An uninspired challenge (sponsored by L'Oréal!) leads to an 'unbelievably tight race for hideous.'

By Missy Schwartz
Updated September 24, 2010 at 05:30 AM EDT
Project Runway Valerie
Credit: Barbara Nitke/Lifetime Television

At least they weren’t trying to make clothes for Jackie Kennedy. And…uh, that’s about as much as I can say in praise of last night’s Project Runway challenge, which was: Craft a high-fashion look inspired by…eye shadow.

Lo! It’s the dreaded L’Oréal challenge, wherein aspiring couturiers pay homage to the great and powerful cosmetics muse! Oh, buuuuuuh. It says a lot about an episode when the most exciting part was either Mondo’s yellow Superman boots or the sight of Tim Gunn scurrying after Swatch in the aisles of Mood.

Awaiting the winner of this shameless shilling corporate-sponsored task? An advertorial and $20,000, both courtesy of L’Oréal. Okay, that’s a pretty fantastic prize for a starving artist. So let me put down my Ché Guevara placards and get on with it.

The gang had two days (o, miracle!) and $300, which soon became $400 when Tim announced, of course, that they’d all have to make a prêt-à-porter outfit to complement their haute couture. Obvious as this “twist” was, the designers played along, their mouths dropping open like trap doors. “I think I’m going to pee my pants,” said a shocked Mondo. That’s his second reference to trouser-wetting in three weeks. Does somebody have an incontinence problem?

Much was made of the tension between Michael C. and Gretchen, who both selected fabrics that live in the same zip code on the color wheel: bordello red. (A hue that just screams high fashion.) “Those are my colors and he’s using them as well,” said Gretchen. “I don’t feel threatened by him. I’m just insulted that maybe some boundaries were crossed. Echhh. Somehow, I’ve created a monster.” I really have no idea what she meant here. Was she taking credit for Michael C.’s fabric choices? Was she admitting she’s a monster? Naturally, the whole thing was much ado about nothing. In truth, their fabrics had little in common. And as soon as they started sewing, there were no further “Teacher! Teacher! He’s copying me!” insinuations.

You may recall that earlier in the season, Valerie came to Casanova’s rescue when he indulged in a stress-induced hissy fit. Last night, it was her turn to break down. Following a tepid critique from Tim, she fled to the bathroom (the sacred crying zone in any workplace) and sobbed that she’d wasted a day and a half of work, that she’d be making an “ass” of herself on the runway. Ivy and Gretchen, out of the goodness of their own black hearts, raced to her side. Her tires duly reinflated, Val went back to work. She was grateful to Gretchen and Ivy: “I really felt loved that they came to talk with me… They didn’t have to come and talk to me. They had other things to do to.” Like, oh, say… complaining about you behind your back? “Valerie tends to complain a lot,” bitched Ivy. “Echh… It’s just very wearying.” Time to find a new best friend, Valerie.

NEXT: Let hem who is without sin cast the first stone!

But maybe don’t look to Christopher, who said your design was not avant-garde — I wasn’t aware that was the point of the challenge — and would never be on the runways of Paris. Hate to break it to you, brother, but the City of Light isn’t going to be busting down your door, either — at least not to show off your white pageant dress with that atrocious bunched-up hem. Christopher’s ready-to-wear companion was a bit of a snore as well, but he made it to safety. April did too, which made much more sense to me. Yes, she did another interpretation of the edgy-black-puffy-sleeve same (and I never imagined the creator of the Quilted Pamper Pants would make it this far), but at least she didn’t send a blasted evening gown down the runway.

Really, people: Since when did the words “high fashion” equal floor-length dress? What a stunning lack of imagination in this group. Of the eight remaining designers, only April and Andy tackled separates. Conjuring his fighting spirit, the maker of last week’s absurd raver pants redeemed himself with an over-the-top she-warrior ensemble straight out of an anime addict’s fantasy. Those gladiator boots! That sparkly armor! Was it wearable? Not remotely. But high fashion rarely is. Seam for seam, Andy’s look had the most drama. The companion piece was sorta dull alongside it, but what wouldn’t be, standing next to a 6-foot-tall Amazon who’s ready to rumble? That woman would cut a bitch.

Andy’s look was so superior to his fellow top-scorer, Gretchen, that I refuse to believe she posed any real threat this week. When her high-fashion garment came down the runway, I scrawled “WTF AWFUL HAIRY CAFTAN” in my notes, and as I sit here writing this, I still can’t believe the judges were so kind to her. It’s true I’m no fan of Gretchen’s, generally speaking, but her slouchy bohemian mess-thetic pushed me over the edge this week. The teepee-patterned velvet was awful, the colors were dull, and the fit was so unflattering. The judges cooed over the beaded back, which was pretty enough, I suppose. But the overall look was just too much too much. Her blue ready-to-wear ensemble was more appealing, but still: What does this woman have against structure and tailoring?

But let’s not dwell on Gretchen. Instead, let’s give three cheers to Mondo, who won his second consecutive challenge. His kaleidoscope-couture was full-on bonkers, a clearing house for Mood’s loudest, zaniest fabrics. There was houndstooth. There were stripes. There was an origami bustle! A hat! It was, as Michael Kors would say, a lotta look. Nina thought the materials looked inexpensive, but guest judge Naeem Khan loved the whole shebang-da-dee-bang of it. Meanwhile, Mondo’s everyday look — a fitted dress in black jersey with contrasting black-and-white print panels — was simple and elegant. So congrats to you, Mondo. Enjoy your $20,014. While you figure out how to spend that (not on a miniature pony, I hope), I’ll be celebrating by humming Rosemary Clooney’s “Mambo Italiano” with new lyrics: Hey Mondo! Mondo Fabuloso! Hey Mondo! (I’m serious. I can’t not hear this song whenever I think of the guy named Mondo.)

NEXT: Are you going with what’s behind Door Leg, or what’s behind Door Boob?

Michael C. (yes, he remains Michael C. even if there’s no other Michael around to cause confusion) ended up in the bottom for the first time since the disastrous group challenge. His gown was on the ridonk side — especially that bouncing hem and cross-continental choo-choo train — but I nearly fell off the couch when Heidi said that the companion cocktail dress was too short. “You have to choose: either boob or leg,” she said. Is it possible that Heidi didn’t get her own memo here? She lives to show both. Anyway, Michael C. made it to safety, likely because, as MK pointed out, he was the sole member of Team Bottom-Dwellers who had well-constructed garments. Take that, Gretchen!

Given that Nina made no attempt to hide her disapproval when Valerie’s black Xanax dress (with stooopit crystal faux-buttons) hit the runway, and MK made his Metamucil face while shaking his head as the beleaguered designer explained that her inspiration was Audrey Hepburn (!), I wondered if last night might be Val’s Last Stand. Both looks fell flat, with the so-called high-fashion frock looking like a dime-store fairy-princess wedding dress. (Sookie!) “She looks like Miss Guatemala,” Nina said, rather hatefully. Awkward. Valerie’s family is from that very country. As usual, MK delivered the night’s killer line: “The only accessory she could use is a wand,” he said. Waving his Sharpie like the fashion fairy god mother he was born to be, he added, “I love you and you and you.” Bibbity bobbity boo!

Despite Nina’s apparent hatred of Valerie and the empty threat of a double-elimination, it was Ivy who lost the “unbelievably tight race for hideous” — all by her lonesome. This season’s wannabe villain (a pathetic distinction if ever there was one) finally hit the skids, with her umpteenth horrid design that was, yet again, inspired by the ocean. (Neptune’s revenge will be swift and brutal.) Tim had warned her against sewing panels of fabric to look like waves (“Noooo! Too literal!”), but Ivy slapped those hideous things on the bodice anyway. And I do mean slapped: Her neon-blue pageant-bridesmaid-prom-dress nightmare was so poorly sewn, it could have been the handiwork of my severely myopic husband sans his glasses. Or my cat. I can’t even remember what the ready-to-wear number looked like. And Ivy, you’re just not worth my getting up and rewinding the DVR. So, buh-bye. Go spill your crocodile tears somewhere else, lady.

That’s it for me. What did you think? Were you as appalled as I was by the judges’ praise for Gretchen? What the heck did Ivy mean with her weepy “I’m just really gonna miss designing. I don’t think I’ve ever loved anything else as much.”? (Wait, is she retiring?!) Did you love Naeem Khan’s wonderfully backhanded comment to Ivy, “You tried very hard”? What did you think of Valerie’s claim that she wished she could go home in Ivy’s place? How long before Valerie breaks for good? Or can she pull it together? Sound off in the comments below! [Related: Tim Gunn takes down his latest ‘Project Runway’ vlog. Is he becoming too mouthy for his own good?]

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Project Runway

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

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