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The real person Project Runway challenge, or some variation of it, is one of the most interesting things the designers tackle all season. That expression—“real person,” “real-sized”— more aptly demonstrates the tension between the fashion world and those outside it than a slew of Ph.D. theses. (And, as Heidi puts it, perplexedly, “Who is not real?”) Inevitably, the problem is that non-models are of different shapes or have taste that’s very rigid and often unflattering. Sure, there’s the perennial point that most women outside of the fashion world aren’t necessarily so thin. But more than that, a designer’s attitude toward working with someone is a real indication of his or her work. There’s no way that any beginning fashion designer can get away with pooh-poohing a big client for their waist size or preference for midriff baring.


This season’s twist on the real person challenge was a What Not To Wear-inspired switch: The ladies (and gent) on the runway each had a friend in need of a makeover. These “friends in need” get assigned to the designers randomly, though really none of them are wearing anything that is close to tragic. It’s more like each of them wants a treat and a little sprucing up (which, fair enough.) Elena gets a bubbly lady whose friend wants her to tone down the color and do something a little more “sophisticated,” which is code for “stop shopping in the Juniors section already.” They get along surprisingly well. In fact, almost everyone does well with their assigned makeover. Gunnar throws himself into the task with particular enthusiasm, and even Fabio, faced with designing a dress for a student who starts things off with “I just don’t want to be sexualized,” takes it in stride.

Nathan gets a tough one—an up-and-coming singer who loves all things tight, cut-out, and revealing. He balks a little, and it’s clear that he’s not in love with his design. You know things are bad when you have to explain to Tim that the stuff on your garment isn’t “that regular hooker mesh.” But Ven is the unexpected villain of the challenge. His assigned model is on the bigger side, and he won’t let her or anyone else forget it. In the workroom he complains nonstop about how “wide” she is. His disdain for this woman, who is completely affable and easy to work with, makes all the other designers in the room uncomfortable. At the fitting of his hideous, voluminous garment, he keeps repeating that black is “very slimming” and that none of the belts are big enough to fit her. The client finally breaks down into tears.

Ven’s skirt and blouse combination adequately expresses the lack of communication, and it lands him in the bottom. At the top: Fabio, with his beautiful geometrical dress and very happy client; Dmitry, with a cute blue dress and a serious expression; and Gunnar, whose model works the runway in a flirty black frock. Fabio clinches the win, and it’s well deserved. Not only did he turn out an interesting garment, but he managed a transformation that could have gone horribly awry.


Sonjia’s knot dress earned her a spot in the loser’s circle. It’s a rare misstep for her: The proportions were off terribly, and the whole number strove for simple but came off as boring. Nathan’s look, with its mesh sleeves and tight-tight blue stain, must have activated some part of Michael Kors’ brain that churns out insults. The illusion sleeves, fondly known as “not hooker mesh” are, according to Kors, “for ice skaters and old ladies.” Not to mention “no human being should wear tight satin.” I mean, he was on his game, y’all.

Heidi pulled the maneuver that “one or more” would be eliminated, which didn’t look promising. Nathan went home immediately, and she dangled the axe in front of Ven but mercifully passed him by. No doubt he’ll be back to dissing plus-sized women in no time.

Stray observations:

  • Maybe the best exchange of the episode was when Michael Kors had to translate “hoochie momma” for Alice Temperly.
  • I really wanted Melissa to get called back so I could actually see what her dress was like under that voluminous scarf.
  • Does Dmitry smile?