It is almost time to slam the lid on Project Runway season 14. Before I get into the Power Rankings, I want to address Tim Gunn’s comments on this season; the beloved mentor told Entertainment Weekly:
I hated season 14. I hated it. I felt that other than a couple of designers, they weren’t working up to their potential. The whole thing was lackluster. I have a theory about it, which is that they just weren’t hungry. Their audition videos from home, you know, they’re sitting by a pool, they’re taking us into their closet with all their designer clothes, and I just thought, they’re not hungry! Most of them. And I think that was largely the issue. I wasn’t at the auditions [this] season for the first time ever, and I blame myself, because I wouldn’t have put up with a lot of it.
I can’t say I disagree; I had three of the final four in my final four from like week five on, and it really shouldn’t be that easy to pick out the winners on this show. The guy I picked for the final four who didn’t make it, Swapnil, is probably the one Tim is most specifically thinking of; he had talent to burn but he was a lot more interested in burning Marlboro Reds than making clothes from about halfway through the season on. But it wasn’t just him. When there were eight designers left it was pretty obvious who was going all the way and who wasn’t. The only person who truly worked hard enough to improve over the course of the season was Kelly, and I don’t particularly care for her stuff (though she seems like a super cool person).
Still though, now we are down to the final four (Edmond is still with us, thanks to the Tim Gunn Save™ – remember you heard it here first!), and the wheat has been sorted from the chaff. Last week the designers were sent home and given seven weeks and $9,000 (!) to create their collections, before reconvening at the workroom to get ready for New York Fashion Week. Of course, it’s not that simple. Heidi Klum informed the designers that there was one more twist, and it’s one they should have seen coming because some variation on this twist happens literally every season: they’ll need to create one more look in a day to show with two looks from their collections for final feedback before the Big Runway Show at Fashion Week. Sorry, New York Fashion Week. Now that they’ve done that, we’ve got the clearest picture yet of what we’re in for with this week’s finale, so let’s get to the Power Rankings!
Note: Power Rankings are totally unscientific, coming as they are from a straight man. But this straight man has successfully predicted three of the last four Project Runway winners no less than five weeks before the end of the season. In any case, they are an amalgamation of the designers’ work, their entertainment value, and whatever hints the editors may drop about what’s to come, in that order of importance; they’re presented in reverse order.
4.Ashley (Last week: #3)
Ashley asked to create a plus-size collection for Fashion Week, and the judges granted her wish, so she went home to San Diego and settled on a single point of inspiration: Mexico City in the 1950s. I don’t know how much “Mexico City in the 1950s” means to anyone who wasn’t in Mexico City in the 1950s, but to Ashley it apparently means a lot of pink: almost everything she made for her collection was some shade of pink. Curiously, she also created flowered headpieces to go with each of her ten looks. At critique, Tim pointed out the preponderance of pink (say that three times fast) and cautioned her against the headpieces; as usual, this totally rattled Ashley. For her new look, she made an all-lace, deep purple two-piece that inexplicably fit much better than her other two looks, which she’d worked on for seven weeks. Shockingly, she also ignored Tim’s advice and put headpieces on all her models. The judges called her on it: Nina hated the headpieces, but Heidi disagreed, and it pains me to say I agree with Nina. (Oh, Heidi – our first fight! I know we can get past this. What we have is so strong!) The judges also quite rightly called out the baggy fit of Ashley’s separates, and though they did not mention this I thought the heavy quilted fabric she used for one of her looks was unflattering. Given her tendency to get rattled by the slightest criticism, it seems to me that Ashley is the longest longshot still standing.
3.Kelly (Last week: #1)
The visit to Kelly’s home in Massachussetts was totally charming, and it’s hard not to root for her, given her humble background, the community of people rooting for her, and how far she’s come over the course of the season. (Barely related note: her boyfriend’s not-homophobic-but-still-keeping-my-distance handshake with Tim Gunn gave me the buggest LOL of this whole season.) I think she has a very bright future, and whether or not she wins the show, she is a mortal lock to get hired at H&M or some other very young-skewing fashion label. But I don’t think she’s going to win, and it really comes down to two words: Fanny Packs. She’s hanging her whole collection on this one very shaky nail and it feels doomed to drop right to the floor. How out are fanny packs? Put it this way: when Julia Sweeney was doing the androgynous “It’s Pat!” character on Saturday Night Live around 1990, Pat wore a fanny pack. Otherwise, I like a lot of her ideas, with the zipper piping and the sheer-fabric details like she used on the cuffs of one of her pairs of pants. For her mini collection, she went with looks that emphasized a wood-grain print and an industrial steel tread print, and called it “Studio 54 meets New Age Streetwear.” But the judges quite rightly pointed out that none of it looks like it was difficult to make, none of it looks expensive – as Nina put it, “There is something very throwaway about these clothes.” And they have a point: What did Kelly spend $9,000 on? She’s come a long way, but unless she makes a major course correction before the final runway show, she’s not our winner.
2.Candice (Last week: #2)
My second biggest LOL of this season was when Tim Gunn was dragged out to the beach in Candice’s native San Francisco to meet her family and everyone looked like everyone looks when they go to the beach in San Francisco: like they were FREEZING. (I used to live there.) At this point I feel like I could cut-and-paste all my past comments on Candice – she’s super competent, excellent with construction, her stuff is most always flawlessly executed, but it’s a little samey, with the black and the leather and the black leather. Candice apparently did not rush straight home after making the final four; she stayed in New York and found inspiration for her collection at the “Asia: Through the Looking Glass” exhibit at the Met, and the results are beyond ambitious: a wavy wooden couture skirt, a giant hoop skirt, some red and white mixed in with the standard black, a huge oversized leather hat. Taken individually this is all cool stuff, but on his visit Tim calls the embossed leather and red sequins “full-tilt drag queen,” advice that Candice appears not to agree with. After arriving at the workroom, she does take Tim’s advice against using only black garments for her mini-look, including a red and white ensemble with an extra long red leather jacket with a flower-print lining that matches the pants. Unfortunately, the judges seem to hate almost everything, with Zac Posen delivering the stinging indictment, “we are headed for Costume Town.” They all hate the big hat, and Heidi calls out the collection’s lack of cohesion. Even worse is Nina’s summation: “Alexander McQueen can do Alexander McQueen – you cannot.” Like Kelly, Candice is a lock to find lucrative work in the fashion industry after this season. She is enormously skilled, she never loses her cool, and she has a great attitude with just the right amount of bossiness. And if anyone is going to take down Edmond, it’s going to be her. But also like Kelly, she’s going to have to make some big changes. I’m definitely not counting her out, but this is also the first time we’ve seen her get at all rattled.
1.Edmond (Last week: #4)
All the way back in week 2, I wrote:
I’m calling it now: Edmond is going all the way. Some people come onto this show with an unshakeable focus and the eye of the tiger, and this year Edmund is that person. Dead silent in the workroom, very cagey about revealing his plans to the other designers, and clearly not interested in getting sucked into any kind of drama, Edmund is in it to win it.
I could have written this exact same paragraph based on last week’s episode, as Edmond turned up at the workroom All Business, not interested in schmoozing around or comparing designs with anyone else, and the supremely confident Candice was visibly shaken when he started taking dresses out of garment bags. If there’s any obstacle in Edmond’s way, it’s that he’s kind of the opposite of Candice: he’s nearly obsessed with showing the judges that he can do it all, and is straying from his true strength, which is sexy dresses. It’s a misguided concern that has been bedeviling him for a couple of weeks now, most recently in last week’s Red Carpet challenge, when his decision to use a different color palette than what he was used to got him voted off the show. Professing that his collection will show “an elevated version of Edmond Newton,” he toned down the sexy and made a bunch of really interesting – but not very sexy – black-and-white dresses, with a lot of ruffles. Edmond arrived at the workroom needing to complete three of his looks, so the extra twist on the challenge really put him behind the 8-ball, and he struggled to finish before the runway show, but the look he threw together was the judges' favorite; the rest were dinged for not being cohesive, not being sexy, not being Edmond. To me, this is like the moment in the first Avengers movie when Captain America gives the Hulk a one-word order: “Smash.” Freed to do what he does best, Edmond is coming off the chain and he’s going to make the sexy dresses that everybody wants him to make, and he’s going to win this thing.
This week: The designers show at New York Fashion Week and a winner is crowned!