Project Runway: Where Everyone’s Lost Below Union Square


Got your pitchfork handy? Good, because if you live in Manhattan, you’ll need it; this week on Project Runway, the challenge is apparently to incite all Gothamites to violence. And it succeeds wildly in two ways: first, two designers attempt to extract fashion inspiration from the Upper East Side (blood from the stone, surely) and end up with something that looks like puddled sorbet. Then, another pair of contestants confuse the East Village with the Lower East Side, and just fling out some red stripes to represent both ‘hoods.

Memo to contestants: Iron fences are not exclusive to the UES! Tompkins Square Park is not in the LES! Not everyone south of 14th dresses like a rockabilly prostitute! What is wrong with you people? Where is that meditation book the doctor recommended? I need to throw it at a pigeon.

The challenge this week (well, the one to natives’ blood pressure notwithstanding) is to create a day look and a night look inspired by distinct New York neighborhoods. The remaining eight contestants, halved from the initial crop, are paired into teams, and passive-aggressive mayhem logically ensues.

Anthony and Maya score Chinatown and Amy and Jonathan tackle the Upper East Side; Amy wonders if her manic attention to detail, matched only by her new teammate’s, will prove problematic. (Of course it won’t, because the definition of sanity is definitely pleating 14,000 rows into one collar.) Villainous puppetmaster Emilio picks his buddy Seth Aaron and the neighborhood of Harlem; in doing so, he forces enemies Jay and Mila to collaborate on the East Village. “I can’t breathe,” wails Jay.

It’s intriguing to see how some designers embrace their neighborhoods, because no team approaches this touristy assignment the same. Emilio shows Seth Aaron the fundamentals of 125th St., his former haunt: “Harlem is about churches, liquor stores, and fried chicken spots,” he explains sagely, noting that almost all passersby are sporting an abundance of denim. Anthony and Maya breathe in the rapid pace of Chinatown; Anthony squeals over the ducks hanging in storefronts, before focusing more diligently on the bright gold textures of the new-year dragons.

Amy and Jonathan stare at wrought-iron fences and walk down Madison; endlessly overt-concept Jonathan says bluntly, “We notice how static a place it is,” as they stare balefully at yet another bare gray stoop. In fact, their segment is really amusing in how every Park Avenue nanny avoids their eye contact. Don’t look at the asymmetrical haircuts, little Prudence!

Jay and Mila elect to scowl at each other and stare mutely at the graffiti on Avenue A, pausing at the Sushi Lounge, of all unremarkable places in the western world. (Good saketinis there, though.)

In the work room, everyone harangues everyone else over control issues; peppy Anthony gives the ol’ hairy eyeball to Maya as she mirrors the tissue-paper dragons’ origami accordion effect. Amy and Jonathan each burrow into painstaking details that eat up their day; in his routine inspection, Tim Gunn says their textiles on their modified shirtdress looks “weak” and worries about both their time management and matched propensity for “overdesigning.” He loves Emilio’s “urban edge” of denim, though, and appraised Jay’s poochy jodhpur pants as unflattering — though they’d be great for the many horse-racing trails on Avenue B, no doubt.

On the runway, not all neighborhoods converge neatly. Anthony and Maya’s Chinatown is repped in a strong, almost corduroy-striped blazer and black pencil skirt with red peekaboo pocket lining; the evening look features crazy, sponge-like origami fluttering vertically down the front (like a Great Wall of corrugated cardboard). Emilio and Seth’s Harlem-inspired, festooned denim two-piece set boasts an angular collar (that’s a Seth Aaron joint) and chic gold stitching, and the evening look is a strappy, jazz-songbird gown with vibrant canary lining. Heidi Klum exalts the “maturity” of the design and how affectionately the two men seemed to work together. Awws all around.

Amy and Jonathan’s Upper East Side shirtdress is a peachy perplexity; it falls in uncomfortable, wilting petals. The formal look attempts some sort of Whitney Museum homage in cut-out mosaic but pulls aggravatingly in all the wrong directions, stretching Joanthan’s painstaking cut-outs into grotesque new shapes. The guest judges, designer Francisco Costa (of Calvin Klein) and actress Molly Sims, make amusingly disappointed faces in proportion.

When Jay and Mila’s creepy pants, saggy red tank top, and mod jacket/dress combos face the executioners, Jay explains, “Our neighborhood was the Lower East Side,” which was enough to give this East Villager a rage blackout. These are not equivalent neighborhoods, for the love of Christian Joy! We have the crepes. C’mon, people. Too bad their sad leotard look would draw jeers at Lit Lounge and Pianos alike.

In a Runway first, Emilio and Seth Aaron are both named the winners. Jay and Amy, the ill-fitting team leaders, face elimination. Amy, with her big ideas and bigger slip-ups, is sent home.


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