Season 5, Episode 11 Recap: State of the Art

In the words of Boy George: “Today is the worst day ever. Prince R.I.P I am crying!” I don’t know how to process my grief, so for the time being I’ll focus on this episode and pretend the world hasn’t ended!

The top five designers meet Alyssa at the Agora Gallery for a healthy injection of contemporary art. This is a long time coming – a lack of inspiration is becoming more and more apparent in their work. If I see a jumpsuit this episode I will combust like an overheated robot.

The Challenge:

Speaking of robots, Alyssa is dressed as a sexy cyborg. She tells us that our designers are to create a wearable piece of art in this season’s avant-garde challenge. They are given a generous $400 each for Mood and two days to work, but the best part is that these lucky kids are designing to impress the only white guy to ever get dreadlocks right: Boy George.

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t note here that Emily is dressed like a Goth Dalek. She’s rocking a shiny halter crop top with a quilted black skirt and some punctuation tights. It’s as if she came dressed as the Alyssa-cyborg’s henchwoman. She had better rock this damn challenge or everything I know about artistry is wrong!

The designers start off excited at the avant-garde aspect of the challenge. But people start off excited about skydiving, too, until the instructor runs through the safety procedure like an auctioneer and the only sounds are rushing wind and your own piercing screams. What I’m really saying is: Avant-garde can be a dangerous game. Tread lightly, dear designers.

While sipping champagne, the designers meander around the gallery and discuss the pieces with the artists themselves. Sam speaks to artist Carl Hopgood, who creates what he calls “digital taxidermy.” Sam is inspired by the way Carl has “captured a moment that stands in time,” and proceeds to sketch a look based on the legalization of gay marriage. Yes, that’s right: Sam saw a digital image of an owl and thought about marriage equality. He justifies it as an attempt to capture an historic moment in time, which, okay…but it’s a stretch, my dude.

Emily talks with artist Lexi Bella about her piece “Warrior Spirit,” which features a painted close-up of a woman’s face. Emily takes the concept of female empowerment as her reference point and intends to create a look that mimics the hair and tribal makeup of the woman featured in the painting. She hopes to make “a big sweater coming unraveled.”

After connecting with artist Juan Carlos Pinto over his MetroCard mosaics of a parrot, a humpback whale, and some jaguars, Dom decides to utilize her skill with fabric piecework to create a new textile. Dom and Juan Carlos Pinto are sort of a match made in art heaven.

Artist Bradley Theodore peers through sea-foam green sunglasses to discuss his painting with Kini. (I want to embody his vibe when/if I grow up.) His piece features a queen, or rather the concept of being a queen. Of the piece, Kini says, “I like how it’s almost effortless but yet you can still see a figure.” His goal is to create a piece that eliminates the person wearing it from the equation altogether.

Like Emily, Ken picks a piece by Lexi Bella, but in this case it’s a painting of the blue-lipped mouth of a woman. He uses the inspiration of a strong feminine image, a woman who “shields the pain inside of her,” to sketch a look that will literally cage the model.

As everyone gets started in the workroom, we see Ken say what everyone has been skirting around until now: Sam is the judges’ favorite. Ken and Kini talk smack in the sewing room, making fun of Sam and the judges’ adoration of him. Tension builds over lunch as they discuss the true meaning of avant-garde, the avant-garde challenge from Season 13 of “Project Runway,” and whether or not Kini’s co-winner of that challenge (and ultimate Season 13 winner) Sean Kelly really made an avant-garde dress. Ken and Kini argue that the silhouette was not avant-garde, but Sam says that it counts because it’s all in the “emotional response to the idea.” Judging by what he has draped so far, it’s possible that Sam is already defending his own look.

On day two, Zanna consults with the designers, who are further along than usual thanks to the extra time they’ve been allotted. Most of her feedback is that the designers are going too literal or aren’t pushing their own boundaries enough. Her biggest problem is with Sam, who has created something that just doesn’t make any damn sense.

While Sam adjusts his garment accordingly, Ken starts to get more and more fired up about Sam’s safety in the competition. He tells Kini, “I find it very disrespectful that everyone else in the room is actually constructing garments and he’s just draped some s—t and hand-tacking it.” Ken is fighting against his nature here because he doesn’t want people to think he’s a bully. I’m sure he got his fair share of backlash after his last “Runway” experience and he’d like to prove he’s a calmer, cooler, and more collected Ken. We’ll see how long he can sustain this particular easy-breezy look.


A bedazzled Alyssa introduces Georgina, Isaac, and the always majestic Boy George.

The Top:

Dom: It’s a yellow and blue dress made of tiled fabrics, as Dom promised. A sheer white organza jacket cocoon with blue piping envelops the poor model, whose face, by the way, has been turned into a painting itself with white makeup. The dress is pretty wearable apart from the sheer knee-to-floor element. Everyone agrees it’s beautiful but not avant-garde. Isaac says, “It’s such a weird, long conversation to be had…yeah, it’s not the most avant-garde thing, but congratulations – I mean, who knows what the hell we’re talking about.” Boy George adds “Avant-got-a-clue.” Everyone laughs. For a moment everything is delightful.

Kini: A bright pink floor-length skirt of ruffles and a brocade off-the-shoulder pink and black top. The model wears a black body suit covering her from the tip of her fingers to the top of her head. I’m thinking it sort of looks like a 1980s mannequin wearing an even-more-’80s pageant dress, and Georgina confirms my thought by explaining that if Kini had omitted the bodysuit the model would look like she belonged on “Dynasty.” Isaac doesn’t like how pretty it is and feels as if the bodysuit should be more flawlessly executed. Boy George says the two elements don’t work together (which was exactly Zanna’s critique, by the way) and Alyssa likes that the hood makes her uncomfortable.

Ken, the winner: A floor-length black dress with ruffles running down the long sleeves and a huge collar that encases the model’s face. As she moves you get little glimpses of her face, as if she’s attempting an escape. It’s unexpected from Ken, and refreshing, considering most of the designers did not go as bold in this challenge. Boy George calls it “pure Grace Jones,” which delights Ken, and Isaac calls it divine. Georgina’s only criticism is that the back of the neck is exposed. Alyssa wishes it was just a tad longer.

The Bottom:

Emily: It’s a chunky black sweater dress with thick bright pink and blue woven details running vertically down the dress. Looking at it I’m realizing that the color scheme not only mirrors that of the Lexi Bella painting but of Emily herself, with her blue hair and pink eye shadow/lip color. Georgina doesn’t think she pushed it far enough, Isaac says that he would have preferred the look without the cabling, Boy George likes the styling but thinks the colors are unnecessary, and Alyssa feels like the whole thing is just too wearable to be avant-garde. I’m a little sad that the look is so far from Emily’s original explanation of a sweater dress unraveling. Something about the cabling is reminiscent to me of a diagram of a gastrointestinal tract.

Sam: It’s a chiffon rainbow flag, wrapped around the model. I put as much effort in describing this look as Sam did to make it. Boy George likes Sam’s explanation but thinks it should be bigger. Isaac calls the dress his favorite, but Georgina calls it unresolved and Alyssa says it looks like “a kite caught in a tree.”

Backstage, Ken can’t hold his tongue anymore and asks Sam directly about Sam’s own perception of how he’s done in the competition. Sam gives a pretty mundane “I feel good” answer, then asks why Ken wants to know. Then Ken goes in.

To be fair Ken starts out pretty diplomatic about it, explaining that while Sam has created some “good things,” he also has a tendency to skate by while everyone else is putting seemingly more effort into their looks each challenge. Sam says he really wants to win, but Ken says he doesn’t believe him. Sam says he doesn’t care. And then the devil on Ken’s shoulder whispers “Finish him!” and Ken says, “You’re a liar, you’re a snake, you rest on this pretty s—t – and I’m not talkin’ ‘bout your garments.” While it seems like the rest of the designers agree that Sam is not creating “All Star”-level looks, I think Ken (and Kini) might be alone in these last assessments of Sam. And this attack on his character, rather than his work, feels unwarranted and just downright mean.

As it turns out, everything I know about artistry is wrong. In a very close race for the bottom between Sam and Emily, Emily goes home and Ken has a little fit. Emily seems like such a sweetie pie. I’m going to miss her optimism. She didn’t deserve to go home in front of Boy George.


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