And so we come to the end of Project Runway All Stars. From thirteen designers, the competition was winnowed down to just three, Michael Costello, Austin Scarlett, and Mondo Guerra. At last these three talented men duked it out. The weapons? Mini collections of six looks. The ring? Gotham Hall in New York City. The results? Well, that was an exciting question to be determined.
There are the usual flashbacks of last week and footage of designers running around madly at the last minute. Austin is still finishing up his red carpet evening gown, Michael is confused that some of his outfits aren’t fitting the way they did before. Mondo, on the other hand, seems most perturbed of anything by a pair of tights that are much more sheer than he’d wanted. Yeah, that’s his biggest headache/crisis this week. Where Austin is hurtling about like a rodeo clown in desperate need of Ritalin, and Michael is sweating near-literal bullets, Mondo is pretty calm and collected. In fact, he’s kind of cheerful, in a Mondo way.
What a difference a couple days make.
The guest judges are Tommy Hilfiger and Ken Downing, fashion director of Neiman-Marcus. Downing makes sense since the winner’s clothes will be sold in a boutique in select Neiman-Marcus locations, and I guess it’s about time Tommy Hilfiger showed up on the franchise. If memory serves, he’s never been a guest judge on PR before this.
Anyway, Austin is up first and well, nobody can accuse him of not reaching for the stars. His inspiration now appears to include vampires. As long as they don’t sparkle, I’ll forgive him… but it seems he’s going in more of an Anne Rice direction than a Twihard one. So, eighteenth century vampire living in Williamsburg and occasionally borrowing clothes from her ‘Hassidic dandy friends.’
The show starts with a bang with a bright rose pink top and knee-length pants that look a little like a half-opened umbrella worn with a black sequined bolero with pink cuffs.
Next comes a rather fabulous little dress in laquered black lace over a nude lining. It has a bateau neckline and cap sleeves and falls halfway to the knee. The Really Amazing Detail is the way the lefthand side of the skirt is pulled up and molded over a stiff piece of horsehair(?) lining. It’s a really amazing combination of outrageous and truly simple and I’m kind of blown away by it. When the model turns around, we see that it’s very open in the back, to the point where it look almost as though it might fall down. Interesting, because you never would get that impression from the front and it doesn’t move an atom from where it’s supposed to be. This is the sort of piece that makes me so excited about Austin’s work.
I like the next one pretty well from the front. There’s a deceptively simple, very feminine pink sleeveless wrap blouse with bows on the shoulders worn over a high-waisted black leatherette pencil skirt. It’s pretty enough and it’s something that I think would sell… until the model turns around and I see this tiny fishfart of pink tulle poking out from the vent of the skirt. This is a real misstep. It’s just so awkward, which is not a word I associate with Austin’s designs.
Speaking of kind of awkward, the red carpet gown is up next and I’m not feeling it. The combination of a neckline that reminds me of a crumpled paper bag, a huge slanted peplum that falls nearly to the knees, a hobble band directly across the knees, and a bottom that looks like the cap of a mushroom… just aren’t doing it for me. Any one of those details might have been just fine, but putting them all in the same dress along with a pattern of cerise flowers the size of a dinner plate was not the best choice the lad has ever made.
Still the next look helps a bit. It’s a slinky black capri-length jumpsuit with a halter neckline and a rather gloriously OTT mauve flower at the throat. Not the most exciting look ever, but not bad, either.
Last, but some million miles away from least, comes the wedding gown. This is what Austin has been doing for a living since he left season 1, and this gown shows you precisely why that was such a great move for him. The gown is strapless with a ballgown skirt, sweetheart neckline, and a belt with a flower… except the skirt has an outrageous peplum of graduated petal shapes that are echoed in the bodice, the belt is black, and it’s shown with black opera gloves and a tiny black birdcage veil. I’ve gone on record again and again and again as hating black at weddings, but this is really working for me. Also, I can see it done with that sash being any and every color of the rainbow. It’s frankly stunning.
Overall, I see a couple of goofs, but I think most of it is great editorial material and quite a bit of is has the potential for commercial application. I just think those two looks are kind of painful, mostly because I know that if he’d had two more days to think, those looks could have been greatly improved. On the upside, I couldn’t tell which was the sixth look.
Then we get Mondo. He explains his need for a little therapy lead to this collection. I could see some of the longtime designers kind of nodding in recognition.
The first look is a full blouse with elbow length full sleeves and an oversized bow at the neckline made of a sheer black fabric with big silver polka dots. It’s worn over a silver micromini skirt with a strip of sheer black at the hem and a black applique that seems to represent an eye looking through a magnifying glass. The proportions are surprisingly good and I adore the sense of humor it shows.
Next up is a very simple mini sheath dress in black with white squared-off dots. It’s sleeveless and features a pair of big round patch pockets, as well as a contrasting black and silver dot collar and placket with three almost comically large black buttons. On closer inspection, the buttons graduate in size from the largest on the top to the smallest on the bottom. To make the look even more seamless and cohesive, he has sewn them on with white thread, as if to add a dot to each one. It’s a brilliant editorial look that I could see interpreted for the street effortlessly.
Next up is Mondo’s sixth look. I can tell this because it uses the Keith Haring zigzag stripes from the Nanette Lepore challenge. In fact, that’s the main fabric of a very wearable tunic with a yoke of a sheer brown and ecru zebraesque print and shirttail hem. It’s worn over a pair of simple black leggings with completely sheer cut outs on the sides. I’m not wild about those cut outs, but they’d be great in a fashion shoot, and then the model would go home, put the tunic on with some more realistic leggings or a little pair of shorts, and look great.
And then comes the suit. The short boxy jacket with the elbow length sleeves is made of the same fabric as the sheath dress. It’s paired with an elegantly cut pair of wide legged trousers in a similar fabric with a smaller scaled version of the dots. The pants have a round pair of mock pocket flaps, piped in black and decorated with the oversized black buttons. They fit and move like a dream. Under the jacket, Mondo has given the girl a tee shirt in the Rorschach print, one black sleeve, and one bright red sleeve. I’m in lust. I do not ever wear black above the waist, but I want this suit. I want to have this suit’s babies.
No, really, I do. I mean it.
This is followed by another look I absolutely covet. It’s a simple dress with three-quarter sleeves and a very shallow scoop neck that falls to the knees. In the back, that neckline falls dramatically, but retains its dignity. Most of the dress is black, but there’s a strip of white with Rorschach print down the entire front, and the left cuff is bright red. Again, wildly editorial, but believable for real lives, too.
Last but not least, there’s an evening gown in black lame with silver and bright red dots in different sizes overlapping one another. It appears to be a wrap dress with a wide black sash and these kind of fabulous black epaulettes in an almost cloud-like shape. It’s lined in black. The line is more relaxed than you see every day from Mondo, but it’s got his trademark quirkiness, too. It’s like the softer side of Mondo. It would definitely make a statement when you walk into the room, but it’s also something that looks easy and fun to wear.
The thing I keep thinking about this collection is that everything is ready to be photographed for a high fashion magazine, but at the same time it would take only tiny tweaks to make each and every look he sent down that runway sell like hotcakes to real women leading real lives.
And so we come to Michael. He’s so sincere and so eager and I love him all to bits and back again. As for the clothes… I’m a little more hit and miss on them. But in general, I thought they came out more sophisticated and more believable than his usual work, and I applaud that.
First up was a wide-legged, relaxed jumpsuit in a brown on ecru snake print. I detest snake print, and I don’t think this was a particularly good one. But the cut of the jumpsuit was good. And while it was very bare in the back, the front was covered, so even though a bra wasn’t going to happen, it wasn’t a matter of holding very still to avoid wardrobe malfunction. Also, I do like the fact he put slash pockets in. That’s a nice, practical feature that most women love.
The next piece is a tight jersey dress in a black and white zebra print with boxy shoulders and a silver leather vest. There’s some piecing over the bust that seems like it’s meant to mimic a bra, which is unfortunate. Again, there’s no wearing a real bra with this one because the back is open… but again, no longer in danger of giving this girl a severe case of plumber’s crack. I’m not wild about the piece in any way, but I do applaud his efforts to grow and evolve as a designer.
Then comes a sort of grey on black fantasy zebraish print. It’s used to make a short dress with three quarter tight sleeves and a skirt that’s fuller at the top than the bottom, almost creating a slight panniere effect. Oh, and the neckline? Straight up jewel! Yes! A woman could wear an actual bra with it! I nearly fainted. And while it’s not the most innovative thing I’ve ever seen, I did quite like it.
We go from strength to strength because next up is a really cute shorts and jacket outfit that I could see women wearing all summer long for all sorts of occasions. The print is a mix of animal skin prints that somehow makes me think more than anything of a Monarch butterfly. The shorts are slouchy and relaxed without being bulky or sloppy. The jacket has full batwing sleeves in a three-quarters length. Its belted in the front, but not in the back. And while the neckline is a deep vee, it’s not down to the navel, and the back is covered. If you were worried about coverage, it would still look good with a tank top underneath, too. This is my favorite of the looks Michael showed.
The next look appeared at first glance to be a jumpsuit, but as it turns out it’s actually a bustier top and a pair of palazzo pants. It’s simple, nicely cut, and nothing very new. It’s in a natural looking zebra print. This is Michael’s favorite of the looks he showed.
And the final look is the ‘signature Michael dress’ as Joanna Coles calls it. It’s the sixth look made of the flag challenge white jersey. It’s a draped gown with plunging neckline, both front and back. There’s a narrow black belt, and at the top of the bodice the white is taken up into black straps that go over the shoulders, cross in the middle of the back, and connect to the belt at the back. The plunging neckline goes to a spot above the waist in front and to just above the small of the back in the rear. In short, it’s a signature Michael gown that a firm-breasted young woman who is confident in her body could wear easily without fearing to take a breath or bend her neck long enough to see what’s on the canape tray being handed around. In short, I like it. It’s the same dress he shows all the time, but a better, more wearable version of it.
Oh, and he showed it with another boxy vest in black.
Do I think Michael is any competition for Austin or Mondo? No, I do not. Do I think he’s got potential? Pots of it. Do I think he’s going home with the prize? Better luck next time, Michael, and thanks for playing.
The judges do a critique with each designer. These go pretty smoothly, though there’s some talk of Mondo doing odd proportions and weird details that frankly kind of confuses me. His proportions – while sometimes wildly unexpected – are usually spot on. As for the weird details, that’s what draws so many people to his work. There’s a humor and a delight in his clothes that makes people want to join in the fun. Oh, and not one of the judges said anything (at least that made it to the final cut) about that horrible little fishfart of tulle on that skirt of Austin’s. I wanted to slap his sewing hand for that detail!
Anyway, the judges discuss the question at far greater length than we are shown. Ken Dowling is all for Michael because he thinks he could sell every piece of that collection tomorrow if he had them in the store. Angela is kind of disappointed in Mondo’s collection, because she feels he showed stronger work throughout the season. Isaac and Tommy Hilfiger agree that Austin showed a lot of great ideas, but not a cohesive collection. I hate to say it, but I can’t really disagree with them on that. Isaac really seems annoyed by that wedding gown, and once again I long to slap him hard. That wedding gown was gorgeous. It would sell like hotcakes.
The boys are called out again to hear the decision of the judges. There’s another twist, but this time it’s not a bad one. The two who are not declared winners win fabulous trips to Paris to stay in luxury hotels. It’s not a hundred grand and guest editorship of a popular fashion magazine, but it’s not exactly a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, either.
As I suspected would be the case, Michael is issued his ticket to Paris right away. I hope he takes his boyfriend and has a lovely, romantic trip that inspires him hugely.
And so it’s down to Austin and Mondo, as I suspected it would be from the day I heard who was in the show. Both are amazingly talented guys who deserve any and all prizes that come their ways. A piece of me wishes they both could take home all the marbles.
But I also know who I believe came through the most in this final challenge. As it turns out, the judges agree with me. Austin is going to Paris, and Mondo is going to report for work at Marie Claire!
My one wish for this episode? Is that Austin had not had any missteps in his collection. I wanted to see both these guys bring their A game and force the judges into a bloody deathmatch to determine the winner. As it is, I think he over-reached himself for the time alloted and thus created that chaotic red carpet look the judges hated, that puff of tulle that needed to be staked from that skirt, and a fairly ho-hum catsuit (which, incidentally, it turns out was the sixth look). After those looks, Mondo’s victory was something I very nearly assumed.
And so we come to the end of Project Runway All Stars. Now I need to wait for summer and season ten of Project Runway, when my beloved Tim Gunn (Call me, Tim! I’ll bake scones!) and the deliciously deranged Heidi Klum will be back on my television. I can’t wait!