Barbara Nitke/Lifetime

The designers have to find women on the street to be their makeover muses.

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September 26, 2014 at 03:47 AM EDT

What’s great about Project Runway—as opposed to other reality shows—is that age is rarely a factor. On America’s Next Top Model, 25-year-old women are often the “old ladies” of the group. Anyone over the age of 35 on Survivor or Big Brother is considered ancient by the other contestants. Youthfulness is obviously very important to the demands of Amazing Race and its challenges. And American Idol has an age limit of 28.

That’s not the case on this show; as long as you have talent and taste, age isn’t an issue. Which is why it’s unfortunate that Alexander constantly makes references to being so far in the show “at only 22.” Lest you forget, Christian Siriano won at 21. Experience can get you far, but when you just got it, you got it. And Alexander just doesn’t got it. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Tim meets the designers at the runway for tonight’s episode, “Find Your Muse.” The show’s muse for this challenge is Mary Kay. The “global makeup artist” Luis Casco tells the designers all about the brand: “We help women discover both inner and outer beauty, etc., etc.” But then he gets to the good part: It’s a makeover challenge. And not just that—it’s also the everyday woman challenge, and the designers have to find a stranger off the streets to be their everyday woman.

Like Char says, the challenge is exciting—mainly because it draws on strengths we don’t always see each week, because it’s hard to make a 6’2″ model look bad. Designing for a non-model requires expert skill in proportions and fit. For this specific challenge, because the model is also the client, it also takes adapting to another person’s tastes. And when you just pick a muse off the street, it’s not easy to identify their tastes right away—which actually worked out well for most people, except Kini.

Kini selects a woman who loves bohemian and tie-dye, decidedly not what fits his style. Everyone else seems to magically find a muse who fits, though. Emily even finds a woman who shares her own childhood favorite designer (Thierry Mugler). And then there’s Sean, who just struggles to find anyone. As someone who lives in New York, I can say that we don’t give friendly strangers much time to make their case—especially friendly strangers with a camera (see Billy on the Street if you don’t believe me). Eventually, he gets someone to say yes. So after chatting and sitting through sketches (and signing of agreements), the muses stay behind at Washington Square Park while their designers go to Mood.

They begin their pieces in the workroom—but they have two days, so there’s a bit more of a relaxed vibe. I often complain about not enough two-day challenges, so I hate to complain when we finally get one. Still, this didn’t feel like the right challenge to give so much time to. Where was the extra day when they did their red carpet looks? Anyway, the room is surveyed by Korina, who does not approve of Char’s peplum, Kini’s denim, Amanda’s print, or Emily’s fins. When Tim does his own critique, he doesn’t have the same problems that she does. Instead, he zooms in on Alexander, and we get this brutally honest exchange:

Tim [after making Alexander join him on the other side of the table]: What do you see?

Alexander: I don’t know. What do you see?

Tim: You are one of the most talented designers I’ve ever met.

Alexander: Okay… and… ?

Tim: I have never said this in the history of Project Runway. This is one of the most hideous garments I have ever seen in my entire existence. It is hideous. You’ve got to change this. You’ve got to.

Miraculously, Tim can say those words without sounding like a jerk—he just sounds like a concerned mentor. That is a skill that only comes with years and years of being a design teacher. Designers trust him and his judgment… which is why what happens moments before the runway show is even more interesting.

NEXT: Zipping down the runway

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