Season 15, Episode 12 Recap: It’s High Fashion, Y’all!

Season 15 is heading into the final stretch and we are down to the top 5 designers for this season of “Project Runway.” Even though last week’s episode featured an avant-garde/unconventional challenge, for some reason, this week’s was unconventional as well. Am I the only one getting the feeling that Tim, Heidi and the producers don’t think these designers have pushed themselves to their design limit? With this episode, they were given the impetus to go farther than ever. Let’s see if they did…

The episode begins with Tim and Heidi walking onto the runway stage with Heidi reminding the designers that this is the “big final challenge”–the last one before NY Fashion Week. Tim then tells them that “a change of scenery” is due. Miss Klum, in her best German-accented Southern twang, announces that the designers will be going to Austin, TX! She reminds them that the city’s unofficial motto is, “Keep Austin Weird,” and that they will be taking the town’s eccentricities and diversities and bringing their experiences right back to NYC. With that, Tim and Heidi sashay away.

The designers arrive in Austin, TX and check into their Best Western hotel. A note from Tim awaits them saying to “drop your bags, freshen up and meet up by the pool.” Along with Tim Gunn, someone very special is there to announce the challenge: me! As a designer selling my NV Nick Verreos line on QVC UK, QVC ITALY and The Shopping Channel in Canada, my search for inspiration has taken me around the world. For the past several years I have had the pleasure of partnering with Best Western on many of my journeys and so I was honored to be with Tim when he introduces the challenge: to create a high fashion look inspired by Austin using unconventional materials.

Before they are off shopping, I have the privilege of announcing THE BONUS PRIZE: the winner will receive 50 free nights to be used at 4100+ Best Western Hotels and Resorts WORLDWIDE! With that, they were off to spend a day by the pool…oops, I mean shopping. (I luckily got to stay by the pool as it was 100 Degrees that day in Austin. Sorry designers!) After picking up unconventional materials from Georgetown Farm Supply and Stubbs BBQ, they were able to enjoy some Austin-style BBQ deliciousness before going back to Manhattan.

Back in NYC, the designers are busy in their workroom ready to embark on this two-day challenge. This first day Roberi spends his time knotting rope, creating his “anxiety dress,” explaining that when he’s anxious and nervous, he likes to knot. Umm, that’s a bit odd, but I guess that’s better than smoking or drinking.

Laurence is using bird food and leather horse straps for her look. I want to give her virtual high five’s when she says that she wants it to look like a regular dress coming down the runway but when you get up close you say, “What the heck is that?” Amen, sister! Cornelius begins spray painting dog treats he bought, trying to create a print, but it doesn’t work. Time for Plan B. Erin is making flower-like petals using guitar picks and meal worms and all I can is, “WOW!” Finally, Rik’s cutting vinyl records in squares and triangles to create a very luxe-looking detail.

Day two and Roberi is still knotting and Cornelius is now onto Plan B…or C, I think, making flowers from plastic cups. Tim walks in to tell the designers the importance of this challenge, reiterating how “this is the ultimate test of their abilities to conceptualize, innovate and execute deftly and superbly.” (A Tim Gunn Mouthful!) He’s also there to announce a twist: they have to create an additional high fashion look that will correspond with their unconventional design using actual fabric.

Post-Mood shopping, Tim checks in. Erin shows him her meal worm flower appliques and what she’s sticking them to. He’s not thrilled saying that it reminds him of “a sandwich board with things stuck on it.” I do, however, love the print she’s using to create her second look. Rik has a lot don,e but it’s very “been there/done that Rik.” The all black, A-line shift dress shape. Rik has not stepped out of his comfort zone at all.

Laurence’s unconventional look is beautiful, definitely a change for her. Roberi shows Tim his “anxious” knots.  The macramé style he is creating reminds me of the same type of work Natalia Fedner did beautifully during her time on “Project Runway: Under The Gunn.” Unfortunately for Roberi, he has a lot of work to do and hasn’t even started his second look. Ay dios mio! Finally, Cornelius shows Tim his plastic flower-covered sheath dress and all I can think is, “You went to Austin and all you brought back were plastic cups?”

Here’s a bit of my critique so far: while it does seem that these designers are pushing themselves, they keep doing THE SAME THING over and over. Not sure if it’s out of habit or because it’s in their comfort zone. Exhibits A, B, C, D, and E: Cornelius is making a sheath dress, Roberi is doing a one shoulder mini, Laurence has shoulder details, Rik is doing an A-line dress, and Erin is making applique flowers. Well, at least they’re consistent.

Day of the runway and guest judges are former Miss World and “Quantico” actress Priyanka Chopra and Marchesa co-designer Georgina Chapman. The high fashion Austin unconventional designs come out along with their conventional “sisters.” Erin’s first look is pretty remarkable. I love what she did with the top, it looked couture-like and I’m glad she changed the shape of the dress. Her printed jumpsuit was a flirty, very resort high fashion counterpart. I also liked Laurence’s gladiator queen. I admired how she made bird seeds look like Chanel-like caviar beading. Her mustard-and-leather sheath was a little bit of a let-down, but even she knew it.

Roberi somehow pulled off finishing BOTH of his looks to great effect. The judges loved it and so did I. I saw the connection between both looks. I was just surprised no one commented on how similar his second dress was to last week’s design–the curved lines, the one shoulder, the asymmetrical hemline. In the end, his anxiety paid off and he was the winner! Erin, Laurence and Roberi got to move on to New York Fashion Week.

On the bottom were Rik and Cornelius. So, who would be getting the final slot? For this week’s challenge, I think both designers suffered from not pushing themselves enough. Rik’s unconventional dress was sexy and I loved his vinyl record “jeweled” details, but his second look was straight out of H&M. Cornelius’ plastic flower-covered sheath dress was fun and colorful but when compared to the creativity applied by the top vote getters, it wasn’t as strong. His romper looked luxe and fit well, but admittedly, it didn’t really correspond to his first look.

If I was judging, this it would have been a difficult one for me. Both Rik and Cornelius failed on different levels, but were almost equal in their deficiencies in the challenge, although I do feel that Rik has been the stronger designer over the entire season. In the end, Cornelius’ designs were deemed the least unconventionally successful and with that he was given the auf wiedersehen from Heidi. I can’t wait for next week and what the final four designers do for their NY Fashion Week collections! As Tim and Heidi keep suggesting, let’s hope they go bolder and push the design limits! Here, here!

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