Good Queen Fun

A challenge of queen size proportions!

Heidi announces, "Let's bring out a special guest." The silhouette of an exaggerated Valkyrian presence appears behind the Project Runway scrim: It's season four semi-finalist Chris March in drag! Chris informs the designers that for this challenge they will be designing for drag queens, and out come 11 captivating individuals who line up on the runway. They introduce themselves and say a little about their persona. Then, the designers each choose a drag queen with whom to work. Chris concludes, "Fashion is all about putting on a show. So, be as theatrical and over-the-top as you can be." Mark those words, designers!

The designers have 30 minutes to consult with their new clients in the workroom. Then, we're off to MOOD with a budget of $200. There are two days for this challenge.

And the stunning and inimitable RupPaul is our guest judge. How uber-fabulous is that?

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Joe WINS! Joe designed for Varla Jean Merman. He created a pink sequined catsuit with a "Hi ya, sailor!" twist that was so spot-on perfect that for the first time this season, I actually was able to predict who would win. For me, it was only too obvious: Joe's concept was superb, his execution was flawless, and the sublime Varla Jean Merman worked this look on the runway as though there were no tomorrow. Isn't it ironic that our only hetero male would win this challenge? Congratulations, Joe!

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Daniel is OUT. Daniel designed for Annida Greenkard. Using yellow and orange jersey in a creamsicle print, he created a strapless gown with a flamenco-like skirt and cascading train. The dress was beautiful -- there's no denying that. The problem was two-fold: The look wasn't exuberant enough for the purpose of the challenge, and the judges have grown tired of seeing Daniel regurgitate evening and cocktail dresses. Daniel, best wishes. We'll sincerely miss you.

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Blayne designed for Miss Understood. He created a crazy, gay Jurassic Park-ilicious pterodactyl outfit in pink. Oy! The bodice of the dress was fine and meshed perfectly with Miss Understood's sensibility, but those wings! Not only did they look patched on and arbitrary, but their engineering failed: One was flagging. I thought it was miraculous that he squeaked by without being cited as one of the bottom three. Blayne, this was a close call!

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Jerell designed for LeMAY. He created an "ocean inspired" sequined dress with a very odd collar treatment. Oy, again! This look was the biggest loser in my opinion: The dress was a simple silhouette, albeit jazzed up by the piecing of the sequined fabrics; the green collar was too high and too GREEN for LeMAY's relatively short neck and fair complexion, thereby dwarfing her head and giving her a sickly pallor; and that fringe along the hemline? Egads. he fringe looked saggy, it was too long, and did it have to be asymmetrical, too? The judges were correct to be stumped by why-oh-why over-the-top Jerell would hold back in a challenge that's all about being over-the-top. Jerell, you're very lucky that you're still in!

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Keith designed for Sherry Vine. Given that the judges placed him in the bottom three, I know that he regretted not having immunity for his win in the last challenge. He designed a mini-dress that was expressly intended to expose Sherry's bra and panties, which is evidently a Sherry Vine signature (go figure?). I was concerned about the possible vulgarity of this display, and Keith assured me that he had reeled in this request and that the panties wouldn't show. This look was topped by a stole (or sorts) made out of strips of black, white, and gray fabric, and this treatment was echoed over the skirt. This led to a potent issue for the judges Keith's repeated use, challenge after challenge, of this layering method. They're simply tired of it and want to see what else he can achieve. RuPaul, who was not familiar with Keith's designs for prior challenges, actually declared his fondness for the outfit and even stated that he would wear it. OK -- go Keith!

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Kenley designed for Farrah Moans. She created a long column of a gown in silver sequins that was enhanced by a large collar treatment using black and white ostrich plumes. The look was very Marilyn Monroe, but a costumey Marilyn, not a modern 2008 Marilyn. Still, she passed through the judges' discerning eyes and was safe for the next challenge.

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Korto designed for Sweetie. Her concept, "an animal in heat," was realized as a red sequined cocktail dress with an empire waisted, detachable skirt in duchesse satin. Sweetie isn't diminutive, and Korto mitigated her size with deft thoughtfulness and consideration. The proportions of the pieces of the look all worked beautifully and harmoniously, and the detachable skirt made for a dramatic reveal. And to top things off, Sweetie really worked it on the runway!

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Leanne designed for Sharon Needles. She created a modern, edgy mini-dress in black with jagged origami-like extensions on the shoulders and the skirt. The look she designed was pure Fashion with a capital F, because it said "Paris couture" just as potently as it did "drag queen." I was stunned, quite frankly, that Leanne didn't remain on the runway as one of the top three. Her look was perfectly conceived for Sharon Needles and it was superbly executed.

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Stella designed for Louisa Verde. Stella used a rather lackluster tartan and an odd black spandex fabric to create a floor-length dress with a train. It was dull and basic, but for the peculiar tartan panel in the front, the bottom of the skirt, which swung like a doggy door. Furthermore, the grommets and lacing (surprise!) on the back of the dress were used arbitrarily. As with Leanne, I was equally stunned that Stella wasn't kept on the runway for being one of the bottom three. I believe that her savior was her drag queen, Louisa Verde. Louisa's presence was profound and captivating: Her hair and makeup were memorable, as was her jewelry. In my opinion, those were the only good aspects of this entire look.

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Suede designed for Hedda Lettuce. He created a Flintstone-like green print "jacket" with peplum over a strapless green cocktail-length dress. I write "jacket," because, given that the piece didn't have sleeves, it was more like a vest. Instead of sleeves, opera-length gloves with baby bib lettuce embellishments covered Hedda's arms. I'm merely happy that Suede's look walked the runway at all: He and Hedda had such an incendiary relationship, and Hedda was so vocal about how she wanted to re-design the look, that I was concerned that she might refuse to walk the runway. In the end, all was well, thankfully.

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Terri designed for Acid Betty. Her concept was "geisha-on-acid," and the judges loved it. I was dubious about Terri's extensive use of white, especially given that color's discordant relationship with the gummi bear red corset-as-obi. (She and I had a BIG disagreement about this look, but not one second of our several encounters is seen on the show.) OK -- I get it Terri, and I respect the judges' adulations, but I'm still not a fan of this design.

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Finale, Part 2

Impressive work by all but alas only one designer can win.

Well, for me, this episode was the Project Runway first among Project Runway firsts! Why? Because I served as a judge for the first time (and, hopefully, the last time) ever. Here's the back story: Bravo and the executive producers approached me before our Bryant Park show to say that there may be a problem with our guest judge and, consequently, how would I feel about filling in. At first, my response was a roll-up-your-sleeves and "make it work!" form of positive thinking, but as I contemplated the reality of it, I pushed back and refused. Consider the following: I still had another visit to the designers that night and there would be a considerable amount of time needed to support them in the morning before the show. How could I be both a mentor and a judge and service their needs appropriately and responsibly? I believed that I couldn't. So, to make a very long story a wee bit shorter, we ended Thursday night's bevy of phone calls in the following way: Bravo and the producers would ardently search for a replacement judge and I would return to my work with the designers assuming that I would not be a judge If I were to be needed in that role, then I wouldn't be informed of that need mere moments before the show. Otherwise, I could be perceived by the designers (and anyone else mind you) as being duplicitous and insincere. That would never do. Furthermore, Kenley and I were engaged in an semi-incendiary relationship, and the worst thing that could happen would be for her to lose and have me perceived as being the reason why. Oy! So, we know what happened: Our guest judge backed out at the last minute, a celebrity replacement couldn't be found on such short notice, and I filled in. With 10 minutes and counting until our show, Heidi came to me and asked, "So, you're ready to do this, no?" I replied, "To be honest, I don't know. I have an altogether different relationship with the designers than you and Nina and Michael have. I don't know." Heidi reared back and asked, "Tim Gunn, are you telling me that with all of your years of teaching you can't put your relationships aside and look at their work impartially? I thought about her wise words and responded, "Of course I can! Let's go!" We hugged and kissed and off we went.

Don't ever wish to be a guest judge on the show! To be blunt, I don't know how the judges do what they do and as well as they do: The collections pass by quickly, you have to wrap your brain around each piece of each collection immediately, and you have to come to terms with some comparative assessment right away. AND, I had the distinct advantage of intimately knowing the designers' work, yet is was still daunting. In any case, it really was very, very difficult. And there was one very important dimension to this process: seeing the clothes walk. Generally speaking, I don't see them walk. Rather, I see everything static on dress forms. Walking is an altogether different experience and it brings everything to life. So, in that sense, my experience with each designer's collection couldn't have been fresher and newer.

Here are my thoughts about the three collections: Leanne WINS, and what a win it was! We saw all of the conceptual content that really is at the core of Leanne's point of view, and we saw it tempered and orchestrated with precision. As I said to her during the home visit: "I always trust that you will present masterful technique, but can you give your work feeling, emotion?" This was her personal challenge. And she did it All of the strong architectural elements that are Leanne were clearly present, but her looks possessed a buoyancy and an ease, an effortlessness that belied each items structure. Furthermore, her collection was the result of superb editing; had she not brought her critical eye and judgment to each looks and its relationship to every other look, then there may have been a different outcome. Kenley presented a strong point of view and excellent execution, neither of which were surprises, and both of which were appropriately lauded.

I loved Kenley's textile choices and her hand-painting, which was a risky endeavor, and the silhouettes couldn't have been more her. But when the looks walked, they possessed a stiffness that I wasn't prepared to experience. Static on a dress forms, her looks beautifully captured the essence of her inspiration: "painting the roses red" from Alice in Wonderland. (When I made my home visit to her, Kenley resisted revealing her inspiration, which confounded me. When she finally relented, she gave me an epiphany. "Now I get it!" I declared.) But when the clothes walked on the runway, they retained much of their static appearance; that is, most of the looks moved like stiff pasteboard. I could see Kenley's collection emanating a major "wow!" factor in an editorial spread in Elle, but I had a hard time imagining how they would or could navigate and function in the real world. Still, I loved the fantasy aspect of the collection and its other-worldliness. Korto fully embraced her African heritage and her Americanism. Furthermore, she was successful embracing that goal, which is no small task, especially since the entire collection could have been a costume festival. Her silhouettes, alone, told her story, and when you add the colors, textures, and jewelry, her entire collection was uplifted. Color is nothing if not subjective, and I applaud her decision to step away from the expected and mix up her largely taupe palette with vibrant greens and blues. And the jewelry? Well, from my perspective it was all inextricable from the larger aspect of her point of view and, more particularly, to the individual looks themselves. I loved it. Is her collection for everyone or anyone? Of course not, but whose is?

Congratulations to all!

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