The designers test their luck in a fashion gamble—with lots of brocade.

By Dalene Rovenstine
Updated December 12, 2014 at 03:00 AM EST
Pawel Kaminski/Lifetime

“When you say the word brocade, my brain explodes.” —Isaac Mizrahi

Isaac, we know how you feel. Going into this week’s episode of Project Runway All Stars you may or may not have actually known what “brocade” was (I only had a vague idea). BUT YOU DEFINITELY KNOW NOW. According to Michelle, it is “a woven textile, and through the weave it should create a pattern… [it] can be a really heavy stodgy fabric.”

And brocade was heavy in this episode. It started when Alyssa announced the challenge: a fashion gamble. The designers get to throw two dice; one for a type of fabric, one for the type of event. It seemed that the dice was weighted on the brocade side because the way it shook out, a Brocade Brigade emerged. The official results:

Fabio: Denim, Masquerade Ball

Sonjia: Brocade, Bachelorette Party

Sam: Brocade, Awards Ceremony

Michelle: Lace, Gallery Opening

Justin: Silk, Gallery Opening

Helen: Brocade, Awards Ceremony (which created an “unofficial fashion face off,” according to Alyssa, because it was the same combo as Sam)

Gunnar: Brocade, Masquerade Ball

Jay: Denim, Sunday Brunch

Dmitry: Velvet (“Velvet? I’d rather shoot myself to be honest”), Gallery Opening

With $150 worth of fabric and one day, the designers get to work. Some have very clear inspiration—Sonjia using her own bachelorette party as a guide; Gunnar, butterflies and a cocoon—and others are a little more lost, a.k.a. Fabio and his “cowboys and construction workers” denim. (Apparently he’s never heard of a little label called Ralph Lauren.)

When Zanna comes in, she informs the designers that the winning look will be featured in Marie Claire—on host Alyssa Milano. This clearly ups the ante. So much that Helen loses her mind for a bit and starts telling Zanna how she plays Russian roulette with her godmother. Either Zanna didn’t catch it or she has the BEST poker face because this doesn’t seem to alarm her. Later when the designers make Helen aware of what she said, she laughs at how she probably just terrified Zanna: “That’s why she gave me a good critique.”

This moment highlights something that’s great about All Stars: The designers have such good rapport. It’s partly because they picked a cast that meshes well, but it’s also because they seem to be more relaxed than their first times at Runway. True, the stakes are (arguably) higher, but most of them seem to be doing this for fun, not because they need to “make it.” And that lends to a camaraderie that isn’t typical on regular Runway.

This ease with one another also leads to collaboration, which isn’t something we’re used to seeing. The designers critique one another’s looks in a way that’s usually helpful—except when it’s not. There were two instances of this tonight. Let’s call them Brocade-gate and Club Girl-gate.

In Brocade-gate, Michelle went around the room saying how much she thought Sonjia’s fabric wasn’t brocade. She went so far as to have other designers look at the fabric up close when Sonjia left the room. Being a “good friend,” Fabio confronts her about it when she comes back. It went something like this:

Fabio: Sonjia, was that fabric on the brocade wall? Because it’s not brocade.

Sonjia: Yes, it is.

Fabio: No, it’s not.

Sonjia: Yes, it is.

Fabio: No, it’s not.

Sonjia: Yes, it is.

Fabio: No, it’s not.

Sonjia: Ooookay, I guess I’ll change it.

And that’s the end of Brocade-gate. One of these days, I will learn that events in previews are never as salacious in the actual episodes; but those clever editors get me every time.

Club Girl-gate didn’t wrap up as sweetly. Helen decided to tell Jay that his denim look was more “Club Girl” than “Sunday brunch.” Her intentions seemed to be honorable, but her delivery was horrible—which led to Jay calling her a “beeeeeatch.” As Gunnar says, “This is the point in the competition when the knives are out.” Mildly sharp knives, but knives are out nonetheless.

NEXT: Brocade, brocade, brocade

Georgina is back on the judges’ panel with Alyssa and Isaac; and they are joined by CFDA winner Michael Bastian. As much as I love having stars like Debra Messing judging, it’s also nice to have people who just know fashion.

After the looks head down the runway, Alyssa announces that Jay, Dmitry, and Sam are safe.

Helen works in evening gowns, so this challenge should have been easier for her than most—but she was given that damn brocade. However, she did use both the front and back of the brocade to nice effect. The look is a little much, as Georgina said; Helen used a slit, a revealed midriff, and a low-cut corset. The judges weren’t raving about the look, but they didn’t hate it.

Sonjia decided to scrap her non-brocade pink fabric and just go with the gold for her Bachelorette Party look. And it was smart that she did. The result is youthful and fun, even though it does have pockets for $1 stripper bills. Although brocade is an incredibly heavy, “stodgy” fabric, she made the dress seem airy and fun.

Justin had the easiest combination (silk and gallery opening), but somehow he came up with one of the worst looks. It’s hard to make these models look larger than they are, and somehow he did that. The look isn’t flattering—Isaac calls it matronly. Justin’s a good designer, and this is just sad.

It’s never good when a designer is constantly changing his design. And Gunnar did just that right up until runway time. He had the idea of using brocade fringe to create feathers, but he never seemed to nail down what he was actually doing with them—and that showed in his look. It’s unfortunate because the brocade he chose was a beautiful fabric.

Michelle picked four laces that are the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen (“holy shit grandma”) and turned them into a very cool look. It’s something an edgy woman would wear to an art gallery—which is good since that’s exactly what she was going for. The only ding she got was for attempting to do the padded hips with horsehair. Unless you are Kini, that’s a skill that takes more time to do than these designers have.

Fabio went straight from the top to the bottom. As Georgina said, he received denim and masquerade, two things that could have resulted in a unique look. Instead he made a bubble gum dress and styled it poorly. Isaac even said: “I think Georgina is being nice when she says it’s okay.” Ouch.

Winner: Sonjia

Out: Gunnar, which we all knew was coming when he was paired with Fabio. (Has someone ever gone from winning one week to elimination the next?)

Did you agree with the judges? Do you actually know what brocade is now? Do you care?

Next week: Laverne Cox. Get. Excited.

Follow me on Twitter: @realdalener

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