After last week’s Runway of Tears, it is a scientific fact that the designers (and myself, but this isn’t really about me) are in dire need of a strong drink. You have to replenish what you’ve drained! As a C-average student in high school biology, I know these things. And so do the “Runway” gods, because we begin the episode in media res, at a press party held at the Absolut Elyx House. You know, I always thought of this show as an epic poem wherein Heidi is both our muse and narrator, and this is just the setting for the bacchanal to prove my point.
But no, actually. It may look like a party, smell like a party, and taste like a party, but it’s actually the beginning of the next challenge!
The designers are ripped away from enjoying their newfound media attention to learn that they must use the Absolut Elyx House as inspiration for a cocktail dress. They each have a whopping $300 to spend at Mood but one measly day to create their looks. The fashion gods giveth and the fashion gods taketh away.
Things to note about this space: It’s gorgeous. The color palette is rich with coppers and golds and warm browns. Jonas Tahlin, the CEO of Absolut Elyx, explains to the designers that the signature drinking vessel they are all sipping from is the “Elyx Copper Pineapple,” a nod to the copper still in which their luxury vodka is handmade.
After sketching on-site, the designers ride their inspiration highs all the way home and into the next morning, when they reconvene at Mood. Tasha, whose girl “doesn’t go to cocktail parties,” makes some interesting choices in fabric. Her colors are nothing we saw at the party and feel like they should be part of a different challenge. Nathalia spends the majority of her budget on a sheer, blush-pink beaded fabric she has had her eye on for some time. Erin gets her hands on some brown ostrich feathers, Dexter is having another fringe moment, and Laurence goes for leather (shocker).
Cornelius – who, by the way, has chosen to repeat a fabric choice from an earlier challenge – questions Nathalia’s choice of textile: “Is it you?” While it seems kind of shady or maybe like he’s playing mind games, I believe that Cornelius is looking out for Nathalia’s best interests. And to be fair to him, this is an unexpected choice for someone who usually reaches for neon.
During Tim’s critiques the standouts are few and far between. Rik is using the leather bartender aprons as inspiration to make, well, a leather apron that is also a dress. Tim appreciates that the look has a clear point of view and encourages Rik to keep it simple and beautifully made. Dexter’s chocolate brown fringe piques Tim’s interest and he runs over to Erin to celebrate the good news. (This is the beginning of an interesting thread throughout this episode wherein the two besties celebrate themselves, undeservedly.)
Meanwhile, Jenni is adding an appliqué to her textile, creating a strikingly similar effect to the one that Erin created on their shared bright yellow coat last week. Everyone notices, but no one really says anything (to Jenni’s face, anyway). Tim likes the look, calling it “compelling.” Who is petty in this situation? Is it the designer who steals the technique or the one who quietly seethes about it until she gets her moment to make a snarky comment? Okay, I think I answered my own question, carry on!
Tim advises that Mah-Jing, Tasha, Roberi, Cornelius, and Nathalia make drastic changes to their garments. Most of them start over entirely as a result of their critiques, which means they lose the entire day so far. In Cornelius’ words, “fudge muffins.”
In the period of readjustment, Tasha is a mess. She can’t find a happy space between the streetwear that she’s comfortable with and the cocktail attire required of the challenge. Cornelius, Roberi, and Mah-Jing manage to redesign their looks into something much less offensive. None of them are moving the needle, so to speak, but they’re all doing enough. Nathalia, who also scrapped her look, borrows some fabric from an exceptionally kind and giving Jenni and transforms the effect of her sheer fabric. She thinks this might be what saves her.
Side note: Jenni also offers some fabric to a struggling Tasha. Kindness in the workroom really warms my heart!
On the day of the runway the designers add finishing touches. No one is completely pressed for time, but they’re all feeling the pressure. Sometimes when they’re given a simple, straightforward challenge, the stress of trying to stand out overwhelms the designers and they become their own worst enemies. That being said, it’s no surprise how the ostrich plumage shook out on the runway.
Dressed in a baby blue velvet suit, Heidi introduces Zac, Nina, and actress/model Emily Ratajkowski. Tim sits nearby, clutching his Save.
Before we get to the top and bottom looks it should be noted that Dexter, though safe, is given a dressing down by the judges for his bodycon dress with fringe detailing. They admonish him for resting on his laurels and warn that the imagination factor needs to be kicked up moving forward. I really like Dexter and most of the things he does, so this particular moment doesn’t give me those schadenfreude tinglies, but I do think he needed this. Dexter and Erin spent this challenge overly confident and a good hip-check from the judges may be what helps them stay in the game longer.
Rik: Taking his inspiration from the bartenders’ aprons, Rik has made a burnt orange leather halter A-line dress with an open back, structural lines, and strong buttons that look like hardware. The judges like that the vibe of the dress is not for every woman but has a defined point of view nonetheless.
Laurence: At the Absolut Elyx House, Laurence sat on a Chesterfield leather couch to sketch, which ultimately provided the inspiration for her little black dress cocktail look. It has the strong shoulders we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Laurence, with black leather detail work at the top that mimics the couch. The rest of the dress is in black heavy silk and is finished very cleanly. Finally, Laurence has left the back of the dress open as a sexy breath of fresh air. Heidi loves the play on hard and soft and Nina calls it the Bentley of little black dresses. Emily loves it as well but does mention that black is an obvious choice for the traditional cocktail dress.
Jenni, the winner: After realizing that the Absolut Elyx House reminded her of a speakeasy, Jenni created a roaring 20s look for the modern woman. It’s a tan, mid-thigh length, easy slipover dress with a plunging neckline and attached choker. Jenni has applied an appliqué technique she may or may not have learned from Erin throughout the dress, adding an element of gold sparkle. Heidi and Zac say that she had guessed this look was Erin’s, due to the “bedazzling,” pointing out that Jenni may have copied Erin intentionally. Nina comes to Jenni’s defense and explains that designers inspiring each other is “a good thing.” The judges all agree that the look is feminine, flattering, and photogenic.
Nathalia: Drawing inspiration from the chandeliers in the Absolut Elyx House, it’s a dark pink bustier and pencil skirt with an exposed midriff. Over top Nathalia has sewn her sheer, sparkly, beaded fabric. The sheer fabric also covers the bare midriff and is not fitted, so it hangs a bit at the waist. Heidi and Nina dislike it, calling it a “teen prom dress from the mall” and noting that “it doesn’t look expensive at all.” Nathalia’s finishing on the garment leaves a lot to be desired, but Emily and Zac both like that she’s taken a risk with a different take on the cocktail dress. Personally, I can’t really see past the bad sewing to get a clear picture of what this look is trying to be, exactly.
Tasha, the loser: Explaining that the woman she designs for wouldn’t wear glitz or glamour, Tasha has created a simple dark denim tube dress. To “make it cocktail,” Tasha tied a sparkly sash around the waist of her model. It’s nothing special and it’s not particularly well-made. Zac calls it “el cheap-o,” and Emily points out that the styling was obviously done in an effort to fit the challenge.
Erin: Inspired by the copper-themed House and its flamingo-themed restroom, Erin’s look is an over-the-top, tight, mid-thigh-length copper brocade dress with similarly colored ostrich feathers at the sleeves and an open back. Heidi calls it a costume and questions Erin’s choice of styling – unpolished frizzy hair and black shoes with tassels. I feel like in the context of the space, this look wouldn’t necessarily have been so out of place. But on the runway with the much more subtle interpretations of the challenge, the feathers looked, well, crazy. Hopefully, the judges’ comments will help Erin re-calculate before the next challenge.
While the judges deliberate, there is a terse exchange between the contestants in the lounge when Jenni and Erin mention the judges’ comments about the similarities between their looks. Nathalia speaks up and shuts it down: “Erin is not the only person that has ever embellished something!”
Jenni takes a well-deserved win and Tasha leaves the competition $5,000 richer and with a new friend in Mah-Jing. I think she’s a talented designer but her point of view is so specific that it doesn’t fit all challenges. In any case, I see nothing but great things in Tasha’s future.
Friendly reminder: I co-host a podcast about “Runway!” No pressure, but you can listen here on the myLifetime.com or in your iTunes feed. You can expect new episodes on Fridays. Not to brag, but you won’t be disappointed.