Helen literally sketches among sharks in this season's avant-garde challenge.
Credit: Lifetime
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Well, that was shocking. And no, I don’t mean Dmitry finally winning. No, I don’t mean Helen sketching in a shark tank. I mean learning Alyssa Milano was the inspiration for The Little Mermaid. WHAT?

Apparently, this is information that people already knew, but I was shocked. And she said it so offhandedly that the designers didn’t even blink. Maybe she looked so at home in the Long Island Aquarium standing beside two adorable penguins—Kevin and Pam—that they could see the connection. Or maybe I was just the last person on earth to know that Ariel’s beauty came from portraits a young Alyssa.

But you didn’t come here to read about Disney faces, you came here to talk about designs. Avant-garde designs, specifically. This challenge is the chance for the designers to go so far out of the box that you and I at home are like, “What is happening on the runway?” and the judges rave, “This is the best thing ever.” This All Stars season did not disappoint.

The designers receive their inspiration—and challenge instructions—at the Long Island Aquarium. As they’re being told they get two days (finally), they also learn that they only have $150 budget for fabric… unless one designer sketches in the shark tank, then they all will get an extra $100. Helen takes one for the team: “If I can buy more fabric, I’ll risk my life for that.” Well, okay.

As the other designers walk around snapping pics of seahorses and anemone, Helen suits up in scuba gear and climbs into a shark cage. They made it seem scary and life-endangering, but I don’t think that was truly the case. I was more concerned with how she was actually sketching. Waterproof paper? Underwater pens? Pencils? Magic markers? I must know.

With inspirations in the form of cuttlefish, red-bellied piranhas, coral, lion fish, and more, the designers head off to Mood and then the work room. Things are going along swimmingly (see what I did there?) until Justin starts to get too emotional. And he’s breaking my heart. We’ve come to the point in the season where the designers are worn out from working nonstop every day and sleeping very little. It happens to a designer every season, but it’s still hard to watch.

Luckily, though, he’s on an All Stars season where the designers aren’t quite as ruthless. Michelle tries to give him a pep talk, and Helen gives him additional fabric. It does the trick! And he’s back to designing with a clear idea.

Zanna comes in for her critiques and is ready to give the designers some tough love: She tells Michelle she’s not feeling her look, a.k.a. “maternity fish costume” according to Dmitry. Zanna tells Dmitry that he needs to put aside his arrogance and get a win. And she tells Helen that she needs to cool it on the shower loofah ruffles AGAIN.

Then Zanna does the thankless task of introducing this week’s sponsor: Lauren B. Beauty, who is going to do special manicures for the models. I highly doubt the judges can see the nail art from their seats, but we can and the finished products are actually pretty cool.

NEXT: “Holy Picasso, Batman.”

The judges are joined by guest Nicole Scherzinger, who, from the promos, seemed like she might be a very sassy judge. But Lifetime loves to lie to us—and her critiques were actually quite nice and on point.

Sonjia, even though she used BROCADE, is safe. As for the rest, it’s so hard to tell high and low anymore; the judges seem to either divide about who loves or hates a look, or they love part of the look and hate the rest. So let’s just look at them one by one.

We’ve seen this look from Helen before… this season actually. I was ready for the judges to rip it apart, so imagine my surprise when they instead love it. They don’t get “shark”—her inspiration—from it, but they think it shows restraint and has great angles. So, what do I know?

As Justin‘s look walked down the runway, I wrote in my notes: “weird office look with ruffles and shoulder pads.” There were elements of this that could go avant-garde, but none of it seemed to come together. But I was wrong with Helen, so maybe??? No. The judges don’t like the proportions or the execution (even though they are fans of the ideas separately).

Jay attempted to mix up the hard vinyl of his jacket with the softness of the chiffon halter dress—like a pretty but poisonous lionfish. The judges have mixed opinions as well. Georgina doesn’t like them together while Isaac is “turned on” by it.

These designers must be hella confused about the mixed critiques they’ve been getting the past few weeks, but as Isaac says, “Don’t listen to us. We are just a bunch of bitches.”

Dmitry‘s dress/coat look is flawless—he uses the skeleton outside of a seahorse for inspiration in this structured design. Granted, as the flashbacks show us, we have seen this before. I guess he gets a pass because these are different judges from his original season: They love it, and they don’t even care that it’s not as “over-the-top” avant-garde as the others.

If a judge tells you she can’t stop looking at your dress because she can’t decide if she likes it, that’s not a good thing. I made a joke in a preview post about how Michelle‘s dress looks like the one from a Progresso soup commercial, and I’ll make that joke again—because it’s so true. Don’t even get me started on that lipstick. The only true fan of this look is Nicole.

Fabio took a very avant-garde idea—a backward tuxedo jacket and oversize pants for a woman—and executed it with terrible fabric. And his inspiration was solid (red bubble anemone, which reproduce asexually), but unfortunately the judges can’t get past the pink. Also, it’s a problem that they like the look he’s wearing better than his model’s.

Winner: Dmitry, who finally gets his first win of the All Stars season

Out: Justin, who gives us the saddest goodbye of the season

There are so many tears in the waiting room (mostly from Fabio) and on my couch. Justin exits with one of the most profound auf’d messages in Runway history: “I wanted to be a source of inspiration for other people who think they are at a disadvantage, and I just wanted to give them hope. I hope I did.” Justin, I think I speak for all Runway fans when I say: You did.

And flipping gears completely, Next Week: “No ass cheek on the runway.” See you then!

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