Leanne Marshall’s New York nightlife-inspired ensemble
(season 5, episode 3)
New York City’s famed nightlife was the jumping-off point in week 5, and Leanne, the quiet brunette from Oregon, delivered a sophisticated, sexy ensemble worthy of the glamorous heyday of Studio 54. The top and bottom had a simple, timeless elegance that played off the gorgeous accent detailing of the skirt. Feminine and edgy, the outfit was an early hint of the vision Leanne would bring to the Fashion Week finale, where she emerged the fifth-season victor.
Jillian’s Twizzler dress
(season 4, episode 6)
Though she lost the Hershey’s Challenge to Rami, Jillian produced one of the most unforgettable garments the show has ever seen with her bright red dress made almost entirely of Twizzlers. It probably tasted pretty good, too.
Korto Momolu’s seat-belt coat
(season 5, episode 7)
How did Korto respond to the challenge of stripping Saturn hybrids for parts? Why, by driving her design to the very heights of fashion-forward inventiveness, of course. Made entirely of seat belts, her coat boasted both stunning texture and a beautiful shape, enhanced by three-quarter-length bell sleeves and a cinched waist. It was a showstopper, but in a foreshadowing of the finale, Korto came in second to Leanne.
Austin Scarlett’s cornhusk dress
(season 1, episode 1)
The prim contestant with a penchant for neck scarves won the very first challenge of the very first season with a dress made out of cornhusks bought at New York supermarket chain Gristedes. The husks did wilt overnight in the workroom. But not even a little case of the day-olds could derail Austin’s vision.
Epperson’s Western getup
(season 6, episode 6)
The soft-spoken dude with dreads produced a number of gorgeous looks during his run, but his answer to the movie-genre challenge was simply divine. Turning the cliché-filled Western genre into a textured, dramatic high-fashion look that had nothing of the costume-y about it was a brilliant stroke of craftsmanship from Epperson. Can you believe he lost to this cheap Halloween-y getup from Nicolas?
Jay McCarroll’s Chrysler Building dress
(season 1, episode 3)
Season 1’s loudmouthed champ never actually won any of the pre-Fashion Week challenges. And while the judges didn’t think this silky, Chrysler Building-inspired number was quite right for that week’s client, Banana Republic, we love it for its edgy sophistication.
Kara Saun’s postal uniform
(season 1, episode 8)
For her fourth win, season 1’s early front-runner (but ultimate second-placer) managed to turn a dowdy civil servant’s uniform into a chic, modern ensemble that, yes, would work perfectly in rain, sleet, or snow.
Anthony’s black-and-white dress
(season 7, episode 11)
Fan favorite Anthony not only returned to the show after his elimination the previous week — but he also won the challenge. (Technically, he and Emilio both triumphed.) Guest judge Jessica Alba was so smitten with his luxurious, two-toned silk gown that moved like buttah that she promised to wear it on the red carpet someday. Jessica, we?re still waiting!
Austin Scarlett’s Grammy dress
(season 1, episode 9)
The task? Design a dress for Access Hollywood reporter Nancy O’Dell to wear to the Grammys. The flowing gown that Austin sent down the runway was gorgeous, sexy, and feminine. Yet somehow, season 1 villain Wendy Pepper’s orange minidress took top marks. Four years later, we’d still opt for Austin’s colorful showstopper any day.
Santino Rice’s gray dress
(season 2, episode 5)
Season 2’s resident pot-stirrer designed his share of outré doozies (paging the turkey-feathered ice-skating costume!), but his gunmetal gray party dress was so pitch-perfect it even promised to make guest judge Nicki Hilton look elegant. The flowing skirt paired with the braided top was pure sophistication. And the judges agreed.
Chloe Dao’s makeover of Nick Verreos
(season 2, episode 10)
The petite Texan (and ultimate season 2 champ) beat out her competitors that week by outfitting fellow designer Nick Verreos in a sharp, pinstriped trouser-and-vest ensemble offset with a smart pink shirt. Nick never looked more handsome. (Unfortunately, he didn’t deliver nearly as well with his own design: His ill-fitting suit for Daniel V. earned him a ticket home.)
Michael Knight’s coffee filter dress
(season 3, episode 1)
The ”Wall to Wall Fashion” challenge in the season 3 premiere asked designers to use materials found inside their apartment. And while others went straight for more obvious fabric substitutes like sheets, curtains, and upholstery, Michael showed masterful innovation by stitching together a chic minidress made of coffee filters. It didn’t even make the top three, but it’s still the one most of us remember best.
Mitchell’s turtleneck muumuu
(season 6, episode 1)
Oof. The first episode of the long-delayed sixth season (which debuted on Lifetime and took place in L.A.) tasked the designers with creating a red-carpet look that exemplified who they were. Mitchell responded by making a nude turtleneck muumuu. So I guess his message was…he’s Maude with an egregious VPL?
Michael Knight’s Pam Grier-inspired hot pants
(season 3, episode 6)
Fan-favorite Michael scored his first win with his impossibly sexy, bright fuchsia short-shorts ensemble inspired by the great Pam Grier. The ”Iconic Statement” challenge was a tough one for many — see what earned Bradley Baumkirchner a spot on our Hot Mess list — but Michael passed with flying, hot pink colors.
Laura Bennett’s recycling dress
(season 3, episode 7)
Who knew that season 3’s überglamorous mother of six would whip up one of her most inspired designs after visiting a recycling plant? The redheaded ballbuster’s cocktail dress was not only effortlessly chic, it also captured her winning sense of humor: The back memorably read ”FOR NUTS ONLY.”
Uli Herzner’s blue minidress
(season 3, episode 12)
Runway‘s other blonde fräulein won the final challenge before Fashion Week with her stunning silk tie-dye mini. The long-frock-loving Uli finally shortened her hemline and was rewarded with a photo in Elle magazine.
Emilio’s Pepto-Bismol string bikini
(season 7, episode 7)
One of the biggest insults ever to walk the Parsons runway. Out of time, materials, and ideas, Emilio sent his poor model Holly down the catwalk looking like a transvestite Amazonian warrior from a cheap 1960s B-movie. Partially covered in the front and even less so in the back, Holly looked pissed. And rightly so. This is not fashion. It’s not even clothes! That the judges didn’t drop-kick Emilio out of the competition for this catastrophic failure still makes my blood boil.
Chris March’s purple gown
(season 4, episode 1)
Like season 3’s Michael Knight, the lovable Chris March failed to get the judges’ attention in the first challenge. His regal silk plum gown with a gorgeously constructed purple-and-green crisscross halter top didn’t even crack the top three. But if, someday, we ever get an invite to a fancy soirée where the little black dress just doesn’t cut it, we won’t have to think twice about what to wear.
Amy’s hairy bustier
(season 7, episode 8)
Meow. Perhaps too avant-garde conceptual for her own good, Amy put together this puzzling catsuit that was supposed to represent fire. An explosion of hair extensions? A blowup at the beauty parlor? All we know is, it’s creepy. But no one can accuse her of being boring.
Christian Siriano and Chris March’s avant-garde gown
(season 4, episode 8)
The pairing of Christian ”Fierce” Siriano and witty Chris March could only yield genius. Tasked with producing an avant-garde garment based on their models’ hairstyles, the match made in style heaven whipped up this jaw-dropping gown that was the very definition of couture. That they did it in just two days with a mere $300 is a reminder of how extraordinarily talented many of the Runway folks are.
Seth Aaron’s mommy-and-me ensemble
(season 7, episode 6)
The edgy dude from Washington State confirmed his versatility bona fides with a chic, staggeringly intricate jacket for mom and an adorable houndstooth hoodie for daughter. He earned this win.
Jillian Lewis’s Argonaut-inspired outfit
(season 4, episode 11)
The soft-spoken gal from Long Island, once again delivered a gorgeous garment, this one inspired by the painting Scenes From the Story of the Argonauts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The playful gold skirt and expertly tailored black jacket were feminine and fashion-forward, and rank among Jillian’s strongest work all season. We love it, even if the judges opted to give top marks that week to Mr. Fierce’s elaborate, multi-piece conquistadorish ensemble.
Wendy Pepper’s postal uniform
(season 1, episode 8)
Everything that Kara Saun’s uniform brought — style, fit, originality — Wendy’s sorely lacked. Working as if she’d never even heard of the word innovation, Wendy made a dull white blouse with an incongruous oversized collar and cuffed short sleeves, and paired it with unflattering shorts that even puckered on the model’s size-0 thighs. It’s because of fashion crimes like this that dogs bite the people who deliver your mail.
Malvin’s slingshot of fertility
(season 6, episode 2)
Season 6’s eccentric wounded-soul-of-an-artist Malvin thought he’d make guest judge Rebecca Romijn a pregnancy outfit that captured the more esoteric side of fertility: eggs and feathers. But he ended up making a garment more suited for post-birth. His slingshot in a drab burlap-like fabric looked like a bohemian Baby Bjorn that had mated with a drag queen’s boa.
Santino Rice’s makeover of Kara Janx
(season 2, episode 10)
Once again, Santino just couldn’t resist a little envelope pushing on the catwalk. Unfortunately, this time it was at the expense of poor Kara, whom he outfitted in a horrendous beige jumpsuit. In addition to fitting the svelte Janx about as well as a cardboard box might, the garment captured none of her vivacious personality. Santino is lucky Nick Verreos tanked so badly that week. Otherwise, he might have been the recipient of Heidi’s auf Wiedersehen.
Bradley Baumkirchner’s Cher
(season 3, episode 6)
Bradley wasn’t alone in blowing it the week the designers had to create a look based on a fashion icon — Vincent Libretti’s Twiggy dress was tantamount to sartorial slander of the British ’60s trendsetter — but we knew the poor guy was doomed when he revealed that he knew next to nothing about Cher. (How a designer hopes to break into the fashion world without at least a basic familiarity with the supreme gay idol baffles the brain.) There was nothing remotely Cher-like in the Halloween-y metallic cropped top, and of the bizarre white pants, Michael Kors famously said, ”That crotch is insane.”
Ping’s clothes Line
(season 7, episode 1)
The show returned to New York for the seventh season, but contestant Ping seemed to be stuck in outer space. She answered the open-ended challenge — create a look that shows off your identity as a designer — by throwing what looked like bolts and bolts of mismatched fabrics onto her model, sans a single stitch of tailoring. Whatever didn’t hang off the poor gal’s body she had to carry. We’re all for draping, but not if it looks like a rummage sale at Mood.
Vincent Libretti’s recycling dress
(season 3, episode 7)
Like most of Vincent’s work, this one is best described with a body noise. While nearly everyone else turned recycled materials into clean and chic ensembles, he made eco-debris look like dirty, nasty garbage-wear. Using his standby defense ”It turns me on,” Vincent miraculously avoided auf-ing that week. That he remained while the promising Alison Kelly went home (for a voluminous paper garment that Heidi said made her model look plus-size) is a classic example of a polarizing personality trumping genuine talent in the reality TV sphere.
Jay Nicholas’ trash-bag couture
(season 7, episode 7)
In the same episode as Emilio’s hideous string bikini, Jay Nicholas showed what true innovation can yield. Though his choice of trash bags at the hardware store set off alarm bells (the judges think it’s a cop-out to use fabric-like goods in the nontraditional-materials challenges), he turned those garbage sacks into luxe, textured black pants. The pops of turquoise in the impeccably fitted top completed the winning look.
Carmen Webber’s menswear disaster
(season 4, episode 3)
We won’t deny that menswear is tough. It demands a different set of tailoring skills than most designers carry in their back pocket. And having to create a three-piece outfit for Tiki Barber in just two days is a tall order indeed. While Carmen certainly wasn’t the only one to struggle that week — recall Sweet P’s shirt with a comically ginormous collar — her design was off the disastrous charts. The trousers were as high as Don Draper’s on Mad Men (though not nearly as well constructed), and the jacket was a shoddily executed Members Only knockoff that might have been semi-current circa 1984. But the straw that broke this fashion camel’s back, of course, was the scrap of blue fabric thrown around the model’s neck as a desperate makeshift shirt replacement. A sewing-room lesson for the ages: When in doubt, do not reach for the dickey.
Blayne Walsh’s vulgar onesie
(season 5, episode 1)
Remember Austin Scarlett’s cornhusk dress? How beautifully it demonstrated what an inventive designer can do with unusual materials? Well, this is the opposite of that. In the fifth-season premiere, the New York City supermarket chain Gristedes was once again the starting point, and it was there that Blayne bought the makings of this bleeding eyesore of a garment that came off as a desperate attempt to be edgy. It was a ridiculously vulgar onesie, and the white Astroturf-y landing strip alone should have sent the guy packing. Alas, that glorious day did not come until week 9.