Althea Harper Blog

Lucky 13

By laurareineke 10/11/2013 04:05AM GMT

Lucky 13. It has come to the thirteenth week of Season 12, and five designers are still eligible for the win. Dom and Bradon are in. As last week's top two, they are in the catbird seats. Helen, Alexandria, and Justin are still to fight for the remaining slot at Fashion Week. Each is given $9000 to spend and six weeks to create, along with a never-before-seen twist: One look must be made of unconventional materials. Alexandria starts to break down at Tim's send off. At this stage the designers are just worn out, add to that the further pressure for Helen, Alexandria, and Justin to come up with a collection to go on to the next round.

On to what I know is for many their favorite episode: The Tim home visits!

First up is Dom. She meets Tim at the Philadelphia restaurant where she works. Her lovely mother, brother, and boyfriend have lunch, and then she and Tim head off to see her work space. It reminds me somewhat of the space I had in Dayton. Large, open, windows, industrial. She's doing prints inspired by the movie Blade Runner. Her unconventional material look is made out of door braces. While Tim likes her direction, she only has 3 1/2 of her 10 looks done. She's in bad shape. I would certainly hate to think that she waited for Tim to come in and give her direction.

Next Tim's off to LA, and Bradon's collection. His inspiration is spring time, being from up state NY he recalls flowers blooming while snow still blanketed the ground. For him it's the clash of nature. He has 4 looks left to do, he seems in fine fettle. But then the unconventional materials outfit comes out. Made of clothes line and painters plastic, Tim thinks it's heavy looking, and a drag on Bradon's mostly light, airy pieces. Well truth be told, Bradon is in good shape. Then it's a walk on the beach with his fiance and their very cute dog.

While in Cali, Tim heads off to San Mateo to check in with Alexandria. She has focused on "edgy, strong, and modern," which is somewhat of a mantra for her. The title is "Neo Nomadic Punk." As she leads Tim into her work space, she states "here's where the magic happens" -- anyone else cringe and think of an episode of MTV's "Cribs"? Alexandria has produced 30 pieces, and for her unconventional material she has chosen phone books. Now it could be me, but was Tim's reaction to the kids at Camp Couture helping Alexandria on the garment edited? In the rules you are allowed some help, but not much (recall Jeffery Sebelia). Off to Camp Couture, and Tim marvels at the dolls the children have made representing the contestants on the show, and I do have to say the Sandro doll, Susan doll, Timothy doll (funny how even Alexandria couldn't remember his name), and the Miranda doll were just as Tim said, "Spot on." Alexandria is ready.

It's off to Union City, New Jersey, and Helen. Tim looks at Helen's progress and is concerned. While she is moving along, what she has are simple dresses and capes that look very, very similar to what Helen has made this whole season. (I have been saying all along that Helen strikes me as an impostor in a designer's shoes and this is not helping my confidence.) Tim questions the excitement factor, especially when you send looks down the runway that seem exactly like the looks you made in one day months before. Some shower mats are stacked and ready for the unconventional challenge dress. I say it is foreshadowing a poor final crit. But then of course the judges could have a completely different script from Tim. Then there is a nice lunch at Helen's parents house with her family and boyfriend, and they get to talk about Helen's favorite subject, Helen.

Finally it's down the East Coast to beautiful Raleigh, North Carolina, and Justin. Sound waves are his inspiration. Tim visits Justin's workplace and marvels at the machine that will make Justin's prints (it's a print season, even Helen is doing them) being made at State. Justin has some work to do, but things are moving along nicely, and overall he's in a good place. Justin's unconventional material? Test tubes, gotta love the 'outside the box' thought process there, I'm interested to see his collection. Lunch with his delightful family. Interesting to know that Justin started in architecture, and his sister will wear only the occasional garment from Justin.

Back in NYC, and it's the stink-eye as designers start to look around the room at the others as they unpack their creations.

Wait, what? A Tide challenge? It's all a bit surreal here as the workroom is given its traditional "final" challenge. But only for the chosen. First, heads must roll -- one of the three contenders to the finals must be axed. One must go. Why not two? I mean it's not like the forth place gets to be a decoy. 70% of the contestants get to be decoys. Is it because they want to have another week to get rid of someone?

One thing the designers do have is time. They certainly have time to walk around to critique each others looks.

Oh, well, runway time for those on the chopping block. Each of the three on the bubble have picked three outfits to give the judges an idea of their collection. A rather beat up Tim Gunn has his final check-in. Alexandria is seen by everyone as having three pieces too similar. Tim essentially gives her the green light to do as she pleases. Tim likes Justin's looks, but worries about Justin's construction. Helen is quick to point out Justin's lack of construction skills, which I find highly annoying.

Tim sees Helen next, and she is blasted by the same critique she got in NJ: poor sewing, poor choices of which garments to show. It's a bad crit. Helen again shows her immaturity by not defending the time she put into her work rather than the work itself. Let me tell you, you can spend a lot of time digging a ditch, and in the end it is still a ditch. She whines and pleads, but no rewards. Helen has just proved the old "Peter Principal" theory by reaching the level of her own incompetence. She is outclassed by all those around her. That 6 weeks she wanted to "blow the judges out of the water" just pointed out her deficiency as a true designer. Again, I believe, she came to this show too soon.

It comes down to last minute before the runway showdown, and it's interesting to see Dom help Helen finish up, Bradon help Justin with a few final stitches, and Alexandria organizing her looks alone.

Runway shoot out:
First up is Alexandria. Her first look is not a wow moment for me, the top is not very exciting, but it's honest. She seemed to pick not the most stunning, but the most representative of her work. You understand her when she says those three represent a nonchalant downtown vibe. I like her look, it is all about the detail, a very subtle style. I like it, but will it stand up to Helen, and even Justin's more boisterous looks?

Helen is next. she sends down three similar looks that I find ill-fitting, way too simple, and poorly constructed. If it looks this awkward on the small screen, my Lord, what does it look like in person? It lacks imagination, fit, maturity. I do feel somewhat for her. But, hey they built the monster.

Justin sends down three nice pieces including his unconventional materials piece. A brave move as his looks are the most encompassing and ambitious of the three. He walks a skirt, a pants suit, and a gown. Well played sir.

Justin is the first to be criticized, more for his styling than his designs, a good sign. Alexandria, the IKEA of fashion, points to her hooks and stylized features. She's praised by Zak and Heidi, but Nina blasts her, surprising from her I thought. In the waiting room Alexandria pointed out Nina's harsh criticism with "Missed that one." Again, I love the Nordic understatement.

Helen is just shot down, while her "concept" of minimalism is praised (I agree) but her vision, and execution are heavily critiqued. While the time in front of the judges on TV is mere seconds, it can be hours, especially at this stage. She is left to stammering, monosyllabic utterances, "modern," "good," worked hard," and finally "rough." I'm thinking this is Helen's "deer in the headlights" look. Not good.

First to be saved is Justin. It is down to Alexandria and Helen. For me an easy choice. Alexandria has consistently produced more adventurous looks than either Justin or Helen. And Alexandria it is. Helen was just not ready. So with Justin, a controversial choice, and Alexandria, an equally controversial choice, we're off to the finals.

So did the judges make the right choice? Was Helen the weak link?