Project Runway: Mmm Mmm Ugly

Project Runway: Mmm Mmm Ugly

"It's more pressure to design for a real person, because models don't have feelings." So explains my Project Runway viewing buddy, with an impressive air of authority--and yes, the tall and thin may seem like automatons when they stomp blankly down the Bryant Park platforms, but my companion is mostly reacting to the enormous emotional undercurrent of this week, one as rife with tears as it is bland designs.

Mila and Maya usher in this episode they sit at adjacent vanity mirrors, curling their identical retro black bobs and marveling at their similarities in life, designing, and Feria (there's a piddling 20-year age difference between them, though). This installment is the quiet after the storm, the dawn of the post-Ping era--and this revolution will be filled with soup, because it is essentially an extended Campbell's commercial.

It's for altruistic means, at least; the assignment is to design a formal look for the gala event of the Campbell's Address Your Heart Program, a charity for women impacted by heart disease. Their red-centric benefit show is held at Bryant Park during Fashion Week, and the Runway challenge follows a similar motif: The garments must be scarlet and must have visible Campbell's branding, conveniently found in the yards and yards of Campell's logo fabric scattered around the Parsons workspace. The models, also, are real women (as in, not hired waifs, rather than in some Pinocchio sense) and survivors of heart disease. Many of them have braved open-heart surgery and other scary ordeals; Jay connects with his muse immediately and cries openly at her story, as does normally unflappable Anthony; as he and his model choke up together, he wails, "Clean 'em up," and they wipe their tears and resume designing.

Then..."I'm really excited because my model's really, really tiny," announces constant bottom-scorer Jesus, effectively nuking all the fuzzy goodwill in the room.

In the strict parameters of the challenge--hell, one day to make chicken noodle chic? Even Gaultier would struggle with that--the designs suffer. So does most of the drama; this week is dry as saltines, aside from some top-shelf disparaging from Emilio ("It looks like a cheap flag at a Thanksgiving day parade," he snipes about Mila's star-patterned ankle-lengther) and Janeane, the weepy lost lamb, repping for Portland by getting agitated and emo about every slight inconvenience.

In Tim Gunn's workroom assessment, he mostly nods and skates along quickly, perhaps numbed by the endless red satin. He does strongly suggest that Seth Aaron tear apart his client's preferred Grecian design and create for the judges, not his model--his model who needs to wear it to a high-profile party, and is counting on him, and is a heart disease survivor. Seth Aaron complies; gallantry is not the mode this season.

For a challenge this emotionally impactful (for everyone but my large Runway viewing posse, who are unsupportively dozing off), the contestants could've really benefited from another day in the workroom. Diaphanous, flowy, indistinguishable red frocks abound on the runway; Jonathan offers bottom-heavy tiers, Maya trims a princessy asymmetrical cocktail number with a gold sari-like sash, and Anna hoists up belted chiffon with off-putting wide, tan straps.

Seth Aaron's newly rockabilly number with Campbell's piping actually looks great on his model, thankfully; Amy ruches her red charmeuse and chiffon for a lovely silhouette that leaves her model/muse beaming. Mila's halter top with the giant white star along the flank does look exactly like a trite flag (excellent reporting, Emilio) but isn't as bad as Jesus's showgirl couture of tight red satin, Campbell's-pattern racing stripes, and built-in rhinestone straps.

The judges are passive, at best; guest Georgina Chapman of Marchesa is more diplomatic than the others, saying that Jesus's tawdry tent had "too much going on"-- leaving Michael Kors free to snipe, "This is a checklist of everything that can turn tacky." Surprisingly, they all enjoy Mila's spangled pageantry; they also disdain Anne Marie's color choice and gathering, and call Amy's updated empire waist "ethereal," "elegant but modern," and "gorgeous" on her ecstatic model.

Jesus and Anna sink to the bottom two; it's the third time for Jesus, and he predictably strikes out. Amy is victorious; her gown will be sold in limited edition on the Runway website. Along with, presumably, soup.


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