Even Designers Get The Blues

A nail biting finish during this tension filled challenge!

On the runway, Heidi tells the designers that they're taking a field trip -- with me -- and that they'll learn about the challenge on the trip. There are audible groans from almost everyone ....

I meet the designers in the lobby of Parsons and we load into our van. It's a gorgeous, bright morning for our field trip. We travel through the city, across the Brooklyn Bridge, and to the Brooklyn Dockyards on the East River opposite South Street Seaport and Lower Manhattan. There, I lead the designers to meet our special guest, Caroline Calvin, Senior Vice President of Design for Levi's. We're standing in front of a garage door that begins to open. As it does, I declare, "Behind this door you will find the raw materials for this challenge -- more than 500 pairs of 501 jeans in a variety of sizes and colors, and one-yard bolts of white cotton." Caroline delivers the challenge: to create an iconic denim look of your choice that captures the spirit of originality and creativity of the 501 legacy.

The jeans and cotton fabric are hanging from clotheslines strung throughout the inside of a massive warehouse. The designers are palpably daunted by the sight. They have three minutes to gather as many items as possible, and they have laundry bags in which to store them. With that accomplished, we have a lovely, but speedy, al fresco lunch on the dock, which all of us truly enjoyed. As Christian said, "I don't know when it was when I last saw the sky!" Back in the workroom, I inform the designers that Levi's has provided them with notions for the challenge -- zippers, metal buttons, the Levi's insignia, rivets, and a riveting machine. There is no extra shopping trip. And the designers have until midnight of this same day to finish the challenge.

Caroline Calvin is our guest judge. She surprises all of us when she declares that the winning look will be sold as a limited edition on the Levis.com. How thrilling is that?!?!

I just want to add that time management was an egregious issue for the designers. This was the first time this season when I witnessed such a collective meltdown in the workroom. It wasn't pretty. Furthermore, I feared that most of them wouldn't finish.

Finally, there is no immunity for the winner of this challenge, nor will there be for the winner of any future challenges. With so few designers still standing, it's a tougher -- and rougher -- playing field. raterunway_03_409_220x415.jpg

Ricky wins! I don't know who was more surprised by his win -- Ricky or me. I cannot tell a lie: I was profoundly concerned about his look. I thought it was too basic and too poorly finished. On the show, you hear me say, "It's stunning," and it's true that I did say it, as in, "Fix all of this and make certain that it's stunning." The editors were stuck with a conundrum, because so little of what I said to Ricky (and I said a lot) could be used. In any case, I was baffled by the judges' rhapsodic support of his design. It was so similar to Rami's look and even to Chris's design, but it was less ambitious than either. The judges celebrated the look's fit. It's a strapless tube dress! How challenging can the fit be? But please don't get me wrong: I'm sincerely pleased for Ricky that he won. But I'm equally baffled. Chacun a son gout. It's a matter of taste. raterunway_05_409_220x415.jpg

Victorya is OUT. Victorya struck me as being listless and lackluster from the moment the challenge was presented and she was faced with that daunting warehouse. Her elimination did not surprise me in the slightest. Her iconic look, the classic trench, was a sound idea, but how she executed it was more like the work of a stylist than a designer. By that I mean, she barely altered the classic denim jacket: She added a wider lapel and a "skirt" of sorts to give the jacket additional length. It was so "ho-hum, who cares" that I suspected she would put the judges to sleep. Instead, their incredulity equaled my own. Goodbye, Victorya. raterunway_02_409_220x415.jpg

Chris eluded me. Did his ambitiousness in the last challenge wear him out? Not only was his design -- a quasi-halter mini-dress -- so basic and un-Chris, but his execution was uneven: one frayed edge on a trim detail that becomes the halter. It was so odd and, as I've already written, so un-Chris. Thankfully, he passed through the judges' lens. Chris, come back to us! raterunway_01_409_220x415.jpg

Christian entered into the challenge as the last designer to have immunity, and while that factor may have fueled his attitude during the challenge, it didn't impact his work. I loved his look: a feminized motorcycle jacket with a pair of super-slim jeans. It was an innovative biker outfit! The shrunken jacket had an oval pleated placket and ruched shoulder embellishment that soften the tailoring, and the jeans were fabulous -- the piece de resistance being his use of a jacket sleeve for the lower portion of the leg. His creation was indisputably iconic, so I assumed that we would be a top contender for the win. Fierce! raterunway_07_409_220x415.jpg

Jillian went crazy with ambition and almost derailed herself. As Nina said, there were far too many ideas happening. Furthermore, Jillian's concept was a mere denim riff on the coat that she presented to the judges in the last challenge, and it was a coat that they all loved. Didn't she fear that she would hear, "Haven't we seen this before?" Has she learned nothing from the runway eviscerations of Rami? She presented a double-breasted coat with a high collar using light-wash denim. It did not embody her brilliant tailoring abilities or her stealth-like point of view. Like Chris, Jillian was off her game. Like Chris, I'm glad she's still here. raterunway_04_409_220x415.jpg 

Rami, in my view, was another strong contender for the win. His look possessed a sophistication that one wouldn't expect from denim. His two pieces read as one: a high-waisted skirt, the bottom third of which was pleated, and a sleeveless, asymmetrical top. Throughout both pieces were zippers used as seam piping. That element made the look sing! I was dazzled and so were the judges. So, Ricky wins? raterunway_06_409_220x415.jpg

Sweet P pulled herself out the alarming potential for a Woodstock-inspired derailment. When I first saw her design, I was woeful. She was creating a denim wedding dress (huh?), full-length and patchworky. It was dreadful. This was a déjà vu from the Hershey's challenge when her first design went completely awry and she barely squeaked by on the runway. For this challenge, she really rallied! By shortening the dress and cleaning up the construction, she created a modern looking, color-blocked chic sensation. I was wowed -- and relieved. Go Sweet P!

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