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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Project Runway: “Senior Fling”

Illustration for article titled Project Runway: “Senior Fling”
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Well, I think it rather says something when I leave an episode agreeing with everything Joan Rivers had to say. And this is a woman who calls one of the models onstage a “menopausal kitten.” I mean, wow.

My theory that Zac Posen is all that’s making Project Runway watchable this season is borne out in tonight’s episode, “Senior Fling,” in which Zac is out, replaced by designer Rachel Roy (who doesn’t add much). The guest judges, meanwhile, are the formidable duo of Joan and Melissa Rivers. As a result the judging is a total nightmare, producing a series of verdicts that left me honestly very confused.

“Senior Fling” brings “maturity” to Project Runway. (That’s a euphemism for “old.”) The designers remain in their pairs from last week—with the added twist that Michelle, Layana, and Patricia are lumped into an awkward, infighting triumverate. Each designer then is assigned their own lady, tasked to design something age-appropriate but stylish. It’s not a bad challenge at all. The old ladies are absolutely hilarious. One advises Kate to be more of a slut, and another smacks Stanley’s bottom. (I’ll leave it to you to determine which of those is more terrifying.) And it does the designers good to work on a silhouette that isn’t a model. It tests their concept—because they have to know what an older woman might want out of her wardrobe—and also their tailoring—because a model is a model, and these women have very different measurements.

But okay, the best part of this challenge is that Joan Rivers is judging it. I’m not a particular Joan lover or hater, but unlike Heidi and Nina (who often seem to be looking at the fashion on the runway from exactly one perspective: Heidi’s is “Can I wear this?” and Nina’s is “Does this look expensive?”) Joan has a sharp sense of what older women want out of their wardrobes. It’s all a little crazy—she rates outfits as either “first-wife” or “second-wife,” for example, and you know, the “menopausal kitten” comment is still rattling around in my brain. But first of all, it’s funny, and second of all, it’s weirdly very accurate.

The non-Rivers judges gush over Daniel’s black suit, for example, but Joan points out—it’s very first-wife. (And hello, it is. It’s very formal, it doesn’t make her look sexy, it looks badly made around the waist, and the asymmetrical collar is just trying way too hard.) Similarly, she loves Samantha’s leopard-print skirt and chartreuse princess blouse, which Heidi and Nina jump all over as being “too young.” Joan points out—“but she looks good in it.” And it’s like an angel of truth shines sunbeams onto the judges. She does look good in it (Samantha’s dress is my favorite of the evening). Richard’s dress—a billowy green sack-thing—is probably the most controversial dress on the runway, one that Heidi says she could imagine herself wearing (how new and interesting for her), while Nina says she expected more from Richard (!). Nina’s not mad; she’s disappointed. Now that’s a new one. Of course, Joan has the best comment on it. “It shows off her legs! You’ve got great knees! Show them, bitch!”

In other judging drama, Heidi casually sows the seeds of discord between Michelle, Layana, and Patricia when she informs the three-person team that Layana and Michelle would have been in the top, but Patricia dragged them down. Icy stares float all around. Michelle has, apparently, decided she’s just going to start trash-talking everyone else on the show in order to distinguish herself, and though I’m sure that’s being punched up in the post-production editing, it does not make her look good. Michelle’s work has been so inconsistent I’m shocked that she considers herself being dragged down by her teammates. Last week, her neck tassel almost lost her her spot on the show. I haven’t necessarily drunk the Patricia Kool-aid either (that cloak-like thing is stiff and unforgiving but also kind of beautiful), but I quickly grew frustrated with Michelle’s martyrdom schtick. It’s hard to feel sympathy for a character who is so openly critical of her teammates, regardless of whom she’s with. I’ve never seen a contestant so bad at working on a team.


Let’s finish with a fundamental Project Runway truth: If the show is going to spend the whole episode showing the audience a designer in the process of producing a desperately ugly dress, it stands to reason that the designer in particular is going to get kicked off. It’s the loser’s cut—the attempt to humanize and narrativize the failure, so that when the axe comes, the audience is ready for it.

Amanda rolled into this episode fresh off of a win from last week—after nearly getting kicked off the week before. She has a good idea but loses her head at Mood and buys fabric entirely infeasible for the pattern. Caught between the pattern she wants and the fabric she has, Amanda, to put it inelegantly, chokes, and chokes hard. She ends up tacking together something that looks like a tablecloth, and she knows it. There’s no vision. At the end she’s just trying to tack on sleeves with her remaining material. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s also the type of thing that happens on Project Runway. This is a high-pressure environment. She herself believes she’s getting voted off—she breaks down in tears in the waiting room. For me, up until judging, this indicated two very important things about Amanda—she doesn’t work well under pressure, and she lacks faith in her work. Neither of those get you far on reality television.


But after spending an entire episode preparing my eulogy for Amanda (who, despite her design flaws, has been a fun addition to the show), it’s unexpectedly her teammate Benjamin who is booted, after producing a, well, hideous turquoise confection for his client. It is very shiny, and kind of crumply, and misshapen, and too tight. But his client loves it. Rosalie (that’s his old lady) is so enthusiastic about it that I was convinced, until the end, that the judges would let his poor design decisions pass this one time, given how happy he made her. So I was rather surprised to see the judges vote Benjamin off. He clearly didn’t expect it either. I think what probably happened, in the judges’ minds, is that Benjamin squandered all of his goodwill with them a few challenges ago (which is a few weeks ago for us, but a few days ago for them). Still, the decision feels off. Amanda’s surprised. Benjamin’s surprised. We’re surprised. And Joan Rivers just looks sad.

Stray observations:

  • PONCHOSTRAGANZA!! I need an opportunity to use this. I will probably never have one.
  • Backstage conversations with Richard: “I feel like a pageant mom!”
  • Runway conversations with older ladies: “What was the question?” “It wasn’t a question. She says you look good.” “Oh. Of course I do!”
  • Heidi is terrified of the old people. Terrified, or deeply confused. Not sure which.
  • Kate and Tu are an adorable runway couple. I love that Kate stands by him, when she could have criticized his choices.
  • Joan Rivers, apropos of nothing, looked great.
  • There is a distinct possibility that Heidi forgot something she said, then remembered it, but thought someone else had said it, and brought it up as something “they” said.
  • There is also a distinct possibility that she has an evil twin.