Look, even your grandma was rooting for Seth Aaron to win. For all the judges’ constant flurries of critique about various contestants not skewing “editorial,” season 7 of Project Runway had a decidedly staunch narrative pretty established early on: Goofy daddy-o Seth Aaron was distilled down to his most amenable sound bytes, and the other two finalists, Emilio and Mila, were both painted as (alternately) snide sociopaths and shrill demonspawn. It was, basically, Seth Aaron versus the volcanoes.
But Mister Congeniality doesn’t always win Project Runway (see: past victors Jeffrey Sebelia and Irina Shabayeva). It was entirely likely that, all along the watchtower, Runway‘s directors were sending us flashy red herrings.
So does our favorite fauxhawked hepcat take home the gold? Or was Green Day right, and nice guys finish last? Well…
We open on the usual contestant dynamic: Seth Aaron chirping like Pollyanna about the beauty of honest competition, and Mila and Emilio caustically ripping everyone else to gnarled shreds. “I still see Seth Aaron’s collection as a glamorous Hot Topic,” says Mila, as Emilio rejoins that her collection is “very severe.”
Tim Gunn is conspicuously kinder in his final assessment, reeling comically at Seth Aaron’s 24 complete looks. (Only 14 more than necessary! Slacker.) This segues into the usual finale model casting and makeup/hair product placement interludes (a full 5-odd seconds for each L’Oreal HiP item close-up) and the final one-on-one interviews before the Bryant Park show. Interestingly, we see that Seth Aaron is the only one to talk in a plural; he discusses how much winning Project Runway would change “our” lives, referencing his wife and two teenage children.
On the morning of their Fashion Week debut, the three designers rise wickedly early and race through the snowy streets to Bryant Park. (How we remember that morning in the tents, scene of one of our more spectacular face-first wipeouts.) Tellingly, Emilio lets Seth Aaron sleep in as he showers and primps. But perhaps he’s just trying to deepen the karmic burden he obviously carries; this season’s most adventurous back-talker is royally screwed when one of his models doesn’t arrive at Bryant (Mila faces the same crisis), and this throws the backstage pen in a tizzy. Seth Aaron, charmed as always, does a snow angel on the runway.
And with the phalanx of celebrity arrivals that are Nigel Barker and Raven Symone(?), the Bryant Park show begins — edited from the live experience, predictably, to suggest that only the three finalists showed. (We had the hour-long techno-induced migrane to prove otherwise.) Seth Aaron shows his collection first. He explains that it was inspired by “1940s German and Russian military,” which is, frankly, really weird; not to get all Sean Hannity, but isn’t he betting on the extremely wrong horse there? Why does no one comment on who he’s glorifying?
Anyway, his collection is striking and hardy on the runway; it drips in structured houndstooth jackets, leather chevron piping details, and a muted gray palette with emphasis on patterns. A voluminous, shiny PVC-effect dress glows with a red belt and accents; the plaid is a bit dated and mall-punk, but is entirely his aesthetic, newly classed-up; his line is the most cohesive series without being repetitive.
Mila follows. She explains that her collection is inspired by “shadows,” which is just a convenient way for her to rationalize the endless friggin’ black and white. Her collection is expected, start to finish — broad swing coats with patent black accents, cream leather pants paired with a black trench, a B&W funnel collar coat and colorblocked gray shift. It’s uniform and logical only in color, not fashion opinion; the purple fur coat with translucent strips is defiantly confusing after a white starburst shell. But she does listen to the judges last week and styles her models with modern hair and make-up, which helps un-Twiggy her retro redundancy.
Emilio, inexplicably, cuts straight to his diffusion line for Macy’s. Where is the ballgown couture flair that made us (begrudgingly) respect him? Now, in his self-titled “Color Me Badd” collection, he sends out sportswear basics in deeply saturated hues, the sort of thing available at Zara’s on any afternoon. His pea-green coat with crimson lining conceals an ESOSA-pattered blouse, and a tight, turtlenecked teal dress is nothing DVF didn’t schlep out 15 years ago. His emphasis is on colors and pattern, not innovative cut, and this is pretty shocking; he redeems himself slightly with a shimmering, diaphanous acid-green gown that closes the show, but it’s entirely incongruous with his opaque daywear. What happened?
The judges gather, along with guest Faith Hill (who doesn’t have a clothing line or design experience but does, in fact, wear clothing, which seems to be enough credentials for this season). They are thrilled with Seth Aaron, and barely criticize him; they love his punk glamour and Beetlejuice-inspired tights. Michael Kors enthuses that Seth Aaron “stepped up the luxury” and Nina Garcia calls it a “very editorial collection” while showing some reserve for the most difficult look, a confusingly multi-gathered purple-striped cocktail number.
Emilio garners more praise fom Heidi Klum for his self-designed patternmaking; his ESOSA pattern was the most intriguing facet of the collection. Michael Kors loves the shimmering closing gown but wishes there were more of that show-stopping nightwear in the collection; Nina bemoans the overemphasis on suiting.
Mila’s greatest accolades flow, tellingly, for her styling; by giving the models modern hair and accessories, she pulls her dated mod clothes out of the era slightly. But take that away, and what’s left? Kors doesn’t care; he loves the monochromatics of the collection. Faith Hill loves her mixed-media shift and says she’d wear it, though it’s hard to imagine her in something so sharp; Tim McGraw would have to dress up like George Jetson just to compete (and even money that he’d still leave on the ten-gallon hat). Nina concedes that when Mila loosens up, she becomes “a lot cooler.”
The judges conference, and pull the finalists back onto the runway. Happily, and well overdue, Mila is the first of the three eliminated. And after a long, arduous season, it all comes down to Emilio and Seth Aaron, the Laverne and Shirley of this season. So begins the painfully prolonged music, so flutter Heidi’s long eyelashes poignantly. And the winner is… as hearts across America drop…
The punk prince, the kind clown of season 7, is victorious! He hugs his family, crying and choking out his relief that his children are proud of him. Emilio gives a rather gracious consolation speech, referencing Anthony. And Seth Aaron grabs Tim Gunn in a bear hug, lifting him high up into the air.
Congratulations, you crazy rockabilly kook. You deserved it. See you at Saks…and see you all next season. Fare thee well, good night and good luck, and auf Wiedersehen.