The designers take a quick—quick—trip to get London inspiration.
Credit: Pawel Kaminski
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Project Runway has never been subtle with its product placements (EW already wrote about it once this week), but this episode went to new extremes. The designers went to London for a day. They sketched, bought fabric, met the Duchess of York, and returned right back to Parsons, in what I’m guessing was the span of 48 hours. Why you ask did they go all the way there? Because of this movie. Granted, the designers did get to meet Sarah Ferguson—which was cool—and the sponsorship didn’t go so far to make the challenge teddy bear themed, but it just felt unnecessary. (Also, these designers are always running on too little sleep, do you think throwing in jetlag is the best idea?)

Anyway, tonight’s episode: Alyssa informed the designers that there is this creepy little bear named Paddington, and because of him, they get to have their own “adventure” in London. Cue lots of screaming. So, they all pack up their Tumi luggage (“I love this bag!”), board a plane, and meet Zanna in her motherland. And she’s not alone. Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, is the guest star—and the one to introduce the challenge: Paddington (yes, more Paddington) is famous for his duffle coat and London is famous for its blah weather; hence the designers will create a coat for their challenge.

Product placement jokes aside, this is an interesting challenge—outerwear isn’t explored all that often on Project Runway. Melissa and Benjamin work in outerwear, so they already have a leg up. And Benjamin has his other leg up, too, because he lived in London for 10 years. (He’s actually Australian if you are confused by the accent.)

The designers board a double-decker bus, where they will get to sightsee, take a ton of selfies, and sketch their designs. I could go through everyone’s design inspiration, but let me just sum up: old mixed with new… for everyone.

They’re then taken to MacCulloch & Wallis to select their textiles and FabricGate, All Stars Season 4 Edition, immediately occurs. Here’s what we know: Sonjia saw a fabric she wanted and was holding it; Benjamin also liked that fabric, so he wanted her to decide quickly if she was going to use it or not. She decided to, so he bought an inferior fabric and was sad about it.

I mentioned this during the Wicked challenge and the Chris/Dmitry debacle as well, but it bears repeating: Designers should never change what they’re doing because of what someone else is doing. London knowledge aside, Benjamin was at a disadvantage from the beginning because he didn’t do what he really wanted to do. And that always shows in the clothes.

After their £200 is spent, the designers head to the Intercontinental London for high tea with the Duchess of York and Zanna. How classy! Too bad Fabio looks like a bum—his words, not mine. There’s really no purpose to this event (except more product placement), but it was fun to see everyone interacting with a Duchess.

NEXT: “It feels like just yesterday we were in London.”

Another quick flight, and the designers are back in the tiny Parsons workroom, ready to start making some coats. When Zanna makes her way around the room, she has some worries: “I gave you an all-star experience, and I’m not seeing all-star quality… yet.” This is the Runway mentor equivalent of parents saying, “I’m disappointed in you.”

And it works—the designers all step it up. Maybe it’s because this is All Stars or maybe it’s because the directive of “coats” leaves little room for going off book, but this challenge had some of the best looks on one runway that we’ve seen in awhile. True they weren’t all winners, but there wasn’t one look that seemed to be an obvious loser either.

But there has to be a loser. And judging tonight alongside Isaac and Alyssa were guest judges Debra Messing and British model Karen Elson. (I was beginning to think the show forgot about Georgina, but the previews show she’s back next week.)

Sonjia, Helen, Gunnar, and Michelle are safe.

Justin‘s design was one of the few that actually looked warm … unless you need to retain heat in your backside. The open-in-the-back design was an odd choice, but the judges still loved the look overall. Debra loved it; Karen said it was exquisite; and Isaac and Alyssa were on board as well.

Jay talked about his design inspiration being the landscape of London—the old with the new, like all the other designers, but his doesn’t feel quite as London. But unfortunately his message was a bit convoluted; he had too many elements in the front, even if the back was great (he had the opposite problem of Justin), so he received a fairly mixed review.

Dmitry is one of those designers who creates looks you either love or hate—and the designers loved this one. Alyssa went so far to say she needed new words in the English language to convey how much she appreciates his talent. (Maybe it’s because I’ve spent too many winters in NYC, but in my opinion anything with tulle in it cannot be defined as a “coat,” but I do see the beauty in his design.)

NEXT: A Winterwear Winner

For her coat, Sam picked an interesting print. It’s one of those prints that’s hard to judge through a TV screen, but it looked like a grayish-purple-pinkish blob type of pattern? Karen thought it looked like curtains. The oversize ideas seemed smart in the workroom, but on the runway this design just gets lost—and doesn’t have the London influence when it goes up against the others’ designs.

Fabio started the episode with a joke about how he hopes the Duchess enjoys wearing an androgynous coat, but his look became more than that. It was structured in a way that was flattering, and it just looked elegant. It’s not incredibly functional, but … fashion. Fabio gets the best Alyssa line of the night for his look: “I feel like I’m developing an unhealthy obsession with you.”

Ben was drawing on his British heritage to make this “it girl” look. Unfortunately he focused too much on the “girl” part of that phrase. The frill at the option makes it look junior, as Debra wisely pointed out. The fabric is drab, and the pockets do not help at all. It’s a sad coat—Isaac went so far to say he was offended by it. Isaac also mentioned how the fabric was what did him in—like I was saying earlier, Ben should have stuck with his original plans regardless of Sonjia’s decision.

Winner: Fabio, who can now call the Duchess of York a client (I’m not sure I really see this as her style, but a deal’s a deal.)

Out: Benjamin

Whenever you hear someone getting the “this is my challenge” edit, you know it’s going to end poorly. But Benjamin handles it well and goes out with class: “This is not going to be the last runway show for Benjamin Mach.” I hope not.

Line of the night (season?): “London’s gonna be like, I thought we only had one queen, but look at all these queens from the United States.” —Jay

Episode Recaps

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