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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Project Runway: “What Women Want”

Illustration for article titled Project Runway: “What Women Want”
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If you’re looking for TV formats to pilfer, The Newlywed Game is a great choice. Chuck Barris’ biggest hit, the innuendo-laden game show delighted America by playing off the silly disconnects of married life. To make new television, simply combine that reliable old idea with a 2011 fashion competition that could not have less to do with married life. Oh, the hijinks that won’t ensue! And that’s how this episode of Project Runway was born.

Heidi trots a bunch of dudes out on the runway and tells the designers they have “new clients” to work with this week. All of the designers fret over what appears to be a menswear challenge. It’s a bit of misdirection that would serve as a brilliant feint to the viewing audience as well, if the previews last week hadn’t given away the whole plot. (Of course, according to the previews for next week, there really will be a menswear challenge, so Bunim-Murray gets props for the double fakeout.)


Operating under the belief that they will be designing clothes for these men, the contestants choose the fellas in descending order of how much they resemble size-one fashion models. The first few designers take all the skinny guys, until, as Olivier puts it, “In the end, we’re left with all these fat people, which is fine, but not when I’m making clothes.” Yes, I’m sure that once Olivier leaves the workroom, he enjoys nothing more than to hobnob with those fellow human beings he lovingly refers to as “fat people.” Why, some of his best friends are fat people!

“I’d like to choose Jeff,” Olivier lies. Jeff says that he’s looking forward to it. Olivier shrugs (or rather maintains his perpetual shrug) and replies, “That’s good.” He has already had it with these fatties.

It’s all a trick! The guys are indeed the clients, you see, but the designers will be making clothes for each man’s wife or girlfriend, and the men will advise the designers on their partners’ fashion tastes, plus the women will advise the designers, too, as they are the real clients, after all. Convoluted? Sure, but it will all be worth it for the laffs, the producers assume!

Bert’s assigned dude, Anthony, describes his wife. “Basically, she’s a hot piece of tushy!” Anthony says. “Here’s my boobs-type thing, like that [makes a motion across his chest the way a supermarket butcher might carve a ham hock]. And nothing up here [gestures to the boobs-type area]. She does that!” Anthony says. “If it was up to me, she’d wear a leaf!” Anthony says. “I am a straight heterosexual who definitely enjoys sex with nothing but the opposite sex!” Anthony does not say. Except yeah, he basically does.


Bert thinks that Anthony is a “hoot.” Those 12 steps are some powerful medicine.

The designers go to Mood with the guys. At the cash register, Olivier mumbles, “Tim, am I allowed to ask you what double-D means?” It’s something that a designer might say if he were trying to be cute, but I don’t think that’s Olivier’s shtick, and as a result, I do find it kind of cute. Tim laughs and quips that breasts aren’t exactly his area of expertise. So Olivier doubles down and asks the woman at the Mood register. She looks askance at this clueless bleached-blond space alien and says, “It’s a bigger cup size.” I wouldn’t mind Mildly Irritated Mood Cashier becoming a recurring character. Pair her with Swatch, and you’ve got yourself a spinoff. (Confidential to Lifetime programming executives: I am joking.)


Back at the workroom, Bert’s pal Anthony is still hooting. Speaking loudly enough so that he can be heard by all the homosexual men whose gayness is surrounding him on every side, Anthony says, “Honestly, the mannequin’s boobs don’t look anything like my wife’s! … Sometimes I motorboat ’em!” Anthony then places his face against a mannequin’s chest and demonstrates “motorboating,” an activity he relishes and that he certainly couldn’t do with a man. Unless…

No! Anthony doesn’t think those thoughts. “I’m the boobie monster!” he says, presumably in lieu of the confused sobs welling up inside him. “I love boobs!”


The women arrive. This is the big moment, the pre-fab disaster that serves as the foundation for the entire episode. Now, the designers will learn that the fashion advice they got from the men was hilariously wrong. These ladies are going to be so upset! Perhaps one of them will slap her husband with a cue card.

Yet the producers’ best-laid plans—well, they’re laid plans, at least—are foiled. It turns out that the husbands gave pretty good advice to the designers. The only significant change with the arrival of the wives is that now, EVERYONE is talking about boobs. No matter what the question is, “boobs” is the answer, like one of those Match Game ’74 episodes where everybody on the panel is all liquored up.


Olivier struggles with his couple, annoyed with the fact that Jeff’s wife, Suzanne, does not regard him with the obeisance to which he is accustomed. He wishes that Suzanne would “come to me and shut up.” It seems like a recipe for fiery conflict, but as Olivier fumbles, Jeff defends him and reassures Suzanne that the weird-talking fashion elf really does know what he’s doing. Jeff does this partly to keep the peace but also because he is the kind of guy who curries favor with the alpha male in any given situation, and at the moment, that is Olivier (barely).

Everyone pities Bryce. He misses his boyfriend, and he cries about that a little bit. Plus, his pink dress isn’t looking so hot. “Bryce has this hot pink,” Viktor says, “that’s almost like an anti-diarrheal medicine. It just makes me want to go to the bathroom so bad.” Listen, Viktor, you seem like a nice guy, and it looks if you’re going to be around for a while. So you really need to work on those interview-room zingers. It’s great that you’re not pushing that oh-my-Lord-Of-The-Rings business anymore—that was a non-starter—but still, you’ve got to do better than this mess. First of all, just say “Pepto-Bismol.” It has a lot of snappy consonant sounds for that extra edge. Second, you’re describing the side effects not of pink Pepto-Bismol, but of Imodium, which is green. D-minus.


The next day, Tim visits. He says to Olivier, “You have time-management issues.” Sensing a more powerful pair of boots to lick, husband-client Jeff turns on Olivier and chirps, “You WERE going slow yesterday!” Despite his usual lethargy, it takes Olivier only a split-second to fire a death gaze in Jeff’s general direction, a “Ffffffuuuuuuuuuuck you” look that appears well worn. I suspect it was visited on any number of intransigent fashion-school classmates back in Olivier’s jolly old England days.

Aside from this, though, the workroom is remarkably free of drama. (And frankly, even the conflict around Olivier feels somewhat manufactured—his clients are supportive, and their complaints are mild.) The unshakeable calm must have sent the producers into despair during taping. They put 27 people in a hot, stuffy workroom. That represents 702 possible permutations in which one person could call another a bitch. Yet not once does such a thing happen. It’s the perfect storm of, well, un-storminess. Seriously, almost nothing happens in this episode.


Tim announces that all of the women will be receiving free jewelry from piperlime.com. They respond with the proper amount of enthusiasm, i.e., barely any. Then, with 10 minutes remaining in the challenge, Tim bellows, “Today, I am playing the role of a large and stinging mallet,” apparently hallucinating that he is a the star of a twisted second-grade S&M pageant.

The Tim Gunn clock strikes “No more sewing! Stop stop stop!” which means that it’s time for the runway show. The guest judge is actress Malin Akerman, whom I have never heard of but whose terrifying laser eyes I will never forget.


This is the most boring runway show of the season, which is saying something. There is nothing out-and-out awful out there, and neither is there much that’s stunning.

Viktor, Anya, and Josh make up the top three. Viktor’s outfit is one of two that stand out from the parade of dull. He pairs a light, Anthropologie-esque blouse with a peppy gray skirt that’s ringed in a thick stripe of the perfect gold shade. It fits his client’s style perfectly: cute and smart with a touch of Bohemian. It’s the best design on the runway.


That said, Anya’s is the most interesting. Combining Japanese and African influences (according to Anya), she accentuates a bold black-and-white print with some kimono-esque details and strengthens the outfit’s exciting asymmetry with a long sleeve descending down the left arm. The sleeve, the sash, the tassels—all these components of the design looked like a potential disaster during Tim’s visit, but damn, Anya knows how to bring a piece together. She’s a lock for the final three this season.

Nina raises a stink about Anya’s sleeve. It’s yet another eerie echo of the final judging from season eight, a moment that will haunt this show to the end of its days. Here, once again, Nina objects to the long sleeve on a striking black-and-white patterned dress, just like she did with Mondo. As before, one of the judges (Malin Akerman this time) chimes in to say that she would wear the dress. And again, Nina gets her way—Anya does not win the challenge.


Josh’s black dress is a success. It’s finely tailored, exhibits an admirable reserve given his clients request for “simple,” and features a perfectly pleasant use of lace around the shoulders and back. It’s the Lake Wobegon dress: Everything about it is above average. The judges reach a consensus that it is well-edited, and it is. Hard to turn cartwheels over “well-edited,” though.

After the top three are judged, they run backstage to join the safe kids. Josh slouches down on the couch and says something to Olivier about freaking out, but nobody can hear him over all the chest hair and nipple that is suddenly bursting forth from his recklessly unbuttoned shirt. He has become a cartoon of a gay man. No, really:

Illustration for article titled Project Runway: “What Women Want”

Everyone else’s designs are fine or mildly bad. Anthony Ryan, Bert, and Bryce fall into the bottom three, but it could have been Olivier, Kimberly, and Laura (the three designers who were declared “safe”) without being too much of a shock.

Bryce is the only designer who clearly deserves to be in the bottom three. In his eagerness to adorn the dress with horrid design details—like two cavernous pockets on the thighs—he neglects to make the dress fit. “What I dislike about the dress is that it’s got too many details,” Nina says, channeling Emperor Joseph II from Amadeus. But Bryce is no Mozart of fashion. He’s more of a Salieri. Or the guy who tunes Salieri’s piano. When the regular piano-tuning guy is out of town.


Bert’s dress doesn’t look terribly comfortable, either, on account of it’s made from material inspired by the side panels of a 1990s jukebox. But both husband and wife think the dress is fantastic. It features plenty of cleavage, so of course Anthony approves. The guy is just crazy about female breasts! Can’t get enough of ’em! As Anthony waxes erotic about his wife’s jugs, Heidi interjects, “Bada bing!” As far as I can remember, it’s the first time that Heidi has made fun of “regular people” clients to their face, and I like it.

“It looks like a dress you could buy in a million stores,” Kors says of Bert’s design. Akerman says, “It looks like a dress I’ve seen before in a store.” One of the million, I reckon.


Kors finds it hard to criticize the short hem of the dress when Anthony’s wife keeps saying how much she loves it, and in desperation, he turns his cattiness in Heidi’s direction. That is a very wrong choice. “Everyone has a different point of view about what they want to show off,” he says. “As you can see, Heidi wears NO skirt.” He chuckles. Heidi does not. Instead, she offers Kors an incredulous grin of rage, baring her teeth—nature’s oldest way of saying, “I am not to be messed with.”

Lamely, Kors tries to recover. “UMMMMM, but I love her!” he says, with that patented M.K. smoothness. Heidi has none of it. The rage-grin remains, serving as Heidi’s open invitation for Little Miss Melanin to kindly step the fuck off. The awkwardness is radioactive. Pregnant women should not view this scene; it may cause birth defects. I replayed the exchange a couple times, and I still can’t explain how Kors avoided death or at least permanent disfigurement.


Anthony Ryan’s dress is yet another boring frock. There’s almost no design here, and the one flourish—a red triangle-y shape on the bodice—reminds me of Mork From Ork (the spacesuit, not the rainbow suspenders). Akerman, who has a lot of astute observations tonight, compares it to a cheerleader and a cigarette girl, both of which are spot-on. You can tell that Kors wishes he had thought of cigarette girl.

Josh wins. Viktor and Anya are gracious, even though they both have reason to feel cheated. I mean, come on. Backstage, Josh makes Anya feel his bare chest. Then he makes Olivier do it too. Suddenly, the double-Ds don’t look so bad to Olivier.


Bryce is out. “I’m going to lock myself in my room, and I’m going to listen to as much Lady Gaga as I can,” he says. Then he steals an HP Touchpad.

Stray Observations:

  • “Her breasts are, like, ginormous?”
  • “Avoid any reference to Minnie Mouse.”
  • I liked the clip of Handlebar-Mustache Makeup Guy telling the women how beautiful they look. He turns on the charm when there’s nervous regular folk in the chair. The consummate pro.
  • “We wanted it to be sexy without, you know—she’s not looking for a man.”
  • “I’m shocked you did not bedazzle her.”
  • Heidi: “Do you think Bert is boring?” Kors: “Oh, yeah. ‘B’ for ‘boring.’” Michael Kors can make a single letter nasty.
  • Two new words I was happy to learn tonight: “crayon-y” and “gallerina.”
  • “It’s like she was trying to make a cocktail dress out of a handi-wipe.”
  • So next week will feature an actual menswear challenge and Adam Lambert as guest judge! (And another team challenge. Jesus.) I can’t wait, but in fact, I’ll have to wait. See, I’ll be in London next week at the Eurogamer Expo. The illustrious Donna Bowman has been gracious enough to fill in, so you will be in good hands.

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