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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Project Runway: “Finale, Part I”

Illustration for article titled Project Runway: “Finale, Part I”
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Here is my theory as to what happened here. Tonight’s episode was produced by a time traveler from the future. His only goal: Don’t screw up the timeline. As any well-informed  person knows, even the smallest changes to the natural progression of events can have dramatic effects on the future. Therefore, this poor soul needed to create 90 minutes of television that could leave no impression whatsoever on those who viewed it. “Finale, Part 1” had to be assiduously generic. Utterly inconsequential. My friends, I believe that tonight we can say with certainty that the future is safe with Project Runway.

Heidi sends the four designers to work on their collections for We Have To Call It Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. She says that she has some “not-so-good news” for them. (Not bad news, of course—that cavalier phrasing might have the potential to startle.) “Although you are all making collections,” Heidi says, “you are not guaranteed a spot in the final three.”

The veteran viewers among you surely smelled trouble here. Heidi loves designer anguish. She pores over it, cocks her head in fascination at it, as if she were a little girl hovering over a wounded butterfly. If she has an opportunity to fill designers with terror—if she really means it—she lets loose. She doesn’t couch her statements in careful legalese like, “You are not guaranteed a spot in the final three.” When the vampire loses her taste for blood, you’re about to watch a boring vampire movie.

Undoubtedly haunted by this terrifying not-guarantee of not being not able to show collections during (the on-air portions of) Fashion Week, the contestants depart for five weeks of work. After a month, Tim heads to the designers’ homes for his ritual visits, because that is what an episode of Project Runway does at this time. PROCEED NORMALLY. DO NOT DEVIATE.

The centerpiece of Christopher’s collection is a printed fabric based on a back X-ray. His mom apparently was in a terrible accident, and Christopher realized that her shattered vertebrae would make a terrific print. (She’s fine, by the way…?) It really is a cool print, and Christopher complements it with another gritty material, bleach-spattered leather. Tim’s pretty satisfied with everything, and has little criticism to offer. He’s especially pleased with the leather. He says, “It takes it to a whole other dimension”—DO NOT SPEAK OF THE OTHER DIMENSION—“that goes beyond clothes-making.” GOOD SAVE.

We meet Christopher’s family. His little sister is named Christina. It must do wonders for your self-esteem when your very identity is a hand-me-down. We get another glimpse into the parenting style of the Palu family when Tim asks Christopher’s mother how she feels about Christopher’s success. “Anxious,” she says. Tim squints at her. This is not right. “Excited,” she says. Okay, better. “Very proud,” she says. There, that’s the plain-vanilla answer we all were looking for. Can’t go wrong banal expressions of pride!


Tim moves along to Fabio, in New York City. Fabio’s workroom is set up in a palatial apartment, and Tim is taken aback. You can see him thinking, “Christ, this is even nicer than my place.” Fabio says that it is “his best friend Emily’s dad’s apartment.” The terms under which this middle-aged father has allowed a young, virile, free-spirited fashion designer to shack up in his Manhattan apartment are not specified. In a potentially dangerous divergence from protocol, the perfunctory “we’re so proud of him” routine happens before the work-in-progress critique, instead of afterward, but thanks to the Transitive Property Of Zero Excitement, the neutral flow of the episode is undisturbed.

Fabio’s collection is called “Cosmic Tribalism”—DO NOT SPEAK OF THE COSMIC TRIBES—and each look in the collection is a “persona” in the tribe. “One is the priestess, and then Two is the number of women,” Fabio…explains? Is “explains” the word I should use here? He says these words in a tone that suggests elucidation.


Tim adores the collection. Next, he looks at it. Then he hates it. “You had me believing, loving, championing. Now, I’m completely baffled and confused,” Tim says, and that’s a pretty accurate description of the strange boomerang turn he takes during this critique. He’s repulsed by Fabio’s work boot-clodhopper hybrid shoes, by pants that look like “longjohns,” and by some of the more colorless, drab looks in the collection. The shoes may be terrible, but I have to admire Fabio’s confidence of vision, as he sticks with them in the face of Tim’s vehement protests.

It’s off to Jersey City, where Dmitry has his own palatial digs and even more suspiciously absent property owners—“friends” who are “in Spain.” Tim gives the thumbs-up to Dmitry’s work, which is full of Dmitry’s usual severe-yet-attractive angles and reprises the floating-panel effect that earned plaudits earlier in the season.


Since Dmitry has no friends and family here to express their pride in him—I guess they’re all “in Spain,” too—Tim and Dmitry converse between themselves on the patio. There’s the usual chatter of inspirations and goals, but the focal point of this scene is the plate of cookies that sits on the table between the two men. The plate has a ridiculous number of cookies, far too many for a pair of men to consume in polite company. In truth, the entire exchange is a battle of wills over who will be forced to eat all those goddamn cookies. “When you look 10 years out from now, where do you see yourself?” Tim asks. Subtext: “I’m not eating them.”

Since Dmitry didn’t have any loved ones for the Tim visit, it would have been great if Tim brought Elena along (that is, if the resulting enjoyment wouldn’t have caused unacceptable ripples in the space-time continuum). I hear she’s in the lead for Fan Favorite, after all.


Melissa is in San Francisco, the only designer who’s more than a 45-minute drive from midtown Manhattan—the nerve of this woman! She’s less confident than the others have been. “Is it because you’re worried about what Christopher and Fabio and Dmitry are doing?” Tim asks. She says yes, nudging him to handicap the race. He considers for a moment, looks over her collection. “This couldn’t be more you,” he says. Not the answer she was looking for.

The Melissa family heads out on the bay for their Tim Gunn heart-to-heart. They scream fond memories at each other and make futile efforts to get the hair out of their faces. I imagine it’s around this time that the field producer in charge of this shoot—who has been asking himself all week, “Why haven’t we taped a segment on a skiff in the middle of San Francisco Bay before?”—suddenly snaps his fingers. Oh, right! Wind!


A week later, Chris is the first to arrive at a Times Square hotel that is actually named Yotel, dressed in a bleached sweater and standard-issue never-nude cutoff jeans below the waist. He’s in awe of that classic Yotel luxury, but it doesn’t make much of an impression on Fabio or Dmitry, since Yotel is a third-rate shithole compared to the places they’re used to.

Back in the workroom, the designers pore over each other collections. And then the program gets down to what modern-era Project Runway does best: Showing us dedicated artists as they make important choices about their work, and using the power of reality television to illustrate a complex creative process.


Sorry, I misread my notes there for a second. What actually happens, obviously, is that we get various permutations of the designers saying that they’re jittery and excited and emotional, because according to the Bunim/Murray Temporal Preservation Runway Blueprint, this is the time for such things. Tim asks the designers if they’re nervous. They say yes. So Tim reminds them that they should be nervous. NERVOUSNESS IS THE CORRECT INPUT.

Runway show. Each designer shows three looks. Dmitry’s highlight is the white dress, which makes extensive use of the aforementioned floating-panel effect. Like most of Dmitry’s garments, it looks a lot better on the model than it did on the rack. One downside: The lines between the fabric panels have a geometry that’s reminiscent of a 1990s mall atrium. Watching Dmitry’s model walk down the runway gave me a sudden impulse to purchase a Beavis And Butthead beer can cozy at Spencer Gifts. The lowlight of Dmitry’s mini-collection is a horrid jacket with leather fringe on the arms—the kind of thing that The Onion’s version of Joe Biden would buy for his special lady. The judges think the jacket is great, I guess experiencing a touch of the Diamond Joe spirit themselves.


It’s hard to see what Tim hated so much about the pants in Fabio’s first look—they just look like pants. The top on Fabio’s second look resembles one of those grade-school paper fortune tellers, as if the model’s left breast says you’re going to be rich, and the right says you’re going to have 10 kids. His third look is the simplest but also the most arresting: It’s a draped pastel pink dress where the heaviness of the fabric is offset by the cotton-candy lightness of the color. The contrast is intriguing. The shoes are still horrid.

Christopher has two looks with short shorts, and the third pairs an X-ray print skirt with a leather bustier. Melissa has three colorless looks that are unmemorable except for a fairly nice white jacket. Neither of them shows much flair or range, and they’re both in “danger” of the impending “elimination.”


At this point, our quantum-leaping reality-show producer faces a quandary. The judging tends to be the most dramatic and volatile part of the show. The judges must say nothing while appearing to say something. Solution: Talk about styling.

The amorphous concept of “styling”—a word that was barely spoken in the early seasons of Project Runway—has become more prominent in recent years, but tonight’s episode pushes it to the exclusion of almost any other concern. “Styling is everything,” Kors says, and he means it. For instance, Nina tells Dmitry, “I think you have worked very hard at the styling…. I would push yourself a little bit more on the styling.” Kors adds, “I look at it and hope that in the styling you can take it down a bit.”


There are a few moments, early on in the critiques, when the judges comment on matters of substance rather than presentation. But with time, the panel’s opinions coalesce in a colorless, odorless, affectless miasma. “All of you had pieces that we liked,” Heidi tells the designers when they’re called back to the runway, “but all of you put them together in a way that concerns us.” It’s like a Lake Wobegon jigsaw puzzle: Everybody is above average, they just need to be rearranged.

And with that, all four designers get to stay—the same “we just wasted 90 minutes of your time, and we don’t care” bullshit that the show’s creators pulled last year in part one of that season’s finale. Frankly, I could have reposted last year’s review, filled in new names, and posted that tonight. Because nothing had changed.


And that’s just it. Nothing changed, exactly as it had to be. When this perfectly featureless sphere of televisual vacuity concluded its time on our TV screens, the precious timeline remained intact, untouched by any happenings of note. The future will play out as it should. The Kors administration will arrive in the White House on schedule in 2025. The Bronzer Wars will proceed apace in 2026. And so on and so forth. Yes, you may have spent your evening watching a show that possesses a bottomless disregard for its viewers, but at least you can rest assured that the future will be properly styled.

Stray observations:

  • Tim Gunn line of the night came at the Palu household, upon seeing a huge spread of store-bought Italian desserts (the kind that always look better than they taste): “This looks so very caloric!”
  • In her dirty-blond wig, one of the models looked disturbingly like Gretchen Jones.
  • Handlebar Mustache Makeup Artist offers Melissa a little intelligence about the makeup look that Christopher settled on for his models. Is he allowed to do that? Is HMMA playing favorites?
  • “Yotel”?