And the winner was . . . Banana Republic.
''Project Runway" fans, you know what that means. All season, Bravo's fashion competition -- in addition to being the most addictive reality show on TV -- has been a philosophical duel between creativity and marketability, art and commerce. And with the triumph of Chloe Dao, the I'm-not-sure-I-really-want-it women's wear designer, marketability took the prize: a car, a chunk of cash, a Banana Republic mentorship.
For fans of Santino Rice, it was a deflating moment. Santino had carried the show all along with his stratospheric arrogance, his gift for impressions, and his tendency to break out in song. But most of all, he was an unparalleled creative force: surly, yes, often over the top, but undeniably talented.
Chloe is talented, too, but in a different way. Her clothes are always pretty, if too often turquoise. They fit well and flatter women, and seem made to be tried on and sold. She's a businesswoman, savvy and generally safe.
That seemed to be the judges' take on her 13-piece collection for the Olympus Fashion Week runway: The seams were nice, the shapes were interesting, but they hardly delivered a knockout punch.
To be fair, designing for Fashion Week can't be easy. Your collection has to be versatile, wide-ranging, showy, and impeccably fitted. And it has to ''tell a story," which isn't so easy with cloth.
Still, given the creativity we've seen all season on ''Project Runway," as designers were given impossible assignments and two days to pull them off, Wednesday night's fashions -- conceived and constructed over five months -- were disappointing.
Chloe's evening dresses were overly shiny; some of her fabrics evoked the wallpaper in your grandmother's bathroom. As host Heidi Klum noted grimly, she went heavy on the shrugs. (''I would never do matchy-matchy-matchy," Klum said. Her English is always so . . . German.)
Daniel Vosovic, who seemed the front-runner until he unveiled a pair of shockingly clunky handbags, said his collection was ''Japanese sleekness meets the military." It seemed more like ''office wear meets a tassel."
Even Santino's work, with the exception of a couple of gorgeous dresses, wasn't a showstopper. And, as Klum noted, ''the boobs were never where they were supposed to be." They were typical Santino: conception over construction. They were made for the mannequin, not the actual woman. But, more than his competitors' work, they were art.
Still, judge Nina Garcia, who spent the whole season trying to squeeze Santino into a mall-fashion mold, admitted that he was a ''great creative thinker."
Unfortunately, creativity isn't what ''Project Runway" wants. Chloe didn't need to tell a story, in the end. As judge Michael Kors noted, ''Your statement was 'dresses.' " Apparently, that was enough.
Even Chloe seemed a little surprised, though she gamely tried to channel her family's enthusiasm. ''I am excited," she kept saying, as if she wanted to convince herself.
Is she the ''next great American designer," or simply the next great Banana Republic intern? Time will tell. But here's one prediction: A few seasons from now, Banana Republic will be very into turquoise.