Project Runway

You just don’t pull craftsmanship like this out of your ass.

–Laura’s opinion of Jeffrey’s collection

You’re a crazy bitch.

–Jeffrey’s opinion of Laura

An appropriate alternative title for this season of Project Runway might be Project Run Amok. There was enough drama and turmoil to make viewers think that they had tuned into The Apprentice by mistake, and it lasted through the final episode.

What should have been a joyous occasion for the contestants selected to show at the fashion industry’s prestigious Olympus Fashion Week was marred by accusations of cheating. Thinking Jeffrey had outsourced some of the work on his collection, Laura was quick to raise her suspicions with Tim Gunn. If the accusation was true, Jeffrey would have violated the rule that the major work on all pieces be done solely by the designer, and he would have been sent packing.

While the resolution made for much melodrama, it was lousy television. The strength of the series has been its focus on the designers’ creative “spirit.” Certainly, personality conflicts and some cattiness have emerged as the contestants critiqued each other’s work and aesthetics, but this charge not only didn’t ring true, it gave the show a cutthroat air that previous seasons lacked. Though Laura said her allegations were fair, not vindictive, her repeated statements about how badly she wanted to beat Jeffrey made her protestations ring hollow. She hadn’t mentioned wanting to beat the other two contestants, at least not that viewers heard, and she made it abundantly clear that she didn’t want to lose to Jeffrey.

Of course, one can only blame the producers for allowing the tumult to progress as far as it did. It’s hard to believe that a production team so heavily involved in every aspect of the contest, including doing the contestant’s laundry, would allow the designers to go off for two months to work on their Olympus collection without some oversight. Having already seen one contestant, Keith, dismissed for cheating, were we supposed to believe that the producers let their guard down at the end of the race? At the same time, careful editing regularly made Laura appear mean-spirited. It’s not hard to believe that she honestly felt Jeffrey’s collection was too well-assembled to have been done alone. But honesty doesn’t attract viewers. Bitchiness does.

All this overshadowed what is truly Project Runway‘s strength: hot designs by up-and-coming designers. Fortunately, after dominating much of the first half of the two-part finale, the controversy was resolved within the first 15 minutes of the second half. Again, we could focus on the designers’ showcase collections. Jeffrey was acquitted of the charges and allowed to show (although he did have to eliminate one piece for which a receipt could not be found). Thus, all four contestants went to Fashion Week as planned, and all had reasons to be proud of what they had to show.

First up was Jeffrey, already disliked by the series’ fans for his insensitive handling of another contestant’s mother. His collection was typical of his style: colorful, diverse, and edgy. Next came Uli, who had been criticized throughout the season for doing variations of the same loose-fitting, wild-print party dress. If there were any surprises in the finale, it was her collection, which featured a variety of cute, stylish pieces and only two of her signature print dresses. Laura premiered what could best be described as the Morticia Addams Collection, heavy on sleek, tight-fighting black evening wear. Last up was fan favorite Michael, whose safari-themed collection did a better job of highlighting his potential than his talent.

After the required survey of celebs and fashion consultants in the audience as to who should win, the judges got down to selecting a winner. Nina Garcia from Elle and Michael Kohrs, fashionista extraordinaire, harped on their usual themes: Laura was too predictable, Jeffrey shouldn’t attempt evening wear. What was enjoyable about this segment was the presence of Olympus Fashion Week’s creator, Fern Mallis, as a judge. Mallis had no problem contradicting Garcia and Kohrs, observing, for instance, that Laura’s collection was elegant and saleable.

The decision was narrowed to two, Uli and Jeffrey. Although Heidi Klum argued that she would buy every piece in Uli’s collection and that most women would, Jeffrey was crowned top designer. Considering that most top designers create pieces that no real woman could wear, it’s not surprising that Jeffrey emerged victorious, as his designs tend to be innovative but not for regular people. (The one thing missing from the announcement of the winner was a reaction shot of Laura, whom one could imagine going into coronary arrest.)

Still, as much as Jeffrey came across as a bad boy, it’s hard to begrudge him the win. He is a good designer, and his personal story is inspirational. A former heroin addict who was homeless, Jeffrey was in the midst of a suicide attempt when rescued, and he put himself into rehab. Now sober, he is a doting father. His pride at winning paled in comparison to the pride he displayed in his toddler son, and their interaction after the decision was announced brought Mallis to the point of tears. His future is bright, and the same can be said for the other three designers who made it to the finale.

Based solely on design, I would have given the win to Uli, however. To insure a level playing field for future contestants, producers should bring in four new expert judges for the finale, and drop those judges who have been in place throughout the season. This would insure that the collections are ranked solely on their merit, not on the judges’ knowledge of the designers’ personalities or previous work.

But this season has proved that Project Runway‘s production team is more interested in theatrics than ingenuity A quick post in the closing credits noted that the producers have a say in all decisions: this would explain how drama queen Vincent managed to stay in the competition far longer than Allison, a vastly superior designer who didn’t rant. With the selection of Jeffrey as the winner, the producers may have kept their mouths shut for a change, but he sure went through hell on the way to the winner’s circle.

RATING 7 / 10