Season 5, Episode 13 Recap: New York State of Mind

After this roller coaster of a season and last week’s nail-biter of an episode, we finally get what we’ve earned: a drama-free finale. It’s about fashion, people, so bring it!

Our very smiley (and with good reason) final designers Ken, Dom and Kini meet Alyssa on the 102nd floor of the new One World Trade Center – which, by the way, is the tallest building in the Western hemisphere – for the introduction of their final challenge.


In case the sprawling view didn’t give it away, this challenge is about the often imitated, never duplicated Big Apple. The designers must each create an eight-piece collection, including one menswear look, inspired by the experiences they’ve had this season in New York City. The designers have a near-impossible four days to work and $3,000 each to spend.

After a smooth model casting, the designers sketch in the One World Observatory. Kini decides to design for the Uptown girl who also ventures Downtown. I know this girl; she’s rich but edgy. She’s leather and pearls. The gridlines of the city make an impression on Kini’s brain and upon entering Mood he goes straight for plaids and mini-houndstooth prints.

Ken thinks about the Harlem Renaissance and considers playing with the silhouette and tailoring of a suit. He wanders a bit out of his comfort zone, choosing black, white and a pop of yellow as his color palette.

Dom muses about the first time she visited New York as a teenager and uses the feeling of chaos to inspire her collection. She says she wants to visually translate the energy of the city into a print. “If anyone can do it, Dom can,” I think as she mercilessly empties Mood’s paint section.

On day one, Dom focuses on painting all of her fabric, creating an impressionistic-patterned textile and a plaid/grid pattern. “You got a whole damn art gallery going on,” Ken says casually as he passes by. The most dramatic thing to happen in, well, the whole episode, is that a dress form falls on Dom’s freshly painted leather. Ken comes to her aid and while they assess the damage we realize that it’s actually not a problem at all. Potential crisis averted!

On day two, Kini starts to feel the pressure – he’s been this close to winning “Runway” before. While Kini has some alone time with his inner demons in the sewing room, Ken and Dom discuss Ken’s yellow statement piece. He says he’s thinking about cutting it from the collection, but I really hope he doesn’t because it’s exactly the kind of oomph he needs. Go with your gut, Ken!

Zanna arrives with words of wisdom. She tells Dom to be careful about silhouettes because without the strength of structure or print, the models might look like “blobs.” In her conversation with Kini, Zanna warns him to pull back on the gimmicks. Finally, Zanna urges Ken to use the yellow fabric, as it will wow the judges in a way the black and white just can’t.

And lastly the benevolent Zanna brings in assistants to help with 18 hours’ worth of work! Alexander will assist Dom, Asha will help Kini, and Layana’s here to support Ken. The designers do not hesitate to put the eliminated contestants to work. The help is much needed and appreciated; as they enter into the third day, Dom, Ken, and Kini are stressed but managing.

On day four we catch a glimpse of each designer having an invigorating conversation with their loved ones. They manage somehow to push through to the finish line. Honestly, if I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I would have said it couldn’t be done.


Alyssa greets a room full of ghosts of “Runway” contestants past and introduces us to our panel: Georgina, Isaac, and our guest judges, Emmy-winning actress Debra Messing and Marie Claire Editor-In-Chief Anne Fulenwider.

Dom, the winner: These looks are very Dom. The previously mentioned impressionist-painted leather is paired with black and white stripes and a hand-painted black, yellow, blue, and red plaid fabric. The tops are rounded and smooth and very cool. Georgina calls the collection “energetic” but prefers the impressionist print to the plaid. Isaac loves the inspiration of the chaos of New York and picks out a black skirt as his favorite. Debra, Isaac, and Georgina all agree that while they like the concept of Dom’s last look (a rounded take on a crop top paired with an oversized maxi skirt) it is her least successful. Alyssa disagrees, noting the creativity of the shapes. Anne takes issue with Dom’s Japanese-inspired jacket and jumpsuit, explaining that the piping isn’t flattering and the jacket itself isn’t up to Dom’s usual standards for herself. As a collection, though, it’s cohesive and expertly captures her original inspiration.

Ken: Using the architecture of New York City as his jumping-off point, Ken created eight structured, polished pieces and followed through on his promise of hinting at a reinterpretation of a man’s suit. Isaac loves the idea of the bone-colored suit, the oversized pant (so oversized in fact that I thought it was a skirt), and the last look, a solid yellow dress. Isaac calls Ken’s collection “the most commercial, most cohesive, and in a way, the most chic.” Georgina agrees that the oversized trouser is smart and appreciates the splash of yellow color at the end of the collection, but points out that the black leather dress is too plain. Debra would love the bone-colored suit for herself (me too, by the way) and agrees the yellow is exactly what the doctor ordered. Anne doesn’t love the top paired with the oversized trouser or the leggings paired with the suit. She calls Ken’s collars “Cruella de Vil” and says that it’s missing a wow factor for her. Alyssa disagrees with Anne, saying the cropped legging that Anne didn’t like is a “strong and feminine” touch. (This might be a case of Alyssa appreciating the evolution of Ken’s design work and acknowledging the risks he took in this collection in a way that a guest judge could not.)

Kini: This is definitely the kookiest. I think Kini might still be thinking about his “Alice in Wonderland” character from the fairytale challenge. Alyssa says it made her smile, noting the construction. She likes the blue dress and calls the oversized purple sleeve on the jacket “ballsy.” Kini responds, “I had to,” because of course he did. He wouldn’t be Kini otherwise. Isaac calls the collection “refreshing” and prefers the evening dresses to the more daytime looks. Isaac’s main issue with the collection is that Kini didn’t play with the lengths of the looks. In fact, Isaac sits runway-side redesigning several of the looks, musing, “What if that was four inches longer…” Debra calls Kini’s menswear look the most successful of the final three. Anne, like so many before her, sees an ’80s aesthetic in Kini. She does not like the blue bubble dress but agrees with Debra that the menswear look is great. Georgina calls the collection fun, particularly the over-the-top pink dress and the white collared shirt. She mentions that she wishes Kini wouldn’t hesitate between crazy and muted designs because when he toes the line he misses the mark. (How many idioms can I cram into one explanation? The sky is the limit.)

Personally, I’m so happy with the final three. Everybody fully lived up to their potential, and ultimately Dom’s collection was the coolest and most exciting. I think this season of “Project Runway All Stars” really stuck the landing and I think each of the final three designers were successful: Dom proved that she’s not one to mess with, Kini represented his aesthetic with gusto, and Ken showed that he’s grown as a person and a designer. I’m so happy for Dom and I cannot wait for more “Runway!”

P.S. Don’t forget to check out my lovely Q&A with Dom. That girl is a delight.

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