Season 15, Episode 6 Recap: Unhappy Hour

“Project Runway” loves a party. But as we’ve learned time and time again, a party on “Project Runway” is never truly a party. This season, in fact, began with a soiree welcoming the new designers, but as they quickly found out, the party was anything but a celebration and instead, the source of their first unconventional materials challenge. This week’s episode began yet again with a festive event, but quickly the designers’ happy hour turned to work hour when they were tasked with creating a cocktail look inspired by their surroundings. Grab your favorite drink kids, cause it’s the cocktail dress challenge recap.

The episode begins with a press party at Absolut Elyx House, a well-appointed apartment/events space in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Heidi, Nina and Zac are there along with bloggers interviewing them. Soon enough, Tim Gunn arrives with the designers in tow. As they are all enjoying their Elyx pineapple copper-mug’ed Absolut drinks, all I can think of is that they shouldn’t get too liquored up since… there’s no such thing as a “party” on “Project Runway.”

Jonas Tahlin, CEO of Absolut Elyx, makes a toast explaining the provenance of that odd copper pineapple drinking mug. After one minute of Googling, I also find two more interesting facts he forgets to mention: Tahlin actually lives there in the Alsolut Elyx House and even more curious, its previous owner was none other than Mickey Rourke! Talk amongst yourselves.

Heidi announces that “this is not just a cocktail party” (Hello!), and that the magnificent Absolut Elyx House is the inspiration of their challenge: to create a luxurious cocktail dress. Following sketching time, they all head back to their un-magnificent apartments to get some rest. The following day, it’s Mood shopping with a whopping $300 budget and then back to the workroom for cocktail dress making time.

Tim checks in. Let’s start with the good: Rik is stirred by the leather apron-wearing waitstaff at the party and doing a dress using burnt orange colored leather. I think it’s a cool inspiration. Jenni is thinking of a 1920s speakeasy, creating a copper-colored shift dress and using sequined details. The appliqués are very similar to what Erin did last week and as we learn, everyone is noticing the similarities. As a sidebar, it is totally normal to get “inspired” by other designers creating in the same workroom. Your eyes wander and unconsciously (or consciously), design commonalities occur. Does this make it okay, however? With all that said, her design could end up cocktail cute. Leather jacket extraordinaire Laurence is inspired by a leather (naturally!) Chesterfield sofa at the party. She uses that distinctive deep-buttoned quilted detail to accent her design. Tim says it’s “spectacular” and honey, I second, third and fourth that!

And now for the rest: Erin loved the flamingos in the Elyx House bathrooms, and is making a dress using brocade and feathers. Personally I think it looks like a messy combination, but because her creations have been so good thus far, I’m giving Erin the benefit of the design doubt. Dexter is using a chocolate brown fabrication as well as fringe. Tim warns him of a Wild West/Cher moment but concedes that he is “excited.” I’m not so sure. Both Erin and Dexter are very self-assured and giving each other high-fives for how fab they think their looks are. I’m having this distinct feeling that they might be in the bottom, call it I’ve-been-watching-this-show-for-a-long-time intuition.

Mah-Jing tells Tim that his inspiration is the pineapple-shaped mugs and “drizzle down sweat technique.” PS: It’s called CONDENSATION! What we see on the dress form is more emblematic of dripping blood as opposed to a dripping dirty martini. Seriously, I want to ask him, “What the heck is that?!”

The rest of the designers aren’t looking so good either. Tim calls Roberi’s design “Missoni meets Navajo blanket.” (Yikes!). He tells Nathalia that her sequined creation looks like a figure skating costume (Yep!), and pointedly asks Cornelius if we haven’t already seen this houndstooth look from him in a previous challenge? (Yep, part 2). Finally, Tasha’s flower print and denim pouf dress is anything but cocktaily, unless having mimosas at 11 am at your local Denny’s counts as that. Tasha kept talking about how it was “not her” to do evening since she’s a “streetwear” designer.  Sorry Tasha, but that’s a whole load of you-know-what! Why can’t you make a luxe hoodie and jogger pants with luxurious detailing? I was glad when Tim told her to “not push street into cocktail but rather, push cocktail to street.” Yaaaas, Queen Tim! And stop with the “I don’t do cocktail” excuses.

As Tim waves adios to the designers, he concedes his unhappiness with 50 percent of the group. I’m at a loss at how these designers had little-to-no understanding of what a cocktail dress is. Soon enough, Nathalia, Mah-Jing, Roberi, and Tasha take Tim’s advice and scrap their creations to start anew. It’s going to take an act of the Gods of Dior to have them pull something off. We’ll see.

Runway day and guest judge is actress/model Emily Ratajkowski. Incidentally, last month Tim Gunn had not-so-nice words about a very reveling dress she wore to a NY Fashion Week part,y and let’s just say Ratajkowski wasn’t happy. I’m guessing this judging day was filmed way before then. Moving on… Let’s see what happened to the cocktail hour creations on the runway.

Overall I have to say that I fully agreed with Zac when he said that the runway was disappointing, chastising the designers for their lack of imagination. I love to design cocktail dresses and gowns so, of course I was looking forward to what they would create. It was a letdown. There were really only three great designs this week and I give that to Laurence, Rik and Jenni, in that order. Laurence’s was the ultimate LBD, super elegant and luxe. Her quilted shoulder leather treatment was stupendous. I also liked Rik’s leather apron dress. It was definitely something that would get you on the VIP list of any hot Manhattan club. Jenni’s was my third favorite. I liked the shift silhouette, and although her sequin appliqué was VERY Erin, it did make an impact and sealed the “cocktail” in cocktail dress. Should it have won? Not if I was a judge. I was shocked Laurence didn’t get this. Not sure how many Absolut cocktails the judges were drinking.

And now, the bottom. There were so many fails, it was difficult where to begin. Cornelius, Mah-Jing, Roberi, Nathalia, Dexter, Erin,Tasha… That’s SEVEN out of 11 designers! Cornelius’ was cute, but not “luxurious” cocktail hour. It was more like “afternoon wedding guest at the Hamptons.” Mah-Jing’s red dress was an improvement from his dripping blood design, but it was prom and pageant-tastic. Roberi’s was a snooze fest. Nathalia tried to rework her “holiday on ice” sequined creation and ended up with an odd blouson front, open back, strapless, pencil skirt mess. Of Dexter’s design, Heidi was correct: it was hoochie mama.

Erin’s feathered and brocade dress was a big miss. Zac called it “Priscilla Queen of the Swamp” and Nina said it looked like a “Lion King” costume. While that might have been a bit harsh, I just thought it looked 90s dated, too tight and not right for a fashion-savvy gal of 2016.  In the end, there was really no competition for the worst, the minute Tasha’s look came down the runway. There was no design imagination, innovation or cocktail dress luxuriousness. It looked like a dress one finds in a second-hand thrift store for $5.99 and then ties a $.99 cent scarf around the waist. While Erin’s and Nathalia’s designs might have been too much, there was nothing to Tasha’s creation. As I’ve said before, no design will always be sent home before overdesign and therefore, it was time for Tasha to leave the party.

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