‘Project Runway’: Bit of a messfest

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I look forward to one of the best parts of ‘Project Runway’ next week: seeing Tim Gunn visit the designers’ homes and meet their families (he’s always so gracious, even when he couldn’t be more different than the folks he’s greeting). So that’s something to be excited about, because tonight’s final challenge episode was otherwise anticlimactic. Last week I predicted the final three and did so with (not so) amazing accuracy. But more than the lack of tension in the competition, none of the last designs lived up to an end-of-season show.

The challenge was for the designers to gain inspiration from the Getty Center: Carol Hannah Whitfield was inspired by an opulent French bed, Irina Shabayeva by a Godward painting, Althea Harper by the center’s architecture, Christopher Straub by an algae-covered fountain and Gordana Gehlhausen by a Monet painting that reminded her of her roots in Europe.

The one thing that’s remarkable about this season is how much ill will the designers seem to have for one another -- each seemed to have something bad to say about the other (so it wasn’t a lone bad guy like Kenley Collins). It would be nice if they had the work to back up their mouths: Instead, I was more interested in what guest judges Cynthia Rowley and Cindy Crawford were wearing than what came down the runway.

In Althea’s design, I couldn’t see her architectural inspiration, and as the judges noted, the pleated bottom of her gold dress looked overworked compared to the incongruous flowing top. Other than a few splashes of green, I also couldn’t see the organic, natural elements Christopher apparently wanted to incorporate from the fountain. Also, the corseted top and long skirt of his dress just looked inexpensive to me. Gordana’s long dress inspired by the morning light was pretty but as others noted, not a last-challenge dress. The back of Irina’s dress was elegant but instead of a light, ethereal diaphanous gown, I thought hers looked something like a folk dancing costume, and it was unclear, too, where or how it was intended to be worn. The judges liked the craftsmanship of Carol Hannah’s gold gown, but didn’t find it incredibly inspiring.


The judges then asked the contestants why they should each go to Fashion Week and who should accompany them: I had to smile when several of them suggested Christopher because I wondered if they thought he should go because they could beat him. Sadly for him, they won’t get the chance. Even though I wasn’t wowed by any of their designs tonight, Irina, Carol Hannah and Althea are indeed heading to Fashion Week, where I hope they will show why they deserve to be there.

-- Claire Zulkey