The designers take inspiration from the famous doll collection for a miniature model runway show

Project Runway Recap
Credit: Barbara Nitke/Lifetime

Just in case you hadn’t seen the previews for this week’s episode—featuring Sandhya’s suspected breakdown—the “previously on” reminds us how she grates against the other contestants. Her “I don’t refer to any other designer” business is not received well. No surprise.

What is semi-surprising is the lack of actual drama this year. A few designers have been given a heavy edit to appear as the characters we’ve grown to expect: Mitchell and Korina got the villain treatment in the premiere. But Mitchell turned out to be pretty harmless—and well-loved based on the hugs he got when he was booted. And while Korina has definitely had her nasty moments, she hasn’t really emerged as a true nemesis, like Kenley or Santino.

On the other hand, there hasn’t really been an “overly emotional” character either. Sandhya has often been painted as sensitive—and she is—but she’s probably also exhausted and confused. Getting bad critiques from Tim, shifty looks from her co-contestants, and love from the judges simultaneously must be tough.

All that is to say: Maybe Project Runway‘s casting directors should get some tips from the gang over at Utopia. That’s a show that knows how to cast dramatic characters. Yes—first and foremost, Runway should be about the designs. But for a season that was advertised with “Turn Down for What” karaoke from Tim and Heidi, is it too much to expect a little more pop from the designers themselves?

But where the contestants are lacking, these challenges are picking up the slack. American Girl Doll Challenge: It’s happening.

I can’t decide which is better: Alexander admitting to his complete familiarity with the American Girl doll brand, or Korina telling us she had Samantha. (If you know the dolls, you get why this is perfect.) Also great: Tim Gunn’s ability to get excited regardless of the sponsor. Whether it’s the WWE, Saturn, Red Robin, or American Girl dolls, that man knows how to sell a challenge.

The designers seem genuinely interested in what their task will be—and that feeling doesn’t even diminish when their tween models emerge. Each designer must create a modern and fashionable look inspired by the Beforever doll that their assigned model carries. (Project Runway history question: How often do designers get assigned in challenges like this, rather than winners selecting or the button bag?)

Emily is bursting at the seams. She’s the only one with extensive experience designing children’s clothing; her line has an Etsy cult following. This should be her challenge to lose (spoiler alert: it’s not).

NEXT: American twee

When the designers return to the workroom, it is full of dolls and tiny mannequins. (All I could think of is this.) Nothing seems to stand out much, aside from Sandhya’s pink getup. But if we’ve learned anything week to week, it’s that her strange designs will get her through. Her mentor comes by and finally says what all the other designers (and audience) have been thinking—he just doesn’t get it, “but the judges keep loving it.”

Also during the critiques, we learn that Tim hates fringe. (He should probably stay away from Dancing with the Stars, then—but I would love to see him on there.) He tells Sean to keep it off his vest, which he does, and Char, too. She respectfully disagrees. This is a fun relationship to watch; he’s so invested in her now. The Tim Gunn Save™ cannot go to waste!

That evening at Gotham West, we finally see the promised “breakdown” from Sandhya. It’s basically just her complaining to Emily while shedding a few tears. She said earlier in the episode that it would take a lot more than Korina to make her break, so it’s really unclear what caused this. Ever the mother, Emily tells her to get some sleep. #uneventful

The next day, the world’s most adorable models get their hair done and a little bit of moisturizer or blush applied (thanks for keeping it tasteful, Mary Kay) while the designers finish up their looks. The tweens each walk the runway with the perfect amount of sass, while the looks are judged by guest star Elisabeth Moss (uhh, children’s clothing expert) and Heather Northrop, American Girl senior design manager. Both are well-spoken and have thoughtful observations about the looks. Overall, it’s a fun show; the words “cute” and “adorable” have never been heard so much on this series.


Doll: Addy

Model: Deovana

With a quilt as her inspiration, Amanda used mismatching prints for a colorful, youthful dress and jacket. Addy, who was born in 1855, would never, ever wear this, but it fulfilled the “modern” part of the challenge. Amanda is safe.


Doll: Kit (a.k.a. Abigail Breslin)

Model: Emma

Alexander’s look was safe. The high-waisted (?) red cropped pants and patterned top were cute, but the fit was terrible and it was barely runway worthy—even for a twee runway challenge.

NEXT: Baby jumpers vs. children’s Chanel


Doll: Josefina

Model: Mavis, Korina’s mini me

It was close to not being finished, but completed in the knick of time. Korina’s dress had everything—strong inspiration (the peekaboo yellow based on Josefina’s memorial flower was clever), impeccable styling, and a polished look that’s neither too grown up nor too childish for her bubbly tween model. She is in the top yet again.


Doll: Julie (the one from the ’70s, because the ’70s are now a historical decade)

Model: Katie

Sean has learned through this competition that he definitely has a knack for women’s designs. That is not true for children’s designs. His “hippie” design just looked lazy; he was so careless he didn’t notice that he cut out the peace sign wrong. Heidi hit the nail on the head with this bottom look: It looks like a McCall’s pattern.


Doll: Caroline

Model: Jessica

Sandhya, Sandhya, Sandhya. What is there to say about this? It looks like a 10-year-old is wearing a baby’s bathing suit. And it’s Pepto Bismol pink. And has an awkward patterned peplum. And snaps up the back. Basically, I was ready for the judges to rave about this, but instead they rightfully placed her in the bottom.


Doll: Samantha

Model: Anita

When Anita, in her pale pink and giant flower headband, first walked up to Kini, it seemed like a great opportunity for him to break out of his black funk. He still went dark, but the result was stunning. This top dress skirt and top and houndstooth coat was somehow classically ageless. It looked amazing on Anita, but could easily look just as great on Elisabeth Moss or Heidi. And of course, it would look great on Samantha, too.


Doll: Kaya

Model: Faith

Char’s look was as fun as Kini’s was classic. It’s a good thing she didn’t let Tim talk her out of that fringe, because Nina is a huge fan. Elisabeth Moss loves it so much that she says she would stop a child on the street to ask her where she got it. That Tim Gunn Save™ may pay off yet, because Char is back on top.


Doll: Rebecca

Model: Caitlin

When a challenge is specifically tailored to your skills, you must blow away the judges. That is Project Runway 101. Emily’s look does not do this. She isn’t even safe. She is in the bottom. The color wasn’t youthful or fun; the proportions were strange and unflattering—which is hard to do on a little girl. It’s punk rock meets the sweater your grandma made you for Christmas. It’s hard to recover from that.

Winner: Kini, who joins the two-time winners club, a very happening thing this season.

Out: Sandhya. Apparently being the judge’s favorite can’t save you every time. No matter how they’ve acted throughout the season, it’s always hard to watch designers’ dreams get crushed as they’re sent to pack up their things in the workroom. The best thing about Sandhya leaving is it doesn’t seem to dampen her spirit. She was proud of that pink onesie to the bitter end. You have to admire that kind of delusion outlook.

Best line: “Kids are weird… shapes.”—Sean

Final thought: Am I the only one who would like to see more of these genius child models? What about a Project Runway: Kids spin-off, à la MasterChef Junior? Think about it, Lifetime.

Follow me on Twitter: @realdalener

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Project Runway

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

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