Project Runway All Stars season finale recap: Redemption for Gretchen-Gate?
Who was crowned "the star of stars" and won the biggest prize package in Runway history?
We knew it would happen. It just took a lot of “bitching and moaning” — Mondo’s words, not mine — to get to this point. Many of you said throughout the season that this entire All Stars experiment was built around the expectation that Mondo would win, perhaps to make up for all the ill will Gretchen Jones’ season eight win generated. At the beginning of the season, I wanted Mondo to win as much as anyone else. I still think he deserved to win, but I’m not jumping up and down like I thought I would be. These past few weeks, Mondo’s behavior has made it hard to root for him. But that’s not to say he isn’t a fabulously talented designer.
The morning of the final runway show, Mondo realized that his dear friend Michael wanted to win more than anyone else. But Mondo tearfully claimed that he deserved it more because he just worked so freaking hard. People go through a time in their lives when they realize their own wants, struggles, and hurts aren’t always more real or important than others’ — it’s called adulthood.
In the car on the way to Gotham Hall ( i.e., Not Fashion Week), the infinitely cheerier Austin Scarlett proclaimed to have a “fashion orgasm” out of pure excitement. Gotham Hall really is a beautiful space — or maybe I just have fond memories of the place because it’s where I met Chace Crawford and Matt Bomer! As the esteemed guests filed in, the three finalists scrambled to fit their looks onto their models. Austin Scarlett whirled like a tornado through his fitting space as he struggled to fit his ornate red carpet gown onto his model.
Michael, who was so certain he’d already finished his collection before arriving at the venue, realized a few of his looks didn’t fit the models at all. Maybe Joanna and the judges were right all along and Michael really doesn’t care about women’s bodies. In an effort to pull an ill-fitting dress off a model, he jerked her around as if he were a chiropractor trying to pop her shoulder back in. That, or he was trying to kill her. Another of his dresses — his signature white Grecian — was six inches too big around the waist. Speed isn’t everything!
Mondo mostly did spot-checks and Joanna came by to run a lint-roller over the back of his suit. Awww. He said it was like “your aunt rolling you down.” Well, Joanna would make one chic aunt.
NEXT: Hasidic Jew-vampires, mental patients, and endangered animals walk the runway.
When Angela took center stage to introduce the judges and designers, I wonder if the esteemed guests all thought, “Who??” She announced that Neiman Marcus fashion director Ken Downing would be returning as guest judge for the final challenge (once again he looks overjoyed to be on television), and Tommy Hilfiger would also join. Hey Tommy, good to see you! Weren’t you on American Idol last night?
Austin Scarlett presented his collection first, and once again, his fashion “story” was hilariously, whimsically convoluted. He can’t help himself — he’s basically a character from a Christopher Guest movie. His line, called “Austin Scarlett,” told the tale of “a vampire from the 18th century (Anthony was right last week when he called the collection “dead white lady”) who has lived many hundreds of years and now lives in Williamsburg and occasionally borrows clothes from her Hasidic dandy friends.” Whoa. We heard about the Hasidism last week, but he had to throw in the vampire element. I’m on board.
Four out of six of Austin Scarlett’s looks appeared to be from the same line, mixing soft pinks with cobwebby, leathery black material. The opening look included the crazy pink “upside-down” pants we got a glimpse at last week. The highly structured pants were equipped with flared chutes on the sides — they looked like places in which to stow an umbrella, which is practical, but they made the model’s ass look enormous. One of the standouts was the second look, a Gothic dress made of lacquered lace.
The other two looks looked nothing like the others. Austin Scarlett’s red carpet gown, which caused him so many problems yet so much joy, didn’t quite work for me — the multiple tiers were overdone and uncomfortable to look at. But the wedding dress he was so excited about looked like it came from a fairy tale. A somewhat scary one. But I think that was what he was going for.
NEXT: A trip inside the dark, twisted mind of Mondo Guerra. Was his collection more Freudian or Jungian?
We all know from last week that Mondo’s fashion-induced psychotic episode brought about his “therapy” themed line. I loved the idea when I heard about it initially, but his collection fell flat for me when it actually walked the runway. Weirdly enough, it appeared to me that Kenley of all people — someone Mondo had so little respect for as a designer all season — had a big influence on his collection. Am I crazy for thinking that? The dots, the pockets, and even some of the cuts screamed “Kenley” to me. The connection really jumped out at me when Kenley’s old model came out wearing a super Kenley-like dress with Kenley-like pockets slapped all over it.
Mondo did shine, however, with his specialty of tastefully mixing different prints. I loved the opening look of a polka-dot top with a gray skirt — it looked very ’20s psychoanalysis patient. Another standout was the snugly fitting Rorschach dress that smartly employed the on-trend slimming “optical-illusion” effect.
He strayed from his typical aesthetic a bit — in a good way — with his shiny, flowing red lamé dress. Mondo doesn’t normally do pieces that are quite so ethereal, but he executed it nicely. It pushed the boundaries of his collection without throwing it off balance.
Joanna seemed more complimentary toward Mondo than to any of the other designers. She told him, “You’re cured.” But only the win — or electroshock therapy — would really cure him at this point.
NEXT: No wild animals were skinned alive in making Michael’s final collection
Unlike Austin Scarlett and Mondo’s collections, I actually thought Michael’s Serengeti-themed outfits looked way better on the runway than they did hanging on racks. They all looked well executed, and with the exception of one caftan that was far, far too short, everything was cleanly constructed and tasteful. Clearly, Michael came up with the most commercial and wearable collection, but as has been the question all season, does he have the vision of a top designer?
I thought in some of his pieces, yes. The judges didn’t talk about it much, but I thought his off-white, snake-print pantsuit was stunning and exceedingly creative. His zebra-print form-fitting dress that covered the model completely in front but showed off her back was subtly sexy — even though you probably couldn’t wear a bra with it. Sorry, Joanna!
Of course it wouldn’t be a Michael Costello collection without a drape-y Grecian dress. I get irrationally irked whenever Michael refers to himself as a “draper.” I know there are many drapers in the world, but I always think of Rami as the true Runway drapist and Michael just seems like an imposter in comparison. The Grecian dress was nice, but I don’t see any special design in it — in my opinion, Michael shouldn’t lay any claim to this particular technique as a specialty of his.
After the three presentations, members of the audience weighed in on their favorites. Former guest judge Eric Daman singled out Mondo’s pantsuit. Mean-a Irina, who either had major facial surgery or lost an unhealthy amount of weight, loved all three.
NEXT: The judges make their final decisions!
Something that has always bothered me about Project Runway finale critiques: I think the judges tend to overvalue cohesion. I know collections need to adhere clearly to a designer’s point of view, but sometimes, I think the judges value cohesion over originality. Gretchen Jones and Chloe Dao put on boring final shows but won their seasons anyway, mostly because their collections were the most uniform. Yawn. It’s comparable to the way some music critics think the mark of a good album is if all the tracks stick to the same genre, whereas I’d be happy to buy an album in which every track sounds like a hot single.
The judges dinged Austin Scarlett’s collection for not being cohesive enough (is it period? is it rock ‘n roll?), even though they loved the wedding dress, which apparently didn’t look enough like the other pieces. Tommy Hilfiger went as far as to say Michael deserved to win despite not having a very sophisticated aesthetic, solely because “consistency and cohesiveness is paramount.” I gotta say, I’m glad Tommy’s not a regular judge — even as a guest stylist on American Idol last night, he tried to stifle the contestants’ individuality, and the judges actually gave props to the contestants who didn’t listen to him. Tommy, originality is “paramount” on Runway, not mass-reproducibility.
In the end, the judges thought Austin Scarlett had “too many ideas”; Mondo “ran out of ideas”; and Michael had an unexciting idea. Out of those three problems, I’d say “too many ideas” would be the best one to have, but unsurprisingly, Michael finished third, Austin Scarlett finished second, and Mondo took the huge prize package. We can now loosen our corsets and take a deep breath: Gretchen-gate is officially behind us.
Taking the All Star season as a whole, I’d say I enjoyed it overall although it was as hit-or-miss as Austin Scarlett’s designs. The highs: the amazing season premiere; the wonderful surprise of Joanna as a great mentor; Georgina Chapman as a judge; the glow-in-the-dark challenge; Austin Scarlett and Anthony’s quotables; and the fun Broadway challenge. The lows: Isaac’s judging (remember the “too stylish” comment?); Rami’s early elimination; the six-hour dress challenge; the flag challenge; Angela as host; Jerell staying in it for far too long; Mondo’s behavior toward the end; and all the designers who should never have been All Stars in the first place.
What did you think of the All Stars experiment? Are you thrilled that Mondo won? What were your highs and lows of the season? Are you looking forward to the return of regular Project Runway?
Til we’re back with Heidi and Tim next season! It’s been regal, y’all. Follow @EWStephanLee on Twitter.
Project Runway All Stars