be the best episode we've had in quite some time, right? The challenge is engaging and inventive with unique elements added in to spice up something we've seen multiple times from the show. The looks are honestly all beautiful in their own way. And this is clearly the first challenge where you can see just how much dead weight has been cut from the show. There's no Swapnil here to pull focus, there's no out of left field type of edit. It's just an organic kind of episode that comes along in a drab season and reminds me of what I like about this show even after 14 long seasons. But on the other hand, there's the ending, and I honestly don't know if I want to commend them for it or chastise them. But I guess before I get to the end I should start with the beginning.
At the top five, we've finally come to the PR staple of the Avant Garde challenge. I know how this often leads to so much speculation about what Avant Garde actually means such as it relates to fashion, but let's shelve that discussion once and for all. Because after so many years, I think it's clear what Avant Garde means to Project Runway. But this is also a rather special Avant Garde challenge as it's incorporating 3D printing into the look and stealing from that other PR staple: the design your own textile challenge. So the designers are to be inspired by one of the three iconic bridges in New York to create an Avant Garde look while also creating 3D elements to be printed on fabric and incorporated into those looks. They have $200 for a trip to Mood, and two days for the challenge. It's a lot to take in, but I can't help but to think it's all the right choice. Avant Garde looks require money and time and a unique perspective, and to their credit the producers gave the designers all of those things.
At Mood, we see Kelly choosing horrible fabric, but with a clear cut reason behind it, Ashley choosing beautiful fabric for the first time in weeks, and Candice finally not choosing black. Although she goes back for a little black at the end, and who can blame her? The most interesting thing here is Tim seeming to stick close to Ashley and remark about how much he likes her fabric selection. Again it's possible that he does this for other designers too and it just doesn't make the edit, but I was left wondering if there isn't some clear cut favoritism happening on Tim's part for Ashley. She got the extra time with her client last challenge when Swapnil didn't, and after two challenges in a row of choosing horrible fabric, she gets him over her shoulder here pointing out that she's making a good choice? It's highly possible I'm reading too much into it, but these shouldn't even be questions we have at this point, so who's fault is that?
In the workroom, everyone pretty much just gets to work and seems to know what direction they're heading in. It's the most efficient we've seen the group and it left me wondering if Swapnil's lack of motivation wasn't dragging the other designers down too. I don't know if that's the case, but I do know that this is one moment where they all seem to be on point and have solid things created by the end of the first day. Also there's a visit by the person who runs the 3D printing place so they can all go over what the techs created based on their previous sketches for the textile. I don't know why that last minute consultation before things started being printed was important to me, but something about making sure the designers could give a final OK before everything was printed and couldn't be taken back was nice.
Day two is as seamless as day one was, and it's moments like these that make my job here really hard. There's nothing to say, nothing to really talk about, no drama to speak of. Tim comes in and has way more positive things to say than negative. Ashley needs to work on better combining her two pieces so they look like the same outfit, and it sounds to me like he's convincing himself to like Kelly's look more so than actually liking it, but still. The highlight of Tim's visit for me is the time he spends with Merline. It's no secret that this should be Merline's challenge in the same way the last week's should have been Ashley's. Being inspired by pieces of architecture to create an architectural dress has Merline written all over it. I think Merline's first word as a baby was architecture. So everyone judges her a little more harshly because the bar is a bit higher. But when Tim comes over, he doesn't throw her design under the bus because the basis of it really is solid. However he does draw her attention to certain construction based issues that she's clearly too close to the dress to be able to see on her own. He points out the thin line between purposefully messy and mistake level messy and says that the shapes on the bottom of her dress are more the former. It's really the reason Tim Gunn is there, and it all just works out really well.
Ashley decides that she needs another element to her look to add a kind of wow factor and push it into the Avant Garde realm. She decides a poncho is the way to go. My immediate thought was that she wanted to take her look to the next level and so she decided to cover most of it up... thats just weird. But the poncho/cape thing actually works, kind of, so there's that. The hardest decision she's left with is how to use her 3D printed materials. Back when Laurie was still with us, I said that her biggest downfall was that she tended to have one idea and then when that didn't work, she was left floundering and trying to just throw something together. That's what I feel about Ashley here too. Where Edmond says that he doesn't know how he'll use his 3D design until he has it in his hands and something will come to him, Ashley just never seems to have an idea. She has an idea for her overall look, but not for how to use the 3D aspect of the challenge. And so she's left just staring at them for awhile-ostensibly thinking about what to do next. It feels like a look into how brain power and fresh ideas can often be a limited resource, and maybe Ashley's exhausted her tank and is just running on empty now.
The model fitting happens without a hitch, and you have to be a bit amazed by just how well everything fit. Considering how dependent on a tight fit Ashley, Edmond, and Candice's looks all are, it's wonderful that they hit that home run on the first time out. The model fitting is also the first time you can see the more sculpted aspect of Edmond's dress, and that's what takes it out of the realm of a simple black dress and puts it more into the Avant Garde. I wasn't in love with Edmond's look until I saw it in the model fitting, and then it took my breath away. But if I'm going to talk about the looks, we might as well head to the runway and get it over with.
Merline: I think it’s nice, but I also think it makes more sense in Merline’s head than it does in practice. I like the idea of shifting from two to three dimensions, but I think the presence of the 3d printed stuff on the top kind of negates that. I think if there could have been one portion of the dress that was totally 2d, it would have worked more. but the finished product is still nice. The color is great, I love the length of the skirt for some reason, and I think it looks well put together. I think some aspects of the skirt look more accidentally haphazard than purposeful, but still.
Edmond: This is perfect on a level that’s just ridiculous. I think the smartest thing here is the fact that he doesn’t do the 3d printed aspects on both of the straps on the front. Putting them only on one was genius. And then all down the back was also genius. This dress fits her like it’s no one’s business, and the sculpted parts on the skirt are fantastic. And the vail he made is just to die for. You can always tell just how much he's thinking about his looks. I couldn’t love this more if I tried.
Ashley: I think sticking with the 3d printed stuff on just the shoulders was the wrong way to go. If she could have brought them all the way around the back, that might have been better, but the placement is all wrong. I also think it would have been interesting to place them on the bottom of the poncho and give it a little more weight maybe. But other than that I like the look. I like the movement, and I think the two pieces under the poncho are great. I’d like to see her take it the poncho off while walking and let’s see the rest of the look, but still.
Candice: Man oh man! The corset lacing in the back! The shine on that fabric! The fit of this dress! This is great! If I have a complaint, it’s that I’d like for the hem to maybe flair out more if possible into more of a firm hoop like shape, and I think the neck is odd. I know she planned on going with a more structured neckline, but I guess she tossed that idea for some reason. I love this so much!
Kelly: I like it. I’d like the 3d printed material to be a different color than the fabric she chose so it could stand out more. As is, I think those details get lost in the rest of the dress. But I think this is nice. She went literal, and it’s not the most overwhelming thing on the runway (which I think is saying something all things considered) but it also doesn’t feel like a costume to me. I like it.
Nina's the harshest judge during the critiques, but it's pretty obvious the judges liked everything they saw tonight. Ashley's rightfully called out for the placement, as well as the design, of her 3D printed material. Heidi and Zac point out that Merline's look reminds them of Kini's umbrella dress from last year, and the look is a bit too safe for her, but it's still pretty. Nina doesn't care as much for Candice and Edmond's gowns as they don't scream Avant Garde to her, but the other's like them and they all agree that Candice has the best use of the 3D printed material out of everyone. Kelly's look pops for me on the runway when Nina gets the model to turn around and we see the lacing detail is on the side as well as the front. I hadn't noticed that before and it was a really nice surprise.
Of course with Kelly taking the biggest risk and creating something that was so much more extreme than anyone else, she gets the win. Again, we know what Avant Garde means to Project Runway enough that anyone could have called that from a mile away. The slightly more surprising result is the decision to send Merline home. Not because her look wasn't the worst thing out there. Grading on the curve that is the overall brilliance of all the designs, I think it's fair to say that Merline's is the most underwhelming. And again, given who she's been all season long, the bar was maybe a bit higher for her this week. I'm honestly surprised that they sent anyone home at all. I'm equally surprised that Tim didn't use his save here. There's no talk of this being the episode that determines who's going to NYFW, so clearly they're ostensibly planning on a top three this year. It makes sense given how low the overall talent level was that you'd want to just bring three designers into the finale for the first time in a long long time. But this was also the first episode we've had where everything was honestly beautiful and worth sticking around over.
This is a good thing for the show as it means we might finally be at a point where the remaining designers are taking this seriously and the talent level has finally been kicked up a notch. At this stage in the competition, everything we see should be great and the decision on who to send home should be harder and harder. That hasn't been the case until now. And so on the one hand, I want to commend the judges for doing their jobs and making the hard decision. On the other hand, as a fan of the show who has put up with the middling talent level of this season for 11 long episodes, I kind of want it to last a bit longer. So there was a part of me that was hoping the judges, or maybe just Tim Gunn, would say "You know what, you've all done too good a job to warrant sending anyone home today. Everyone's safe, and we'll go at it again next time." The interesting thing is that given Jake's choice to leave the competition a few episodes back, they should actually be ahead of schedule. That means they could afford to go one week without sending anyone home and it wouldn't be a big deal, right? But they don't do that here and it feels like another missed opportunity. Oh well, Merline is all smiles as she goes, and you can tell she was honestly fine with going home on something she truly believed in, and she was happy to have made it this far. And then there were four. It seems like next week will be for all the chips, I guess.
--At the beginning of the episode, the designers talk about Swapnil going home and Candice and Kelly can't seem to fathom how someone could just give up like that. At each point that they make such a statement, the camera pans to Ashley for a reaction shot and I can't figure out why. She doesn't have any particular kind of expression on her face, and she's clearly not about to give up so there's no real subtext to it, so what the hell?
--When was the last time we saw Swatch? I'm getting worried!
--Did anyone else think they've been sitting on this 3D printing idea ever since Justin's final collection a couple years back?
--Candice points out that Kelly's really grown as a designer on this show, and I couldn't agree more. She didn't make any kind of impression on me at all until recently, and when she did, she started winning. It's a great transformation. And two wins back to back this close to the end bodes very well for her.
--Speaking of Candice, guest judge Mel B asks if she can wear Candice's dress to an event she's got coming up. I mean, Kelly wins and gets a 3D printer (a 3d printer valued at $1000 I might add), but Candice gets her look worn by a celebrity on a red carpet somewhere! I don't know which is the bigger deal, but I'm leaning towards Candice.
--There was a solid amount of time during the closer look where Zac just had his hand on Ashley's model's thigh. She's wearing very little fabric, and he's basically grouping her. Seriously, Zac, keep your hands to yourself.