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Season 13, Episode 9: American Girl Doll

Posted By laurareineke 4:04am GMT

The designers herd into the American Girl Place store in New York City and my ears immediately perk up. Like many late-'80s babies, I was SUPER into American Girl during my childhood. I had one of the make-your-own dolls who I named Tina and who I outfitted with random accessories from all the other characters' period-specific ensembles: Samantha's 1920s four-poster bed, Molly's '40s clothes, Felicity's horse ("Tina loves riding," my 8-year-old self reasoned), Kirstin's wash basin ("Tina loves to be clean"), and Addy's lunch pail ("Tina loves snacks"). My Tina was all over the place, aesthetically and conceptually. I loved her.

This is a long way of saying that I am very invested in this challenge.

Challenge: Paired with an American Girl Beforever character and model, the designers must incorporate the character's time period, style, and story into a modern and fashionable look for a young girl.

Parameters: American Girl is providing some fabrics that the designers are welcome to use if they want. $150 budget at Mood. One day to work.

Designing for children presents unique hurdles, especially in terms of proportion, but in some ways it's easier: There are fewer curves to tailor around, for example. Over lunch some of the designers compare their experience in this area and Emily, who has her own kids' line, seems to have an advantage. Tim's walkaround finds a lot of the designers in brow-furrowing moods over the direction for their looks. He's not at all excited about Char's plan to add fringe to her vest (neither does Sean, who won a challenge just a few weeks ago thanks to fringe), and he thinks Alexander might not be taking his look any further than Kids 'R Us standards. He also admits to Sandhya that he's not sure he can be of much help to her because he doesn't fundamentally understand a lot of her color relationships and choices. Since Sandhya usually just does whatever she wants, and since the judges have so far loved most of her work, there's little he can add to the conversation about it.

There's no drama with the models because they're very small and sweet, but Korina has to hustle a bit at the end to finish up her multicolored skirt panels. Let's move on to the runway. Our guest judges are "Mad Men" actress Elisabeth Moss and American Girl's senior design manager Heather Northrop. Away we go:

Kini - This one delights the judges. Heather likes that it connects to the character and she's complimentary of the mismatching plaids Kini chose. Elisabeth loves the cutouts. Zac thinks it's aspirational: "This is every young girl's dream." Kini gets the win, and this week he doesn't have to share it with anyone! Way to go, Kini.

Korina - This look read VERY "Jessie from 'Toy Story'" to me, but the judges are diggin' it, especially the graphic elements in the skirt and the smart pops of yellow underneath that are meant to reference the flower Josefina (the doll) wears in remembrance of her mother. Korina's safe.

Char - "If I saw Faith on the street, I would ask her where she got this," Elisabeth says. Nina thinks this is one of the most updated looks to walk the runway this week, but that unlike some of the others it still looks age-appropriate AND fun. "Easy" and "happy" are other adjectives thrown around. Char is safe.

Sean - Sean turns bright red when Heidi points out that the peace sign on the back of his vest is missing a leg. The panel doesn't hate this look, but their criticisms boil down to how thoroughly safe it is. Elisabeth would've liked to see a more interesting color, and Heather says that given how popular bohemian-esque style is with tweens these days, Sean could have had a lot more fun with the silhouette -- he probably should have used the fabric provided by American Girl instead of choosing his own. Our usual judges clearly like Sean so he's in no danger of getting the boot, but their pointed stares make it clear they expect more from him next week.

Emily - Heidi is on the fence: She thinks the iridescent ruffles look a little drab. Heather agrees and says the silhouette is too frumpy. Nina hops on board that train of thought and offers that for a tween, Emily's color choices seem sad. Lots of sad trombone sound effects, basically. Nina gets real cranky about this one, but the rest of the judges see enough good here to keep Emily around. She's safe.

Sandhya - The judges like this look...for a one-year-old. Nina says she feels like Sandhya was working off an entirely different challenge and that she should have designed something more age-appropriate. Zac agrees with Sandhya that kids should be kids, but that there's no avoiding the "circus flamingo" vibe this look gives off. The back-and-forth here is that the judges don't think a 9-year-old would want to wear this, ever, and Sandhya politely but firmly disagrees. She's out.

I found it interesting, though not unsurprising, that for this kids-based challenge the judges chose Kini's nice but very adult-seeming garment for the win instead of something like Char's, which was more playful and age appropriate. Also, as much as I've been a defender of Sandhya's work this season, I admit she was totally off the mark this week. Still though, sending her home instead of Emily felt a little...abrupt. What did you think? Could you see any of the young girls in your life wearing these clothes? Did Sandhya deserve the auf more than Emily? Did you have an American Girl doll? If so, please describe her for me in detail, and let me know what else you thought of this episode in the comments.


Season 13, Episode 8: The Rainway

Posted By laurareineke 4:55am GMT

After eons of evening wear, we're finally moving on to something a little different. Heidi and Tim, flanked by two of the new curved televisions from Samsung, are tickled to inform the designers that this will be an avant-garde challenge -- and that it'll have a major twist.

Challenge: Create an avant-garde look that is as innovative as the Samsung Curved Ultra HD TV that should inspire it and that, like the TV, is "a 'wow' from every angle." It should also push the boundaries of design, like the television. The looks will be modeled on a specialized rainy runway, so they must also be waterproof.

Parameters: $300 budget, two whole days to work (hallelujah). The designers will be given additional heavy-duty materials to elevate their designs. Korina has immunity.

The designers seem more excited than scared of the added rain element in this challenge, except Fade, who is uninspired. He struggles to come up with some flavor of unexpected design, but nothing's really gelling; everyone on "Runway" has their off days, and this is definitely Fade's, poor guy. Sandhya wants to build something based on the visual of the old colorful television test patterns. Emily is thinking "raincoat catsuit," which doesn't thrill me. When he does his walkthrough, Tim praises Kini's umbrella-esque design and steers him away from over-embellishing. Sean's got a boatload of boring white fabric but explains to Tim that he's going to sew in satchels of dye that will activate on the rainway to change the whole look of the garment. Pause for a slow clap, because that's the best idea I've heard all season. Amanda's garment is allegedly based on heiroglyphics and eyes, but Tim sees vagina imagery and I see an elegant bug lady at fancy bug ball. Korina's combining a lot of elements that look stellar in her sketch; that her final design barely resembles this early idea is a huge bummer.

Meanwhile, Fade isn't doing great. He gets the chance to call home along with Emily and Sandhya, but his call is distinctly more fraught than the others. He can barely get words out around his tears. I'm upset about this! Fade has been low-key all season, slow and steady and turning out interesting, consistent work, and it's no fun at all when his breed of reliable competitor gets unexpectedly emotional.

Let's move on to the rainway! Our guest judge is "Masters of Sex" actress Caitlin Fitzgerald.

Top Three
Sean - Sean's idea to use the rain to transform his look on the runway paid off in spades, and the judges are LOVING it. Nina is very excited about the waterproof crinoline Sean incorporated underneath the dyed layer. Zac admits he thought the color changing might be too gimmicky, but that seeing it in action convinced him otherwise. The chance that the coloring might have totally failed in execution also appeals to the judges; they love a risk. (No one points out that the design of the dress itself is not that interesting. Oh well.) Sean gets one half of a shared win.

Kini - The judges love that Kini heard "rain" and went with "umbrella." Heidi calls it avant garde, Caitlin calls it dominatrix, and both are intended as major compliments. Zac is VERY effusive with his praise: "You are so talented. You have such a skillful hand. You have great technique. It's a combination of Michelle Harper, a little McQueen in there -- it was so impactful when it came out. [...] You brought it today. Big time." You know how cartoon characters are given bulging heart eyes to show how head-over-heels they are? That was Zac's reaction to this look. Absolute hearteyes. Kini is awarded the other half of the shared win.

Sandhya - One of those instances in which I can't tell if the judges are responding to the look or to how easily the designer's unique personal aesthetic shines through in it. This look is VERY Sandhya. Nina thinks it's also very close to being too circus-y, but the whimsy of it seems to be enough to put Sandhya in the top. She's safe.

Bottom Three
Korina - She explains that her inspiration was the mythological thunderbird whose powerful wings create thunder but the judges don't feel the look is very powerful at all. Nina thinks it had potential, but seems unfinished, a sentiment echoed by the rest of the panel. The black dress is too random, the sort of harness-y over-layer too flimsy. Not great, but Korina's got immunity, so she's safe.

Emily - Emily tried for armor but didn't totally succeed. This look got some of the same criticisms Korina's did: Too flimsy, too derivative, too little cohesion. Nina says it's dated, and she and Zac both call it cliche. Not Emily's best moment, but she's safe.

Fade - "Putting a play button on your dress doesn't necessarily make it look modern or tech-y. It makes it look gimmicky." That quote from Nina really sums this one up. Caitlin says she misses the relationship with the rain that the other looks had. This one bores them, so Fade is out.

Onward we march, one less designer in tow. I'll miss Fade, but Sean and Kini really kicked it up a notch this week and I'm excited to see where they go from here. How did you feel about the challenge and their shared win? Do you think immunity was the only thing saving Korina from the auf? If you could design your own element-based runway, what would you choose? (I think I'd do a whole obstacle course. Why not get weird, right?) Let me know in the comments.


Season 13, Episode 7: Priceless Runway

Posted By laurareineke 4:55am GMT

After mourning Char's elimination, the designers head to the runway, where they're greeted by Tim and Chopard co-president/artistic director Caroline Scheufele. The pair introduce the designers to an array of outlandishly expensive jewelry -- necklaces, rings, earrings, a watch -- on which their next challenge is based.

Challenge: Create an extravagant eveningwear look that is inspired by, and also complements, one or more pieces of Chopard jewelry. The models will wear the jewelry on the runway.

Parameters: One day, $250 budget. Designers will choose the jewelry in a button-bag-determined order. Sean has immunity.

Remember my prediction that Tim would end up using his Tim Gunn Save on Fade? Yeah, just kidding about that. After a few hours of introspection following the previous elimination, Tim decides he wants to bring Char back from the "Runway" grave. The other designers welcome her back with open arms until they realize, oops, this means there are no Tim Gunn Saves left to save them down the line. Too real.

After downshifting from Designer-Saver Mode, Tim goes into Chaperone Mode to take the designers on a field trip to the Charles James exhibition at the Met. The exhibition showcases the legendary couturier's intricate, extravagant gowns and gives visitors an understanding of how those gowns were constructed from the inside out, which seems to drum up a lot of ideas for our designers.

There's a lot less interpersonal drama this week and a lot more design-related problems, which is a nice change. For once Kini's construction doesn't come off without a hitch; he struggles with the neoprene fabric he chose, for some reason, to use. Tim suggests to Amanda that she alter her style lines to look less harlequin, and he suggests to Char that she stay away from anything too prim and bridal. "Charketa, you have to promise me you're gonna get through this challenge," he says pointedly. Tim made an investment and he wants to see some return! The seaming on Korina's coat comes under fire -- it's off by about half an inch, doesn't look great -- so she has to reevaluate. Sean contemplates adding shoulder pads to the hips underneath his dress? For some reason? He changes his mind, thank goodness. Meanwhile, Tim calls out Samantha's boring design (so does Amanda: "Samantha's dress is an elegant snoozefest," she says), but Samantha just seems pleased she's able to make eveningwear in the first place. She admits that her background in streetwear separates is impeding her a bit here.

Let's go to the runwaaaay:

Let's go to the runwaaaay:

Korina - The panel is enamored of this look, head to toe. Zac calls it "Deeda Blair meets Dracula" and tells Korina it's her best work so far. The contrast of the dark, glittery necklace on the dark fabric is a selling point, as is the strength of the dress even without the coat on over top of it. There's a transporting quality to the garment: The judges feel moved and inspired just looking at it. Korina gets her first win of the season.

Sean - Sean says this is meant for a young royal, and the judges agree that it's appropriately elegant. Nina's into the color and the luxe velvet accents. Heidi and Zac are impressed by how nicely the dress balances out what could easily be an overwhelming amount of jewelry. Caroline says this is the kind of look Chopard would be eager to feature on the cover of their catalogue.

Amanda - It should probably not be a surprise that the judges are into this jumpsuit look (they've been into Amanda's stuff all season), but...I'm kinda surprised, especially considering it's sort of a redo of a look she sent down the runway earlier this season. Zac is the only one to voice his concern that it would wind up on a Worst Dressed list. The compliments are on the tepid side, but Amanda's in.

Kini - This one gets mixed reviews. The panel likes the incorporation of sheer fabric, Heidi compliments the movement, Nina likes the styling. But no one understands why the breast cups are so ill-fitting. Actually, that's not true. They understand why -- it's the fault of the neoprene fabric -- but it seems uncharacteristic of Kini to create something with less than impeccable construction. He's safe.

Alexander - Zac immediately points out that he can't see the jewelry because it's hidden underneath the gown's neckline. That's strike one. Strikes two and three are the fabric choice ("tortured") and the silhouette ("Princess Grace stuck in the spin cycle of the washing machine"). But it's visually interesting, and Alexander's done good work in the past, so he's safe.

Samantha - The critique lacks substance because the judges feel the dress lacks substance. Heidi bemoans the utter lack of interest in the look, while Nina calls it a dress for a star's assistant, not a star. "This is like the white t-shirt of long dresses," she sighs. The lack of compelling Design-with-a-capital-D lands Samantha on the chopping block and eventually knocks her out entirely. Being boring at this point in the game is the worst offense.

We're down to nine designers, one more challenge with immunity on the table, and no more Tim Gunn Saves. Do you think any designers will start to pull ahead as the work gets tougher and the field narrower? Who are you rallying behind at this point in the competition? And if you got your pick of all those Chopard gems, which would you wear? (I want that watch, to be honest.) Let me know in the comments!


RIP Joan Rivers

Posted By kim_messina 5:07pm GMT

Heaven just got funnier. Legendary comedienne Joan Rivers passed away this afternoon due to complications from throat surgery. Her daughter, Melissa Rivers, said in a statement: "It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother. She passed peacefully at 1:17 p.m. surrounded by family and close friends. My son and I would like to thank the doctors, nurses, and staff of Mount Sinai Hospital for the amazing care they provided for my mother."

The statement further read: "Cooper and I have found ourselves humbled by the outpouring of love, support, and prayers we have received from around the world. They have been heard and appreciated. My mother's greatest joy in life was to make people laugh. Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon."

On Season 11, Episode 6, "Senior Fling," Joan's classic fashion critiques had us cracking up. Take a look:

Watch Joan's full episode here.

Our thoughts are with Joan's family—she will be missed. Leave your condolences below.


Season 13, Episode 6: It's a Nice Day for a Rock Wedding

Posted By laurareineke 4:10am GMT

The designers are wrangled to Webster Hall in Manhattan, which is set up for what appears to be a low-key wedding. Tim walks down the makeshift aisle with famed burlesque performer, lingerie designer, and next-level class act Dita Von Teese to introduce the designers' next task.

Challenge: Create an alternative wedding dress and a corresponding dress for the reception.

Parameters: The designers will work in pairs determined by the button bag (throw air quotes around that because at least one of these pairings seems deliberately arranged for maximum drama): Kini and Sean, Fade and Emily, Char and Sandhya, and Korina and Amanda (ahem). Budget of $400, one day to work. Sean has immunity.

Feels appropriate to make designers pair up for a wedding-related challenge, no? All that wedding talk about patience and compromise applies here, too. At Mood, some questionable choices are made: Samantha and Alexander grab oxblood lace and creamy-colored appliqué, while Sandhya pushes Char toward a highlighter-bright citron chartreuse-y shade. Tim's critiques are...not thrilling, but not utterly disastrous, either. Unlike last week, the designers are sticking to the plans they've made. Sean and Korina struggle to complete parts of their looks, but Amanda and Kini step in to shoulder the burden. Sandhya's dress looks like an actual half-eaten ear of corn but Char keeps her head down and focuses on her own look.

Amanda seems to be getting some hate from her fellow designers for winning so many challenges and absorbing the judges' attention and other nitpicky things, and the "seems to be" is key here because we don't actually see these confrontations (with Char and Korina, apparently), but rather Amanda's reaction to them. I am bored by all of it, so let's move on to the runway, where our guest judges are Ms. Von Teese and Italian style blogger Chiara Ferragni. (I'm still trying to figure out if the very particular "uh" sound she makes at the end of words is affectation or not. I can't lie to you, I found it kind of delightful.) Korina and Amanda are safe, which is surprising given how hard the editors were pushing their struggle on us this week, but not so surprising given their perfectly adequate final product. Sigh of relief for them!

Kini and Sean - Zac calls them the Dream Team. Nina likes the play on masculine and feminine that the looks offer. She thinks the skirt of Kini's garment is slightly too flamenco, and heavy-looking at that. Heidi and Zac don't see any problem with it. Dita says she'd wear both outfits. There's no question that Kini and Sean are the top team but there's some back-and-forth regarding which of the them deserves the win more. Sean gets it. Which is fine? I guess? Even though it seemed like Kini handled more of the work and is also overdue for a win? I'm not sure I really understand where that decision came from. Kini doesn't either: "I was robbed," he shrugs.

Emily and Fade - Emily describes their bride as an "introverted, artistic type" who gets married in Japan. Dita, who herself had a gothic wedding, finds Emily's hooded look cliche and over-the-top. Heidi likes the draping at the back, and the fabrication of Fade's dress gets compliments, too, but Chiara and Dita don't see any cohesion between the two looks. "I don't even think these girls would be hanging out together," Dita says. The designers aren't on the bottom, technically, but their critique wasn't great, so we're just gonna settle for them being safe.

Alexander and Samantha - Nina says the only thing missing from these messy looks is rhinestones, since Alexander and Samantha threw basically everything else on them anyway. The panel doesn't like how cheap both look, nor how '80s they are, nor the bizarre red-wine-stain ombre on the party dress. Zac's one compliment: The looks do seem like they come from the same world and belong to the same girl. (Though since that was the minimum requirement for the challenge, it's really not much of a compliment at all. Way to barely make it work, guys.) They're safe.

Sandhya and Char - Heidi calls it an epic fail. Zac says his takeaway is "Big Bird and Tweety bird." Dita thinks the girl looks like "a lemon heiress," which is maybe my favorite descriptor ever used on the show. Nina thinks working with the color in a more simplified form would have been better. Heidi agrees and goes on to call out the haphazard way the skirts on both looks were constructed. Char and Sandhya aren't in defense mode at all -- they know they messed this one up -- and actually sound grateful for the criticism. The judges put them in the bottom, and it's no surprise they choose Char for elimination. Sandhya's too much of a rising star to let go at this point in the season.

Tim says that if we were a bit later in the season, he would have used his Tim Gunn Save on Char. I admit that I forgot the Tim Gunn Save was a thing, and am now even more curious as to who Tim might have in mind to use it on should the need arise. (Fade, maybe? He's done consistently interesting work to little or no fanfare from the judges. I could see him landing on the chopping block by virtue of being a little too subdued, then Tim swooping in to make sure he gets another shot.) How do you feel about Char getting auf'd? Did you think her design was worse than Sandhya's? Do you think Kini deserved the win over Sean? (I do!) As we inch closer to the finale, are you getting any vibes about who you think might land at the top? Lemme know in the comments.


Season 13, Episode 5: Dress Heidi

Posted By laurareineke 4:55am GMT

Heidi Klum has been stomping runways and gliding down red carpets for long enough now that she knows what she likes to wear while doing it. That makes her both the ideal client for aspiring designers and a bit of a nightmare, because while she's game for a lot of variety -- lots of color, different prints, and necklines and hemlines of various heights have all clothed her at one time or another -- she's also very particular. A look either says HEIDI KLUM! or it doesn't. And it's time for our Season 13 designers to take a crack at impressing her.

Challenge: Design a red-carpet look for Heidi to wear to the Creative Arts Emmy Awards.

Parameters: One day to work, $250 to spend, plus one consultation with Heidi. Amanda has immunity.

(The Creative Arts Emmy Awards were held this past Sunday, which means that you might've been spoiled about the winner of this challenge a few days in advance. Hopefully it didn't ruin your viewing experience!)

What this challenge really boils down to is fabric choice. (And pleasing Heidi, obviously, but that's a huge chunk of "Project Runway" to begin with.) The gang heads off to Mood without the benefit of speaking with Heidi first about what she wants, which doesn't leave them a lot of room to change direction should Heidi dislike their initial design. That this turns out to be the case is not a surprise. During her first walkthrough, Heidi gives calm, flat "Not gonna happen" critiques to Korina, Kristine, Mitchell, and Sandhya, all related in some way to the materials they chose. After a bit more time passes, Tim and Heidi enter the workroom again, this time with a life raft, sort of: Because Heidi's gotta wear one of these looks, she wants the designers to have the opportunity to start over and make better decisions. She gives them the option of going back to Mood with an extra $100 a piece. They'd lose valuable workroom time, but gain a second chance to make something Heidi-worthy -- a second chance some of them desperately need.

Char, Sandhya, Mitchell, Samantha, Korina, and Kristine take the money and the second Mood trip. Sandhya takes the opportunity to ask her fellow designers for any money they won't be using, once again proving that she's tackling her time on the show with some measure of strategic thinking. She walks out of Mood with an armful of hella expensive fabric. Mitchell whines about Sandhya using extra cash to "selfishly" support herself but I am agog, frankly, that none of the other designers thought to do it. It's a COMPETITION show, y'all. If you're not doing everything you can to stack the deck in your favor, are you really even competing?

Unfortunately, having Heidi thumbs-down their initial plan really throws off Korina, Mitchell, and Kristine, who look creatively blocked and very, very tired. They scramble to throw together something, anything, that might catch Heidi's eye.

Our guest judge is Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn, who despite a career spent in athleticwear has walked her fair share of red carpets. Let's talk runway:

Sean: Sean's plan to give his fringe a haircut worked well, as they judges are totally delighted by the playful movement and elegance of this look. Nina likes that the bareness of the back nicely balances out the heaviness of the fringe in front, and the ombre effect at the bottom gets high marks. Sean gets the win, as we all already knew. Nice to see someone break into Amanda and Sandhya's winners' circle!

Kini: Heidi loves the drama of the open back, and Lindsey points out that while it can be difficult to create an open-back dress that still hugs the torso properly, Kini's dress shows no gaping or puckering. Zac gave Kini his highest score and has lots of good things to say about the fabrication. Kini is safe.

Amanda: Zac says the trim gives him an allergic reaction, and Nina seems less than thrilled with it too, but the whole panel agrees that the piece is unique and would allow Heidi to really stand out on the runway (though Lindsey isn't convinced that it would photograph well). For a top-three finisher, the response to this look is surprisingly tepid, but it does move Amanda to the next round.

Korina: Nina seems most annoyed by the ho-hum predictability of the design, while Zac calls out the mess of the back of the dress: "I can't tell what's intentional and what's not." He thinks that the details Korina chose to add were not well thought out. Heidi reiterates that she's no hater of the color green, but that she can't get behind the dour, drab shade Korina chose. She's safe, though.

Mitchell: Mitchell dubs this one the Hot Mess Express as it walks the runway, which is accurate. "I think a lot of things went wrong with your dress," Heidi sighs. From design to fit, construction to color -- Nina compares it to a Christmas ornament -- Mitchell's look is panned. "I can't see [Heidi] wearing this," Nina admits. "No one should be wearing this!" Heidi replies. Mitchell's out.

Kristine: Zac and Nina offer compliments on the side paneling, but that's the only thing going for this look, which is universally panned for being inappropriate for a runway and terribly put together. Zac flat-out says that the dress is unwearable and unacceptable. Because "Runway" is a fickle beast, Kristine is also out.

Kind of a bummer of an ending there, no? Mitchell and Kristine both saw the writing on the wall. It's never fun to watch designers get eliminated on looks they know are awful, especially after watching them struggle to put them together, and it's even worse after seeing them do quality work in the past. But you're only as strong as your last look, and these looks were weak. Onward and upward we go, with just ten designers left. Do you think Sean's look was better than Kini's? Did Mitchell and Kristine both deserve elimination over Korina? Have you started to root for anyone in particular? Let me know in the comments!

(Red carpet photo credit: David Livingston/Getty Images)


Season 13, Episode 4: A Suitable Twist

Posted By laurareineke 4:46am GMT

Sponsor challenge! Sponsor challenge! We open at a Red Robin restaurant slightly removed from NYC, where the designers are lined up before an array of male models in slightly oversized vintage men's suiting from all sorts of dark corners of fashion history. Corduroy, floral print, tweeds, lapels wider than a highway, truly misguided color palettes...it's a nightmare, really. A restaurant spokesman explains that Red Robin is a burger joint that likes to look at things with a fresh perspective, and that they're interested in prompting the designers to do the same. Ghosts of Sponsored Challenges Past flash before my eyes. Are they going to redesign the Red Robin waitstaff uniforms? Make clothing inspired by cheeseburgers? Is this going to be the season's awful hot mess of a menswear challenge?! Blessedly, it is none of the above.

Challenge: Create a high-fashion womenswear look using the jacket and pants of a vintage men's suit.

Parameters: The suit must be a prominent part of the final design. Supplemental fabric can be purchased from Mood. As the winner of the previous challenge, Sandhya gets her first choice of suit, as well as the power to assign suits to the rest of the designers.

Say what you will about the fairness of allowing one designer to assign fabric to the others, but Sandhya seems to take the job very seriously. She attempts to assign the suits based on what she thinks each designer would like, which is waaaay more charitable than many of the other contestants would've been; that some of them (Mitchell, Amanda, Sean, Hernan) feel that they were cheated suggests to me that they might be slightly in denial about the kind of vibes their work so far this season has given off. Is it really Sandhya's fault if her impression of their aesthetics doesn't match the way they see themselves?

In the workroom, Hernan whines and whines and whines. His fabric is gross! He can't match the color! Nothing is draping right! Tim tries to counsel Hernan away from treating vinyl like fabric instead of, you know, vinyl, but Hernan remains stubborn as ever. He tries to direct his annoyance at Sandhya, but she's over it: "If you can't make something good from what you've got, then you're not a good designer." That's some Real Talk right there.

Meanwhile, Kristine and Korina go head-to-head with different motorcycle jackets, yawn. Kini, who was given arguably the easiest suit to work with -- a relatively understated grey pinstripe -- finishes with hours to spare. He's some kinda sewing wunderkind, that Kini. My favorite workroom observation is Alexander's take on Mitchell's look: "It looks like he put the awful blue polyester suit that he was given and stuffed it into a Ziploc bag." IT TOTALLY DOES THOUGH.

On to the runway, with our guest judge, teen YouTube star (I know, I know) Bethany Mota.

Amanda - Heidi fawns over the mixed patterns and the fringe; you can see her imagining herself wearing it. Nina appreciates the resourcefulness on display. The judges all agree that this look offered the greatest transformation from original suit to runway look, and in the end I think that's what gave Amanda the edge. She gets her second win of the season and another round of immunity.

Kini - The judges are very impressed. "This is sharp suiting," Zac says, complimenting Kini's use of neoprene for the shoulder. Nina approves of the tailoring, Bethany likes the cut-outs at the sides, and Heidi notices the smart inclusion of the suit's original pockets at the back of the skirt. From the way this garment was discussed I was sure it'd be the winner, but even though Kini didn't come out on top this time, the look cemented his place on the judge's radar. Not a bad place to be at this point in the season.

Alexander - The judges all like this one quite a bit. They praise the flirtiness and volume of the skirt, especially compared to the more structured top. He gets bonus points for showing just the right amount of skin. Zac says it's the best work he's seen from Alexander so far.

Kristine - The panel is flummoxed by the organza extensions on the trouser legs, which Kristine says was a necessity based on the amount of fabric she had to work with. Heidi asks why Kristine didn't just make a miniskirt, to which Kristine doesn't have a very compelling response. Nina says it feels like a "mish-mosh" of too many elements.

Sean - Zac calls it "orthopedic" (also "like peeling skin," which is a gross but fair comparison). Sean tries to defend the awful ragged edges and hemline as intentional deconstruction, but the panel knows better. "It doesn't feel like an inventive use, in any way, of the suit," Zac says. Sean is safe for now.

Hernan - "How do you feel about your look?" Heidi asks, which gives Hernan an excuse to make excuses. He reiterates that his original suit was difficult to work with, and tells the judges that the material fell apart on himi when he tried to get a better fit. Unfortunately for him, the judges get a closer look at the garment and see for themselves how sturdy (albeit awkward) the fabric is. Nina and Heidi point out how costume-y the outfit looks, especially from the front and the side; Bethany says it looks like a popstar's Halloween costume (hah). The judges decide his look was the worst and send him on his way.

This week's real winner, I think, was Sandhya, who strategized her way through to the next round while also eliminating her most obnoxious competitor. "Runway" is primarily as a skill-based competition, so it's not often the designers get a chance to outmaneuver each other directly; I was pleasantly surprised to see Sandhya own her brief window of power so thoroughly. Meanwhile, Kini and Alexander are both on the up and up, and Amanda has won half the season's challenges already. Do you think the distribution of the suits was fair? Was Sean's mummy-bridesmaid look more worthy of elimination than Hernan's bizarro costume? Who do you have your eye on heading into the fifth challenge? Let me know in the comments!

Side note: If there was ever an episode of "Runway" that deserved the Smell-O-Vision treatment, it's this one. Can you imagine? The scent of charred meat and fried potatoes mixing with the moth-eaten mustiness of super old menswear. Delicious.


Season 13, Episode 3: Welcome To The Future

Posted By laurareineke 4:32am GMT

Everything old is new again, time is a flat circle, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, and the clothes we're wearing now are gonna look awful in 10 years but will probably inspire popular fashion in 20 years. That's life! And that's this week's episode of "Project Runway."

The designers meet Tim and Marie Claire Editor-in-Chief Anne Fulenwider on the runway, which is flanked by enormous copies of early Marie Claire covers. The magazine is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and in honor of that we get to see some hashtag-throwback-Thursday shots of our judges (none of whom have aged a day, obnoxiously) from 1994. Ann confesses that she was into grunge in the '90s, to which Tim yelps, "NO!" Anyway, this all sets up this week's challenge.

Challenge: Using inspiration from their lives in 1994, the designers must create a look for 20 years in the future (2034).

Parameters: One day to work, PLUS the season's first Mood shopping trip!

The designers run around Mood, save for Amanda, who sort of glides through it with the expertise afforded to her as a previous "Runway" contestant. Back in the workroom, we're treated to throwback photos of the rest of the gang, and it's adorable: Lots of flashbulb-lighted photos featuring questionable haircuts, weird glasses, and ill-fitting clothes. The early '90s were wild.

Nothing too out of the ordinary goes down in the workroom this week, so let's proceed right to the runway, with guest judge Amanda de Cadenet:

Sandhya - I really dig Sandhya's explanation that in her idea of the future, women's fashion won't need to crib from menswear to be seen as strong. Nina loves it because it's editorial (obviously). Amanda thinks it's bold: "This dress would take an empowered woman to wear it." Heidi thinks it's too comical BUT she admits that of the whole show, this is the most memorable look. The consensus: It's a weird, innovative risk, and it paid off. Sandhya gets the win -- her second of the season.

Kristine - This is the one Nina wants to wear. (She nitpicks the styling, though: "Less is more.") Zac isn't fully impressed by Kristine's brand of '90s grunge references -- he wants to see something more from her at this point in the competition -- but the rest of the panel is very into the chic editorial quality of this look. (For what it's worth, I would wear the hell out of that neoprene jacket. Gimme!)

Emily - Heidi is uber-complimentary; she likes the back and the length of the pant and the belt. She and Ann and Amanda all want to wear this jumpsuit. Nina, not so much, but she likes that the model looks powerful. Zac praises the garment's fabrication. There's a little bit of a negative association with Emily's use of the term "Ewok" to describe the hood, but it still gets raves.

Sean - Zac is the only one even vaguely charmed by this look. From hat to hemline, the panel eviserates it. Shoddy construction and a "Prada Mary Poppins" vibe seem to be the primary concerns.

Alexander - The biggest cons here are the fabric choices (complete with wonky grain line) and the dismal dishwater colors. Best quotes: "It's like a full-on horse blanket," "The biggest problem I have with this is that it's so sad," and Nina screeching, "SHE LOOKS LIKE SHE'S COMING FROM 'PLANET OF THE APES!' AND SHE'S ONE OF THE APES!" I admit: Bad outfits bring out the best in our judges.

Angela - This look is supposedly inspired by Angela's time in the world of finance, but Zac thinks it looks like "a stewardess from the future. And I'd be afraid to get on her plane." The panel likes the idea of updating a suit but no one thinks this works: It looks unfinished, the pale pink is boring, and the draping details on the side of the skirt are unflattering. "[Angela]'s getting more and more sad-looking, and so are her clothes," Heidi says when the judges get the chance to see the garment up close. Ouch.

Had this challenge happened last week, I think Alexander would've gotten the boot, but as it stands Angela has been in the bottom for three weeks straight and clearly does not seem to be taking well to the pressures of the reality competition show environment. She's auf'd in what felt to me like a merciful move by the judges. Do you think it was her time to go? Were you as put off by Alexander's look as the judges were? How cringe-worthy was your sense of style in 1994? Let me know in the comments!


Season 13, Episode 2: Unconventional Movie Nite

Posted By laurareineke 4:49am GMT

Wake up and smell the popcorn, designers! Tim and Heidi have arranged a screening at Manhattan's Village East Cinema and the designers are excited by the possibilities -- Red carpet looks? Celebrities? Something about 2D versus 3D? -- but Tim arrives to take them down a peg. I LOL at the designers' looks of collective dismay when Tim announces that this will be an unconventional challenge and I LOL even harder when he adds that the designers would be working in teams. Insult, meet injury.

Challenge: In teams of three, use the movie-experience materials in the theater (including props and concession items) to create three cohesive unconventional looks as part of a team.

Parameters: Designers have 15 minutes to gather materials and can only leave the theater with what they can physically carry. They have one day to complete the looks. One winner will be chosen from the winning team, and one loser from the losing team.

Right off the bat, the members of the Silver Team (Amanda, Korina and Kristine) seem to be on the same page. In a helpful bit of foreshadowing, Amanda tells them (spreaking from her own experience) that when it comes to unconventional challenges, the judges prefer a focus on materials that DON'T already look like fabric. Over on the Blue Team, trembling leaf Angela struggles to assert her point of view to Sean and Fade, but it comes across as inflexibility. Deep breaths, Angela! Please don't cry!

When Tim does his walk-around, the communication issues on the Red Team (Sandhya, Carrie, and Hernan) come to a head. Tim says their looks are too disparate AND too costumey to pass for a proper runway collection. The conflict here is one that comes up often in team challenges (which is what the producers want, which is why they do them -- especially early in the season before the designers know each other well): Sandhya, Hernan, and Carrie are all equally headstrong, equally convinced that their individual visions are correct, and equally unwilling to concede decision-making power to the other two. Sandhya feels that she's not being respected, but she also doesn't seem to have any concern at all for the fact that her immunity raises the stakes of the challenge for Carrie and Hernan. The group reassesses their work, makes some changes, and gains some confidence, but it's still not an ideal team setup.

Our guest judge this week is fashion blogger Garance Doré. You can see all of the runway looks (and vote on them yourself) in our Rate the Runway gallery here. Onward:

Silver Team - Amanda, Korina, Kristine
Zipline, cording, straws, speaker wire, VHS tape, marquee letters, cellophane, duct tape
This team vibed really well together and it feels like everyone (the three of them, the judges, me) is sighing in relief about it. See? Team challenges can be fun! Heidi calls their collection "the most original" and praises their cohesion. It's a rave from Zac, who's really into their use of text and fonts and transparency. Nina is excited about the color (green is a rare one for the "Runway" runway, it's true) and the difference in the three silhouettes. Amanda walks away with her first win ever.

Blue Team - Angela, Fade, Sean
The judges take care to point out that the success of Fade's and Sean's looks was brought down considerably by the failure of Angela's. That's probably the worst thing for Angela to hear at this point, but also: Not wrong.

Purple Team - Char, Kini, Mitchell

Green Team - Emily, Samantha, Alexander

Red Team - Carrie, Hernan, Sandhya
Film strips, and that's...about it, really
The chief concern among the judges seems to be the near-uniformity of the dresses, which the team is quick to kinda-sorta blame on Tim's workroom advice to make things more cohesive. Sandhya's offering is ripped into by Nina for being sloppy but no one has compliments for the other two looks, either; Heidi thinks they belong in a music video instead of on a runway and Garance dislikes how literally the unconventional material was incorporated.

The whole critique devolves into a back-and-forth finger-pointing extravaganza, with Hernan calling out Angela as someone more deserving of elimination, Carrie calling out the winning team for work she felt was lower quality than her own, and no one calling out Sandhya, because she has immunity. Zac is frustrated by the team's laundry list of excuses (me too, Zac). The judges look everything over and decide that Carrie should be eliminated.

Carrie's mad about her elimination and I sort of am, too; it's always rough when a designer gets the boot so early in the competition just because someone with a worse garment but better luck has immunity. The team situation is never kind, either: Anyone else convinced Angela would've been out if her team had scored lower overall? But them's the breaks. Do you think Carrie should've been eliminated over Hernan? How do you feel about the top and bottom looks this week? How did this unconventional challenge stack up to previous efforts? Let me know what you think in the comments.


Season 13 Premiere: The Judges Decide

Posted By laurareineke 4:15am GMT

"Runway" is back! I'm back to recap it! You're back to talk about it! Tim's back to facilitate the whole enterprise, thank goodness. Heidi Klum, Zac Posen, and my favorite ice queen Nina Garcia are back to judge, and they're starting early by evaluating the 18 finalists to decide which 15 will move on to the actual competition.

I like Sandhya immediately when she shows Tim a cropped jacket she made out of a print of hands flipping the bird. Attagirl. (You can see print in action on a larger jacket in Sandhya's closet tour video; it's glorious.) Angela looks like a delicate fawn in headlights when she gets in front of the panel, but she gets a pass despite her nerves. Fade and Heidi chat in German which hopefully softens the blow when Nina flatly says she hates all of Fade's clothes except the ones he's wearing. Zac describes Kristine's rack as "secure" and I think it's meant to be a compliment about her collection but instead it sounds like he's impressed by the stability of the aluminum rack holding everything up. The judges see all the contestants and isolate themselves to confer, move some headshots around on the table in front of them with furrowed brows, then make their final decision: Tim, Emmanuel, and Nzinga are the first casualties of the season. Womp womp.

In the workroom, Tim introduces the winner of the Runway Redemption vote: Amanda Valentine! I'm very happy to see Amanda, who I liked a lot during the team-based Season 11. (Did you just wince thinking back on that season? Because I did. Oof. If anyone deserves redemption it's the Season 11 designers.) He also introduces the first task of the season.

The challenge: With one outfit, give the judges a glimpse of a hypthetical spring collection.
The parameters: Must choose from an assortment of fabrics provided to them at the start of the challenge. They have one day to complete the look.

Tim does his walk-through of the workroom, which is hard for me to get invested in this early on without knowing more about the designers' individual strengths and weaknesses. I mean, it's the first challenge: Everyone sorta looks like they're floundering, none moreso than Angela. Is she getting the "unecessary histrionics" edit or is she really this nervous all the time? Goodness. Her anxiety is making ME anxious. Thankfully every designer gets his or her butt in gear to put a finished look down the runway. No hot messes yet, knock on wood.

Our guest judge is the radiant Julie Bowen of "Modern Family." Let's talk about the runway show! (You can see all this week's looks, and rate them yourself, in our Rate the Runway gallery.)

Top Three
Sandhya - The judges value the inventive fantasy elements of the look, including the dip-dye technique and the delicate embroidery details at the back, and while they agree that it could have been better finished, it presents a level of creativity that they clearly want to see more of this season. Sandhya gets the first win of Season 13.

Char - Nina's charmed. She loves the cotton jersey. While Julie isn't a huge fan of crop tops, she likes its implementation here. The judges like the look even more when they see it up close, and they're all complimentary of the fact the look seems like it would be part of a cohesive, elegant collection. Smart fabric choices, good design: Char is safe.

Amanda - The judges think it looks stylish and commercial, though Zac and Heidi don't seem as thrilled about it as Nina. This look is actually so attuned to Nina's preferred aesthetic (sleek and editorial) that I wouldn't be surprised if Amanda designed it with the attention of appealing to her specifically. She's safe.

Bottom Three
Angela - "Instead of calling those 'slits,' I'm going to call them 'sluts,'" Nina says pointedly, cementing her status as the Simon Cowell of "Runway." Angela says she was trying to amp things up after being told in her audition that her work was too safe, and the judges seem sympathetic to that defense. Angela's safe for now.

Mitchell - Rule of thumb for new "Runway" contestants: Don't describe your look as "cool" or "fun" unless you're 100% certain the look conveys those vibes on its own. It just gives the judges fodder to mock you. Zac goes so far as to say this look wouldn't even qualify Mitchell for design school. (Burn.) "I know what Mitchell will deliver," Nina says, "and I don't want to see it." Buuuut he's safe.

Jefferson - Heidi is just "Nah" about this, start to finish, and so's Nina, and they make no effort to hide it. The proportion of the crop top paired with the high-waisted short is the biggest problem here, and it becomes even more of a problem when Jefferson doesn't seem to see it. The judges waffle between ranking this look or Mitchell's lower, but they land on Jefferson, so he's the first to go.

We've got a diverse cast on our hands and so far everyone appears relatively focused and competent. Then again, this is Season 13, and while I'm not terribly superstitious I know better than to assume things are going to go smoothly. What do you think? Which of the designers stands out to you so far? Who do you feel presented the most promising look? Let me know in the comments!

Also, don't forget to check out recaps of the premiere from our esteemed "Runway" alumni: Nick Verreos, Mila Hermanovski, Althea Harper, and -- new this season -- Alexander Pope.