Project Runway Recap: The Dog Days Are Over

Good news about the second episode of Project Runway‘s ninth season: There were a number of innovative, wearable looks among the 15 designs spun from muslin and pet-store merchandise. The show’s editors continued to do a much better job than they did in Season 8 at building a sense of suspense over who’d get auf’d and who’d get praised once the finished frocks came down the runway. And Tim Gunn got to drop the phrase “wee-wee pad” on multiple occasions.

The not-so-good news? Nina Garcia once again used her hypnotic evil eye to bend Heidi Klum’s will and reward a drab, ill-fitting outfit as the week’s top look. Yes, Thursday night’s episode threw shades of Season 8’s Gretchen-over-Mondo catastrophe, and it fills me with nameless dread that we’ll probably be seeing additional judging crimes committed in the weeks and months ahead. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves by predicting the continued celebration of wet wool, tree bark, and sadness by Nina and Michael Kors, and instead focus on this week’s “unconventional materials” challenge.

When Tim Gunn brought our merry band of contestants on a shopping spree at Petland, I started fretting that some avant-awful designer might get the brilliant idea to use crushed guppy paste or hide of hamster in his or her work. At the very moment the thought crossed my mind, our trusty mentor began to issue a warning — “The judges do not respond well to…” — and I incorrectly assumed he’d complete the sentence with a phrase like “the bludgeoning of innocent domesticated animals in the name of fashion” or “skinning a snake to make jaunty accessories.” But nope, Tim was merely warning the designers that they shouldn’t gravitate toward fabric or traditional-type materials. Finally, Bert raised the question if live animals were off limits, and you could see our Tim make a mental note to keep a close eye on store mascot Swatch when or if these competitors finally make a trip to Mood.

Before we talk about the judges’ favorites, the Bottom 3, and the two outfits I felt were criminally snubbed, can we pause for a second to discuss the painful pretentiousness of “Olivier”? In his own words, this dude was born and raised in Ohio, left home at 16 to move to London, then spent time in Milan and New York City. So apparently, we’re meant to believe that in a mere six years, he wound up with the most rapidly developed, clipped “Euro” accent this side of Michigan’s Madonna Ciccone? Designer, please. Even worse, every one of his monotone sound bites seems designed to convince us he’s some kind of walking art installation/performance piece. “I had rabbits when I was young,” claimed the One Who Cannot Relate to Such Mundane Places at Pet Stores, “but they all died.”
And later, as his look came down the runway, he burped out this zinger: “I almost feel emotional.” Perhaps by season’s end, “Olivier” will prove himself brave, truthful, and unselfish, and become a real boy just like Pinocchio!

OK, end of rant. Let’s move on to the judges’ picks for the three best and three worst designs:

* Since I’m already piling on “Olivier,” can I add that I was completely convinced he’d been kept behind on the runway to get a dressing down by the judges? Surely Nina, Michael, Heidi, and guest judges Stacey Bendet were going to point out the unflattering “muffin top” effect at the bottom of his doggie-bed blouse, the asymmetrical sleeves, the hip-expanding fit of his “ombré” wood-chip skirt, and the hideous styling of his model’s eyebrows. But nope, instead we got Nina praising its “simple yet dramatic shape” and saying she’d photograph it for Marie Claire in a minute. Only at the last possible — and after “Olivier” had left the runway — did Stacey point out the look was “a little dumpy” on top, which gave Michael the courage to defy Nina with a comment about a “busty Sherpa.” And yet, even though Heidi championed the vastly superior frock by Anthony, Nina’s favorite won the week — and precious immunity to boot.

* Runner-up for best-in-show was Anthony’s beaded birdseed minidress, with a sunflower seed collar that left me gasping with delight. Michael was right that the frock could have been worn directly to a party — provided there weren’t “a lot of birds nearby.” I can’t blame the designer himself for getting so excited that he whispered “Get it, girl!” as his model trotted past the judges, and while, yeah, the hemline was a tad daring, the degree of risk was quite high. As Anthony pointed out midway through the workday, “to go home over bird seed and hot glue would be devastating.”

* Third place for the week went to the increasingly charming Joshua, whose flirty aquarium-rock top and wispy circle skirt were as electric as his snappy sound bites. (Joshua’s best zinger this week: “A garment out of dog-food bags? If that’s out of the box, then put me back in!”) I loved that the guy was smart enough to alter his ambitious plans after a chat with Tim Gunn, and while it’s true that his model was overstyled into submission, at least you can’t accuse him of being boring. Bonus points to Joshua for his wacky remark to Nina about the chain-mirror accessory: “It’s for your parrot to look at itself.” Alrighty, then!

* The week’s losing look came from sweet, misguided Josh, who signaled trouble at the top of the episode with the one-two punch of declaring “I can only go up, hopefully” from his near elimination in Week 1, and then adding he was “not trying to win as much as trying to get by.” I didn’t loathe his sleeveless umbrella top and forgettable skirt as it came down the runway, but it began to look more tragic as the judges started picking it apart. Michael declared the top made the model look ready for “nursing triplets,” before Nina gave the most withering critique of all: “It’s not terrible, just okay.” Ouch, that burns.

* Is it crazy that I was a little confused why Fallene wound up in the Bottom 2 with Josh? Granted, the weird proportions of her brown top did do strange things to her model’s bust, but I rather liked the look of her simple orange skirt, adorned with textured aquarium plants. The judges had a conniption over the color palette — “She’s Miss Pumpkin!” squealed Michael — but I’d have rated her look above Olivier, Bert, Julie, Becky, Josh, Bryce, and maybe even Cecilia.

* Speaking of Bryce, his “wee-wee pad” extravaganza rounded out the Bottom 3, and I was sure he was a goner after Nina said the look reminded her of Blue Man Group and Heidi declared her desire to “pee all over” what she deemed the “worst outfit I’ve seen in a long time.” (I also liked Joshua’s questions about the garment’s end user: “Where is she going? Why is she going there? In that?”) Actually, how did this dude survive?

And finally, I’d just like to focus for a second on the two outfits I thought should’ve been heralded alongside Anthony and Joshua for their general chicness and innovation. Laura wisely ditched her “assy” doggie neck brace skirt and sewed cardboard strips into a feminine, tailored skirt that looked almost quilted on the runway. Even Better was Viktor’s skin-tight and gorgeously dyed orchid “wee-wee pad” dress, which didn’t have a hint of homespun and looked like it was made with materials bought at Mood. Viktor himself admitted his look wasn’t the loudest or “most design-y” but honestly, the shapes of “Olivier” and Anthony’s designs weren’t exactly unique, either. I’m not sure if he made that glittering purple necklace or thoughtfully pulled it off the Piperlime Accessory Wall, but either way, the completed look was a winner in my book.

What did you think of this week’s Runway? Were you confused by the judges’ praise of Olivier’s garment? Were there any outfits you thought got snubbed? And did the right person go home? Sound off below, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!