort at its best: In terms of taking the challenge and putting their own spin on it, I felt like Mondo and Mila came out on top. Both put forth designs that were related to their chosen flag—Jamaica and Papua New Guinea, respectively—without being costumey, and additionally produced genuinely interesting items of clothing. Regardless of Isaac's critiques, I thought Mila and Mondo interpreted their inspiration nicely, evoking the flag without parodying it.
And comfort at its worst: I was shocked at the past-season replicas that Austin and Kenley sent down the runway. Austin, sticking to his security blanket of flowy chiffon, designed a dress strikingly similar to his gown from the "Design For The Red Carpet" Grammy challenge from Season 1 (the design for which he was sent home, interestingly enough).
Left, last night's Seychelles-inspired dress. Right, the gown that got Austin auf'd the first time around.
Did you really think we wouldn't notice, Scarlett?
Kenley, on the other hand, was just so inspired by Chile that she designed something barely related to its flag. Like Austin, her colors weren't spot on (though, interestingly, only he was chastised for this). More important, the dress's silhouette—the feature of her design that the judges seemed to praise most highly—was identical to her only winning look from Season 5, the dress from the "Bright Lights/Big City" challenge. (Fun fact: That dress, in addition to several others from her finale collection, have been dinged as ripoffs of Balenciaga and McQueen designs.) It will be interesting to see if Isaac stays true to his word and boots Kenley for not exploring the world beyond polka dots and Peter Pan collars.
Kenley's Chile-inspired dress, left, and, right, the dress that wowed the Season 5 judges.
Kenley, you're the worst.
Ode to Mila
As stated earlier, I was sure Mila was going to be on top this week. Her dress was well-constructed, addressed the prompt, and struck me as being different and interesting from a construction standpoint. What I like about Mila generally is that her take on asymmetry always looks polished and fashion-forward. In a season of waaaaaay too many mullet hemlines, most of the other designers have made asymmetry look sloppy and about as edgy as a Forever 21 sales rack. Mila's dress was disturbing to look at, judges? I guess if you've spent the last 24 hours in a dark room watching propaganda films from the State of Kenley Collins, sure.
The decision to place Mila in the bottom, to me, really proved how much the judges are looking for someone with mass-market appeal, rather than new ideas. (I've been sipping the Kool-aid since day one, but I would argue that Mondo possesses both of these qualities and should just be crowned winner already). And yet: Hhow on Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn did she get kicked off when Jerell's look was SO AWFUL? There is only one person I can think of who could come close to wearing his look and that would be M.I.A.—and she deserves something better constructed and less cartoonish than his design. No one would walk down the street in Jerell's dress, and that seems like an automatic disqualification to me. With such an obvious weak link in the All Star chain this week, I really have to wonder if Mila disparaged one of the producers off-camera. What's black and white and geometric all over? Mila's suitcase rolling away from Flatotel. Without Lone Wolf and The Gun Show, my final three prediction is looking pretty slim.
First of all, please never make the designers try to talk about international politics again! It was painful to hear Austin expound on the various topics of importance that are discussed within the U.N. With that rant out of the way, I'm really looking forward to next week's challenge, if anything because I can't imagine how Kenley will interpret her usual motifs into something seemingly so structural-looking and glow-in-the-dark...-like. Forcing her out of her rigid comfort zone will either result in my becoming a convert based on how great Kenley's unexpected and fresh design turns out, or it will expose her very limited bag of tricks and get her the much-needed boot to the curb.
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