Project Runway Recap: Learning Curves

Ven Budhu might never create a line of clothing that can be sold to women larger than a Size 4 — after all, when you’ve reached Size 6 proportions, you might as well give up on life and simply cut neck and arm holes into a burlap sack, right? — but I’m really looking forward to his book Ven and the Art of Douchebaggery.

Oh, sure, Ven’s not the first designer in Project Runway history to express his horror over having to work with a woman whose measurements and willingness to express her opinions don’t mimic those of a mannequin — Book Idea No. 2: Everything I Ever Needed to Know About “Women,” I Learned from a Dress Form — but his unfiltered cruelty toward and about his client Terri on this week’s episode have made him my least favorite contestant in the show’s 10-season history. Let’s put it this way, you know you’re behaving like a first-rate cad when misanthrope Elena is giving you the side-eye and saying she’s lost respect for you because you’re being so obnoxious.

I just wish Heidi Klum & Co. had made the bold decision to auf Ven from the competition — despite the fact that he’s an obvious front-runner, and even though his finished product this week wasn’t really the worst of the worst. Project Runway, after all, airs on Lifetime, a network with the tagline “television for women”; whether or not Ven’s villainous behavior makes for “good TV,” or whether or not his construction skills are impeccable, watching him pay the ultimate price for acting like a misogynistic, curves-phobic ogre would’ve truly made for feel-good TV, and built the kind of tremendous good will for the Project Runway franchise that would help it weather any number of woes for the remainder of the season.

Nevertheless, let’s cut to the chase. The week’s challenge was built around a L’Oréal “Make Over My Friend” contest. Each designer was paired with a fashion-impaired “real woman” (plus the doting friend who’d nominated her) seeking not only get a saucy new frock, but an updated hairstyle to boot.

Ven immediately began kvetching that he was “very disappointed” to find his client had proportions that were “completely off,” while some of his rivals were assigned women who looked like “actual models.” Ven didn’t try to mute his position when Tim Gunn came around to assess the garments in progress. “I’ve never worked with a plus-size before,” he huffed, before giggling derisively about Terri’s pre-makeover look. As increasingly adorable Fabio noted, Terri came to the show hoping to have a good time, to get a little bit of special treatment, and wound up stuck with a guy who couldn’t even give her  baseline respect as a human being. And there’s nothing sophisticated or cutting edge about that.

Things reached their nadir, though, during Terri’s two fittings, as Ven made subtle dig after subtle dig about his client’s physique. “Black is slimming,” he blathered, even thought Terri hadn’t expressed any prior phobias about her own body image. After that, Ven kept grabbing belts off the Lord & Taylor accessory wall that proved too small for Terri, then acting as if there wasn’t an accessories manufacturer in America that would cut a strip of leather long enough to accomodate the woman’s waist. “You keep saying that. It’s embearrassing, like I’m fat” said Terri, now on the brink of tears.

Oh, sure, there were sweet moments in the work room this week, too: Gunnar, redeeming himself a little from an early-season villain edit, bonding with his client and expressing his delight at bringing out her inner diva. Fabio, putting his mind to work on creating an edgy dress for an adorable tomboy client who didn’t want to be “sexualized.” Elena, not swearing or screaming at anyone for a change. But the Ven nonsense lingered in the air, like a pile of dog-droppings smack in the center of a department-store perfume department.

And on that sour note, let’s review the best and worst of the runway show. (Side note: Heidi said that guest judge Alice Temperley had designed for everyone from J.Lo to “Katherine the Duchess of Cambridge,” which I guess is a polite way of saying Temperley spans the spectrum from bedazzled hootenanny-huggers to sensible mid-calf sundresses perfect for a day at Royal Ascot.)

Judges’ Top 3
FABIO: Okay, so the week’s winning look (pictured, far left) was a wee bit Amish, but really chic and unique as well. I loved that Fabio somehow managed to design specifically for his client, yet not compromise his own aesthetic. Plus, it resulted in the second-best exchange of the episode. Nina: “You look like a professional!” Ko-Rely: “With an edge.”

DMITRY: As Michael Kors noted, Dmitry’s final look (pictured, second from right) was “beautifully tailored and well styled.” Which is pretty much the same thing you can say about Dmitry’s garments every week. Ms. Temperley wanted the neckline a little more plunging, and I can’t say I disagree. Because while Dmitry is definitely on my shortlist to make it to fashion week, he needs to get a little more daring in his design if he wants to win the whole enchilada.

GUNNAR: The neckline of this little black dress looked slightly askew, but I liked that Gunnar clearly put a lot of love and effort into the cut chiffon squares sewed over a layer of jersey. Again, the judges wanted more decolletage. “Why not show them if you have them?” exclaimed Nina. Indeed!

Judges’ Bottom 3
NATHAN: You knew Nathan was doomed the minute he agreed to his client’s vision of exposed abs plus sophistication. (Dream the impossible dream, girl!) Also troubling: Natha’s selection of “not your regular hooker mesh.” (Uff da.) The whole look (pictured, second from left) was very off-the-sales-rack at DEB, but at least it scored some fine zingers from La Kors — “no human being should wear tight satin!” Betty White wears sheer-illusion sleeves! [Your model] doesn’t need them!” — plus the night’s No. 1 exchange:

Heidi: You look more like a hoochie mama.
Alice Temperley: A what?
La Kors: A hoochie mama.
Alice Temperley: What’s that mean?
La Kors: A tart.
Alice Temperley: Oh, yeah, lots of those in England.

VEN: I loved Heidi’s response to Ven saying he’d never dressed a real-sized woman (clearly, someone had schooled him about using “plus-sized” in front of Terri). “Who is not real?” Indeed! And yet while on design alone, Ven deserved to stay over Nathan, his finished product (pictured, far right) was still pretty poor. As Michael noted, the top looked like a turquoise smock cut off at the waist, while the black skirt’s zip-wrap detail looked puckered and cheap. “She’s certainly not going to the office!” declared Nina, aghast. But Ven, who clearly has built a lovely palace in his own mind, remained totally confident in his righteousness. “I don’t think I should have been the last person there,” he sniffed in front of his fellow designers, after the judges had tried to scare him by revealing his fate after Nathan’s ouster. “There were some weak looks.” The audacity!

SONJIA: I didn’t hate this dress, even if it was a tad short, and even if Alice had a good point that the center knot needed to be pulled downward to better flatter her client’s body.

What did you think of last night’s Project Runway? Was anyone else totally in love with Heidi’s black, red, and white striped dress (pictured at right, work mama!)? Was Tim’s remark about Nathan being “a person of profound character” a subtle dig at Ven? Use the comments section thoughtfully to express yourself!