Project Runway All Stars Recap: The Taste Test

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This all-star season of Project Runway taped last summer, during the hottest month of the year in New York City. And here's a fun little fact — that is, unless you were involved with the show at the time, in which case it obviously wouldn't have been fun at all — the office building used as the contestants' workroom closed on weekends, which meant there was no air conditioning during those two days, period. We'd guess this week's episode filmed over one of those horrible 100-degree weekends, and that's likely why:

1) The designers got a gelato-inspired challenge, because it's a cool, refreshing treat for a hazy workroom.

2) The challenge had to be cut to six hours, because otherwise all the icy, fruity goodness would have melted.

3)  Mondo's been wearing so many cute short-shorts.

Tasked with creating a "tasteful outfit" inspired by gelato, each designer chose a flavor, and then selected another designer to go after them. After her turn at the gelato cart, Kenley didn't pick her workroom BFF Kara to choose a flavor next, which: Gosh, Kenley, good friends don't screw each other over in dessert-themed reality TV challenges, it's like the 73rd rule of sisterhood. That foul play left Kara with perhaps the trickiest gelato: chocolate cayenne (other easier and possibly tastier flavors included kiwi, blueberry, and green tea).

Even with the crazy limited time frame, the ever gratuitous HP product placement meant the designers had to endure a half hour's worth of sketching on their snazzy tablets before wasting another half an hour scavenging for fabric in a "mini-Mood." Since there wasn't time to go to the actual Mood store, producers re-created it in the adjoining lounge by dumping a bunch of fabric in there for designers to "shop" from. That's a full sixth of the challenge's allotted time gone before the workroom time began. Also a time-suck was Joanna Coles, who brought mini-cups of gelato for each designer when she came into the workroom to critique them, breaking what we thought to be a steadfast rule in fashion schools and studios: no food allowed, and certainly not on cutting tables near easily stained fabrics. Her role seemed somewhat diminished this week, because none of the designers could really take the time to stop or chat, nor were any of them really working on garments complex enough to warrant much in-depth assessment.

As Anthony notes, the challenge rapidly became less about design and vision, and more about speedy competence at the sewing machine. (Side note: Isn't it refreshing to hear Anthony speak sensibly, rather than spouting overthought, sassy one-liners when he senses the cameras are near?) Granted, some designers' projects were possible to complete in five hours,  and others were not, but everyone is clearly compromising both their aesthetic and their production standards. Given the high caliber of work produced so far, that's a real shame — but it's also testament to the designers' skill that the finished looks wouldn't have looked out of place on a regular season's runway after a two-day-long challenge.

But shortcuts and errors still happen: Austin wields a glue gun with guilty pleasure, April's skirt rides up far too far in the back, Kara's layered dress's proportions take her model from "rail thin to a pregnant cupcake," as Jerrell brilliantly stated. 

So while the designers' collective effort was far from lacking, they were so rushed that the most they could hope for was to just survive, rather than to produce something actually great. This left the runway post-mortem feeling less constructive than usual — and neither of this week's guest judges helped the proceedings at all. Miranda Kerr liked just about everything, as long as she could breastfeed in it; Diane von Furstenberg was surprisingly harsh in her judge's seat, but with inconsistent criticisms we felt unfairly ignored the challenge's time constraints. She also threw this week's requisite Halloween-themed critique into the mix (tip for anyone playing Runway viewing-party drinking games: Take shots every time the H-word gets dropped and you'll be a mess in no time).

Michael, master of the faux-shocked beauty queen face,  won (again) for something light pink and billowy, beating Mila's watered-down-toothpaste shift dress and Mondo's cantaloupe thing. With yet another pair of ladies in the bottom two spots, the judges found Kara's droopy ruffles slightly less egregious than April's half-finished dark purple tutu, so grumpy little April is out. Of the twelve slots for bottom-three designers so far this season, ten have been female; of the twelve in the top three spots, ten have been male. Make of that what you will.

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