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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Project Runway: “Senior Fling”

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I have two words for you and they are DOUBLE ELIMINATION. It’s always a possibility in Project Runway, but somehow it’s still a surprise when it happens. This week Kate and Tu both get the axe, and rightly so, but the moment is still shocking.

In “Sticky Situation” the designers are challenged to make prom dresses in about six hours using only duck tape (or duct tape, if you prefer, but considering Heidi brings out a duck on a leash to introduce the designers to the challenge, we here are going with duck, because, ducks). There are two runway shows—a quick one for a group of teenagers, who vote on the designs, and then the official one for the judges. For a fun challenge it’s a surprisingly tense episode. The designers bring their best trash talk to the workroom, and because of the looming deadline decisions are made and scrapped very quickly.

The trash talking in particular surprised me, because this season has felt like one of the friendliest, in part because everyone runs the risk of having to work with practically anyone else every week. A great deal of the trash talking is creative editing, but some of the barbs this week feel like serious attacks. Now that there are only 10 designers left, each individual challenge appears to be more and more about the designers’ personalities, which always makes a fraught back half of the season. So the gloves come off in “Sticky Situation.” Stanley starts the ball rolling by shaking up the partnerships; he chooses Layana instead of Richard, and Richard goes into a bit of a snit with his new partner Daniel. They both retaliate by seizing and hoarding all of the gold duck tape, right under Layana’s nose, who is trying to get gold tape for her and Stanley. Conflict!

Layana’s an interesting character—kind of the dark horse contender for the final three, a very unassuming powerhouse. Partly this is because Layana is wonderfully passive-aggressive. I don’t mean that as criticism—it’s rather that her circuitous methods of getting what she wants are very effective. As Kate points out—what Layana wants, Layana gets. Along with some very impressive designing it’s this tenacity that is making her a contender—and an interesting case study in soft power. Anyway, in “Sticky Situation,” she complains enough about Stanley’s color choices, and the lack of gold, that he lets her choose what she wants. She comes back with zebra. What Layana wants, Layana gets.

Samantha, who is rapidly becoming my favorite designer, is forced to deal with Patricia (a task that every designer appears to dread). Patricia is gifted, but wow, she is terrible at communicating her designs. It occurs to me this is why her challenge last week went so badly—it required her to communicate well with her elderly client, and Patricia is apparently unable to.

Kate and Tu stay together; Kate spends the entire sewing process informing the camera that no one at her high school would have worn a prom dress with [insert design element here]. (It turns out that Kate’s high school was really boring!) Meanwhile, Michelle and Amanda end up together, and for once they both manage to find their groove. Amanda quells her self-doubt and Michelle’s crankiness only surfaces once or twice. Instead they both manage to create a relatively interesting punk-rock prom dress, and for once, Michelle not only doesn’t lose but also wins the competition.


For all of the overt bickering, everyone is truly giving on the runway, though. Maybe everyone’s secretly very nice and pretending to be mean for the cameras, I don’t know. But when Samantha and Patricia both credit the success of the design to each other person, I was actually kind of moved.

A quick rundown of the dresses: Stanley and Layana produce a sweet 1980s-ish circle-skirt thing, with a pretty great petticoat and a big neon pink bow. It’s a little too sweet for me, personally, but it’s very well made and detailed, which is unsurprising considering their shared skills. Samantha and Patricia produce the teen crowd’s favorite dress—a space-age dress with a gorgeous, balloony skirt that is just this side of ridiculous. Nina calls it a Katy Perry dress, and that is exactly right. I’m not convinced it was very “prom,” but it’s easily my favorite dress of the night, for sheer vision.


Michelle and Amanda’s winning dress works for me (I like punk style), though it’s not as obviously well-constructed. The dress has a big graphic houndstooth pattern that they construct themselves out of solid-colored pieces of tape. It’s impressive work. I have some issues with that neckline, but I guess I’ll let it go for now. It’s nice to see those two oft-maligned girls get a win.

The judges (including guest judge Chris Benz, who has great candy-pink hair) like all three of these dresses, for different reasons, but primarily, it seems, for creativity and good construction. They do not like the other two dresses. Richard and Daniel’s use of gold tape fails to impress them—they universally pronounce it tacky and “bad retro,” which surprised me. I’m not such a huge fan of the gold lamé look, but I feel like I’ve seen that exact dress at Forever 21—again, not a good thing, but certainly not a “retro” dress either. Of all of the dresses on the runway their dress is most obviously the one that a teenage girl might choose to wear to prom. That being said, Zac is of course right (he’s always right)—the bust didn’t fit right.


But the truly sad dress of the evening is Kate and Tu’s horrible denim mermaid disaster. I spent the whole episode yelling at it in some way or another, either for the color (a very old-person blue) or the totally generic cut. It’s not until the first show that you see it has a mermaid thing going on, but it’s hideous. The duck-tape lace is the most interesting thing about it, but because it’s all done in the same color palette, it just looks sad. They deserve the double elimination—though it’s a heartbreaker. Kate’s vision is all off—she’s making dresses from 10 years ago—but she’s not a bad designer, and Tu is in fact a good designer, if Kate would’ve have let him have a voice. But the pair of them forgave each others’ flaws a little too much, and as cute as they were together, they’re a bad combination in this episode.

Stray observations:

  • If I got to choose designers for my ideal line of clothes, I’d want Samantha and Patricia to design them, and Stanley and Layana to make them. Samantha and Patricia take all kinds of risks and play with the materials in exciting ways (Patricia’s near-hideous duck-tape textile skirt is off the hook) but ultimately it’s Stanley and Layana who can be depended upon to turn out something finished every episode. Sadly, I do not trust Michelle and Amanda’s aesthetics at all, despite their win this week.
  • Fortunately, Zac is back this week, being wonderful. He gets into a lovely snit with Nina about the length of prom dresses, leading to an exchange of scornful looks that ends with Heidi and Chris desperately trying to defuse the situation. Nina’s main objection to the blue mermaid dress is that it’s a long dress, but Zac defends the decision, pointing out not only that some girls enjoy the fantasy of a long dress, but also that he dresses girls for prom every day. Nina makes faces. Heidi then asks to go to prom with him. It’s all a bit disorienting.
  • What’s comical about this panel is that none of the judges have ever been a girl attending prom—Heidi didn’t grow up in the United States and Nina didn’t go to her prom, probably because it was not expensive enough.
  • “What is that?” “A duck!” “I know, but like, why?” Layana has the important questions.
  • Actually, just that entire scene, with Heidi and the duck, is pretty fantastic. They should go on tour.