And so it has come to this. After a season of sequins and spangles and bitchery — oh my! — the last challenge before Project Runway‘s Bryant Park finale has to be epic, a worthy encapsulation of these ragtag dreamers’ weary journey to the white tents and glory beyond. It must be in deference to the struggles of all fledgling artistes, and sympathetic to the homies we lost along the way.
Truly, the challenge is all this and more. And Seth Aaron, our dark horse this season (dark because he dips his hair in Brian Setzer’s tears every morning), summarizes the penultimate moments thusly:
“A whirlwind of explosions” with “funny-ass clowns.”
The last challenge before the three-tent mania of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Bryant Park (which, as you may recall, your intrepid catwalk infiltrators covered in detail here) is nothing if not a foreshadowing. The remaining five contestants — Anthony, Emilio, Jay, Mila, and Seth Aaron — venture to the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey big top, where Tim Gunn instructs them that they are to “create a runway look inspired by the circus.”
Pan to Mila, saying woodenly to the confessional camera, “I was hoping it was the circus because the circus is full of inspiration.” Um… Honey, if you really woke up that morning and thought, “I hope I go to the circus today,” there are professionals well suited to explore this with you.
Back at the three rings, the circus troupe puts on a private performance for the designers; Anthony actually cries with enthusiasm, and Emilio stares heavenward with his usual heavy-lidded disdain. And there are clowns, so many, many clowns. Gaaah!
Then comes the sketching process, the generally uneventful Mood Fabrics interlude, and some diluted drama, as this is a two-day challenge. Emilio delivers his usual Bragosaurus Rex windbaggery; this installment includes choo-choo noises for no established logic and a desire for the judges to “pee on themselves” when they see his dress. What is it with the rampant juvenile id in this episode?
Black and white, red, and gold scraps fly about the workroom in flurries. Anthony and Jay are worried about their chances; Seth Aaron plots his `, a top hat, but Tim Gunn appears and shuts down that with a vengeance. Tim also derides Emilio’s lack of color, calling his look “somber” — Emilio predictably pouts but then adds a strong pop of red stripes to his B&W stripes. Gunn also insists that Mila ditch the ivory paneling she’s prepared for the front of her — stop the presses — color-blocked bichromatic dress.
Then comes the only entertaining response to Gunn this entire season:
Tim: “Let your visceral rule. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. If you feel like you’re forcing things, there are probably contrivances and they’re not right.”
Anthony: “Tim, I thought all I needed were my design books to prepare for this show. But I’m gonna go get me a dictionary as soon as I get back to Georgia.”
(Insert fond laughs, hugging, timely scowl from Emilio.)
These outfits are not supposed to be costumes, but this seems inevitable, given the broad black and white stripes, exaggerated upper body proportions, and scarlet flourishes on every look except Anthony’s (he offers a subdued grape gown with flabby velociraptor sleeves). Jay is affronted by the many Michael Jackson comparisons made to his tight, crimson military jacket with strong epaulets and tasseled shoulders; he does not want to be starting something like that. Subvert the elegiac paradigm, bro.
As most of the designers took inspiration from broad black-and-white stripes and puffed-to-the-ether proportions, the runway is pretty analogous. Jay’s military jacket pairs nicely with charcoal jodhpur pants — that’s his standby bottom, but it is very literal for the circus-based challenge, and the judges roast him for that. Mila tries to bedazzle the saddle on her one-trick pony with neon embellishments to her shiny, colorblocked, B&W coat; the neon pink tights and yellow bodice are uninspired distractions to her formidable design rut. “There’s something here that’s not completely convincing me,” explains Nina Garcia; her adjacent guest judge, designer Cynthia Rowley, adds that she does not enjoy the excessive sheen on all the garments. One point from Sparkle Motion.
Emilio’s gown looks like three butterflies stabbed and reassembled; the black-and-red striped bodice flows into a mushroom-gathered full skirt. The haute elements leave this living room panel cold but, onscreen, Michael Kors adores it; he says it’s his favorite look of the entire season. Rowley think it’s “genius.” Klum finds it “stunning.”
Seth Aaron’s look is also embraced; the expected stripes puff and “defy gravity” (Rowley’s words) over red pleather pants and huge, loping fabric gathers in the back. Anthony’s relatively demure purple look is flogged by Kors for the fabric selection, a crepe polyester.
As it goes, three designers will be finalists and will show their collections at Bryant Park. Two of this week’s contestants will be sent packin’. Each semifinalist pleads their case and nominates two others to come with them (generally their friends; no alliances betrayed here, but Emilio shrewdly nominates Mila despite his well-documented hatred of her clothes). Anthony happily utilizes the word “visceral,” having picked it up from Tim Gunn earlier in the episode.
In the end, Anthony is out. Emilio is in. Seth Aaron is in. Mila and Jay are prospectively in, but will have to battle their collections against each other in next week’s penultimate episode. Bully for them. Forgive our lack of pomp and circumstance here, but the whole act of elimination is a sham; all five of these designers ultimately show collections at Bryant Park anyway, as we revealed in our Runway Fashion Week show dispatch two months ago. Ringers or otherwise, they all get a slice of the prize.
And, on that note, all of our finalist predictions were wrong! Go, us! Maybe time to dust off the resumè; are they hiring at Forever 21?