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''Project Runway'': The French mistake

On ”Project Runway,” the designers finish their stay in Paris with a hand-sewing challenge, and the judges pick the wrong winner but the right loser

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Project Runway
Project Runway: Mark Abrahams

”Project Runway”: The French mistake

Let’s begin with the good news: He’s gone! Vincent, a man so aroused by his own work on Project Runway over the last several weeks that he was threatening to become a walking manifestation of the Eiffel Tower (but smaller), was finally auf’d — or, more precisely, given this week’s Paris-to-New York transition, au revoired. Among his last words to the camera: ”It got me off.” And so, appropriately, the show got him off. And that got me off. And now we’re all off — including the judges, who, with the predictable perversity of long-term guardians of the fashion demimonde, picked the single most wretched gown on the runway — Jeffrey’s — as the winner. That’s right: No immunity, but Jeffrey now has two wins in a row.

How did this happen? This week’s blessedly ungimmicky challenge — take $375 and two days in Paris to make a hand-sewn couture gown — was a level-playing-field opportunity for the six remaining designers to show their strengths without having to make a pantsuit for a chihuahua or a pullover out of chemical waste. First we had to endure lots of location-shoot-justifying blahblahblah about how inspiring and gorgeous and sophisticated Paris is. (Yeah, yeah, we heard it already from Carmela Soprano and Rosalie Aprile, and the only thing all that sightseeing and accordion music seemed to inspire this week was Kayne’s tragically un-fun moment in a beret with a little drawn-on Pepe Le Pew mustache. Kayne, don’t be that guy.) But then the six players got down to work, in an episode carefully shaped to show each contestant struggling to overcome an inherent weakness (Kayne battling pageant tackiness, Uli trying to show she can work without vibrant prints, Laura pushing to overcome dull same-iness and swollen ankles, and so on).

Who deserved to win? Some of you (and all of me) would say Uli, who seems headed straight for Fashion Week given the consistent sophistication of her choices; her dress this week, despite its slightly drab monochrome, was sexy, intriguing, original, and Oscar-night-ready. Some of you might pick Kayne, whose dress was more Golden Globes; as always, he couldn’t find the brakes, but at least he was headed in the direction of lavish fun. And some of you might say Michael, who didn’t think much of his own work, but come on, the dress got egged and still looked more than decent, especially after the judges fixed it on the spot by getting him to tuck in those peculiar hooter hubcaps.

But Jeffrey? I don’t get it. I just don’t. This has nothing to do with his meanness or bad behavior or arrogance — let’s just talk about the dress itself, which I’m sure was well made and representative of some sort of demented confidence (which is, I think, what the phrase ”fashion-forward” means), but really, it looked like something that a slightly slutty and inebriated six-foot-tall human Thermos would wear to a hoedown. Jeffrey wanted his dress to be ”happy, joyous, and free” and said the fabric ”just jumped out at me.” Of course it jumped out: It’s the color of a plaid warning sign! It’s what you would wear if you were told to take a kilt and turn it into a terror alert! And then you finish it off by sewing an off-center welcome mat to the back! (On the bright side, Jeffrey, I’m writing this from Provincetown, Mass., and there are several drag queens here who would like to have a word with you.)

If I’m belaboring Jeffrey’s dress, it’s because it now seems almost certain that he’s going to the final three, since Laura’s narrow range (note upcoming weepy pregnancy meltdown in scenes from next week) and Kayne’s unfortunate taste deficiency are both being played up by the judges as potential game enders. But it’s also because, frankly, for all the jet-setting, this episode didn’t have all that much else going on. That is, unless you count Tim Gunn’s priceless remark to Kayne about his shiny gold bodice: ”This is not working for me. Seeing all this boning underneath — it’s not pretty.” (That’s right: Tim Gunn said ”boning.”) Or Vincent’s complete ankle-licking, heinie-smooching stalker routine in front of the formidable Catherine Malandrino on the Seine (which he pronounced ”sane,” which is…ironic). [Read Jessica Shaw’s interview with Vincent.] Or Laura getting ruffled when her ruffles lost their ruffliness and the chest-baring neckline proved profoundly unflattering to her American model. Or the always frosty Uli remarking that Vincent’s dress looked like a ”sofa.” Or the completely unexpected reincarnation of Angela, in the form of an unwelcome fleur de butt that helped doom Vincent’s dress to exile.

Let me close with a thought that has long troubled me: Why is it that, on reality shows, nobody knows how to make a bed? Every time we see someone waking up in the morning, their feet are sticking out from under the sheets, and the bedclothes look like an angry badger was trapped underneath them. The Real World, The Apprentice, Project Runway…do real people sleep like this, or just ”reality” people?

And while we’re asking questions, who’ll be the next to go? What did Heidi mean by ”there are benefits to winning that will be revealed in a later challenge”? And what was I missing in Jeffrey’s dress? Don’t answer that last one: It’ll come to me tonight in a dream — just before I wake up screaming.