It has come to this: a two-hour finale for the three desperate designers who can practically taste victory on their trembling lips. But before we can watch the human clothes hangers strut down the runway, we’ve got more than an hour of reminiscing, visiting, bitching and just plain freaking out to get through. As Tim Gunn would say, carry on!
I must not have been paying attention ten weeks ago, because I’m just now learning that Kara Saun’s day job is working as a costume designer in the movie industry. On set, she tells us, actors and actresses have told her she should have her own line. Now, Jay’s past is not so goody-two shoes; in fact, he designed clothes for a porn website, which gives new meaning to the phrase, “less is more.” He recounts his boss taunting him: “If you’re such a great designer, why aren’t you out doing anything?” A week later he quit, proving sticks and stones can hurt you - and make for some huge life changes.
And then there’s Wendy, who reminds us that yes, she’s married and yes, she lives somewhere in the sticks, light-years away from the world’s fashion capitals. In a flashback to the first week, we watch Wendy establishing herself as Mom to the other designers; she even tells us in an early confessional that it’s her strategy to play the mom and it’s “kind of evil.” Until I see her raging about wire hangers, I stand by my belief that this is hyperbole. Deranged and ludicrous, yes; but evil?
That’s the big three, folks. As they fast-forward through the eliminated designers, it seems about right, except for the final challenge, when Nancy “Orange Juice-lovin’” O’Dell fell in love with the feathered citrus dress. *sobs* Oh, Austin, you can design my dress for the FORTies! If they existed, that is.
Heidi assigns the final challenge: to design a twelve-piece collection for Olympus fashion week. They will have a budget of $8,000, and will work at home for about four months. The designers are reminded that the biggest names in fashion will be sitting in the front row judging every hem and pleat. Jay and Kara Saun look awed, but Wendy is beaming a mile wide.
The remaining four models are trotted out, and we learn that their fate will depend upon the fate of their designer. Whichever holder of the giant red button has the winning designer will win a fashion spread in Elle magazine. The designers quickly choose: Melissa for Wendy, Julia for Jay, and Jenny for Kara Saun. Martinique leaves the competition affably, unaware that this recapper secretly hoped she would be the winner. *sniffs* I’m sure she’ll find work...out there...in the cold, cruel world of fashion. *sobs*
The designers reflect on the experience so far. Jay feels energized and inspired, despite the fact that he never won a challenge nor lost one. Kara Saun is proud of the four wins under her belt, and says the final challenge is what every designer dreams of. She can’t wait to get to fashion week!
Resident Evil Wendy thinks it’s great that she got to the final three and proved that you don’t need formal training. In fact, she points out, despite having been in the bottom two several times, the two challenges she won were the most significant - the Banana Republic challenge, where her winning entry was manufactured for sale, and the O’Dell challenge, where her dress was selected to be worn at the Grammys. But what about the postal carrier challenge? You don’t want your Vogues to be pawed through, all the fragrance pages ripped open and sniffed by strange noses, do you? I’d say that was a significant challenge you didn’t master, missy. *sighs* She does have a point, though.
Our fearless fashionista/guru/mentor Tim Gunn travels to each designer’s home studio to check on their progress. His first visit is to Jay, who grew up in Lehman, PA. If there ever was a country kid who shook the dirt off his shoes and embraced urban style, it’s Jay. But not today. He greets Tim with a shotgun on the porch, wearing flannel, rubber boots, a trucker cap and an unruly mass of red curls. Could this be the same designer who liked to dress as Jesus Jay?
It’s all in fun, as Jay reveals the curls are actually a wig and the gun “might not” be loaded. That jokester.
We get to peek inside Jay’s workshop. On one wall, shelves contain hundreds of folded fabrics, all arranged by color down to the minutest difference in shade - it’s like a giant color map of fabric from floor to ceiling. Tim calls Jay’s organization “wonderful” and likes his workspace. They tour his house, then tour the town, which Jay calls the epitome of “small-town America.” I don’t think it’s big enough to even have a Main street - that’s how small we’re talking.
They visit a yard with large concrete cylinders. Jay explains that his father builds concrete septic tanks, and that he designed all the forms and shapes sitting in the yard, waiting to be deployed. Tim points out that Jay’s designer skills are similar, and he can thank Dad for the designing genes. Jay adds that his mother does needlepoint; somewhere in the mix, a fashion designer was born. We learn that Jay is the youngest of six children. He speculates that he got all the “weird, leftover parts;” he doesn’t feel he is the typical small-town person. He’s certainly not the version immortalized in song by John Cougar Mellencamp.
We meet Jay’s mother, sister, and niece. Mom says Jay first started sewing so that he could make costumes for the band. His sister hopes simply that he’ll get a job out of the whole experience. We also see some adorable photos of toddler Jay, then pre-teen Jay in his band uniform, and lastly, teenaged Jay in a plush lion costume. Was he a mascot or is this some bizarre hobby? It’s not clear.
Sitting at the dining room table, Jay reminisces about growing up in Lehman. He remembers a lot of teasing and fighting, but his sister says that he was a trend-setter. Jay laughs, but says Project Runway has been a huge boost in confidence for him, and that he finally feels validated as a designer. And what if he wins, he wonders aloud. “You’re going to get liposuction and get the heck out of Lehman,” his sister answers.
Okay, on to the clothes. Jay explains the theme of his collection, entitled “Stereotype”, as playing off the relationship between music and style. People that listen to a type of music are often stereotyped as having a certain style. I sincerely hope this doesn’t mean a Marilyn Manson-inspired show is in the works. Just say no to Goths, Jay! He goes through a stack of fabric samples, giving a one-word description to each: day, night, skiing, clubbing, saatchi and saatchi-ing, groceries, hooking on the corner, red-carpet evening. Plus headphones. Can you visualize it yet?
As Tim leaves - post haste, as Jay roars for him to get off his property, shotgun pointed once again - Jay reflects on the visit, saying he thought it went well. He’s prepared to hunker down and not leave his workshop for the entire month of January. He’s also glad he’s not Tim Gunn, who is off to Virginia to visit Wendy Pepper. He enjoys an evil chuckle at Tim’s expense at the thought.
Tim intrepidly drives alone with a cameraman to Middleburg, Virginia, home to the anti-Spice Girl, Wendy Pepper. Wendy’s house seems cozy and comfy, with hardwood floors and art posters covering every inch of wall surface in her living room. It’s apparent immediately that the visit will be more businesslike than Jay’s, but at least Tim isn’t staring down the barrel of a shotgun this time.
Wendy’s office is also covered with art prints, which she tells us is her inspiration (I can make out Gainsborough's Pinkie but the rest is too fuzzy). She also has family photos of her daughter, her mother, and her husband. Said hubby manages to avoid the camera entirely, though; we don’t even get a glimpse of the photo she’s describing on her desk as being so “important” to her. They’ve all pitched in, she says, in their own way.
Wendy shows Tim her workrooms in the basement, a large, well-lit space where she also runs her business of designing dresses for private clients. She describes her work as “personify[ing] a Washington D.C. style.” Excuse me for doing a spittake, but I wouldn’t call that any particular style, personally. If you believe Wendy, our nation’s capital is all about yards of frilly pink satin, asymmetrical giraffe-patterned bodices, and mini dresses of transparent black netting. I expected something a little more dignified.
Wendy’s mother is proud of her daughter for persevering on Project Runway. We also meet Finley, Wendy’s five-year-old daughter. Finley is working on a dress, too, and has painted a large greeting card for the judges. Wendy tells Tim that Finley told her she was making a painting for the judges, but Finley interrupts. “No, it was just because remember when I had nothing to do? And you said I could paint?” I love five-year-olds, nothing gets by them.
Wendy shows Tim her collection. She was inspired by the fall colors that greeted her when she returned from New York, and her color pallette shows earth tones of greens, browns and rusty reds. Tim has specific criticisms of her work (calling one piece “bed-jackety” and "very Rue McClanahan on the Golden Girls;" he advises her to lose it). Wendy says that Tim has been an invaluable asset and thinks it’s great she has time to respond to his advice. Is it kosher that he’s telling her where all her weak points are, giving hints on how to improve? Overall, he advises her not to overdesign, and to “just be you.”
They stroll through Middleburg, and Wendy talks about small-town life. Everyone in town knows and recognizes her, and they’re all pulling for her - and as she’s saying it, a man driving by in an SUV gives her a shout out. “I’m not paying him,” she giggles.
Wendy’s great-grandmother had some fancy estate that she left to the National Trust, and Wendy visits often for inspiration. Tim tells her that he feels like he’s on Dynasty. They part on friendly terms, and Wendy repeats several times how grateful she is for his input on her work.
Visiting Kara Saun
Tim treks to sunny California for his visit with the ever-smiling Kara Saun. She takes Tim to her favorite LA fabric store, F&S Fabrics, where they talk about her childhood. Kara Saun was a military brat, which she says made for an ultra-tight family. She never had formal training, unless you count a home economics class in junior high.
Kara Saun explains her theme of “Flight” or “The Aviator.” She saw the movie The Aviator, and was inspired by the vintage clothing - except in her line, it will be Aviator-based clothes with a modern, fashion-forward twist. Wait, what? Her inspiration was a movie? Isn’t that like reading a Hallmark card and being inspired to write a poem about friendship because the card made you feel all gooey inside with it’s little poem about...friendship? All I’m saying is that if she’s that impressionable, it’s a good thing she didn’t choose the theater with that remake of Dawn of the Dead.
One thing that’s quickly apparent is that Kara Saun has been busy, and unlike Wendy, she’s confident about her works in progress. She shows Tim a stunning red leather jacket with an inlaid pattern of leaves in coordinating brown leather. Tim has some specific criticisms about one dress in particular, but overall, she’s got her well-dressed ducks in a row. Kara Saun explains that for each piece, she considers whether it looks like something she would make; whether Tim Gunn would call it stunning; whether Heidi Klum would wear it; whether Michael Kors would say it’s sexy; and whether Nina Garcia would put it in Elle. There’s no doubt that if anyone can fit that many critical voices in their brain, Kara Saun can.
A week before the show, the final three designers return to New York to stay in the W Hotel and finalize their collections. Wendy and Jay are the first to explore the new space together, and it’s not long before tensions arise. Wendy asks Jay if he’s going to bunk with her, and he stares at her in utter revulsion. Her smile drops from her face. Jay says that he had a hard time watching the show unfold, and that frankly, his plan was to ignore her completely. Wendy points out that he said a lot of hurtful things about her, and Jay relents a little, saying he can’t just pretend she’s not there. He just wants her to know that he felt her personality on the show was contrived, her actions were “weird,” and feels he never got to meet the real Wendy. “Weird? Me? That’s a lot coming from you,” she retorts like a schoolgirl who’s been accused of being stuck up. The squabbling continues, but the sight of Wendy masticating a dry, fibrous orange segment is so revolting that I’ve erased my memory in self-defense. I think Jay called her a ruthless bitch, but that could have been me muttering under my breath.
The missing Kara Saun arrives with a hug for Jay and a half-hearted wave for Wendy. Kara Saun confesses privately that she has no desire to interact with Wendy and plans to avoid her as much as possible. Of course, the producers have foreseen this attitude and decided that would be no fun, so they have put Kara Saun and Wendy in the same bedroom. What do they expect, the women will slip into babydoll nighties and tease each other with pillows? Kara Saun nips the soft-core porn opportunity in the bud by moving her blankets and pillows firmly onto the living room couch.
Both Kara Saun and Jay feel they are ready for the show, but Wendy says that she has a lot of work to do. Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum arrive and present them with their itinerary: a meeting with the Olympus fashion show producers, and a casting call for models. There’s no time for chit chat! Heidi and Tim leave, and the designers hurry off to their first production meeting.
The show producers go through the events of the Big Day for the Project Runway designers: they are to arrive at their tent at 6:00 a.m., clothes and models to follow shortly thereafter. The doors will be open to guests at 9, and the models will be placing their pumps on the stage at 10:00 a.m. sharp. Before showtime they will be responsible for making sure the “dressers” are executing the looks to the designers’ satisfaction. They’re advised to pick up some lint rollers and double stick tape.
At the casting call, Heidi Klum “supervises” as the designers meet dozens of human clothes hangers. You might have caught a glimpse of a former America’s Next Top Model contestant, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you missed it since she earned a mere milisecond of camera time (even though she made the cut). One model walks in and tells Jay in heavily accented English that he “looks so funny” - he hires her on the spot. Kara Saun is basing her decision on whether the girl has a strong walk, and Wendy has a list of her dresses she is specifically looking to match with the perfect model.
The show producer announces that they have a surprise - three celebrity models are available to the designers. Specifically, they can choose from Maggie Rizer, Chuala, and Michelle Buzzwell. Like a backhoe scooping up trash in a landfill, Kara Saun swoops in and nabs Maggie Rizer. Her photo didn’t even make it from the producer’s hand to the table; Kara Saun grabbed it right out of his hand. Jay is irritated, and takes it out on Kara Saun by fighting tooth and nail for his other model choices, reminding her when she protests that she has Maggie Rizer so she owes him. Kara Saun admits that she got a little aggressive during the casting.
Next, the designers pay a visit to Michael Kors’ studio for last minute advice and inspiration. His advice centers on how to present a line of clothing, saying it must tell a story; make the viewers feel as if they’re being taken on a journey. He advises opening with a piece that will “wow” the audience, but follow up with a quieter outfit so that two outrageous pieces are not lumped together. Wendy is looking nervous for the first time, saying she didn’t know that you’re supposed to open with a “super strong piece” and she will have to re-think her lineup. I’m not sure why she’s so shaken up by his advice, since starting with a bang hardly seems like outrageous advice to me. It's worked for everything from Beethoven's 3rd to Indiana Jones; in fact, I’d call it Showmanship 101.
Michael Kors also emphasizes the importance of accessories, saying it can make or break an otherwise perfect outfit. Wendy interjects with a question about shoes - will they be coming from Michael Kors’ studios? Why yes, they will. Hmm, interesting detail, but who cares? It’s not like we heard much about the shoes all season. How illuminating to hear about the shoes the show is providing. (Hint: I’m winking, nudging and couging as loud as I can. This is foreshadowing.) Break a stilletto, he tells them; and with a friendly chuckle all around, the meeting is over.
After a day of meetings, Wendy has come away feeling that she’s bitten off more than she can chew. She hasn’t given much thought to accessories, and says the meeting with Michael Kors was a shocking eye-opener. But enough about the competition, how about a good old-fashioned bitch fest?
Jay has been playing mediator between Wendy and Kara Saun, and he attempts to get Kara Saun to back down a little from her three monkeys stance against Wendy. Apparently, even though they are sharing a bathroom, Kara Saun is literally not speaking to Wendy. We’re talking “tell that witch on the other side of the table to pass the salt, Jay” type of conversations. Wendy tells Kara Saun that she’s acting odd by not being able to muster up enough civilities to get through the day.
Kara Saun explains herself, saying she’s never fake, unlike Jay. She sees nothing wrong with not wanting to interact with “a backstabbing liar,” as she puts it. Soon Kara Saun is throwing Wendy’s many confessionals about her strategy back in her face, saying she is there to compete, not strategize. Wendy counters that by shunning her, Kara Saun is also fulfilling a strategy. Ooh, that one struck a nerve, and the normally cool-headed Kara Saun flies off the handle. She relives the moments where Wendy’s actions with the designers was juxtaposed with her saying in a voiceover that her strategy of determining everyone’s weaknesses was working. Kara Saun says that she is there to compete on talent. Wendy counters that she’s there because of her talent. “Did the world believe that, Wendy?” taunts Kara Saun. Good gravy, have they been reading FORT?
While the girls bicker, Jay walks into the other room, telling the camera man that the fight might just work in his favor. If he coerces them into attacking each other physically, they’ll have to declare him the winner right? Well, it worked in Thunderdome.
It’s just a joke, as Jay truly tries to break up the fight. When he has them both quieted, he ends up fanning the flames further by telling Wendy that she was the only designer with a strategy. No matter what the argument, Wendy turns it around on them. “Do you not think it’s a strategy to tell me that everyone hates me?” Jabbing a finger angrily at Jay, she says that his strategy is to never shut up, and Kara Saun’s strategy is to have Jay be her whipping boy.
The fight ends with a Kara Saun classic: “You’re going to need your soul one day Wendy, and you don’t have it.” Take that! *whip cracks*
Two More Days, If You’re Counting
Tim Gunn brings Collier Strong, a make up artist for L’Oreal Paris, to meet with the designers to discuss honing the fine details of the collection. We learn that Jay wants a bleached-out look for his “Stereotype” walkers; Wendy wants makeup that will reflect her “Thrill of the Hunt” scene. Camouflage paint and blood spatter? No, a bold lip and a neutral eye will fit the bill. Kara Saun’s models will be sporting smoky bronze eyes.
But descriptive words are for amateurs; the designers are taken to L’Oreal, where their favorite models are waiting to be make up guinea pigs (but not in the product safety sense, thank goodness; or the girls might be getting shaved in odd places). Melissa (for Wendy) is made up to perfection; Jenny (for Kara Saun) has a glamorous look; and Jay’s Julia looks like a bleepin’ alien, as he puts it.
Kara Saun receives a delivery of hand-made shoes from Dollhouse, who she works with on the outside. Jay and Wendy are visibly jealous as pair after pair of luscious boots and jewel-encrusted pumps come out of the box. Wendy hasn’t been able to arrange any shoes from the Michael Kors collection yet, and she’s anxious as all get-out.
The models show up for their final fittings. While Jay works out the details with Tim Gunn advising, Wendy sneaks a moment to whisper about how much she loves Jay’s work. Surprise! In fact, she says she doesn’t like his clothing, but his designs have so much power that she’s impressed (and probably envious, although she doesn’t say it). It’s an interesting moment, because she seems more genuine than we’ve ever seen her, and she hasn’t praised herself or commented on another’s weakness even once.
Jenny is seen trying on Kara Saun’s pure white dress with its fur of unknown origin on the shoulders. “It’s like Gucci!” the model says enthusiastically. Oh-so-like Gucci, in turns out - but more about that later. Wendy comments to the camera that she doesn’t respond to Kara Saun’s “fur and leather” aesthetic. Meanwhile, Wendy’s models are doing their fittings in their own shoes; we see one girl struggling to keep the shoulders up on the dress as she does a trial run in her socks. Jay calls Wendy’s designs “clueless”, what an older woman thinks young people are wearing.
Michael Kors’ shoes have arrived finally, and Wendy is making dark faces at her choices. Jay takes a few pairs and Wendy snarls territorially over the box. Apparently, Jay budgeted for shoes and these pairs are extras for him. Kara Saun, of course, has her lovely handmade Dollhouse creations. She finds out that the rhinestone shoes catch on her very long dresses, especially those made with a fine chainmail-like fabric, She calls her Dollhouse contact to see if he can send out some kind of replacement.
On the day before the runway show, Wendy paces in the hallway while Jay and Kara Saun are taking their time getting ready. Jay jokes that Wendy is probably bawling her eyes out in the elevator, and the camera switches to Wendy ... bawling her eyes out in the elevator. She’s always on time, they are always late, and she’s a weepy mess.
Will Kara Saun solve her shoe snags? Will Wendy go to pieces? Will Jay sit back and enjoy the spectacle? What is a magical invoice? For answers to these questions and more, read part two.