Project Runway: Home on the (Limited) Range


And then there were four.

And then there was Fashion Week.

And then there was indisputably no justice in this cold, dark, malicious universe.

Also, there were gloves.

This ritual Project Runway episode, the last before the Bryant Park finale next week, finds a fairly genius way to ratchet up the tension in this usually bland interlude. Normally, Tim Gunn schleps to each finalists’ hometown, plays with their dogs and/or relatives, and critiques their progress for the Fashion Week showcase. This week, he still does that, but he’s uncharacteristically merciless — and since the episode revolves around the face-off between Mila and Jay for the last finalist spot, there is finally some tension to be found.

We open with Heidi briefing the four designers on the next four months: They will return to their homes with $9,000 to create a 10-piece collection. As Emilio and Seth Aaron are guaranteed spots, they rejoice (Seth Aaron in the form of a lengthy chicken dance). Jay and Mila gawp nervously.

Tim first visits Seth Aaron in Vancouver, Washington. The fauxhawked dad of two teens has 15 pieces finished. “I’ve never seen anything like this in Project Runway history,” exclaims Tim; too bad he hates ’em all, and warns Seth Aaron that he won’t win with them. (Cue despondent, Plinko sound effects.) The judges, Tim cautions, will not be surprised by the structured jackets with punk accents and checkered hourglass dresses. And then, after shattering Seth Aaron’s dreams, Tim plays Pictionary with the wife and kids.

Next, Tim tracks down Emilio in Harlem for some exceptionally contentious quality time. Emilio introduces Tim to his two brothers and discusses how the birth of hip-hop influences his looks. He shows off long, shapeless separates of red, turquoise, and pea green; Tim is entirely bored and thinks the garments look frumpy. “I don’t know that this is worth your time,” he drawls — and he’s absolutely right, as the racks resemble a sale weekend at Lane Bryant — but Emilio responds rudely and dismissively. “You just do it,” finally barks Tim, with the full resignation of a disappointed mentor.

Mila, in Los Angeles, is more hospitable to our silver fox. Her black-and-white collection (sound the alarm!) screams “matronly” to Tim; charitable, given her repetitive mod swing coats and colorblocked shifts have screamed “Is there no God that can smite you?” to us all season. Mila then introduces Tim to her proud parents and her vaguely metrosexual boyfriend, and says, classily, “I don’t want to lose to that little bleep” in reference to Jay. We can only assume the bleep concealed a lovely endearment.

In San Francisco, Jay flaunts his samurai- and geisha-influenced looks. A wool and alpaca wrap top is beautifully constructed in the body but also has schizo shredded-band sleeves. Tim likens it to “student work” while Jay prefers “cuckoo Chanel,” which is pretty awesome. Then they eat with Jay’s loving family; the pride in his mother’s eyes brings Jay, and us, to tears. You’d have to be Medusa, or Mila, to not choke up at her clear admiration for their son. And man, that Tim is a charming bastard with families. After the home period, Jay and Mila return to New York to face off their top three designs for the final Fashion Week spot. They commiserate somewhat, but Mila’s sudden empathy rings false, and Jay’s constant “bsh plz” expression supports this. Seth Aaron and Emilio join them in the Times Square suite but wisely avoid the drama in the foreground; Tim announces in the first morning that the judges will make their decision in three hours. Fittings and hysteria commence… and is that Emilio helping Mila adjust a model? Can lions and lambs really lie together? Something sinister is afoot here.

A noticeably skinnier, post-pregnancy Heidi greets Jay and Mila on the runway. And we’re off! Mila’s two gray coats are no great shakes, with a thick black funnel collar on one and striped tent construction on the other. Her cocktail dress is vaguely interesting but still nothing impressive; its scaly sequins fall from a patent-leather T-neckline. Heidi loves it and says, “I would want to wear all these pieces.” Michael Kors thinks it’s all too retro. Nina Garcia criticizes the blatant “narrow point of view” of only going ’60s and bichromatic, but enjoys the black racer gloves Mila designed and “had made,” which sounds kind of against the rules but goes uncontested.

Jay’s collection is modern to the hilt. A gorgeous plum, finned-hip cocktail dress transitions into a gray long-sleeved blouse under a black bolero, then a tall collared gray coat. He boasts calf-high, rock-star black leather spats and punky gloves, too. “You pumped up the volume this time,” says Heidi. Kors enthuses, “There’s nothing about these clothes that is retro. These are not clothes that could have happened in any other time,” as Mila raises an eyebrow and purses her retro red lips.

The judges deliberate. Kors is for Jay. Heidi is for Mila. Nina hems and haws, pun intended, and they reach their decision. The last finalist for Fashion Week is… Mila. Redundant, retro, pattern-blocking, snide Mila, who should have gone home in the third week. An absolutely cruel blow to lovely, experimental Jay, and to anyone who isn’t color-blind. We know now that Jay shows at Fashion Week anyway — he opened the show, in fact — but it’s a pity that his great ambition was reduced to a ringer’s position.

Next week: the finale. Seth Aaron for the win! And in the meantime, we’ll be over here, staring at posters of sad clowns and wondering why the Milas of the world are endlessly, unduly en vogue.