It took four seasons for "Project Runway" to produce the challenge I've always wanted to see: using classic works of art as inspiration for fashion. In theory, it's brilliant. You take the final five in the competition to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and show them Greek, Roman, European and Egyptian masterpieces. You then give them a chance to turn timeless artistry into proof of their own genius. But what do you get when your top designers are already convinced of their own genius? You get last night's episode, which proved life imitates art only when it isn't desperate to get to Fashion Week.
All right, it's the elephant in cyberspace so let's just get it out of the way, shall we? Fashion Week has already passed in New York. We know that all five remaining designers presented 13-piece collections. In fact, we already know what the collections look like — the pictures are all available online. Oh, and we also know that Victoria Beckham, in all her delightfully taut-skin glory, is the finale's guest judge. So this challenge was more an opportunity to find out something we didn't know about the designers or, more important, for them to find out something new about themselves. The problem is, the designers picked artwork that looked like the clothes they've been making all the time. Rami draped a Grecian dress, Christian made a European puffy shirt, and Chris even copied a design he'd already used in another challenge. Maybe it's good for designers to have such a strong aesthetic, or maybe it's boring. I mean, if you can't walk into one of the greatest museums in the world and get creative, you might as well go design for the Gap.
The episode began with the final five going out of their comfort zone and heading to the Upper East Side, as Tim escorted them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The designers were told to choose a work of art as inspiration for a look of their choice. They could choose from the Greek and Roman sculpture courtyard, the European painting wing and the Egyptian Temple of Dendur. Rami went straight for the sculptures and started taking pictures of every dress he has ever designed. All the other designers focused on paintings in the European wing, although Chris did insist he saw Joan Rivers' initials carved into the Temple.
Back in the workroom the designers were given two days and a budget of $300 to complete the challenge. Christian, who chose a Spanish painting of a man, wanted a female version of his look to emphasize androgyny. Somehow he had already completed a four-piece outfit before Jillian even finished pleating, causing the tamest of chick fights to ensue. Jillian went as far as to call Christian's look "marshmallowy." To quote Christian himself, "Ew, don't get bitchy!" But you can't blame the other designers for being annoyed with Christian. I mean, he's only 21, he has studied under Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood, and he's always done early. At least he doesn't nap with his extra time, like Chris did last night. I guess it's easier to complete your look when you've done it before. Déjà vu much?
Thankfully, Tim brought a much needed wake-up call to the workroom. It went something like this: Rami, stop draping. Christian, stop obfuscating. Jillian, hurry up. Chris, actually wake up. Sweet P, um, yeah. Poor Sweet P. I was really impressed that she chose a painting of peacocks as inspiration — she was, in fact, the only designer to choose art that didn't depict clothing. Unfortunately, it seems in her nature to think commercially, and her dress was very simple, despite how long it took her to make. I almost shed a tear watching her graciously lose to the other four contestants, knowing she had been so close to her dream. Oh, who am I kidding? Sweet P did show at Fashion Week, even if it was only because "Runway" wanted to avoid spoiling the show's finale. I love happy endings.
Runway Guest Judge: Roberto Cavalli
Chris March with model Marcia: Long, sweeping crepe gown with oversized pewter ruffle collar on one side and tie at hip. Styled with beehive hairdo. Cavalli thought it was the most artistic and could see Chris showing his collection at the haute couture shows in Paris. Michael called it dramatic but reminiscent of the earlier dress Chris and Christian made. Heidi forgot how beautiful the dress was because she had seen it before. In for "semifinals" against Rami before Fashion Week.
Christian Siriano with model Lisa: White organza blouse with puffed sleeves, structured black vest and capelet, black pantaloons. Styled with wide-brim hat. Cavalli loved the outfit because he could tell how much love Christian put in it, and he loved the details on the shirt under the vest. Nina commented on how Christian thinks about the "show" but remains practical. Michael found it super-chic. In for Fashion Week.
Rami Kashou with model Sam: Knee-length, strapless violet dress with fitted bust, single-sleeve detail and backless draping. Cavalli called it too normal. Michael said he expected more from Rami and the look was predictable. Heidi liked it but agreed she knew she was always going to see beautiful Grecian draping from him. Nina also wanted to see Rami out of his box. In for "semifinals" against Chris before Fashion Week.
Sweet P Vaughn with model Lea: Silk sheath dress with gold, red, purple and teal panels and false pockets. Styled with feathers in the hair. Michael called it a nice dress that was wearable and flattering but said it had no "show" to it. Cavalli wanted to see something more special. Heidi also called it sweet, but Michael added they wanted to see more than just commercial clothing. Out for Fashion Week.
Jillian Lewis with model Lauren: Fitted black jacket with high collar, flared below the waist and gold detailing on hem; over V-neck, metallic pleated mini-dress with braid detail on waist. Nina loved the interpretation of the painting and said Jillian keeps her surprised. Cavalli thought the detailing was fantastic and said he'd be happy to have Jillian on his staff. Heidi said the gold inside the jacket "wowed" her. Michael applauded how the clothes did great things for the model's body. In for Fashion Week.
Winning designer: Christian Siriano
Out: Sweet P Vaughn