Innovators fail to inspire the designers to innovate in this year's HP Challenge. Plus, a mildly shocking elimination

By Stephan Lee
Updated September 27, 2013 at 05:30 AM EDT
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Credit: Barbara Nitke/Lifetime
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After last week’s inglorious slaying of the KrakKEN, the remaining dudes found a way to be adults and live together. Praise the Lord! This is the point in the competition where the people who’ve been safe without winning start to get picked off. Right from the top of the episode, Kate and Justin started to feel the pressure. They were tired of coming in second, and so was I. They both deserved wins in the past that had gone to old standbys like Helen and Bradon instead. (Especially Helen).

As much as I hate promotion-based challenges (the frozen yogurt challenge was a series low), I’ve always liked the HP Intel Challenge because it forces the designers to get creative — it really is cool to watch them create their own textile. It’s also where Mondo Guerra became a star.

For this year’s HP Challenge — and this is where the B.S. kicked in — the designers had to choose an “innovator” as inspiration for their look. Because, as the execs would like you to know, HP is forward-looking and all about the future.

Helen, the winner of last week’s challenge, got to pick first, and of course she chose the innovator most obviously aligned with her own line of work: the modern artist. Alexander chose the executive pastry chef (a.k.a. cake master) at Catch, and Bradon, of course, chose the professional BMX rider. Doesn’t Bradon just scream “BMX” to you?

NEXT: Like a layer (cake)…

The designers spent some time with their next-generation innovator for inspiration. This was where Alexander got on my nerves. He chose his innovator deliberately, but when he actually saw the chef at work, he started to doubt cake as an inspiration — even though there’s clearly a lot a fashion designer can do with cake. When he compared notes with the other designers, Alexander pretty much belittled his cake master’s profession while comparing it to the other innovators’ work. I think he gave up on the challenge right then and there. It was all very self-defeating, kind of like last week when he assured his superfan that he could make a suit for her when he couldn’t actually follow through. Most of the other designers probably would have killed to have pastry as their inspiration, but I think Alexander was giving himself an excuse just in case he wouldn’t be able to deliver.

But really, all the designers just took the tiny fraction of their innovators’ world that they were comfortable with and focused exclusively on that. Alexander zeroed in on the chocolate lace on top of a cake that already looked like a ribbon. Bradon somehow got plaid (his fave!) from BMX biking. Kate somehow got florals from binary code. Helen somehow got a very basic star pattern from her modern artist. The good news was, all the prints they’d designed on their HP tablets looked gorgeous. Good job, HP.

Back in the workroom, Helen tested the other designers’ nerves by constantly asking for advice and expressing her endless insecurities and crying and repeating “I don’t do prints.” By the time Tim came around, everyone was flailing in the challenge. Tim was perplexed by Bradon’s design and wisely advised him to change his idea for his skirt. He strongly questioned Alexander’s look, calling it “clerical,” which Alexander didn’t mind — especially considering his last name, Pope.

Bradon had the line of the night in response to that: “Just because Alexander’s last name is Pope doesn’t mean he has to make priest costumes. My last name is McDonald, and I don’t make dresses out of French fries.”

Tim told everyone “Just go with your viscera. That’s what it’s there for.” Can we put that on a t-shirt, please?

NEXT: On to the Runway! Loved Peter Som as guest judge.

Alexandria – SAFE

Safe? Did Heidi say safe? These are clothes that cartoon talking rats would wear. In my book, Alexandria should have been one of the two eliminated last night.

Helen – TOP

Top? Did Heidi say top? Clearly, the judges were struggling to find something they liked tonight, because this boring midriff-bearing Meg Ryan red carpet look from the ’90s was blah at best. Even the judges were tepid with their praise.

Bradon – TOP

Bradon was wise in taking Tim’s advice about re-thinking the skirt and making a dress under the jacket instead. Guest judge Peter Som, who gave awesome and eloquent critiques, thought the dress was sick, and the other judges loved the colors of the bomber jacket.

Dom – WINNER

It’s a bleeding zebra! In a good way. As the resident print-worker, Dom really shone in this challenge. Nina called it tribal yet current, and Peter said it was global yet not costume-y.

NEXT: A sad, unfair elimination…

Justin — BOTTOM

Justin’s gown was neatly constructed but utterly uninspired. It looked as if he were more inspired by his innovator’s old pageant days than her current work. Nina loved the dress waist-up, but the bottom was totally cheap-looking and without design. Zac thought the bottom looked like a snake shedding its dead skin. Ouch! Accurate, and very descriptive, but ouch!

Alexander – OUT

I know Alexander’s inspiration was a cake artist, but this weird nun’s outfit looked like a dry, cracky Hostess CupCake. Add to that a bizarre cross, which, as every judge noted, looked like masking tape that hadn’t been removed yet. Alexander was the obvious choice to go this week.

Kate — OUT

But Heidi emphasized “one or more of you will be out” this week, and Kate was the second victim. Even though Kate made what was objectively the worst look this challenge — seriously, it was shockingly bad — I was surprised the judges cut her loose. She deserved at least three more wins than she got this season. Maybe she really would have done better if she’d held onto her old, more cutthroat attitude. Judging from this challenge alone, yes, she probably did deserve to go. But in my opinion, she has way more potential than Alexandria, or even Helen. Loved Zac’s “Kleenex” comment, though.

Did you think Kate’s elimination was fair? Did Alexander’s negative attitude grate on you, too? Did you love Peter Som as guest judge?

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