This week's challenge was about as "high-tech" as a glow stick, but it sure brought out some electrifying looks

By Stephan Lee
Updated March 02, 2012 at 06:01 AM EST

Project Runway All Stars

S1 E9
  • TV Show

Is it just my fluctuating mood, or are the All-Stars awful one week, great the next? After last week’s debacle, I wasn’t looking forward to this week’s glow-in-the-dark theme. All season I’ve been railing against the gimmicky, non-fashion challenges, and I rolled my eyes when Angela gave her little speech about “innovation and technology” being as essential to a designer as fabric and thread. What’s so innovative about black lights and neon? But I was wrong. A couple of the designers came up with some of the most exciting looks of the season.

At first, most of the designers seemed totally out of their element. They trekked over to the Barbizon Lighting Workshop to buy their electronics. I was convinced Kenley would find little ping-pong ball-shaped bulbs so she could make the lighting equivalent of polka dots. Instead, she opted to use primarily criss-crossed neon tape on fabric to make her own “plaid.” That seemed like an equally bad idea at the time.

When she arrived in the workroom, Joanna was excited about “the most electrifying challenge of Project Runway.” Joanna made a funny — yay! She actually liked Kenley’s neon print but advised her to incorporate actual lights into her outfit.

Austin Scarlett was especially excited about the challenge and was determined to make his gown starry and dream-like. Joanna called his look “part alien, part Elizabethan,” not in a bad way, and wondered whether the design was too romantic for Pharell.

Joanna broke out into an honest-to-goodness smile when Michael showed her his hat, which had a hole in it for the model’s ponytail. (Mondo compared it to an Ewok’s hat, which was hilarious and spot-on). She warned Michael against letting the rippling of the tape show because she knew the judges would pounce on that. You know good advice when you hear it.

NEXT: Whoaaaa, Kenley’s hair!!! Oh, and one of the best runway shows in a while…

Before we get into the fashion, can we take a moment to discuss Kenley’s personal style?

Okay, for all I know, Kenley could very well have had this hairstyle all season in her confessionals (I tend to look away from the screen sometimes when I hear her warbling voice), but I had to share this screengrab with you. That hair is somewhere between Snow White and Queen Amidala of the Naboo.

On to the runway show! Pharrell Williams was on hand as guest judge, and I thought he did a great job. His assessments were on point, and he wasn’t afraid to disagree with the regular judges. In fact, for the first time in a long time, the judging went almost exactly as I hoped, down to the rankings and the comments — even most of Isaac’s. Time to turn the lights down.

Mondo – SAFE

Do you want your boobs to look triangular and light up? I thought this was a solid look, but it didn’t have Mondo’s usual level of inspiration. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Pickelhaube-from-space helmet. Isaac questioned whether the look was avant-garde enough but said the boobs reminded him of the Teletubbies, which he meant as the highest possible compliment (okay, that was one of the comments I didn’t agree with). Georgina thought the tracks of lights were too straight up and down and thought the look was TRON-esque — but to be fair, in a battery-powered challenge like this, what do you expect?

NEXT: Finally! Kenley made something worth writing about… and Austin Scarlett’s dress was out of this world.

Kenley – TOP

I can safely say that this ensemble is the first thing Kenley’s made all season that got me excited. The neon “plaid” worked well, and I loved the “jacket.” Georgina pointed out that the proportions were great. I did agree with the judges that she could have utilized the lights better — Pharrell thought the lights in the jacket looked like they were hanging like Christmas lights on a fence (in a good way?) and Isaac thought it was “divine.” I loved the use of the purple wig!

Austin Scarlett — WINNER

I’m almost embarrassed to say this because it’s so sappy, but this gown got a genuine emotional reaction out of me. I think it’s because Austin Scarlett really put his heart into this one, and just looking at it, I can see why he’s a designer and what he’s trying to accomplish. He talked about his goal of creating something out of a dream, and he really did just that. So ethereal and otherworldly. I disagreed with Angela, who thought it was just a gorgeous dress with lights on it; I thought the placement of the fairy lights worked perfectly, and I loved how they lit up the tulle. It sounded as though if it were totally up to the regular judges, they would have given Kenley the win, but Pharrell was taken with Austin Scarlett’s gown. He said, “You’re a star, man.” Austin Scarlett has made some piss-poor looks this season — including last week — but this elegant, alien-ish gown deserves a spot in the ultimate Project Runway portfolio.

NEXT: Michael reminds me why I didn’t like him that much last season…

But first, let’s take one last look at the detailing of Austin’s dress:

Okay, moving on:

Michael – LOW

The judges really went easy on what Michael himself called a “crazy ninja turtle look” — that’s not a good thing. This look was pure costume, and it wasn’t even well constructed. And the big, loopy shoulders? A little reminiscent of Rami’s look from the first episode. Isaac hated the flickering string of lights at the waist. Pharrell hit the nail on the head when he said the costume was more for Comic-Con than the runway.

The thing that troubles me about Michael: I feel like he established himself as a frontrunner early in the season because he was the only one who could work fast enough to complete well-constructed looks within those ridiculous time constraints — and he didn’t seem as conflicted as the others about being forced to take part in the stupider challenges. He’s a good designer and very skilled in the workroom, but I don’t think he has the vision that the best remaining designers have. I’ve noticed that when there’s actually a good challenge that really tests the designers creativity, he complains about it and ends up failing. Even though he’s very talented, he tends to excel in the challenges that encourage either fast work or adherence to a very specific theme. But then he grumbles through the challenges that actually require care and originality (of course there are notable exceptions). I know I’m going to take heat for this assessment, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

NEXT: Still, Michael is leagues better than Jerell…

Jerell – OUT

NOOOOO! No. No! No, no, no. It’s not that Jerell’s a bad craftsman — his entire aesthetic is just so wrong. I’ve said before that I find his “tribal” motif offensive, and what I mean is that his definition of “tribal” is so simplistic. He bragged about using the fiber optic lights, but he used them to replicate a “tribal” grass fringe, which is so banal and expected — it’s what a small child might draw if they were told to draw what they think when they hear the word “tribal.” And those sunglasses and that hat… a symphony of wrong notes, like so many of his looks this season. I agreed with Isaac that the sunglasses looked like they came from a joke store. But once again, I thought the judges, especially Angela, gave Jerell way too much credit. They suggested that the long skirt Jerell used to black out the model’s legs was the big problem, but no — it was the whole thing, head to toe. It should have been an easy decision to send him home four challenges ago.

Anyway, I had a lot of fun watching this episode. I love runway shows where even the bad looks are at least fun to look at, and this was one of them. Also, I’m actually enjoying the bitchy banter in the workroom. Mondo and Michael say the most quotable things, and Austin Scarlett the “prima donna” is hilarious. They should lay off Kenley a little bit, though.

How did you like this high-voltage challenge? Did anyone have as strong a reaction to Austin Scarlett’s gown as I did? What do you think of Michael as a designer? Was Jerell’s elimination long overdue?

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Project Runway All Stars

Past Runway designers compete for the top prize.
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