It's a battle of emotions this week as the designers must use their past, present, and future relationships as inspiration.
Project Runway Recap
Credit: Pawel Kaminski/Lifetime
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“You know who doesn’t love Nina? People who suck.”

Yes, I ended last week’s recap and am beginning this week’s with the same quote because it’s THAT good. Say what you will about Dmitry, but that man has a way with words.

And it’s true: Nina’s great. She swooped into this season of All Stars and elevated the judging like we knew she would. It was perfect timing, too, because this was a standout challenge—one worthy of a seasoned judge. We haven’t seen the emotional challenge in a while, but it was back tonight in a big way. And it’s all thanks to Zales, who sponsored this challenge with their Past, Present, and Future collection.

We all make jokes about the PR sponsorships, but when said sponsorships lead to a $10,000 challenge prize, plus a $15,000 pendant, plus $1,000 gift cards for everyone? Well, we can’t hate on that. If anything, it just raises the stakes for the designers, who really pulled it out for this challenge. But let’s start from the beginning…

After converging at the Hearst tower, the designers were given $100 to create a look that included elements of their past, present, and future relationships. The only catch: It had to be a party dress, so no black (most of the designers) or white (Kate). As Gunnar says, this challenge requires them to take a very sensitive part of their lives and put it out there for the judges and other designers—and subsequently the audience—to see.

So, no surprise, it’s a quiet workroom at first. People are reflecting on their relationships and how to past convey them in designs. Metaphors are flying around the room like you would not believe: “When you find true love, it’s like finding gold,” says Benjamin; Sonjia’s building a lace “cage” because she’s closed off now that she’s engaged; Kate is designing a baby-doll dress because she met her husband in preschool (don’t worry, they weren’t married until later); Dmitry is “as single as it gets” so … well, I don’t remember what that connection was to his red dress.

But then things start to get very real. Helen mentions how her ex-boyfriend didn’t even watch the show with her (jerk!), and she wants to show her confidence and self-worth through this challenge. Then it’s like the Project Runway editors try to one up the designers’ stories to get the audience into full-on waterworks. Gunnar, who is also newly single, starts tearing up at his table just thinking about how this challenge will give him closure. And then in comes Zanna. She tells them she knows Nina is a tough judge, so she wants them to do the best possible. She goes around the room with very pointed, helpful critiques, but things take a dive back to the serious when she gets to Justin.

He tells her how in the past he didn’t think he was capable of love (I’m choking back tears just writing this) because he didn’t want to be a burden. Okay, Justin is crying; Zanna is crying; we are all crying. But luckily this story has a happy ending: He met a guy who he’s been with for the past five years—a guy so great that he learned sign language just for Justin. (You just thought the tears were going to go away when the story turned happy.) So Justin has created his own textile using paint and his hand in the sign of “I love you.”

THIS is what has been missing from too many of the past seasons: true, raw emotion from the designers that comes through in the designs. Project Runway: Please take note that we want more challenges like this, less Red Robin bottomless fries.

NEXT: “I need to find a shoe.” “I need to find a clutch.” “I need to find a husband.”

Before leaving the design room, Zanna asked all the designers to become more vulnerable, to put their personal journeys into their looks. And many of them take her advice to heart. Kate scraps the baby-doll dress idea and Sonjia reworks her lace.

Once again Georgina is out, so the one and only Nina Garcia is stepping in for her. The other guest judges include Danielle Bernstein of WeWoreWhat and All Stars season 3 winner Seth Aaron Henderson. (This is one fashionable, well-informed panel of judges.)

Michelle, Justin, Sam, Jay, and Fabio are all safe. Although I was incredibly happy Justin was safe, I really wished he had been in the top if only so that he could speak about his design. I was sensing another Mondo season 8 runway moment. Also, Jay if you are reading this recap: I want that dress.

This could have been a hot mess, but Sonjia pulls out a very innovative, fun look. The blue underneath is for the losers of her past, the red lace is her present, and the sparkle to it is her bright future. It earns a “divi-een” from Isaac.

My notes about this look: “Gunnar‘s dress is red.” I wanted this to be much more. The emotion was behind it; however, it didn’t come through in the design. Gunnar originally said he wanted the dress to show the chaos of his past relationship, but it’s unflattering to the model and looks like chaos—in a bad way.

Again, the idea for Benjamin‘s look was in the inspiration, but as Nina says the handkerchief hem makes it “Project Runway 101.” The blue peeking out from the bottom was another odd choice, and his one innovative concept—spaghetti straps as a cage—is overshadowed by bad styling in that necklace.

Helen has had ups and downs in her romantic life (and on the show) and she wanted to show that with a unique silhouette, an off-the-shoulder number that as Alyssa says is “tragically romantic.” I hope her ex was watching to see what he missed out on.

Oh, Kate. Nina sure took her high judging standards out on her. If you forgot, you can see the clip here. It has a strange hanging “appendage,” it’s a bad shape for the model, and the color is drab—apparently the smell at the beach is off-white/gray in Kate’s mind. It’s sad that all that sparkle went to waste.

Nina says Dmitry‘s design is “sharp, fierce, sexy, impeccable.” Again, his way this relates to his past, present, and future relationships isn’t that memorable, but the look is tailored to perfection. (Related: What exactly does Kate think “bondage” is??)

Winner: Helen

Out: Kate

Apparently third time is not a charm on Project Runway. However, she takes it in stride and says the third elimination hurts even less. “It’s kind of like being stabbed in the same place three times—you just stopped feeling it.” (I feel like this isn’t true—but what do I know? I’ve never been stabbed.)

Next Week: London! Fergie (not this one, this one)! Debra Messing!

Until then, let’s talk here or over on Twitter.

Episode Recaps

Project Runway All Stars
Past Runway designers compete for the top prize.
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