Hitting the mark on the avant-garde zodiac challenge proved impossible for most of the designers, which was a bad thing on a night when two would go home

‘Project Runway’ recap: Bad signs

Good God was last night’s episode a hot, steaming mess. From the incessant bickering, to the talking back to the judges, to the appalling pieces of sartorial hideousness that were barfed onto the runway — never before has an episode so plainly underscored the inferiority of this season’s Project Runway cast compared to previous contestants. Blayne’s latest foray into bulbous idiocy might have been pooping fabric, but the majority of the other designs were crapping cluelessness.

I wasn’t sure what to think when Heidi announced that the designers would team up with season 5 bootees to create an avant-garde ensemble. Didn’t last cycle’s designers already do the avant-garde thing — and with terrific results, too? Then, when Tim specified that the teams would draw inspiration from the zodiac, I had a sinking feeling that this challenge was gonna blow. Basing designs on astrological signs is sufficiently out there as a concept. Why bog it down with this avant-garde business? And the producers didn’t even stop there. They had to add in a party at a planetarium!

As many of you have commented throughout this season, it’s become increasingly easy to decipher from an episode’s editing who’s going home — or at least who’s in trouble. Anyone who has even the slightest belief in karma must have sensed that Terri was gonna get some payback. Minutes after she sing-songed about Stella’s auf’ing (“The witch is gone!” “Peace out, Stella!”), the bad karma reared its head when she got paired with her arch-nemesis, Keith. Terri complained that Keith’s skill was not on par with hers, that he refused to take her direction, and that he could offer her nothing, except maybe to “count the pins that fall on the floor.” And while his whining about being kicked off the show made me scream, “Dude, move on already!” I did detect a ring of truth in his assessment that Terri is “not the easiest person to work with.” I can’t condone a quitter, but I also can’t blame the guy for taking a siesta-refuge in the break room.

The worst part of all this back-and-forth nastiness was that Terri’s design was the pits: a cheap costume that looked like a “voodoo princess in hell.” After Christian Siriano — in yet another twist, various New York-based “alumni” played guest judges — questioned the outfit’s ginormous fur collar, Terri replaced it with a shiny red and orange shawl thingie. But to me, that was no improvement. In truth, Terri’s dress could have come straight from the freaky year-round Halloween store that’s right near my old Fourth Avenue apartment. All that was missing was a smoking cauldron and a grinning skull.

NEXT: Unbalanced mess

But did Terri deserve to go for this grave misstep? Ah…that’s a question that I’ll get to shortly. But first, let’s discuss the other blatant case of a designer being set up to fall flat on her ass. Kenley kicked off the hour by bossing her partner, Wesley, around at Mood, and then lost no time unleashing a mad case of egomania in the workroom. She decided to go with Aquarius because it’s “strong and progressive — like me,” which was among the many proclamations that prompted Leanne to call her competitor “insanely overconfident.” Now, I don’t dislike Kenley, but when she started throwing around statements like “I’ve got this challenge in the bag,” then dismissing Tim’s critique, and arguing with Heidi (déjà vu!) at the planetarium about the location of the model’s boobs, I started to wonder just what kind of cuckoo self-assurance juice her parents poured in her cornflakes as a child. “If Heidi’s gonna talk nonsense, I’m gonna set her straight,” she said. Cut to Kenley at Parsons the next day, fixing the problematic bustier. Priceless.

Next to the Terri and Kenley drama, the rest of the teams seemed positively docile. As usual, Korto focused on the work, humming away like a busy bee that still didn’t have time to actually stitch up her flowy, oceanic goddess gown until after the trip to the museum. Leanne kept her antennae tuned to the “exoskeleton” of her Scorpio dress — one of the few garments that did not make me feel like I’d just lain down in my cats’ litter box. Jerell managed to fend off partner Jennifer’s signature surrealism (ha!) and concentrated on his Laura Ingalls-goes-Studio 54 ensemble, which Tim initially doubted, likening the heavy skirt fabric to a “schoolmarm’s winter coat.” Meanwhile, teams Joe and Suede hardly got any screen time, which in one case is a good thing — guess which one!

Tim was also understandably befuddled when faced with Blayne’s inane ramblings about things “manifesting” on one side of his design. And it’s not as if the final result clarified any of his pseudo-conceptual mumbo-jumbo. His beige S&M jumpsuit — the color evoked granny panties to Heidi — was just absurd, completely devoid of any trace of sanity, let alone good taste, artistic vision, or innovation. (Perhaps the answer to Stella’s question to Blayne, “Want me to hammer your head, too?” should have been yes.) We’ve seen him slap a ball of bunched-up, colorful fabric on the side of an outfit before. But there was no skating through to the next round this time. Nina didn’t buy that the “haphazard” design had anything to do with the Libra sign or the idea of balance, and dubbed it a “one-legged monster.” The entire panel agreed that it was “ridiculous,” a “disaster,” and a “joke.” (Heidi: “Oooh….That’s baaaaad.”) And so, after nine weeks of putting up with the lame Blayne game, the dude got booted back to the tanning bed from whence he came. Good riddance, suckah. (Did Blayne’s poor excuse for avant-garde remind anyone else of the dancers’ outfits in Patty Smyth’s video for “The Warrior”? Wow…did I just date myself something horrible?)

NEXT: Not really the age of Aquarius

By the time the designers sent their (in some cases, revised) garments down the runway, there were plenty of contenders for Heidi’s auf Wiedersehen, but I didn’t see a single obvious winner in the bunch. I’d argue that the judges didn’t, either. For the first time, we didn’t even get to witness the judges discuss which outfits they liked best. That portion was edited out completely, because…hmm…let’s see…perhaps because the decision came down to rewarding the lesser of eight cases of fashion evil? [UPDATE: Yes, past contestants had voted on the winner the night before at the planetarium, but I still find the complete omission of the judges’ own opinions fishy. We could have at least seen them exchanging a few words about each high-scoring outfit.] Leanne’s was interesting, but hardly groundbreaking — even within her own circle-centric portfolio. (Also, “strongness” is not a word, Leannimal!) Korto’s didn’t pain the eyes, but was a bit Clash of the Titans — on ice. Joe’s was well constructed, but suffered from a little too much cha-cha ruffle madness. That left Jerell’s, which was…fine. But since when did Project Runway become a competition that rewarded fine? Go back and look at what Christian and Chris and Jillian and Victorya created for last season’s avant-garde challenge. Now tell me, is there is any comparison?

Surely none of us was surprised that Kenley continued to argue with Heidi and the rest of the judges on the runway. When Kors called her schizophrenic dress “Dolce & Gabbana on the bottom, Victor & Rolf on the top,” she interrupted him to lay on more defensiveness and say, “I don’t look at collections.” Um…come again? That pathetic line of reasoning holds about as much water as a journalist telling her editor that she’d decided to stop paying attention to the news.

The judges clearly hated Kenley’s nightmare in plaid and floral, but lucky for her, there were two others that they loathed even more: Terri’s and Suede’s. Mr. Blue Fauxhawk once again demonstrated an astounding lack of innovation, putting together a chiffon-y number that looked like a cross between Princess Jasmine and Blanche Devereaux. (Seriously: Can’t you just see it paired with some fluffy, furry kitten-heel pumps?) When the guy started waxing narcissistic in the third person in front of the judges, I knew he’d just joined Kenley in rubbing them the wrong way. Kors’ diagnosis? “Self-delusion.” Case closed.

However badly I might have been hoping the historic double-elimination episode would go two-for-two in auf’ing the most irritating, least qualified contestants, I just knew there was no way it could end like that. The judges faulted Suede for being boring — a lesser offense, apparently, than Terri’s. Yes, hers was hideous, but I am really bummed that Terri’s gone. I was looking forward to seeing her rock it at Bryant Park and toss out a few more balls-or-vajayjay-style zingers along the way. I’d even started thinking that the finale would come down to Korto and Terri. Now, the best I can hope for is that Suede gets what he’s got coming sooner rather than later.

What do you think? Was this episode trying too hard? Are you disappointed that Terri’s gone? Was that moody guitar music played during Blayne’s elimination supposed to make us teary? And did Keith go too far in calling Terri “an angry, bitter person”?

Episode Recaps

Project Runway

Karlie Kloss and Christian Siriano guide undiscovered designers through the harrowing rites of fashion.

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