It's literally everything. After five weeks to create their final collections, the designers face the judges one last time before Fashion Week and get a harsh dose of reality

By Stephan Lee
Updated October 12, 2012 at 11:29 AM EDT
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Project Runway
Credit: Barbara Nitke/Lifetime

Just like on The Bachelor, it’s time for Hometown Visits, and the very eligible Tim Gunn traveled coast to coast to judge the designers’ progress and see the humble places from whence they came. Each designer had $9,000 and a paltry five weeks to create their final collections, but not all four were guaranteed a spot at Fashion Week. Of course, anyone who’s seen more than one season of Project Runway knew that all four would be going through. Lest you forget, there’s an entire two hours of airtime to fill next week!

I’ll examine the revealing home lives of each designer now, but I’ll hold off getting into the nitty-gritty of their collections until the Runway.

First, Tim took the LIRR from Manhattan to Massapequa, New York to swoop in on Chris. Tim was looking all fine and dandy in his rose-colored blazer — all he was missing was a dozen roses and a box of Godiva as he rang the Palus’ doorbell. In Chris’ typical Long Island living room, Tim marveled at all that Chris had accomplished. Chris had used his mother’s misfortune — an injury in a car accident — for his own gain, and I’m sure Mrs. Palu couldn’t have been more honored. He took an enlarged x-ray of his mother’s damaged, bolted spine and printed it onto a fabric. “Oh, the x-ray inspired print,” cooed Tim Gunn, as if it were the most common thing in the world. Tim called the print “haunting and alluring,” but I thought it looked too much like snakeskin, and the whole thing was too literal — it’s the sort of thing that requires an explanation. Tim freaked out in a good way over Chris’ experimentation with bleach on leather, and Chris pretended he was surprised that the bleach discolored leather. I don’t entirely understand why splashing corrosive liquids on cowhide is so edgy — I find it about as edgy as “destroyed” denim at American Eagle.

Apparently, part of Tim’s job this episode was to devour tons and tons of food, all in the local flavor of each designer’s hometown. “Hello, and welcome back to Tea Time with Tim,” chirped Chris as he and his family sat down for “wonderfully caloric” pastries. I enjoyed getting to know Chris’ wonderfully ordinary loved ones, especially his proud mama Joann and his blue-collar dad.

NEXT: Spring rolls and twisted fashion with Fabio

Tim then Amtrakked back down (no, I don’t actually think he took the train, that’s just how I personally would get to and from Long Island) to Manhattan to meet with Fabio. Tim was stunned by the airy, sun-drenched loft he walked into. When he asked Fabio if he owned the loft, Fabio answered, “No, of course not, look at me.” Which I thought was a curious response. Do people with facial scruff and weird baggy clothes automatically belong in roach-infested crack dens?

Fabio felt considerable trepidation about Tim critiquing his works-in-progress and used an interesting analogy to describe his feelings. “When you’re giving birth to a baby, you don’t want anybody to come in and say, ‘Oh my God, your baby’s ugly.'” Who would ever say that? Every baby in the world is kind of ugly and plasma-covered when they’re crowning, but no one would say so. Indeed, Tim freaked out in a bad way over aspects of Fabio’s collection — mostly these big clunky-looking shoes that looked like hiking boots with heels. Fabio’s “cosmic tribal collection” elicited a lot of pregnant pauses from Tim, and that’s never a good sign.

Over a giant delicious Chinese feast, Fabio’s adorable, thick-accented Brazilian mom expressed her pride, and so did his adorable and surprisingly clean-cut boyfriend.

Then Tim took the PATH train to another spacious loft, this time in Jersey City, to pay Dmitry a visit. No, this loft doesn’t belong to Dmitry either — Dmitry had to quit his job and give up his apartment to work on this collection. It appears a few of our starving designers have found themselves some wealthy patrons.

Dmitry and Tim discussed Dmitry’s design dreams over cookies and tea. Pinkies up, boys! The camera panned lovingly over the floral tea set for an inordinately long time, and I must say, either Dmitry or his wealthy patron have lovely taste in china. We’d never before heard Dmitry speak so passionately about his family, which sacrificed a lot to allow him to pursue fashion in America. Awww.

As for the clothes, Tim seemed to like what he saw, except for a seafoam green cut-out dress, which he more or less dismissed. When Dmitry asked if Tim liked the color, he responded “No!” in a hilariously peevish tone. He reminded Dmitry to surprise the judges, give them something to say “Wow!” about.

NEXT: Tim tries to rein in Melissa’s nerves and self-doubt

Finally, Tim boarded a plane to San Fransisco, then a boat to ride about the Bay with Melissa’s parents and her vaguely douche-y looking boyfriend Nick. We learned Melissa is from a tiny town and only learned to sew four years ago. Her mother was extremely proud, and it was all very sweet.

Knowing Melissa has a tendency to second-guess herself, Tim spent most of the trip building up her confidence. Tim made a very good point to Melissa about her collection: “This couldn’t be more you, so it’s going to come down to taste, which you have absolutely no control over.” Tim was on fire!

After the five weeks were up, the designers convened in Manhattan at the YOTEL hotel. In seasons past, they usually meet at a classy hotel, but as someone who walks past the YOTEL all the time, I can tell you that it looks like a giant Pinkberry, and anyone who steps into it — male or female — suddenly looks that much more like a Russian prostitute.

Hugs, champagne, and disingenuous comments — “I hope all four of us will get to show” — abounded. In their new workspace, the final four finally got a chance to judge each other’s work: Melissa loved the light and color of Fabio’s line; Dmitry found Chris’ collection disjointed and immature; Melissa’s confidence dwindled to an all-time low. After Tim announced that everyone had to choose just three looks to present to the judges, he gave Melissa another much-needed pep talk. “No one else could have done this collection,” Tim said. “The quality is here 1,000 percent.” Color suddenly drained back into Melissa’s face, and that, ladies and gentleman, is why we love Tim.

Tim warned the designers to make good choices, and to show not only their best work but also the range of their looks. Everyone seemed to take that advice to heart except Chris, who had made so many separates that he decided to choose the pieces last minute.

DMITRY

Dmitry’s three looks lacked color but impressed me all-around. His first look — a white dress composed of geometric cut-outs — was classic Dmitry. It showed what he could accomplish in five weeks. I actually liked his second ensemble — the sheer black top with the built-in necklace got all the attention, but those pants were what really brought that look together. His third look, the feather-sleeved jacket, was more avant-garde than anything anyone made for the avant-garde challenge.

With Dmitry, the judges primarily critiqued his styling. They pinpointed what I didn’t like about the third look — Nina said the jacket should have been on its own, or at least paired with less noisy items. There was too much going on, and Dmitry threw too many of his ideas into one look. Michael pushed him to go younger and cooler with the styling and said his outfits could easily look old if the styling wasn’t on point.

NEXT: Christopher disappoints…

CHRISTOPHER

Chris has been one of my favorites all along, but I have to say, I’m completely underwhelmed. His first look with the vest and the micro-shorts was god-awful and didn’t even look like he made it — it looked like something Melissa would make, only done poorly. I agreed with Nina that the other two looks were nicely constructed but looked exactly the same. Nina was extremely tough — but I thought fair — when she pointed out that there just wasn’t much to any of these designs. Chris had a bunch of excuses, like that he didn’t have enough time to choose all the right pieces. What happened to Chris’ romantic, hyper-feminine clothes? I hope they’re all hanging on that rack, ready to be brought out next week. (Disclaimer: I know the final seven designers’ Fashion Week collections are readily available to see online, but I’ve studiously avoided seeing any of them).

FABIO

Fabio’s “cosmic tribal” line looks completely batshit, but it worked on me, for the most part — Miami Vice color scheme and all. The necklaces, which looked as if they were made of Sweet Tarts, and the clutches were so unusual but interesting to look at. The third dress made the model look as though she came from a wise, peace-loving all-female race from the Star Trek universe, which is EXACTLY what Fabio was going for. Heidi liked that Fabio brought out a completely different side of himself, but Nina wanted everything to look more luxurious and, as always with her, expensive. I agreed with her about the first look — the tie-dye tank and the pants just weren’t special enough. And yes, the wigs sucked, although I’m glad Fabio kept the freaky shoes.

NEXT: The judges have harsh parting words for the designers…

MELISSA

Ugh. I wanted to like Melissa’s stuff. I’m always pulling for the underdog, and I think winning the competition would give Melissa a confidence boost more than it would for anyone else, but everything about these three outfits felt déclassé to me — and as all three judges pointed out, the hair and styling didn’t help at all. Is this really who Melissa’s girl is? The lame chick who can’t get into the punk rock club? I didn’t even like the jacket that Heidi went crazy for. Like Nina, the huge, floppy collar and cuffs were way too much for me. The “obsidian” dress looked like a dialed-down version of Melissa’s winning “office” dress from earlier in the season. And just as Nina was talking about the great pants in the second look, a closeup revealed one of the biggest cameltoes I’ve ever seen on Project Runway (ooh, an EW gallery idea!). It was practically a camel nose.

The judges weren’t entirely happy with anyone’s three looks, but they still wanted to see more from everybody. Hopefully things improve before next week. As I said before, I’m avoiding looking at the final runway collections and decoy collections ahead of time because I want to be surprised. But I’m cautiously optimistic about Dmitry and Fabio’s lines. I’ve loved Chris’ work up until this point, but I’m not too hopeful about his or Melissa’s Fashion Week collections at all.

Who presented the best three looks? Should someone have gone home? Were the judges overly harsh, or were they giving the designers a much-needed wake-up call?

Follow @EWStephanLee on Twitter.

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Project Runway

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

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