The designers are faced with yet another unconventional materials challenge: Create three looks for a mini collection inspired by Lexus

By Jacqueline Andriakos
Updated August 16, 2013 at 05:30 AM EDT

We may have expected a quieter and less hostile workroom with Sandro’s Runway flee, but tonight’s unconventional challenge number three had some designers’ blood boiling…

A sparkly Heidi — rocking a stylish belted black dress, glitzy jacket, and sleek ponytail — informs the remaining 12 designers that they are headed to meet Tim in the Meatpacking District. But after her evil little eyebrow gesture and “proceed with caution” warning, it sounds like the challenge trauma is about to continue.

And by trauma, I mean product placement. Enter Brian Bolain, corporate marketing manager for Lexus. But the real star being introduced to the designers in the Gansevoort Plaza is the all-new 2014 Lexus IS Sedan. The cars will be their transportation during the challenge, which turns out to be a whopping 15-20 minutes of driving to and from the stores. But don’t get too comfortable in those hot rods, designers. It looks like there will be some workroom friends riding in the passenger seats.

It’s time for another team challenge. But this time, Tim reads off pre-determined groups of three:

Team 1: Ken, Alexandria, and Sue—Sassy Ken doesn’t seem too pleased. But who can blame him? Sue has yet to demonstrate her sewing and styling abilities. The amateur designer’s only top three spot during the parachute challenge was admittedly somewhat of a draping and sewing accident. Alexandria has a certain quiet evil about her, but maybe she will end up being a force to be reckoned with. But Ken, are you one to trash talk? We haven’t seen much of your personality on or off the runway.

Team 2: Kate, Jeremy, and Karen—Karen who? Our elusive redhead is lucky to be paired up with the veteran. And after a distracted and emotional week in the bottom three, Jeremy might benefit from the Kate blessing as well.

Team 3: Justin, Dom, and Helen—As Dom said, “Looking around at all the other teams, it could have been a lot worse.”

Team 4: Alexander, Miranda, and Bradon—Bradon has been kicking some Runway butt and could make a great leader of this crew. Miranda, you might want to take the backseat of that Lexus on this one.

Each team is responsible for a three-look, high end, mini collection. Within each team, individual designers are responsible for a single look of their own. Tim’s magic word when it comes to team collections? Cohesion.

Now this moment of product placement might be the most laughable of all: “You can use these beautiful Lexus cars as an inspiration if you choose, but it isn’t a requirement.” Translation: These cars serve zero purpose in this challenge, but our new sedan needs that 15 minutes of fame.

With a suggested budget of $1500 and a fancy schmancy GPS-programmed vehicle, designers are to pick and then drive to two of three locations where they can shop for materials. Keep in mind, folks, there is only one Mood in New York City…

NEXT: A recipe for disaster

And the real trauma begins, because designers have a third unconventional materials challenge on their hands. The three locations are a vintage wallpaper store, a specialty foods store, and a combination home goods and party store. With one day to complete the challenge, designers are really going to have to make it work.

It’s always interesting to see what can be constructed from the unconventional challenges. We’ve seen supermarkets, pet shops, carnival game prizes, candy stores, hardware stores, and the garments are always either mindbogglingly impressive (Austin Scarlett’s corn husk dress, anyone?) or just outright hilarious (Wendy Pepper’s…whatever you called that balloon-straw-bikini mess). Although this season suffers from unconventional overload, let’s embrace it and see what heats up the runway. Dare I say it? For pure entertainment purposes, I would’ve been curious to see what Sandro would whip up.

Designers begin to make smart moves in sucking up to the judging panel by incorporating Lexus inspiration into their design plans. Or, maybe they just wanted to touch the pretty, pretty cars. Helen imagines a look with lots of architectural lines inspired by the car’s grill, while Jeremy and Karen take an aesthetic detour, with talk of a modern take on a 1920’s Great Gatsby-inspired collection. Miranda, Bradon, and Alexander seem unanimously excited about the idea of an all-white collection made with clean, printed materials.

Team Disaster has a groundbreaking brainstorming conversation:

Ken: “So, luxury…very expensive…”

Alexandria: “I mean, we have three different design aesthetics.”

Ken: “It’ll likely come from one person.”

Sue: *blink*

Alexandria: “We have a budget of 1500 bucks.”

Ken: “I don’t want to go over $1500 though.”

Sue: *blink*

Alexandria: “But we need stuff…we need stuff.”

Nailed it, guys.

Designers run frantically through the three destinations, grabbing place mats, colanders, faded wallpapers, umbrellas, you name it.

When it comes to the most fabric-like items (drapes, and shower curtains), Sue is like a kid in a couture candy store. From the looks of their checkout counter bickering and highly conventional materials, Ken, Sue, and Alexandria better hope they’re slapped with a Tim Gunn reality check to help them back onto the right track.

“I’m working with the genius who can’t create any of her ideas, and somebody else who is borderline grandma,” Ken whines.

Between the black T-shirt, diva glasses, perpetual look of disgust, and offensive verbal outbursts, he’s starting to resemble Kanye West behind a sewing machine…

His snarky remarks are no remedy for the less-than-ideal team situation. Sue’s crumbling confidence and the group’s dysfunction will certainly translate to the runway. And just like during the Yoplait team challenge with Sandro, Sue surrenders to the bullying and decides to “take a backseat.”


In a happier corner of the workroom, Jeremy appears to be in much better spirits this week. He is making “the most drop-dead, gorgeous cocktail dress” he can out of draped and layered silver place mats. With pats on the back, laughter, and a decent-looking pair of pants in the making, Justin, Helen, and Dom’s team seems to be functioning just fine. But there is always a calm before the storm…

“Hi, everyone,” says a gentle little Russian voice. In walks Sandro on Tim’s arm, who is paying one last Parsons visit to provide some closure to last episode’s unresolved outburst. The apology monologue:

“So I want to say, if I been difficult for somebody here, or make feel very uncomfortable around me, please forgive me. And Helen, what happened yesterday, that happens for some reason because you’ve been very, very close to me, and I felt I don’t deserve that kind of attention from you. And I was also too crazy. You see, I’m emotional, crazy Russian. I’m sorry. Also to you [Ken], we have to feel very kind to each other, and this is something I can’t relay. I wish I can.”

They may have wanted to wring his neck or slap the ‘stache right off of his face, but the designers give Sandro heartfelt hugs and goodbyes. He admits to letting his emotions and relationships get the best of him, causing him to ultimately leave the competition. The smoke has cleared, questions have been answered, and we can all move on to consultations.

Bradon’s team (I dubbed him team leader) receives an extremely positive reaction from Tim. The three have creatively texturized the materials, creating sculptural ice queen-looking garments. In his on-screen commentary, Jeremy criticizes their collection for being too costume-y, but the group’s impressive manipulation of their materials will be impressive to the judges.

Karen, Kate, and Jeremy’s group may have only spent $1100, but they do not feel under-resourced. The disguised place mats look elegant and well-crafted, and Tim thinks the group’s material choices and design plans leave room for a lot of opportunities.

Nearby, Tim questions the underspent budget and cruise control attitudes of Helen, Dom, and Justin. The vintage wallpaper they are using doesn’t look like anything besides the craft paper that it actually is, but the group must carry on with the $600 worth of paper that they have.

The silver place mats reappear at Ken’s station, in the cocktail dress that he has been constructing. And from the wavy layers of silver growing on the mannequin, the dress looks like it could actually be a potential showstopper. Unfortunately, the garments of his partners are not receiving the same praises from Mr. Gunn.

“This makes me sick,” admits Tim, while holding up piles and piles of black curtains. But Ken has a brutally honest explanation for the group’s conventional fabric choice. “Forgive me, but this is, I think, the best thing Sue can do right now.” Sue proceeds to scrap the black garment, like any wise designer would do when at risk of throwing the challenge.

An anxious Ken slinks off with Kate to pick her brain on how team challenge eliminations work. Worried that his group will end up in the bottom, Ken is reassured when he learns that at the end of the day, the worst look goes home. Kate’s advice: “When your team is sinking, you have to put your life vest on first.”

As Justin’s attempt at a pair of pants has his group concerned, he takes some time to have a moment of encouragement and reassurance via a Skype session with his family. Helen still fears that his look isn’t strong enough and looks too dated. But will “dated” be the worst adjective used on tonight’s runway? With Ken duct taping the entire back of his garment nearby in the workroom, I can think of several nastier words Zac Posen might have for his trio.

NEXT: Walking on glass

It’s the morning of the runway show, and Sue doesn’t have a completed dress. Alexandria expertly points out that sewing by hand takes longer than using the machine. She attempts to take the reins and sew the rest for her sinking partner, but Tim hustles her out of the workroom. Sue — frantically pulling pins and adding stitches to the garment while the models wait in line to take the runway — is quickly interrupted by Tim, who considers her last-minute efforts unfair to the other designers who obeyed the “time’s up” announcement in the workroom.

Heidi graces the runway looking like the queen of the animal kingdom in a zebra print cocktail dress with a plunging neckline and luscious Victoria’s Secret waves. After the rundown of the Project Runway family, she introduces guest judge June Ambrose, celebrity stylist and designer (but what are those pom-poms on your head?). Let’s start the show!

Almost as nerve-racking as watching unfinished garments falling apart on the runway is watching models attempt to strut while dressed in tearable wallpaper and place mats. Bravo to you, ladies. Not only do we see a catwalk full of glitter, duct tape, and table cloth, but we can actually hear some of the garments’ rough materials crunching with every movement.

The judges are overall impressed with the unconventional challenge results, but ultimately are blown away by the designs of Kate, Jeremy, and Karen. Before dismissing the safe designers from the runway, Heidi praises Bradon, Alexander, and Miranda, who were close runners up. Justin, Helen, and Dom also exit to safety, leaving Team Disaster true to its name and at the bottom.


Whoa, whoa, whoa — I must have missed the edible additions to the these futuristic garments. Not only did the group manage to stylishly disguise shower curtain packaging, place mats, and drawer liners, the team finessed the stitches and seams with grains of black rice, and ombréd the shades of black and gray with poppy seeds and shaved coconut. Nina instantly sees the Lexus inspiration in the collection, describing it as sleek and fast (fast, Nina? Really?). Kate’s black cocktail dress screams Heidi, with a plunging neckline and sexy silhouette. Who knew Kate had a dark side?


Zac describes Sue’s gown as one big coffee filter, Alexandria’s ensemble as a cocoon without a butterfly, and Ken’s as not very chic. The group’s poor choices in materials and haphazard design principle looks unimpressive next to the successful cohesion displayed by Kate’s crew. And if I’m remembering correctly, there were a number of similar materials used (place mats, shower liners and packaging) in both the winning and losing collections. Bad looks mega-bad next to a group that managed with the same items in the same time frame, bickering-free. And to make things worse, the group shies away from the judging panel with timid voices and a lack of explanation behind their design process. But the truth comes out: Alexandria tells the judges that Sue doesn’t know how to sew, and Ken blames the hand-stitcher’s shortcomings as their downfall. But Mean-a Garcia comes to Sue’s rescue, reminding the other two that their garments are equally as bad. So much for snagging your own life vests, Ken and Alexandria.

Questions of who should go home immediately launch the every-man-for-himself rebuttals from the bottom three. Ken immediately dubs Sue the weakest link, but Alexandria is not so quick to sacrifice her verbally beaten partner. Alexandria admits to the judges that working with Ken was like “walking on glass,” leading to a nasty face-off between teammates in the back room.

“I’m speaking, so I need you to be quiet. I’m furious with you right now. I would even suggest you not even to look at me,” Ken warns. Remember all of those nice things I said about Ken? Strike them from the record.

Tim provides the judges with a very raw play-by-play of the tensions in the workroom, admitting that Ken’s hostile demeanor was intimidating even to him. Alexandria’s efforts in trying to maintain peace in the group, and the not-horrible construction and manipulations of the top and skirt seem to be gaining her some of the judges’ sympathy. The bottom two: Ken and Sue. So who goes home? The team player whose sewing “tricks” have yet to demonstrate her construction abilities, or the diva with the snide comments and poorly executed dress?

On the successful end of the spectrum, we have a challenge win for Jeremy and his fierce white strapless dress. The judges could instantly recognize the automotive inspiration within his garment, and could feel his own passion stitched into its seams:

Cue the heart-racing music and…goodbye, Sue. Ken manages to find his life vest after all. Tim saves his rescue option, stating that it is Sue’s time to go. And despite her kindheartedness, this is a fashion design show where fashion design skills are needed. A half-finished dress can’t grace a Bryant Park runway:

These last few episodes have been doused with conflict. Was there a time when Project Runway was less drama-driven? Yes, it’s good ol’ reality TV, but I’m just about ready for the divas to be weeded out and for true talent (a Bradon, Kate, Dom finale trio?) to be the focus.

So, Runway fans, do you agree that it was Sue’s time? Is a final three taking shape yet? And what did everyone think of Bradon’s gown: costume or bridal couture? Discuss!