If there's one thing I feel is totally true here, it's that this final episode is honestly a solid encapsulation of what this season was, for better or worse. There's no big drama, no big personality, and the outcome isn't even surprising. The talent seen in the final collections is on par with the talent level we've seen all season, and somehow that's both gratifying and a bit sad at this stage in the competition. I think what most viewers want is a situation wherein the final collections blow us all away. This is supposed to be the best of the best. If you'll allow me to make yet another one of my patented sports analogies: the Pros of any sport is meant to be a distillation of the best talent available. Colleges and minor leagues feature a bunch of players who, ostensibly, aren't good enough for the Pros. The people who end up drafted to the Pro level tend to be the top 2% of the talent available. Thusly, they tend to turn out a better product than their lower level counterparts. Likewise, that's what we expect for the finale of PR. I've said it before and I'll say it again, these are the four best and most talented designers this season had to offer. So isn't it fair to expect that every look of each collection will be a WOW? Even if they aren't looks you'd want to wear or buy, they should be looks that move you and allow you to see why they're worthy of being at this point.
I don't think it'll surprise anyone when I say that I don't think these collections do that, but I also don't think it was possible for them to given what we know about these designers. At the end of the episode during the judges' deliberation, Nina says something that reconceptualizes the season for me. She says that this feels like a season about identity. The question for these final collections, therefore, is who kept their identity and who lost it?
So we start where we left off with Ashley and Kelly having very small and easy things to do based on the remarks from the judges, and Candice and Edmond needing to rework most of their collections at this point. They have about two days, but also a lot of consultations and fittings to get in there as well. Tim asks everyone if they want another Mood trip. Ashley and Kelly are the only ones who bite, but both say they'd only get small things, so Tim offers to go to Mood for them and let them keep working. I was only half listening when this happened and had to rewind to see what I had missed because when Tim offered to go shopping for Kelly and Ashley I nearly jumped out of my seat and yelled about favoritism. But no, it all seems fair and on the up and up, so we can move on.
The major take away from these last couple days of work is that Candice seems to be handling her critique and tasks better than Edmond is. They're both changing a lot and creating new looks, but by the time Tim comes in to meet with them, Candice at least looks like she has a direction carved out while Edmond is still waffling on major decisions. We know he can sew like the dickens, but still. When Tim tells him these choices on where he's going should have been made already, he's right and a sense of doom encapsulates all.
I have a confession to make, Runaways: the pre-runway scramble before NYFW is one of my very favorite aspects of the show. I don't tend to like it much before each individual runway, but there's something about it on this episode that I love. We've had models showing up late, people spilling coffee on dresses, and all kinds of drama happen here. It's hardly ever very long lasting, and most often something happens off camera to resolve it, but I love it anyway. Such is the case when Ashley busts a zipper while dressing one of her models. I didn't think it was going to stop or delay her from showing, and indeed since she showed last that wasn't really an option, but it was still a remarkable moment. And the only moment of drama before the runway that we got, so I guess let's move on. Carrie Underwood was the guest judge this week, and apparently she just released her own fashion line, so good on her.
Kelly: Is it just me or does this look a million times better than what she showed in the last challenge? Is it just that the sparkle factor has been kicked up a few notches? I was worried it’d make a cheap collection look even cheaper, but I don’t think that’s been the outcome. I think Kelly has a very unique and specific perspective and point of view and it comes through well in her designs here. I still think the full wood panel look is a bit off. And there’s a more elegant look towards the end that strikes a discordant note too, but for the first time I can say that I fully see who she is as a designer and I can accept that there’s a legit place for her in the market. I’m far more impressed than I expected.
Edmond: “Failure” is the only word that comes to mind here. The first look is a simple and boring black dress. And the ruffles are indeed overdone. The ninth look reminds me of toilet papered house, and the last look is nice but I felt like it was diminished by all the ruffle looks that came before it. It could have stood out and been more of a statement piece if he had allowed it to be unique. The second look in the collection becomes a silhouette that we see in the collection over and over again and it gets boring. Or maybe it's just bad in general as I hate all three of those looks. There are some stand out pieces here, but I am ultimately unimpressed.
Candice: Good, not great. I think they did Candice a disservice by telling her to pair it down, the collection needed volume and drama. The first three or four looks I found boring and forgettable, but I think it picks up more towards the middle starting with that great jacket which I still love. The red leather look and the dress with the sparkly red skirt with all the right amounts of skin showing are statement pieces. And I like the final looks as well, though it's easy to argue they're dressing two different women. The collection reads like her in the sense of bringing her own personal style to the runway, so that’s good, but I think it’s a shame that she lost all of the bigger standout pieces which spoke more to her design aesthetic.
Ashley: The thing to me about Ashley’s collection is that the lows are really low and I don’t know that I think the highs are quite high enough to circumvent that. There’s a full teal look that feels last minute and thrown together and way too covered up. And I don’t know what I think about the last look which is pretty and moves well, but also looks a little arts and crafts to me. But the purple look we saw last week is still really good, and the pieces that show some skin in this collection are always the best. The fact of the collection and the importance of it is never lost on me, but I’m not sure where I fall on the execution of it.
So as is expected, the collections are too close to really call and none of them offer any kind of standout from the pack pieces that we've seen before. Compare this to last season's finale when I couldn't stop gushing over all of Sean's looks while everyone else's except Amanda's left me a bit stagnant. Granted, I was biased towards Sean for awhile, and PR has taken last season's pics down so the links in that review are dead and I don't feel like looking up all of their respective collections, but still. The fact remains that we've seen collections in the past that were clear statements about who deserved the win. We don't really have that here and I don't think we expected to.
The judging goes along those lines we've been used to for the last few weeks. They loved some things from each contestant, and hated some things from each as well. Everyone compliments Kelly's voice and point of view and justify her place in the fashion world. This is something I agree with fully as I can totally see a number of girls excited to wear her looks. I don't think her's is a name we'll hear on red carpets too often, but her strength is clearly ready to wear, and that's where she can make an impact.
They also commend Ashley's bravery for creating a collection that was so her. I've said it multiple times, but the sheer existence of this collection on this show is super important. And Ashley's ability and willingness to helm this ship is great and says a lot about her. Heidi points out that the dresses look expensive, and Zac points out that her girls all looked really happy and comfortable in her looks, and those things go a long way for me. In short, Kelly and Ashley are praised for keeping their identity within the challenge.
Conversely, Candice and Edmond are chided for not doing so. Candice admits later on that she allowed the judges to strip her identity out of the collection in an effort to give them what she thought (and what they said) they wanted. Meanwhile, Edmond is kind of scrambling to explain that what he wanted to convey with some of his looks, the toilet paper dress for example, which Heidi hates as much as I do, is that he wants you to feel something when you see it. Whether that something is love or hate doesn't matter to him so long as he's brought on a response. I want to say that I think that ideology is perfectly valid for a piece of art that might hang on a wall or sit on a pedestal; it is not, however, acceptable for a piece of fashion that an amateur (because let's be honest, that's what PR contestants are) designer is going to send down the runway at NYFW. There's been a lot of talk about whether you should keep the identity you've had all season long to this point, or ditch it and show the judges something new, but I think what most of us should be able to agree with is that you don't send something down you know people might hate and be OK with the fact that they might hate it. That's not winning anyone the PR crown.
I like Nina's statements about this season being about identity because they harken back to the very first episode to me. Remember my cute Ginger Bear and that draped gown he sent down the runway? I loved it, but the judges sent it home because they felt it didn't tell them anything about who he was as a designer. When they questioned him, he didn't seem to have much of an answer about who he was yet, and said he's still trying to figure it out. Nina's statements pull us back to that moment and to the possibility of a season long arc for these contestants. Kelly found a strong identity and point of view in the later weeks and rode that to more wins than anyone else, as Heidi points out. Candice and Edmond found some amount of success and then lost their identities at the end either because the judges didn't like what they saw in their mini-collections, or because they tried to get too artsy and lost an essential part of themselves.
But Ashley's is the story of a girl who starts out with an identity and a point of view that she maybe doesn't know she has, or at least doesn't fully know if she believes in. It's there though, and it propels her to a win in the first episode with this breathtaking look. She gets another win later on before she starts to falter and lose faith in herself in the face of some Mean Girls bullshit from the other designers. But then she rallies, finds herself again, and turns out a collection that marks a great first for Project Runway, and earns her the ultimate win. I don't think the entire season was edited in such a way that it could get at the heart of this story, or this theme of identity. Indeed, every season of Project Runway can be said to be about identity in some way or another. But I think this season featured the least talented group of designers we've seen in awhile, and therefore it lends itself to this reading more than past seasons might. These people had to go about finding themselves over the course of this competition, and acknowledging that journey and the stumbles along the way (and the stumbles at the end here) somehow makes this entire season feel a lot more purposeful and generally better than it felt in the middle of it.
--OK I've been holding this in for a long time but I have to say it: Guys, I'm REALLY REALLY excited for PR Junior. I'll detail all the reasons why in the first comment, but yeah, I'm in!
--Kelly's tears and disappointment at the end make perfect sense as she made it to the top two and really wanted to win. She even says that she's happy for Ashley and these are mostly happy tears. But given the Mean Girls behavior from her all the way up until the last freaking episode, I'm calling bull shit. I think she was mad that Ashley, whom she has no faith in, beat her. Prior to the episode, I said I'd be happy with any win other than Kelly, then I saw her collection and changed my mind, and then I saw her reaction to losing and changed it back. Sorry, but Kelly can go fuck herself!
--Looking at Candice's pieces all laid out at the beginning of the episode as she decided what to keep, scrap, and edit, was heart braking to me.
--Thanks to everyone for joining in for another year with Project Runaways. It's be a pleasure writing up these episodes and engaging with you guys in the comments as always. I might actually watch the reunion episode this year, which I don't generally do. But if I do, I doubt I'll write it up for the blog. Instead, if you watch it, and want to say something about it, feel free to come back to this post and leave a comment and we can get a thread started there. Other than that, I'm thinking we'll certainly be back next year for another season, so be sure to check back in, and I might even keep going and writing up PR JR when that get's started, so maybe we can spend even more time together.