Season 5, Episode 8 Recap: Once Upon a Runway

It’s been kind of a gloomy week and I can only imagine that it’s a direct result of the loss of Valerie on “Project Runway All Stars.” I rather enjoyed her sunny disposition and that Creamsicle jumpsuit. I’ve passed the week by listening to a sad live acoustic version of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” cover on repeat.

But a heaping dose of fairytale lore should pull me out of this funk! And as the designers walk into the appropriately named Drama Book Shop, I remember that there are still eight of them vying for our attention.

Alyssa meets our runway warriors with special guest Laura Michelle Kelly. Ms. Kelly is particularly qualified to speak on fairytale fashion: She’s currently starring in “Finding Neverland” on Broadway, and her first professional acting gig was in “Beauty and the Beast” in London’s West End.

The Challenge: With a budget of $200 each and one day to work, create a modern runway look for a classic female character in literature.

The characters are assigned as follows:

Dom: Tinker Bell

Sam: The Little Mermaid

Kini: Alice in Wonderland

Asha: Rapunzel

Emily: The Snow Queen

Ken: Snow White

Layana: Belle

Alexander: Cinderella

They sketch in Mood and dash around for fabric. In the workroom everyone is focused and confident. The good attitude lasts all the way until lunchtime.

While the designers dine, some light shade is thrown between Sam and Kini, as per usual. Then it goes from fun water balloon fight to full-on trench warfare when Sam, after acknowledging that he did almost go home, launches a deadly grenade: “I’ve also won two challenges. How many have you won, Kini?” Then Kini is reduced to reciting his “Runway” resume. Back and forth they go like two princes from countries on the brink of war playing royal tennis. The court cheers.

The argument ends when Ken finds out that Kini made Sam’s top during the team challenge in Week 3. (Where has he been?) Ken, a.k.a the most GIF-able man in the world, runs through the range of emotions we’ve all been feeling while Sam concedes that it was indeed Kini’s creation.

Zanna flounces in (slaying a gothic Lolita-inspired Alice in Wonderland look), unaware of her role as peacekeeper. A quick rundown of her feedback, since we got derailed from the fashion by the drama: Dom is doing a cool ’60s London punk thing for Tinker Bell, Asha’s Rapunzel will be dramatic in a red jumpsuit, and Alexander is doing a dark and regal Cinderella gown. Here Zanna warns Alexander to amp up the modernity and suggests changing up the expectations for the gown’s length. Layana has an extensive backstory but the same old silhouette for her Belle, Ken is turning Snow White into a #boss with an unexpected power suit, Emily’s Snow Queen is looking too old, and Sam is going super literal with his Little Mermaid. Finally there’s Kini, who is putting Alice in a denim look that’s…original, to say the least.

The day proceeds without any more real drama, though there is some passive-aggressive chatter about the Sam/Kini conflict that spills over into runway day.


Alyssa, in a short, sparkly little number, introduces the judges. A crisp Georgina and Isaac are joined by actual sugarplum fairy and award-winning artist Kesha as well as celebrity stylist and “Fashion Police”-man Brad Goreski.


Kini: It’s sort of like if Alice was wearing her school uniform when she wound up in Wonderland and it was the same but also somehow transformed. It’s a knee-length dark blue denim shift dress with a stark white collar in the front and giant tulle-lined denim ruffles in the back. He’s put his model in white ankle socks and simple black pumps, which is brilliant, in my humble opinion. Isaac says the back of the dress feels a little costume-y for his taste but he loves the way it walked. The rest of the judges love the balance and fantasy Kini has achieved.

Asha, the winner: Rapunzel as we’ve never seen her before wears a sleeveless red jumpsuit with detachable skirt (which reads in the front as a peplum) and deep-V neckline. I have to say when I first heard “jumpsuit” I thought, “Oh dear God, no more!” But Asha has pulled it off. Alyssa and Georgina appreciate the interpretation, emphasizing how strong and regal the model looks. Isaac and Brad appreciate that Asha has paired the look with a flat, though they disagree on whether or not this particular flat works.

Dom: This Tinker Bell is my personal favorite in this rag-tag bunch of fairytale heroines. It is a fitted black and white houndstooth pant (with pockets!) paired with a long collared shirt that opens under the chest and exposes the midriff. I count five prints in the top (most black and white, but she’s also included blue and orange) and the space around where Tinker Bell’s wings would go is bare. It’s like if a businesswoman donated her old clothes and then a very cool punk rock teen cut them up and made them her own. The judges are in agreement that it’s very smart and cool.


Sam: A crop top and pencil skirt, both made of a white mesh reminiscent of a fisherman’s net that’s been sewn with sequined strips and ribbons to resemble a mermaid’s scales. Georgina notices some unevenness in the sleeves and says such a simple look should be more expertly executed. Alyssa takes issue with the starkness of the net. Isaac says crop tops feel too “junior,” and Brad explains that had Sam done a simple cotton top and let the skirt be the star, the look would have been more effective. Ultimately, the look is a good concept, but the judges think Sam needs to be a little more thoughtful.

Layana: She explains that Belle’s husband has surprised her with a trip to Argentina to watch a polo match. When you already have a whole backstory of a beautiful girl marrying a beast who then magically becomes a handsome prince, what’s with adding a whole other (frankly less interesting) story line? Anyway, it’s a mid-calf-length black and white graphic print dress with peek-a-boo neon yellow pleats. It’s cute but it doesn’t read as Belle and it doesn’t read as high fashion.

Alexander: Cinderella wears a shiny deep red strapless gown. It’s tight in the wrong places and loose in the wrong places. The color, the sharpness of the cut, and the way it makes the model walk in tiny steps do indicate a sort of evil queen rather than a grateful peasant-turned-princess, but I think an argument can be made for a vengeful, no-longer-soot-covered Ella. The biggest problem is that the look is kind of basic. It’s not “All Star” level.

In the end Alexander is sent home for stifling his inner costume maker. I’ll miss him. He seemed like one of the few “grown-ups” left.

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