We know something is up when they start the two-hour finale episode with the truncated “reunion show,” which usually gets its own time slot. For the first time in “Runway” history, we see the entire cast of contestants and the three finalists before the final runway show instead of giving them all a chance to work up a perspective at the end of the season.
Also for the first time, the show holds back on its trademark personal updates, which we’ve been waiting for. Straying from tradition, it also shies as much as possible from the unavoidable conflicts—and sometimes resolutions—that arise. They spend much of the segment revisiting the three finalists’ journeys, because of course, they can’t talk about who wins and how everybody feels about it.
What happened when Mondo revealed his HIV status to the family? How did Michael Costello ultimately deal with his half-in, half-out of the closet problem—coupled in his mind with his future as a designer? What’s Ivy’s malfunction? How do the other designers really feel about Gretchen?
Ah, in the latter lies the rub. That the reunion downplays Gretchen’s bitchery makes us suspect that the show needs to make the audience feel better about her place in the finale and her shot at winning. Gretchen cops out and says people hate her because she’s a female with opinions. Wrong. We hate her because she’s backstabbing and passive-aggressive.
April, who left the show as friends with Gretchen, is allowed to say a bit about what she has learned from Gretchen’s ugly two-faced TV interviews, but that’s far outweighed by carefully edited clips of two people saying Gretchen doesn’t deserve the bad reputation. She does.
But enough about the personality circus, which even Tim and Heidi say, if not in so many words, sets this season apart from the rest. The clothes certainly don’t, and that’s evident in much of the finale runway show in Lincoln Park.
Andy’s collection goes soft, perhaps too far a departure from the structured “Warrior Woman” looks he created during the regular competition. We think the celluloid green and pastel gray line (top photos) is pretty, but too one-note to win. In their deliberations, the judges agree and tell us he’s out of the running before they tell him.
So as obvious as it’s been for half the season, it’s down to Gretchen and Mondo. And it’s a catfight to the finish between the judges. Heidi and plump, strangely dressed guest judge Jessica Simpson (?!) are all about Mondo. Nina and Michael say they have to give it to Gretchen.
Like the judge’s split, the collections are like oil and water, or as Michael says, “salt and sugar.” Comparing them is a matter of taste.
Gretchen’s sillouettes and styling nod to the ‘70s revival that’s hot right now with a keen sense of ready-to-wear (middle photos). Mondo skews just as abruptly to the ‘80s color palette and sensibilities with an only-on-the-runway mindset.
Both do a fine job, and in our opinion, both have created better looks during the competition.
Gretchen deserves to be in the finale. There, we said it. We guessed right that her collection was much better than last week’s three-piece preview. We love Gretchen’s silhouettes, her execution and some of the fabric blocks, but we dislike her pattern mixes and color palette—a lot. We hate her combinations of knit diapers paired with more street-worthy clothes.
Gretchen does herself a solid and takes the judge’s advice by upping her styling for the runway. But she makes a huge mistake in our opinion with green patent leather accents that don’t jibe with her other textiles.
Mondo rocks Mondo, expertly mixing patterns and color (bottom photos) with flair and originality that won the competition in past seasons for Jay McCarroll, Seth Aaron Henderson and Jeffrey Sebelia.
But our boy takes a misstep as well. He doesn’t heed the judge’s warnings about editing his styling, and it hurts his runway show. When all 10 of his ensembles walk together, it’s difficult to look at. The headdresses are distracting, and there are few moments for the eye to rest on enough solid color or skin to break up the crazy. If there were, he could have sailed away with the victory.
So, do we like sweet or savory? Do we want the next madcap original like John Galliano, Betsey Johnson or Alexander McQueen, or are we looking for the next big retail trend like Donna Karan, Michael Kors or Calvin Klein?
When it comes to “Runway,” we were never the J. Crew kind. For the purposes of this show, we want Mondo. We want him bad. Putting the personalities and who deserves a break back into play, Mondo is also the clear choice.
That’s not who Lifetime and their viewers want, and we stand fast that Mondo would have won if the show was still on Bravo. Picture us spitting when the designer and fashion editor judges ultimately win the argument, and imagine our sadness at being on sides with a supermodel and a pop singer. Now envision the big raspberry and middle finger we give to the TV when Gretchen’s mother and sister come out to congratulate her.
Our unscientific panel of friends and fans don’t all agree with us. Some of the ones who do have now disavowed the show and the network forever. But we’ll be back next season. It’s not a travesty. It’s a TV show.
Until then… we’re sorry, but we’re out. Auf Wiedersehen.
Click any of the photos here for larger versions or see all of this week’s looks in the Rate the Runway section on the official “Project Runway” page at MyLifetime.com. You can also catch up on our “Runway” recaps from each episode this season and last.