Season 15, Episode 5 Recap: United We Stand

After last week’s demanding swimwear challenge, the designers learn that it is time for the dreaded team challenge. Team challenges are always a tricky subject on the show. I’ve said this many times during all my seasons writing recaps here (and in addition to my own personal experience as a contestant): it’s rare when there is designer unity on a team challenge. But this week, there was. Did team camaraderie guarantee cohesion and success? Well…Yes and no. Time to recap.

The episode begins with Alex discussing “310 Power,” chitchatting about how great it is that Rik, Roberi and he are roommates and, in addition, that they were the top three in the previous week. A quick photo montage of a younger, more “punk-y” Alex follows. Once again, I think, “Uh oh.” Maybe I’m really getting too savvy for the editors or the editors need to rethink their formula, who knows.

Tim Gunn greets the designers on stage, introducing Luis Casco, Mary Kay Global Beauty Ambassador. He is there to announce the Mary Kay challenge, of course. Before discussing the details, Casco says that it is “all about challenging your passion for fashion and combining it with an entrepreneurial mindset that Mary Kay just embraces.” Right as I was about to yell, “What the heck is he talking about?” Tim enlightens me and the designers, describing the actual challenge. First, that it will be a team challenge and second, that each team will create a four look mini-collection. The concept of each mini-collection is completely up to each team to decide.

There’s an added twist: their Mood budget will all depend on how well they do when they pitch their concept to “mystery investors.” Each investor will have $1,000 to devote to the two teams. Lifetime is about to debut a “Shark Tank”-like show called “Project Runway: Fashion Startup” involving just exactly this sort of premise, so I guess this might have been an amuse bouche of that show. In addition to the Mood fabric pitch money (Yes, there’s more!), each designer in the winning team will receive $5,000 to “build their businesses,” compliments of Mary Kay. In a real fashion business, $5,000 doesn’t take you far, unfortunately, but every little bit helps! And kudos to Mary Kay for doing that.

The teams are chosen. Rik, Alex, Roberi, Cornelius, Mah-Jing, and Nathalia are Team Unity. Brik, Tasha, Laurence, Erin, Dexter, and Jenni are Team Button Bag. After design/concept caucusing, each team chooses who their pitch person will be: Alex for Unity and Dexter for Button Bag. The mystery investors are finally revealed: Heidi, Nina and Zac.

Even though the collection concepts were completely void of restrictions, both teams pitch a working woman vision. Alex tells them that their collection would “enhance women’s confidence for business every day.” Dexter wants to reach an “untapped demographic” of working women in the tech industry. While it seemed as if both did an okay job, it’s obvious, however, that Alex might have needed the energy jolt of a triple espresso shot cappuccino (and maybe a dash of color in his team’s designs). In the end, the investors like Dexter’s pitch more, handing his team a total of $2,200, while Alex got only $800.

Post-Mood shopping, the designers get to work. Hours later, Tim visits for his check-ins and Team Unity is first. They are using a black, silver and navy color palette. Initially, Tim says that the designs look modern, however the color story could be construed as somber. Amen, Sister Tim. Team Button Bag has changed its name to House of Bouton in an effort to sound less provincial. There’s some color (Thanks, Erin!), but in terms of what he sees, Tim is a little nervous pointing out a disparity in the age range of who would wear the garments. Honestly, I’m not seeing it. All I can think of is, whether I was 18 or 88, I would want Erin’s bright coat and Laurence’s leather jacket!

Overall, both teams appear to be working together well, with no nasty infighting, with one tiny exception: Mah-Jing feels slightly like an outcast since the rest of his team are either roommate besties or already friends. Toward the end of the night, the House of Bouton team still has a lot to do and are feeling nervous.

It’s runway day and the “Bouton” designers are feverishly working their little skinny jeans off to finish, with Dexter running around in his platform wedges helping anyone who needs it. On the opposite end, Team Unity might as well be getting mani/pedis because they are relaxed and quietly putting the finishing touches on their garments. Time for the runway show and this week’s guest judge is 17-year-old Sabrina Carpenter, recording artist and star of the Disney Channel’s “Girl Meets World.” So… last week’s judge was an 18-year-old/1.6 million Instagram-followed model and now we got 17-year-old Sabrina. Let me guess what demographic of viewers “Project Runway” is trying to reach out to? Talk amongst yourselves.

My thoughts on the team’s collections, beginning with House of Bouton. Everything that led up to this moment was hinting at failure. The rushing, the no-garments-for-model-fittings, nothing-is-done… But yet they stepped it up and succeeded beautifully. When pitching the concept, Dexter said that this was for a woman in the tech world. If so, she obviously was the CEO of a high-end fashion tech company because the looks were super chic, wearable and versatile. The two stars were obvious: Laurence’s razor-sharp leather jacket and Erin’s highlighter yellow and mauve coat. Both were outstanding. As a bonus, Erin’s sequin embellishment elevated the clothes to another level. This was not Topshop but Neiman Marcus, honey! They were the winning team. So, who would be the MVP? Laurence? Erin? Nope. It was Dexter! From his successful pitch to running around in platform wedges helping everyone, he was an exemplary team player. Yeah, Mr. Herpetology!

And now, Team Unity. Let me begin by saying that their designs weren’t so bad… if the concept involved “attending a club.” But it wasn’t. It was supposed to be a confident everyday business woman. If it was, of all the four outfits on this team, my top vote would have gone to Mah-Jing. It was the most modern and stylish and somewhat “fashionable business.” The least successful were Roberi’s top and pants and Alex’s dress. Roberi’s raw-edged asymmetrical top was a bit “Planet of the Apes goes to Ibiza” and his cropped pants were unattractive, looking as if a third grader threw paint on them.

And while I didn’t have a problem with Alex’s design and thought it was quite sexy, the judges said that it had some odd construction issues and looking sexy might not be a good “everyday working woman” ensemble. Alex’s strapless dress would have looked fab on the dinner hostess of Nobu in Manhattan at 7 pm, but not showing up as Marie Claire’s accessories editor at 10 am. As a result, Team Unity ended up on the bottom with Alex becoming the least valuable player after much team deliberation. He didn’t go home for a bad creation but for just being too evening. It was a welcome change to actually see both teams work so well together with no infighting or jockeying for power. I give Alex a bow for his lovely and classy goodbye and for going home with his integrity, as he said. Yes, Alex. You did.

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