Project Runway S11: Episode 3 – Surprise Me

Michelle: “If we lose one more time I’m going to need some happy drug.” Oh, Michelle, we all need some happy drug, whether you lose or not.

The Challenge:

Tim warns them they have to design for a client who’s very particular. Didn’t he deliver this speech last time, and the time before? No surprise here: it’s Heidi. Daniel and Layana act like it’s the first time anyone’s ever been allowed to design for Heidi. Are people getting stupider, or is it just that only the stupid people are still watching PR? Oops…

Did you know Heidi has a new fragrance coming out, called Surprise? Surprise! Fragrantica describes it as “balmy” – isn’t that the word used to describe your great-aunt Eunice who isn’t sure what day it is? It’s got mandarin orange, pink peppercorns (which they keep calling pink pepper, much to the annoyance of any dedicated TC viewer), and other stuff. And the poor girl doesn’t have a thing to wear for the TV commercials and the PR events.

Each team must make four outfits for the ad, and two for press events, which means the Team of Losers gets to assign one look to each designer, while the Winners will have to team up on a couple of looks. That’s an interesting built-in advantage for the Losers, I think. Heidi provides them with a box of “inspirations” including Heidilicious, the photo book by Rankin (aka John Rankin Waddell – no wonder he goes by Rankin) who’ll be doing the ad photos. She wants them to stay with the colors of the perfume bottle – pink, black, gold – produce garments that are sexy but not slutty, and include hard lines and feminine softness. Piece of cake, right? It’s not like they have to make a dress out of flowers or hardware (yet).

Each team gets $1200. Two winners – one commercial, one PR – will be chosen, and one loser. Interesting – I think she left out the thing about the winners coming from the winning team. She probably wanted to give herself some flexibility, just in case. This ain’t Heidi’s first time at the rodeo, after all. Kristin Davis is the guest judge; I’m not sure who she is, but everyone else seems to think she’s pretty famous.

The Losers: Yep, they lose again. Prep the happy drugs for Michelle, please.

Benjamin (Bottom Two) is completely within his comfort zone on this challenge. He doesn’t try to manage anyone this time, and we maybe get a glimpse into why he was so invested in being Team Manager before: he’s recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship that eventually affected his career, and he needs to build up his confidence as a person and as a designer… just when you’re thinking he’s pulling the old “feel sorry for me” card, he just breaks and cries, and it’s impossible not to feel sorry for him. I don’t know what he went through, for how long or how long ago, but he’s either a terrific actor or he’s genuinely scarred. But here’s the thing, Benjamin: that’s one. You get one. You take two, you’re pushing it. I just scolded a woman mourning the death of her father, for pete’s sake, you think I’m going to let you off easier? Still, I admit I’m kind of curious about what was going on. Not from any prurient impulses, I assure you – more of an impulse to compare notes. At any rate, he’s making something out of a high school production of Romeo and Juliet where the mothers make all the costumes. And he struggles mightily with time, falling apart towards the end. He’s got some seaming going on over the rib cage, but then he covers it with leather straps wrapped around the torso eight or ten times (which Tim sort of suggested), and the fabric over the breasts, which is thin and flowy to begin with, is staying up on a wish and a prayer. He just ran out of time before he could structure a proper bodice with cups. But why he ran out of time I don’t quite get. Yes, he has several seams, but it isn’t that complicated a dress. Maybe Benjamin had me fooled – another of those guys who seems to know what he’s doing, but when it comes down to it, can’t quite get it done; my comments from E1 lean in that direction as well. So Benjamin isn’t rating high on the credibility scale right now. On the runway, he says he chose his pink fabric to match the “juice” of the perfume (or did I mishear that?). Kristen loves the color, and the overall dress is flattering, but the breast part is so upsetting she can’t even look, it’s painful. Zac: “Mushy boobs.” Heidi: “Sad droopy boobs.” Benjamin explains there is boning, but not there, which is really strange – he boned the part that’s pretty much wrapped in leather, but not the part that desperately needs it. Nina says it’s the worst construction she’s seen, and comes up with “shipwrecked.” That isn’t a bad concept, really, but it’s the mushy, droopy boobs that kill it. Zac starts in on “slow down with the excuses” which makes me pretty sure something was cut out of the runway grilling, because what was shown wasn’t excuses; he admitted he had a time management problem, which isn’t the same as saying “I didn’t have enough time.” Mean Zac.

Matthew (Bottom Two) isn’t feeling it. He’s intimidated, because Heidi of course looks good in everything being a supermodel and all that, so he has to nail it. And all he heard was the word “bondage.” Can’t imagine why – take a look at those storyboard elements, nothing suggestive of bondage there, right? He’s not a dressmaker (from last week: “I was in dance, I have the heart of an artist”), which I guess is his interpretation of the challenge. I’m a little sick of him and his moping artist persona already, and I’m someone who loves a good moping artist persona. Tim senses his despair. He also senses his early effort is going matronly, so suggests going for all-out S&M through a fashion lens, not through a sexual deviant lens. Hearing Tim say “sexual deviant” is scary. Unfortunately, his fashion lens is not calibrated to the judges’ fashion lens. Zac thinks the fabric is fine but with the neck piece it looks trashy, not sexy; Heidi wonders where her whip is (and that sound you hear is all the straight guys watching Lifetime – all three of them). She can’t wear this on a red carpet. I think the collar plays with Fifty Shades of Grey but it’s much too short and is missing the “soft, feminine” element that might bring it back from over the edge. Kristin blurts, “I’d die if someone asked me to wear that.” She notes how creatively Matthew has dressed himself, and wonders why it didn’t translate. He brings out the intimidation factor; she tells him to stop being intimidated, and dream. I don’t think lack of dreaming is his problem. I don’t think his taste matches Heidi’s – which, by the way, is nowhere near as demure as her pearl-clutching would indicate.

Cindy (Bottom Three) is going to go sexier than anything she’s ever made before, which isn’t very sexy; she’s mostly about classics, jackets, tweeds. Which raises the question: why isn’t she working on a Press Event look instead of the Ad Look? Mistake. She buys a bunch of fabrics and takes a vote on which one she should use; Benjamin proclaims one is “Madonna, Material Girl, not a good reference” so she ditches it. She trusts Benjamin. When Tim comes through, she explains she’s doing cap sleeves in leather, which seems like a pretty awful idea to me. Tim thinks so, too, and advises her to show more skin, and to do the whole look in one textile. She trusts Tim. Can you see where this is going? Yep, right down the tubes. I liked her dress, actually, but I’ve said that before. I must have the same old, dowdy taste she has. It’s hard to defend someone wearing a ball-fringe-trimmed shawl over a tank top, but I liked the iridescence of the fabric, and I liked the overall style, even though it didn’t fit very well. But the judges are brutal. She points out how she sexed it up with a slit over the chest, and Heidi gives her a lesson on sexy: a slit doesn’t make it sexy, it needs to hug the body in a sensual way. Zac asks, why shantung? She thought it was elegant and classy. Zac disagrees; it’s hard to photograph, and it shows every wrinkle. The iridescence I liked? It’s cheap. Ouch. Good thing I can’t afford iridescent clothes anyway. Heidi asks the team if anyone advised her to stay away from the fabric; Samantha says this was the best of the fabrics she bought. Kristin is the only one with anything positive to say; she could see what she was dreaming of. That’s something, I guess.

Samantha intends to highlight the back, a very sexy area. I like the overall impact of her dress, with the curvy color-block, but the black fabric strikes me as too stiff and shiny, and the illusion mesh is just a no. If the black had been softer, hung more graciously, and the pink was fabric – even sheer fabric – it might’ve been a different story. But I think there’s an imbalance, too much of a difference between the black and pink. And the sewing in the back is awful. Still, the design is there.

Michelle knows how to sex it up: “I can take my volume up to 11.” Oh, goody. Tim loves the Press Event look she’s working on. On the runway, I think the model looks pregnant, but I like the yoke. Still, I wonder why she doesn’t get a dressing-down for something that doesn’t hug the body in a sensual way.

Tu tells Tim he’s working with a rose-petal shape. I don’t see it. I see a dowdy mullet gown that doesn’t make sense. But Tu isn’t a 58-year-old funeral home director without Peach’s personality so he passes.

Winners Winners Winners:

Patricia (Top Three) again makes her own fabric, this time by cutting hundreds of tiny squares of pink leather and sewing them together into a mesh that lies over a skin-tone skimmer. Tim finds a way to rein in her penchant for long explanation: “Tell us in 100 words or less what you’re doing.” He’s impressed with the ambition, and gives his approval. She wanted to do the whole dress in leather, but given costs (and time) just does it on the top front. She thinks this is great for press appearances since no one’s ever seen this kind of fabrication. That sounds like self-promotion, but I think she’s right. And yes, it’s impressive technique, but… isn’t it a bit sloppy? Do the colors really go together? What are the gold squares doing there? Isn’t the skirt a little sheer? I think this is a draft, and after some revisions, it’ll be fantastic. In spite of (what I consider) the flaws, it’s very impressive work, and I’m glad she got the recognition for being truly innovative, as opposed to what passes for innovation on this show. Everyone loves it, and Heidi recognizes it as a – wait for it – surprise. Kristin worries that it’s boxy and not that flattering; Zac thinks it’s more appropriate for a younger girl, which earns an impressive, if staged, glare from Heidi. But Nina thinks it’s a nice departure. In chat, Heidi notes it’s something that, in a press interview, might make news.

Layana and Kate, working together on a commercial look, struggle initially; they see the same silhouette, but Layana wants to do gold and black and thinks Kate’s pink and black is too cutesy. They’re over budget by $140 at Mood, and Kate’s freaking out, but the other team members have enough left over to over it: “It’s Layana, of course we get extra from everyone else.” I love her for saying that. Layana’s a Pretty Girl. And Pretty Girls don’t have to pay attention, or worry about budgets, because someone will always fall all over themselves to help. I’ve been the one trying to play by the rules, only to watch some adorable little bundle of personality and hair come by and get special treatment. Enjoy it, Kate, while you’ve got her on your side. This continues to play out in other ways: Kate’s bringing up some construction details, and Layana says, “Say it again, I didn’t pay attention.” I don’t think Layana’s malicious or “mean girl,” not at all – she seems quite unaware that she has this magical power, as if she assumes everyone has it, and she doesn’t get what Kate’s so uptight about. I had a friend who had this magic power, and was a Mean Girl. She once had a store clerk (working on commission) get a ladder and bring a bag down from a top shelf, only to glance quickly, put it on a table with a casual “no,” and walk away. I was the one who apologized to the clerk. If I’d had the $250, I would’ve bought the bag. Layana might’ve left the bag behind, but she would’ve genuinely been considering buying it and would’ve handed it back to the clerk with a “thank you.” I think. Anyway, clothes… During walkthrough, it’s Layana who turns whiny: she hates the pink. Tim tries to talk her down. Kate TH: “I don’t care if you’re worried, go cry in the bathroom. This is not time for doubt, I’ve made the corset and I’m not changing it.” That’s how those who aren’t born with generosity-inspiring charm (and who don’t have immunity) deal. It’s a whole little dyad psychology lesson here, I’m fascinated. They explain to Tim the corset will create the cleavage Heidi loves; “And she has beautiful cleavage,” agrees Tim. And Layana comes around, since the pink’s going to be well-covered anyway. And the final product? Really nice. Hard, soft, sexy; you can just see the wind machine setup; it screams Winning Ad Look. And is that Jaslene modeling? PR, the retirement home for Tyra’s cash cows. No, I don’t think so, but kinda looks like her. Heidi loves the luxury; Zac likes the draped top and shadow effect, though the lower part could use a little more black chiffon. Nina loves the movement for a photo shoot. Kristin loves the pink, it has a balletic quality. Heidi asks who should win, and Layana passes it to Kate, as it was passed to her last week by Daniel. Layana just shot way up in my opinion, Pretty Girl or not. Kate, on the other hand…”If I won, and you wore this dress, my mom and dad would be so proud…” Oh, honey, just shut up and say, “Thank you.”

Daniel thinks Bond Girl from the ad story board: low back, high leg. Tim suggests a halter, and he goes with that. Except: Crisis! He thought he got some contrasting fabric, but it’s not in his bag. Patricia to the rescue: she’s not using the dark leather she bought, so she hands it over. For some reason, Daniel thinks this is a Big Deal. Hey, they’re on the same team, she isn’t using it, of course she should give it up. He gets a bit emotional in a TH: “I come from nothing, and look what I’ve done.” Maybe the producers are waving tear sticks around in the TH studio today. His dress is kind of milquetoast, isn’t it? I love the leather, but the beige fabric is a little too beige, and a little too flimsy for me. But Heidi finds it simple, interesting, and sophisticated. Kristin likes that he thought about following the line of the bottle but actually followed the line of the body. Nina loves the construction and shape but the fabric looks inexpensive (aha!). Zac’s not sure the color is right for an ad (aha! again) but it’s well done.

Stanley goes bling: gold metallic. Tim: “Heidi loves bling.” I very much like the scarf effect at the top, I’m crazy about the zipper moved to the side in the back, but it’s too much gold for me. Heidi calls him out for the necklaces. There is such a thing as too much bling.

Richard… oh, Richard. You seem like a good guy. But every season, someone poops fabric or makes a hip goiter, and this season, it’s you who does both at once. I like how he turned the fabric to stripe in different directions; I even could like the goiter if it wasn’t so… fulminant. He knows he has a problem: “Her butt looks huge, it’s like an exotic chicken.” Heidi calls him out.

Joseph and Amanda have very different aesthetics. He’s about long, full, draping, sheer; she’s fond of structure and close fit. They dither for quite some time over what to do. Joseph: “I’d be proud if this was on What Not To Wear, I love that stuff.” Amanda: “Oh god help me.” But somehow, the tumblers click into place: she makes a structured dress, and he creates a lattice as pattern. Amanda sees the light: “This is where Joe really shines, it’s an amazing concept, fragmented like the design on the box. That’s why we love Joe.” I’m betting this TH was filmed after the judging. Whatever they did to come together as a team, someone should study it. I wish the lattice was a little more fragmented and abstract, but it’s my favorite press-event look. Not Heidi’s, though.


Instead of picking one Press Event look and one Ad Look, Heidi picks the two Ad Looks: Kate and Daniel win. I’m really disappointed for Patricia. Sure, there were some details that would have to be cleaned up, but it was true innovation, and I’m betting neither of these looks is going to be recognizable by the time Heidi wears them, which should be February 15th – isn’t that a strange time to launch a perfume, too late for Christmas or Valentine’s Day?

Addendum: And now it’s my turn to be surprised: I don’t know about the Press Event looks, but the dress in the ad is pretty much what Kate and Layana came up with.

Cindy’s out. No surprise there. She bids Tim an emotional adieu: “It’s because of you that I’m a fashion designer.” That makes me sad.

Next Week:

Now it’s time to make dresses out of flowers and hardware – it’s the Unconventional Challenge, and it seems they’re recycling ideas. Let’s see if anyone makes a washer bikini. And who better for guest judge of the unconventional challenge than Bette Midler.

8 responses to “Project Runway S11: Episode 3 – Surprise Me

    • Well, sure. In a Top Chef recap. You didn’t think I actually scolded someone at a funeral, did you? Hey, I’m harsh, but not that harsh.

      Top Chef had three – count ’em, three – separate THs of Lizzie getting emotional about her father, all to fill time on a couple of episodes with uninspired challenges and only five/four contestants left. I said:

      With lots of time to fill and nothing interesting to fill it with, we hear a lot about Josh’s pregnant wife (including, in the category of TMI, her dilation status) and have a second round of Lizzie’s tears for her father. I sympathize with both of them, I really do. I’m not heartless. It’s kind of interesting that Josh is on this show while his wife is giving birth to their first child. But a centimeter-by-centimeter countdown, well, no. And I lost my father years ago, I know how I was afterwards, I was teary and explained it to someone almost every day until my husband-at-the-time gently reminded me, after I again said “I just lost my father” that I’d lost my father two years prior. So I get it. Fresh grief is tough. But replaying it over and over isn’t good TV, it’s crass exploitation.

      So technically, I was scolding the Elves (remember the Elves? They still have Top Chef) for airing what was probably a single emotional outburst they spread out. Apparently they think people should associate tears with the product placement cars they’re always pushing.

  1. The upcoming Unconventional Materials challenge appears to be a rework of the two least successful such challenges–especially the Garden Party, when the budget wasn’t enough to get real flowers–only greens–and the designers were then criticized for not using enough flowers.

    • Maybe they’ve learned from experience?

      I thought most of the flower shop stuff was pretty good, actually. But I still think Daniel V’s bodice looked like a bra.

      Let’s see, I’m going to try some prediction:

      Richard, Joseph, Patricia, and Samantha will do well
      Matthew, Benjamin, Kate, Amanda, and Michelle will need Xanax. Which isn’t much of a prediction, since all but Michelle have needed Xanax all along.
      Patricia will win.

      Matthew will be out. Not for clothes, but for smelling up the workroom with the Heart of an Artist he carries with him everywhere. With luck, the donor will be found and reunited with his/her body part.

      • Kara was robbed on that, and Chloe’s was–I felt–overpraised. Nick was lucky not to have been auf’d for the banana-leaf disaster; Andrae’s wasn’t nearly as bad.

  2. Pingback: Project Runway S11: Episode 4 – The Ultimate Hard and Soft | A Just Recompense

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