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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Project Runway: “Finale Part One”

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One of the top four designers in the ninth season of Project Runway is wearing a vest made of fake bookshelves when Heidi sends everyone home to design their line for Fashion Week. Bookshelves. Where did we go wrong? How did we get here?

Kimberly got here from White Plains, as we learn on Tim’s check-in visit, three weeks later. “This is the updated sweatpant,” she says to Tim, which doesn’t sound promising. Or look promising. Kim says she wants to make “some really big statements.” Tim tells her to take risks. The 90-minute generic-fest is underway. Tim sits down to a family dinner. Kimberly’s sister and friends are very proud of her. She has a dead relative. She would like to be the first African-American to win Project Runway. For a moment, I feel bad about feeling like she does not belong in the finale. For a moment.


Anya got here from Trinidad. Tim sits down to a family lunch. Anya’s brothers are very proud of her. She has a dead relative. Anya brings Tim downstairs and shows him some pictures of Tobago. Hey, Tobago gets its moment in the spotlight! Some stories do have happy endings. Yet Anya hasn’t felt inspired enough to actually make any garments. Seriously, she hasn’t designed anything. I guess Tobago isn’t that inspiring. Thanks for nothing, Tobago.

The upshot: Tim came all the way to Trinidad just to look at some fabric that Anya found. Maybe now he knows how the owl felt. Tim is so bewildered that he makes sure Anya knows the rules: “You can’t have any help with basic construction,” he reminds her. Yeah, she knows.

Viktor got here from New York City. There’s a shot of the Roosevelt Island tram. Does he live on Roosevelt Island? No, I don’t think they have fifth-floor walk-ups up there. Or style. “Five flights of stairs! Grampa needs a rest!” Tim says. Actually only four flights, Tim, you old drama queen. Viktor has a dead relative. Tim sits down to meet Viktor’s boyfriend, David. David is very proud of Viktor. Tim heartily approves of Viktor’s work so far. He is probably refreshed to meet with a designer who has, in fact, made clothes, and he encourages Viktor to end with a show-stopper. “After all this has walked, knock their effing socks off!” Tim’s too classy to say “friggin’.”

Josh got here from Queens. He has a dead relative. Tim sits down to a family lunch. With little sister McKenzie. She’s very proud of Josh. Josh used to be a track-and-field phenom. We see a picture of the buff high-school track star. It appears to have been taken in an alternate universe. Tim looks askance at Josh’s collection. The neon orange/purple/green palette is “sherbet-y,” Tim says. “I do love a good sherbet,” Josh says. Tim is not thrown: “Yeah, but do you wanna wear it?” Good question. It depends.


Tim turns his attention to a print filled with technicolor playing cards, line drawings of Pegasus, and some fleurs-de-lis for good measure. It looks like the carpeting from an Atlantic City casino had a baby with a Terry Gilliam cartoon, and there was a terrible accident in the delivery room. Tim says, “It’s one of the homeliest textiles I’ve seen in my entire life. … This is one sad looking dress. SAD. It makes me want to weep. … This looks like ‘Farmer In The Dell.’”

Josh keeps the print.

All the designers return to the city and share a champagne toast in the penthouse suite of the Hudson “Three Whole Stars On Yelp!” Hotel. I guess those salad days in the presidential suite at the Mandarin Oriental are long gone, huh?


In the studio, the designers pull their outfits out of garment bags, which prompts the usual parade of sneering in testimonials: That other designer’s clothes “aren’t for me,” “just aren’t something I would wear,” etc. It’s the most predictable of filler material. If you ever want to know what it would feel like to be Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, just watch last year’s Finale Part One and this year’s Finale Part One right after each other.

Anya’s rack is filled with clothes that she could have made in week one of the competition. Last week, commenter Space Ghost advanced the popular (nine “likes”) theory that the elegance of Anya’s last pre-finale collection could be chalked up to Bert’s influence. Many of you agreed, and Anya certainly does nothing to challenge that impression this week. “Let me express a disappointment of sorts,” Tim says to Anya, “because I feel like you’ve retreated into your comfort zone.”


Even though “comfort zone” is one of those Project Runway clichés, Tim could hardly have put it better. It’s disheartening to see how utterly Anya reverts to old form, with a rack of jumpers and flowy dresses with plunging necklines. Anya is so shaken that the editors require both sides of the commercial break to fully exploit her nervous tears.

The designers must choose three looks to present before the judges, who will decide which three contestants get to compete at Fashion Week. “Nervous is what you should be,” says Yoda Gunn. Then, for a thousand hours or so, we watch footage of the designers talking AGAIN about how nervous/proud they are and how bad they want this. Hey, you know what I want so bad? For Bunim/Murray to assign some value to the minutes of my life instead of pissing them away like a frathouse dog who just drank an entire bowl of beer.


At long last we arrive at the runway, where something is guaranteed to happen, right? Aha, you might think so, but this is Bunim-Murray’s grand experiment. What if they broadcast a reality show in which nothing takes place? A closed loop of narrative in which cause is divorced from effect, and 90 minutes of programming are not so much “televised” as they are “allowed to exist”?

The producers are intrigued by this opportunity to interrogate the ontology of the 9:00 Thursday time slot on Lifetime. But the shock of meaninglessness is only effective if the audience is first led to believe that they are viewing images of some significance. Thus the runway show—or a mirage that goes by the name of “runway show”—is allowed to proceed.


Viktor is the first to unwittingly participate in this charade. His collection is well-constructed throughout. Two of his looks feature print textiles made from photographs he took on the beach in Mexico, and the results are beautiful. The judges are unsure about the leather-zipper skirt on top of the cocktail dress, but I like the way it turns a pretty dress into more of an event. The second outfit features a very nice printed pant and a blouse adorned with mirrors, which probably seems like a great look until you wear it on a sunny day and destroy every anthill in sight.

The highlight of Viktor’s collection is a bubble-studded white jacket, which is gorgeous but makes for an odd pairing with his gown and its looong train. The judges find it strange, too, but they still coo over it all. Viktor’s only problem seems to be that he has made too much clothing that the judges love. Heidi even tries the jacket on herself. Kors throws a fit over the fact that one of Viktor’s models is wearing sunglasses, so everybody pretends that yes, this is just terrible, and such a difficult problem to solve, too.


Anya’s first collection begins with a sweet batik dress and then descends into one big Gretchen Jones special, awash in beige. At least Gretchen knew how to sew, though. As Kors observes, Anya’s bathing suit fits awkwardly, and it’s enveloped by a lifeless beige kaftan. Then there’s the satin dress, so mangled and heavy-looking that the model looks like she’s wearing an Econo Lodge bedspread from a room the maids haven’t gotten around to yet. If the designs were “a little ‘beachier,’ it would give the whole thing a little easiness,” Kors says. He should know; he’s one of the beachiest designers around.

Josh claims to have designed his collection himself, although by all appearances the clothes were stolen from the set of an erotic fan-made Star Trek spinoff. In his defense, though, his outfits are at least interesting. I mean, the “ugly catsuit gown combo,” as Kors so accurately describes it, is so strange that it’s hard to look away. The neoprene dress is less overtly ugly and surprisingly sexy given that it’s made from wetsuit material.


Heidi is dubious of the plastic seat-belt buckle on Josh’s jacket, but Kors likes it. He asks Josh to put the belt-buckle on the neoprene dress. After Josh does so, Kors takes a look and says, “You know what? You were right, Joshua. It was actually better the way you had it. I tried something out, and it didn’t work. It happens.” Ha, not really. In truth, Kors thinks that his own suggestion is the brilliantest thing ever, as always. Josh mentions that he originally had the plastic buckle on the dress anyway, but the tangerine queen doesn’t dignify that with a response. As if Josh could have come up with that inspired Kors stroke on his own!

Kimberly’s collection is memorable mostly for a lopsided dull-pink satin skirt. The model walks down the runway, but the skirt appears to have a different agenda. Maybe it wants to hide in shame before anyone discovers its terrible secret around the rear, a big honking bubble. It’s the dress version of “The Homer,” that car that Homer Simpson designed for his half-brother. Kimberly has two other looks, of course, but nothing about them is noteworthy, and I’m tired of pretending that any of this matters anyway.


Even though Anya and Kimberly show mini-collections with some serious flaws—neither of them deserving of a place in the Project Runway finale by any reasonable standards—the judges go suspiciously easy on them. “You just have to, Anya, really embrace what you’re good at” is the nastiest thing that Nina can say to her favored child. Likewise, Kors tells Kimberly that he likes being able to tell that Kimberly made the clothes, which is a pretty mild compliment, sure, but where is the cattiness?

Heidi calls Kors and Nina to account for their sudden outbreak of niceness. First, Heidi tries to argue that Anya’s collection wasn’t so worthy of forgiveness. “It doesn’t have her handwriting on it,” Heidi says. With brutal efficiency, Nina moves to shut down this dissident speech: “THAT FIRST DRESS!” she blusters. Upon realizing that she has not spoken a complete sentence, she adds, “…was fabulous.”


So Heidi turns her accusing eye to Kors. “You weren’t that negative on Kimberly! You liked the bubble skirt!” she says. He weasels out of it. “I kind of like the way she was playing with volume!” he squeals. You see, Heidi, he just didn’t like “the way she showed it.” Complaining about styling: the last refuge of the Project Runway B.S. artist.

In the lounge, Viktor makes a speech. “I just want to say that whatever happens today, I think this has been a journey for all of us.” Kimberly mutters, “Yeah. I’m honored as well. [blank stare] Truly honored.” The walls of that little room struggle to contain all the love.


Then it’s back to the runway for the moment of truth! Supposedly! “Those of you who move forward must listen to our feedback,” Heidi says, by which she means that you must listen to Nina’s feedback, or else you will be Mondo-ed.

Josh is in. Viktor is in. Kimberly is in. Anya is in. From a field of four designers who, at their best, barely merit a Fashion Week appearance, the judges deem it impossible to eliminate EVEN ONE FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. “You know, any of the four of them could still win Project Runway!” Heidi chirps. “I agree!” Kors says. “I totally agree!” Nina says. Have they no pity for the poor fellow who will have to clean up all this UNADULTERATED HORSESHIT after the taping?


So the joke’s on us. We thought we were watching the first half of the Super Bowl, and instead we got a bloated, pointless Pro Bowl. The difference is that the people who participate in the Pro Bowl tend to be extraordinarily talented individuals. We have to suffer with these four humps for 90 more excruciating minutes next week.

That’s right, I said “we.” You and I have come this far, and we will play out the string. Believe me, I know your thoughts have already turned to next season. And after an episode where the show, in essence, declared that it actively hates all of its viewers, perhaps you are not eager to let Bunim/Murray murder another hour and a half of your time next week. But someday this will be our badge of honor. We will tell our children’s children that we were there for Project Runway season nine, and we did not blink in the face of adversity.


Either that, or we will disavow this terrible period in Project Runway history altogether and pretend that nothing ever happened. Because as it happens, nothing did.

Stray Observations:

  • Jeez, Kors really got a bug up his ass about the “modesty tab” on Josh’s dress.
  • Josh: “This is New York Fashion Week. A critique like that I don’t think is worthy of taking it to the main stage.” When did Josh become the level-headed one? Or did his jealousy just finally come into alignment with reality?
  • “I really start out with this great palette of color that transcends in a really darker palette.”
  • What an insane move for Anya to basically forfeit her three-week check-in with Tim by failing to design anything before he got there. If she had gotten his “disappointment” speech before arriving in New York, maybe she could have created something memorable.
  • “It’s major homely.”

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