The Fashion That Drives You

Finding creativity among seatbelts, floor mats, headlights, and seat cushions!

Heidi instructs the designers to go to the rooftop of 142 West 31st Street. That's all that she says and bids them farewell. Once there, they find out that it's a parking garage. They ascend to the rooftop via the enormous car elevator and, once there, are presented with a lineup of five brand new Saturn Vue Hybrid vehicles.

I'm there to greet the designers and to introduce them to Chris Webb, lead color designer for Saturn, who gives them their challenge. He explains that this particular Saturn model is 85% recyclable by weight, ergo the hybrid aspect. Each car has been filled with the materials for this challenge: floor mats, seat covers, headlights, seatbelts, carburetors, air vents, and sun screens, to name many. The designers have four minutes to load as much of these materials as they can into the provided laundry bags and rolling carts. Then, we're headed back to Parsons where the designers can create any look of their choice. This challenge is about innovation using untraditional materials. Our last challenge of this nature was the first challenge, Gristedes. Frankly, the results of that challenge were hugely disappointing, so this is a second change for the designers to wow the judges with their creativity and aptitude for innovation. I know that they have it in them, but we need to see it! In the end, I'm extremely pleased and excited about their achievements. But, will the judges be?

The designers have one day for this challenge. Celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe is our guest judge. And season three finalist Laura Bennett stands in for the ailing Nina Garcia. (Thank you, Laura! Come back, too. You're a fabulous judge!) The winner will receive immunity.

rate_runway_leanne_507.jpg

Leanne WINS! This look was sensational: a strapless mini-dress made out of seat covers with a "feathered" neckline made out of fringed seatbelts. Had one not known the source of the materials, one would never have guessed that they weren't all purchased at MOOD. Leanne even incorporated the natural shape of the seat covers - rounded at the top - to create a modified pannier. When the judges remarked that her look was very "Thierry Mugler meets John Galliano," I started to bristle, because I feared that they were citing her look as being too derivative. But, they loved it and she won! Congratulations, Leanne!

rate_runway_keith_507.jpg

Keith is OUT. His downfall? The judges pondered the lack of any semblance of the "cutting-edge designer" whom he claims to be, and they've grown tired of waiting for a demonstration of his creative and innovative potential. Furthermore, prior to the runway show, his model sat down, contrary to his instructions, and split the skirt, and he didn't have enough seam allowance to compensate for it. Consequently, the skirt's fit was horrendous. So, Keith presented basic items and silhouettes with a seriously poor fit. Yes, that's troublesome, but he was pitted against Lethah Stella for Heidi's "Auf Weidersehen," and her look was completely incomprehensible. (Oh, shut up, Tim.) In any case, I'm sick about losing Keith. Most of us will miss him very much.

rate_runway_blayne_507.jpg

Blayne created a dress using vertical lengths of taupe seatbelts. That structural arrangement and the construction it required - overlapping and sewing each seatbelt to another - increased both volume and textile rigidity, which fight against fit. In addition, the skirt of the dress cascaded in deliberately uneven lengths, which, frankly, looked sloppy. Blayne's challenge was to give the dress some shape and some elegance of proportion. He didn't (and maybe couldn't). So, with sloppiness and horrendous fit looming large, he's very lucky that the judges moved on and left him relatively unscathed.

rate_runway_jerell_507.jpg

Jerell designed a stunning look using the faux suede reverse side of the seat cushion for a strapless top and resin moldings and dashboard parts for trim. A black miniskirt was fashioned out of alternating matte and shiny textiles. It was sexy, sophisticated, and, I repeat, stunning. Furthermore, the judges called it out for being one of the top three looks.

rate_runway_joe_507.jpg

Joe was definitely in his comfort zone, since he lives in Motor City (Detroit) and designs for Schott. These materials didn't unnerve him! He created an adorable Motocross (by virtue of his use of the Saturn logo) mini-dress using red and black seat cushions and taupe seatbelt insets between the seat cushion pieces. It was a Saturn Vue Hybrid jigsaw puzzle, of sorts, and it was a marvelous success.

rate_runway_kenley_507.jpg

Kenley used the off-white reverse side of a silver sunscreen to create a skirt to which she added an air filter peplum on which she "Sharpied" a mini zebra print. She paired this with a strapless top out of black seat cushions. Midway through this challenge, Kenley was delivered a "make it work" moment: Her model Shannone dropped out, so we brought back the last model eliminated, Germaine, who's a size larger than Shannone. The skirt and the top were both too small, which sent Kenley into a nosedive. In the Project Runway spirit, she rallied and conquered. Her look was sexy, fun, and show-worthy.

rate_runway_korto_507.jpg

Korto wowed everyone and was close to stealing the win from Leanne. Undaunted, she wove dozens and dozens of taupe seatbelts to create a swing coat that was an homage to the mod 1960s of Courreges. This was no easy feat, and to be able to manipulate the belts in such a manner that they would drape with ease was a serious exercise understanding the grain lines of the textile (Blayne's problem). The result was spectacular! Rachel Zoe even declared that she wanted the coat for herself.

rate_runway_stella_507.jpg

Stella, oh Stella. Why does she choose this second chance to tackle innovation (remember her black garbage bag dress?) to wave bye-bye to her comfort zone, I ask rhetorically. "I don't do skirts," she declared to me. Then why are you doing one, now? It was a tiered A-line mini (are there such things?) made out of seatbelts. OK. But why are you pairing a shiny, taupe skirt that could be considered quasi-elegant (but lackluster) with a leather biker vest? It was incoherent. There was no cohesion. Neither I nor the judges understood anything about it. So, why is it that Keith went home, I ask rhetorically, again.

rate_runway_suede_507.jpg

Suede fully embraced this challenge, but he ran the risk of over-designing everything. When I made my first rounds in the workroom, he was attempting to force myriad pieces of broken mirrors (from side-view mirrors) inside black plastic dashboard templates. This exercise in pietre dure (elaborate mosaics) was entirely too ambitious for the timeframe and it was distracting him from getting the core of his design finished. "Suede's in trouble" indeed. Wisely, he put that work aside and created an off-the-shoulder top using a draped black rubber floor mat and a flapper-esque mini out of a silver sunscreen. Whew!

rate_runway_terri_507.jpg

Terri's look was stunning, too: quilted pants in black and gray and a black top, all made from seat cushions, with the exception of the cargo netting neckline. And, she was the only designer to create pants. (I know that viewers are saying that that's all that she does, but she does it superbly well, so why not?!) The only reason that she wasn't among the top three is because there was so much great work resulting from this challenge. Bravo, Terri!

The Final Showdown

Bryant Park was a frantic frenzy backstage but most kept cool.

After weeks of vigorous drawing, designing and sewing, the final three designers arrived at the last challenge. The pressure was on for Leanne, Korto, and Kenley as they geared up to show their collections at Bryant Park for New York Fashion Week!

As the TRESemmé Styling Team entered the fashion tents, we were filled with excitement and anticipation to see what the designers put together. Since each contestant had 10 models each, backstage was buzzing! Kenley was frantic because some of her models were missing and didn't even show up until the last minute. Leanne was the complete opposite - she stayed calm and collected and even had all her models ready to go way before runway time. Korto looked nervous but was ecstatic to be at Bryant Park. She told us it was something she had been dreaming about her whole life. After we gathered the 30 models, we split them up by designer so that the TRESemmé Styling Team could start transforming the girls. Korto's collection reflected her African heritage and culture. To complement the loud prints and bold colors, we decided to give Korto's models an up-do to accentuate the embellished detailing on the neckline of the garments. First, I started by taking a zig-zag section from ear to ear across the crown. I worked in TRESemme Anti-Frizz Secret Smoothing Crème to help create a sleek base. Then, we tied two separate ponytails to the right side of the head within the top and bottom sections. To add volume to the ponytail, we created waves using a 1″ curling iron, and then teased the hair. After, we lightly brushed the surface for a smooth exterior and neatly twisted and pinned the hair into a doughnut-shaped bun.

For Leanne's collection, she found inspiration by the lake near her home in Portland, Oregon. Each piece in her line had some sort of ripple or wave effect to it in different shades of blue and cream. We wanted to create a hairstyle that had a similar wave-like effect. Leanne envisioned the hair to look natural, organic and earthy. I began by generously spraying TRESemmé Thermal Creations Heat Tamer throughout the models' hair. After blow-drying, I gave her models a deep left side part and tied back the front pieces of their hair into a ponytail. I pulled the remaining hair and the ponytail into one low pony and curled it to create soft waves.Kenley designed an assortment of colorful knee-length dresses that she hand painted herself! She wanted the hair to be classic and sophisticated, so we decided to give her models Marcel waves. To get this look, I created a low left side part from above the eye to the crown, then sectioned the hair from the crown to behind the right ear and clipped it aside. Next, I put the remaining hair into a side bun to the right side of the head. After, we released the top section of the hair from the clip and misted the hair with TRESemme Thermal Creations Heat Tamer before blow-drying for a smooth finish. Then, we finished by applying TRESemme Thermal Creations Curl Activator Spray to the front pieces and used a 1" curling iron to create face framing Marcel waves. Finally, we loosely pinned the remaining length of the hair into a bun.

Even though all the collections looked amazing on the runway, there can only be one winner of Project Runway. Tim Gunn, who surprised everyone as the guest judge, thought Leanne's line was uniquely structured and versatile. Heidi said her cohesive collection floated down the runway. The judges all agreed her designs were flawless and Leanne was crowned winner!

It has been such a memorable experience seeing Leanne grow into the designer she is today, and I'm sure we can expect many more beautiful collections from her. I can't wait to see what type of ripple effect this designer will make in the fashion industry!