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Project Runway All Stars: “Clothes Off Your Back”

Illustration for article titled Project Runway All Stars: “Clothes Off Your Back”
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The success of any given Project Runway episode can usually be boiled down to four factors: the challenge, the fashions, the judging, and the personality. Now, that doesn’t mean that all four of those things have to be good for the episode to be successful. Just as last week’s parade of fashion sadness was entertaining in its terribleness (though the mediocre challenge undercut that somewhat), tonight’s what-are-they-smoking judging inspired the first bits of genuine emotion I’ve experienced during the run of All Stars. Granted, one of those emotions was blinding rage—more on that in a moment—but the other half was joy at Mondo finally getting, and more importantly deserving, a win.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. All of this stems from the first criterion, and this week’s challenge is the best of the season so far (maybe of the last couple seasons, for that matter). It combines some of Project Runway’s go-tos—urban inspiration, unusual/difficult materials, personal humiliation, and oh, if you could use this random HP product in some way, too, that’d be great—into a fashion gauntlet that tests the designers’ creativity, skill, and personality: Find a muse in Central Park, and construct a fashion-forward garment inspired by that muse that is at least 50 percent made up of clothing you’ve begged or bought off of the naturally suspicious, unaccommodating denizens of New York City.


Presented with the opportunity to prove who’s the campiest of them all, Anthony and Austin attack the Central Park portion of the challenge with typical outlandish panache. While it’s obviously entertaining to watch Anthony trick a muscle-bound lug into giving him his pants and see Austin sashay up to people imperiously announcing “My name’s Austin Scarlett and I’m a fashion designer,” they’re both very smart in how they approach this challenge. While most of the designers cringe and dutifully barter for scraps (and in Kara’s case, act completely oblivious to a guy who’s blatantly flirting with her and/or the camera), Anthony and Austin act like carnival barkers, presenting their marks with an offer they can’t refuse: Their spiel isn’t “Can you be my muse?” it’s “You get to be my muse.”

It pays off for both of them, but it’s definitely a quantity-vs.-quality situation. Whereas Austin finds a young, impressionable muse with an easily translatable style—let’s call it “Suicide Girl chic”—and charms the superfluous zippers off of her, Anthony just goes crazy getting ALL THE FABRIC. He basically fills a garbage bag with the fruits of his Southern Homosexual Charm—“Hi, hot white guy, how are you, I’m Anthony”—but fails to realize that denim shorts, polo shirts, and a hideous polyester paisley are not exactly a definitive viewpoint from which to approach a design.

After stopping at Mood to supplement their fabric with whatever they can buy using what’s left of their $150 of bartering cash, the designers return to 4713, where Austin dutifully uses the HP Suite to print his photos, Michael dutifully acts like a big ol’ crybaby about something or other, and Anthony dutifully provides the producers with an ironic sound bite that seals his fate: “I know how to meet the requirements of a challenge.” After experimenting with “fashion-forward” hot-pants and various permutations of “ugly paisley top,” Anthony is nowhere by the end of the first day. He has all the fabric, but no inspiration, and it would seem that he’s getting the loser’s edit.

Or it would, if it weren’t for the fact that Jerell is making the single most hideous garment to ever grace the workroom. Anthony could have just put a belt around the original top and called it a day and it would still be preferable over Jerell’s clown-hooker concoction, which Austin accurately proclaims “one of the most tasteless things I’ve ever seen in my life.” Even Joanna Coles admits she’s “feeling a little anxious” about it, and you know something that inspires anything resembling fear or other human emotions in ol’ J.Coles has to be bad. At least Michael, who receives a similarly distressed response from his doily-averse mentor, has the good sense to scrap what he’s doing and start over (which, to be fair, is a strategy that’s earned him the win in the past). Sure, what he comes up with instead is pretty awful—a sort of spandex diaper with a sad, saggy pink bustier—but with Jerell’s… thing in the mix, both Michael and Anthony’s “palazzo pants onesie” (who wouldn’t want to wear such a thing?) should be safe in the face of such retina-searing tackiness.


Alas, even the astute assessment of the New York Rangers’ Sean Avery—What? He interned at Vogue, you guys!—that Jerell’s model looked like “Lady Gaga and Gwen Stefani at Burning Man on acid” isn’t enough to make up for Anthony’s earlier self-dooming. (And even escaping elimination isn’t enough to keep Michael from making Anthony’s loss all about him, as he sobs away while Anthony cheerily accepts his fate and comforts the man who beat him.) Incredibly, the judges’ main critique of Jerell’s dress is not the fact that it looks like his model rolled around in Mood's remnants bin during an MDMA binge, but that it showed too much of her “big stomach” (as every woman looks at that model’s abs and waves a middle finger in Isaac Mizrahi’s direction). Perhaps they were hypnotized by one of the 17 patterns in the dress, or maybe it just reminded them of all that sweet, sweet crack they smoked before judging, but the judges somehow decided to get rid of one of PR: AS’ most dependable clowns and keep in his stead someone who seems to be actively trying to piss them off with his designs.

At least they get it right with Mondo, though there’s really no way they couldn’t. Yes, Austin’s foofaraw-adorned cropped jacket and voluminous leather skirt is well conceived and constructed, but his chosen aesthetic combined with his magpie tendencies make for an extremely overworked garment, while Rami’s menswear-inspired shorts and ruffled top—with matching trim, no less!—looks like it belongs in an Eastern European Sex And The City knockoff. Though all the girls land in the safe zone, Kara’s “understated chic” ignores the parameters of the challenge—in this case, “fashion forward”—almost as blatantly as Anthony, and with a drab, unflattering color scheme to boot. On the other hand, either Mila’s black-and-grey Mondrian-esque pants or Kenley’s optical confusion of a slim-fitted dress could have challenged Rami’s place in the top three.


But no one could touch Mondo, for whom this challenge is almost as ideal as the opera gown one was for Austin. J.Coles telegraphs that pretty clearly during her consultation with him—“I think of street style as in your ballpark”—and even MilaBot 3000 initiates her “begrudging praise” program in response to Mondo’s outfit, which is roughly 80 percent seams holding together 2,000 different panels of fabric. Isaac spouts some obligatory B.S. about it being “a little too stylish,” but there was no way the judges couldn’t give Mondo’s structured color-block jacket and awesome patterned shorts the win. Why, that would be as crazy as keeping the designer responsible for one of the biggest, most garish sartorial stains on this franchise over a likeable contestant who made a wearable garment that failed mainly on a technicality. Oh, wait.

Man, it feels good to get riled up about judging again, doesn’t it? At first I was pleased with Isaac and Georgina’s more laid-back, less quip-filled approach to judging (and Nega-Heidi’s approach to dutifully filling the empty space to their left), but it’s gotten boring the past couple of episodes. This was the goosing All Stars needed, and the fact that the designer who went home was good-but-not-great (and, more importantly, didn’t seem that broken up about it) renders the decision more curious than crushing—something for us to throw our hands up at, but not turn off our TVs. Not this week, anyway. But if they mess with Mondo…


Stray observations

  • More reasons Mondo is great: He barters with his muse for her clothes, giving her $60 for her dress and jacket instead of outright stealing them, and he’s the only designer to remember and recite the names of his muse and the people who gave him fabric. That’s just good karma. Also, he has a shirt with his face on it.
  • Everyone busted out their best silly hats this episode.
  • Anthony has taken so many daggers for his personality, you guys.
  • Austin’s muse did have some pretty hot nails.
  • “By day he’s the bad boy of hockey, by night he’s a GQ trendsetter!” Despite that dubious introduction, Sean Avery acquitted himself fairly well during judging.
  • “She’s very elegant”: MilaBot 3000 initiates her “lying liar” program in response to Michael’s design.
  • “If a black person says you are loud, you are too loud.” This has been your life lesson from Lady Antoinetta, Kenley.

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