Monday, November 3, 2014

Project Runway All Stars: Made in Manhattan, the Recap


Project Runway All Stars Season 4
Welcome Readers!! I'm so excited for you to join Allison Pittman and I in our enjoyment, conversation, and critique of Project Runway All Stars, Season 4.

This is new ground for both Allison and me - the recapping, not the watching. We're veteran viewers, and we've got thoughts. That said, here are the ground rules:

1. Everybody is up for discussion. This includes Host Alyssa Milano, judges Isaac Mizrahi and Georgina Chapman, as well as the Randomly Chosen Guest Judge (seriously - do they use the button bag? Discuss).

2. Designers will be judged regarding their past work, as well as the current season.

3. Awkward reaction shots will be encouraged.

4. The snark shall be reasoned and tempered with kindness.

Allison here…  5. We will choose our accessories wisely and thoughtfully.


LOL - let's get started!

This, the premier episode, hits the ground with boots on. Truly - the episode zips along in a fast-paced hour. We begin with Alexandria, whose pants from Season 12 remained burned into my brain, and not in a good way.

I don’t know what it is about her, but I feel like if there’s ever a season of “American Horror Story: Fashion Show” she would be a character. I find her equally fascinating and frightening.

Alexandria von Bromssen Project Runway
Also, the show warms us that there be language ahead! Which...means that hopefully all of the necessary bits will be covered up in the workroom and the runway. Sometimes, you know, that doesn't quite happen.

Next up we've got Justin, who's mostly memorable for being hearing impaired. His clothes never did very much for me, but maybe he'll surprise us this go-round.

I always liked  his clothing, except for one really “naked” piece. I remember loving the fact that he could just turn off his hearing aid and make all the chatter disappear.

Justin LeBlanc Project Runway

There's Helen Castillo, whose nameplate zipped by before I could get a shot.

Helen Castillo Project Runway

She's still young, she's still intense, and she's not excited to see Alexandria. Fair enough.

She also has my favorite tattoo, ever.

Which one? The scissors?

The scissors going through her neck. I always have to pause and look at it for a minute

Chris is next, sharing about what he's done since Season 4.

Chris March Project Runway
This is my guy! I love Chris March, mostly because he looks like every other guy I see at the little restaurant where I just picked up breakfast tacos. But, I also like when PR has one or two, let’s say, experienced designers who have carved out a career in fashion. They seem to understand the work that is involved, not pepper all of their conversations with “my point-of-view” and “my aesthetic.”

Jay from Season 7, I don't remember the way I wish I did. I think he was good? I think his later work was underwhelming? Somebody, refresh my memory.

Nothing to refresh. He’ll be consistently safe while they whittle away at the weaker designer. Jay is fodder.

Jay Sario Project Runway All Stars

And then there's Kate.

Kate Pankoke Project Runway All Stars

Yeah, I know Kate. You're back. You've been removed from two seasons and you're still back for more. The producers are really into the pageant-adjacent dresses? Or did they need a requisite ginger? I don't know.


Project Runway All Stars Samantha Black recap

Sorry Samantha. I don't remember you, but I admire your yellow blouse. She mentions she never got out of the Team Challenges bit of Season 11 (Team Challenge Season = BAD IDEA), so maybe that's it? The structure of that season made it difficult to differentiate individuals in general and their clothes in particular.

Samantha is sassy fodder.

I can appreciate the sassy.

Benjamin March Project Runway All Stars

Benjamin! I don't remember much except that I think I liked his clothes? Season 11 wasn't that long ago, but I'm going to blame Book Brain.

I remember Benjamin! Really, really liked him, so I hope he does well. I’m excited to see several second chances for those who were victims of the team challenge season.

Patricia Michaels Project Runway All Stars

This isn't the most flattering shot of Patricia, but 1.) it's the shot with her nameplate, and 2.) it shows her deep in explanation, which...is Patricia. I know she's controversial, but I'm a fan of her work when she's at her best. I love the way she thinks, and I really want her to be friends with my cousin, Melissa Darby.

Fabio Costa Project Runway All Stars

Fabio emerges next, and I detect middle child syndrome? He stands with Helen and Alexandria, ready to serve as a be-skirted buffer if need be. During his intro, he reminds us that he was runner up to Dmitry, and that losing sucked.

Gunnar Deatherage Project Runway All Stars

Gunnar is...still Gunnar. He punctuated a statement with a SPOKEN comma, which killed me. But, you know, points if we get a spoken semi-colon out of him.

Sonjia Williams Project Runway All Stars

Last up! Sonjia! I think I liked her clothes? I liked the way Tim Gunn said her name? She's fearless when it comes to lipstick (there's blue later on).

Ah, I remember her! Such a fresh voice, I really wanted to see her go to the final runway, and hated the fact that she went home on a look that Heidi called “stunning.” That green dress. Loved.

The designers gather to meet with host Alyssa Milano at Union Station. And Alyssa, whose highlights we'll discuss momentarily, announces in Project Runway form that there's a surprise! Past winners Dmitry and Michelle will be joining us!

Two of my favorites! But, like some of the contestants, I’m a little divided about whether or not they should be able to compete at this level. We’ve had enough seasons, now, to do a full on Championship series. Or, bring past winners in to lead actual teams through competition.

Dmitry Sholokhov Project Runway All Stars

I am thrilled (though it wasn't a secret if you'd read any of the promo materials for the show), though Fabio was not.

And Michelle?

Michelle Lesniak Project Runway All Stars

She's from Portland. She's fearless, she's classy, she does a KILLER impersonation of Nina Garcia, she clawed her way to a win in Season 11 - yeah. I'm a fan.

“Clawed” -- is right. Always such a stand-out in her group. However comma she does sport my least favorite tattoos in the large, black circles.

It’s a very Portland tattoo.

Project Runway All Stars Helen Castillo Kate Pankoke Chris March Sonjia Williams Fabio Costa Benjamin March
Sonjia is heavenly as she listens to Alyssa explain the first week's challenge.

The designers will be broken into two groups - men and women. One will design for the Uptown Manhattan woman, the other will design for the Downtown Manhattan woman. The budget is $1,500 per team, divided at the discretion of the group. No leaders, no twists.

Project Runway All Stars Alyssa Milano
Alyssa Milano is Significantly Pregnant, which should mean that she should be given good things. You know, a good wardrobe, and good highlights. These highlights? They're circa 2003. They're the highlights my friend Liz and I tried to create in the bathroom at my parents' house (hint: dismal failure and an emergency trip for a box of brown haircolor to cover the peach patches and zebra stripes).

She is so very pregnant. I’m thinking we need to bring Sean and his dye-packs back, in case her water breaks on the runway.

Dmitry Sholokhov Project Runway All Stars

Dmitry, in this fantastic shot (my phone just caught the instant the frame changed, but I kinda love it. Very LOTR), is tasked with choosing what color he prefers from the subway token. The token is flipped, Dmitry chooses to design for the Downtown Woman on behalf of the men. The women get the Uptown woman, to the disappointment of Samantha in particular.

This picture deserves its own theme music.

There's discussion… translation
Kate: Hey, you know what I think? Girls? Girls! Hey, you know what-- I think...girls?
Melissa: So, if nobody has any other ideas, let’s go.
Kate: Hey, so...girls...

HA! I love how they’re all turned away from her. Nobody’s listening Kate, stop talking.

Once they stop talking and admiring Samantha's pattered pants, they sketch and conceptualize their looks.

You know what I would love to see? I think it would be cool to have a split-screen shot at runway time, showing the initial sketch next to the finished product. I find this whole process so fascinating--I really don’t get how their brains work to bring the sketches to life.

I agree! It would highlight the fact that it’s supposed to be a design show (supposed to be).
Michelle Lesniak Project Runway All Stars sketch Episode 1
The men do likewise, arguing over what is and isn't Downtown, and what is and isn't a cliche. Chris and Benjamin aren't making friends.

And then off to Mood!
Lots of frantic running…

Kate: Follow me!
Nobody follows Kate.
...and Patricia shows us her sketch. She isn't making her own textile, but there are some interesting details. Enough that I'm waiting for her to change directions in the workroom and begin to make her own textile.

The men pick their fabrics...

...and everyone finishes choosing, rings up, and wishes farewell to a tuckered Swatch.

Project Runway All Stars Mood Swatch
Back at the workroom, we have the first bit of drama: one of Fabrio's fabrics didn't make it back from Mood. He doesn't know what happened, but decides to carry on.
Yada yada critiques and stuff and Zanna Roberts is FINE but she's not Tim and she's not Joanna Coles (whom EW writer Stephan Lee likened to a pterodactyl, not unfairly, and who frequently asked designers how a woman might wear a bra with a potential design. These things matter).

Skip to the Runway!!

Alyssa Milano deserves better, y'all. This look is not good. A high-necked, sleeveless shift is no friend to the curvy woman, and this one is not only doing her no favors, but showing her support garment beneath.

One word, Show Stylists: be kind to her and give her sleeves. They can be small sleeves. Sleeves and a v-neck and you'll be nominated for sainthood.

One of my greatest challenges this week was explaining to my Mikey why Alyssa Milano is the host of this show.

There’s no reason known to mankind. None.

Here's Georgina, whose dress we'll see more of shortly (hint: it's molting).

Here's Isaac, who's considered "iconic," which I think is code for "made famous by his long-running Target line."

Isaac: Hello, darlings.

Here's another shot of Alyssa's dress doing her no favors. And that necklace? I swear to you the stylist thinks that necklace is helping draw attention away from her pregnant belly. Note to stylist: stop.

The wall was not used thoughtfully.
IT WAS NOT.

And this week's guest judge - Ivanka Trump! I'm actually in favor of this choice - she's smart, savvy, and crazy stylish (see here and here for pertinent highlights).

The designers wait in anticipation…
Another great picture, with the essence of Gunnar floating above their head

And Michelle kicks off!

I know the detail on these photos aren't great, but feel free to go to the internet for more pics. However...this is Michelle...so there's a closeup.


It's super cute, well-cut - I wish the model were wearing a bra? I don't care if they're flat chested, bras matter. I really liked this one, too, and was surprised at the judge’s negative feedback.

Whither the Patricia detail? There was the glimmer of an idea here, but it didn't happen in the way that it could.
I have never been a Patricia fan, even when she does well. I understand artist and craftsman mentality, but this is a mess.

Sonjia's - it was fine. I wouldn't write a poem about it. The fabric was shimmery and cool. 

That last bit sounds like a poem, actually. Like, if William Carlos Williams wrote fashion commentary.

Samantha's I liked from afar, until I saw the bust -

You know? I don't care if they're flat, you shouldn't disrespect a model's boobs.

There is so much, so wrong. It’s like a toothless muppet mouth.

Allison, your similes are soothing the loss of Michael Kors as a judge.


Alexandria's ensemble I would have been able to pick out as hers from a police lineup of misbehaving fashion.
And the back is pretty naked.

Helen's looks fine from afar -

- but the nude fabric looked cheap up close. Also: nipples.


I hate Kate's. With a burning passion.

I hate the seashell bust. It looks cheap and cheesy, ill-fitting, and not unlike something that would have been worn for one by one of Don Draper's Female Companions for Hire.

I kept thinking of the older sister in Dirty Dancing--in that final number.


Chris's grunge kilt - I get where he's going, but it doesn't mean I want to be there. Also, I hated the fit of the bralette/corset top and the line of the belt below. The whole skirt just sat wrong for me.

Disagree here...and not just because I loves me some Chris March. I love the waist of the skirt--the whole nod to tying the flannel shirt around the waist. With the tights and the boots, I think he used the accessory wall thoughtfully. Also, for him, this is very understated. I believe we will see Fabio wearing this next week.

Maybe it the top were better fitted or higher? I do appreciate the idea of the tied shirt.

I think he would have been better off whipping up a cute, simple t-shirt.

I think you're right. 

Justin's was...fine. He liked it.
But the back of the shorts couldn't have looked any cheaper.

Jay's look had some visual interest to it, but the whole harness thing has been at fashion week for the last few seasons (Jason Wu and Tom Ford are the shows that come to mind).

I have never worn a harness.

I have, but I went down a zipline shortly after.

I was relieved when the next dress came down. It's Gunnar's with another Exploration of Midriff, but at least the juxtaposition with the tweedy plaid made it more interesting.

I always like the high-waisted midriff. I thought this was adorable, actually.

Benjamin's dress floated down the runway. he'd been criticized by both his team as well as Zanna that his original design wasn't downtown enough. He listened, chopping off a good portion of the right side. The asymmetry works really nicely.

And the back - 

I loved this dress. And then, his whole explanation about the flat circle...Geometry stuff...

And then Fabio's jumpsuit came through. It was beautifully cut (not that you can tell from this shot), but I really didn't care for the pink tie. It created a visual break nearish to her lady parts, which I didn't consider a great idea.

Maybe if it had been shorter? Or a sash?

Is that her belly button peeking through? I didn’t notice that on the show.

I looked closer - I don’t think it’s navel, I think it’s a bit of motion blur with the pink against the black. But I was very frightened for a moment.

The back was really gorgeous, though.

Here's Dmitry's dress, which, for me, was the very worst of the bunch altogether.


That is a horror. That's a black dress with a braided collar thingy made from Baba Yaga's yarn stash. I have another shot but I'm going to shield y'all.

Ack! I liked this one, too. Maybe for the sheer gutsiness of having a skirt length parallel to the sleeve length. I wondered, though, about leaving the dress with the plunging neckline, and turning the Baba Yaga around to have it as a collar in the front, and a detail in the back.

I think we’re going to have to respectfully and lovingly agree to disagree, here.

I’ll admit to being blinded by my love of Dmitry.



Alyssa is not a fan of the Sexy Baba Yaga Halloween costume. But all told, the men win the challenge, the ladies lose. Members of Team Safety this week are Alexandria, Dmitry, Gunnar, Helen, Jay, Justin, Sam, and Sonjia.

Because the men won, that put Bejamin, Chris, and Fabio in the top, with Kate, Michelle, and Patricia in the bottom. The models marched out for the judges critique -

On the winning/chopping block but safe:

Michelle's dress, which divided the judges. Ivanka liked it, while Isaac didn't care for the green fabric in the back.


Michelle, always game, covered it up for his benefit. I think Georgina was perplexed by the fabric, a perforated bovine suede. Alyssa thought the fabric looked like a car seat (to which Michelle fanned her face, see above, and pointing out that those would be very expensive car seats).

But she's safe, THOUGH JUST BARELY, as Alyssa intoned, trying and failing for Heidi's German severity. 

Yeah, what was with that? “just barely…” How could that be if one of the judges clearly liked the garment?

Also safe: Chris March, who was both loved and critiqued by the judges for some of the same reasons that I couldn't with his outfit.  

See? We were meant to blog together!

Kate: who's dress showed a lack of taste and fit.

Benjamin: whose dress was much admired. Georgina called it "much considered," which would carry more weight if she hadn't had a hand in this.

The winner: Fabio, for the beloved jumpsuit, which Ivanka promises she'll wear (and unlike other guest judges who promise to wear garments, I suspect Ivanka has a stronger sense of follow-through).  

And, I think it’s a safe bet that, although she critiqued with “I want this on my body,” it’s a safe bet we won’t see it on Alyssa any time soon.

Especially since I'm not convinced of the practicality of jumpsuits for expectant women. Either way, Fabio is delighted.

The not-winner: I can't call her a loser, because I like Patricia too much. She's her own person, Patricia. But I can't fault the judges because of Dart-gate:


You can't tell, but I'm physically recoiling. But she's certainly capable of better, and I'm sad we couldn't have seen her at her best at least once.

Cindy-lou Who boobs.


Also, I'm going to put Georgina's dress in the not-winner category:


The swathes of netting were not good. Not even her perfect, patrician bone structure can sell that.


Isaac agrees. And while I have no beef with Alyssa Milano personally, I'm just not sure this job is a great fit for her. But you know who would be?

I mean, she's poised, articulate, has flawless fashion sense and even better stage presence. She's got the gravitas that Alyssa lacks but Heidi manages, against the odds, because of the German thing.

Truly, Ivanka could host anything and make it classy. Storage Wars. Toddlers and Tiaras. Looking at her makes me feel happy; listening to her makes me feel smart.

In so many ways, All Stars feels like the awkward, perfunctory version of Project Runway, designed to give Mondo a chance to triumph on national television. But four seasons in, the growing pains are evident. I think switching hosts might help, as well as integrating some of the better PR policies, like having the judges actually see the garments up close before making decisions.

What did you think of the episode? Share in the comments below - and make sure to stop by next Monday to find out if Gunnar said something catty, if Kate designs something twee, or if Georgina judges wearing something overly netted, overly fringed, or otherwise ill-considered.

All in all? With this group of designers, I think we're in for a great ride.


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