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<i>Project Runway</i> Episode 12 Recap: Empire State of Meh

Everyone's crying into their Moet, and we're left to imagine what the rest of the evening has in store: channeling Coco Chanel with a Ouija board? An adorable pillow fight? A-style bacchanal, complete with zoo animals? We'll never know.
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Slight disclaimer: I'm really sick and am hopped up on DayQuil and basically living in an igloo made of discarded Kleenex, and my upstairs neighbors have decided to play Rock Band AGAIN, making particularly enthusiastic use of the drum foot pedal, so this recap may make even less sense than usual. Sorry. But hi, guys!!! Glad to be back. Did you miss me?

Previously on: I didn't recap, as was too busy taking my pants off in the Trevi fountain. But the gang had to design three looks for Heidi's comfy but impractical line (which I didn't even know she had) of workout tunics for New Balance. Former designers came back to "help," but really just to unload the sizeable chips off of their shoulders. OK, really I'm just talking about Ivy, who is such a gigantic megabitch that I can't even type this without getting twitchy. She accuses Michael C. of having cheated by using double-stick tape on his model's boobs, and there is much sturm und dramz, but Tim ultimately dismisses the complaint, saying that the show's cameras did not detect any malfeasance. Andy wins with an array of Dr. Seussian sweat-capes, and cute but milquetoasty Christopher is aufed for a cheap-looking mini-collection that misses the mark. (I really dodged a bullet not having to critique 18 looks, y'all. Big shout-out to Owen for recapping for me!)

So. This episode does not begin in the Atlas apartments the morning after with contestants trading bed-headed barbs, but instead picks up just moments after Christopher's elimination. "Final five, I have a surprise for you," Tim announces. "You are to meet Heidi on the runway... right now."

[Of course -- and apologies, I know I bring this up every chance I get, but it's basically my only insider knowledge, so I cling to it tighter than one of MK's turtlenecks -- the designers meet Heidi on the runway after EVERY elimination. They just change clothes and pretend it's the next morning. So this, really, is business as usual except without the wardrobe change. But, please, pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain. She recently tried to use a neti pot and something went horribly awry and she's pretty sure she gave her brain a bath in questionable tap water.]

Out on the runway, Heidi tells them that she wants them to relax before the final challenge, so she's sending them to one of the most luxurious places in Manhattan. Michael C. interviews that he doesn't believe her, that there must be a twist. That would be so mean -- "Welcome to the Plaza Hotel... where you'll be designing new bellhop uniforms using only materials you can find discarded in the tracks of the 59th Street subway station!" Luckily, it's not a set-up. The contestants arrive at the Mandarin Oriental's presidential suite to find food and champagne waiting for them. They proceed to crack open the bubbly... and their hearts.

"I wouldn't be with you guys today if I wasn't supposed to be here right now," says Gretchen, who seems to practice some sort of redundant, nonsensical Buddhism. "But I believe it's because I set the intention to do what I am passionate about for the rest of my life." OK, either that's the champagne talking or English is not Gretchen's first language. Which might actually explain a lot. Andy waxes poetic about everyone having their own struggle and their own story, and April gets emotional when she says that the competition has made her a much stronger person as well as a stronger designer. "It's all about the design," Mondo says of the show, "But I feel like it's also been a journey to set me free." Everyone's crying into their Moet, and we're left to imagine what the rest of the evening has in store: channeling Coco Chanel with a Ouija board? An adorable pillow fight? A Hangover-style bacchanal, complete with zoo animals? We'll never know.

The next morning, everyone gathers on the top of the (perilously high) hotel with Tim and Mayor Bloomberg, the latter looking more Yertle the Turtle-y than ever. (Fun fact: the mayor recently revealed that he owns only six pairs of loafers, which means that he owns more houses than footwear, and also that he probably doesn't know how to tie his own shoes). Bloomberg tells the designers that their last challenge is to create a look that takes inspiration from New York City ("Whatever you pick, make it work. Heh heh."). Michael C. is especially excited by this, and pulls down his shirt to reveal an I Heart NY tattoo on his chest.

When a T-shirt just doesn't get the message across... say it with ink.

This is our first sign (this episode, anyway) that perhaps Michael C. takes things a tad too literally.

Tim chimes in that they have two hours to wander around sketching and that they'll reconvene at Mood, where each designer will have $500 -- the biggest budget so far -- to buy fabric.

We see Michael C. on a ferry. He says that as soon as he heard that NYC was to be the inspiration, he thought of the Statue of Liberty. "She stands there in all her glory in a beautiful draped dress," he gushes. And -- no offense to Lady Liberty -- but that's not really a dress, is it? At best it's a robe, and if you mentally replace the torch with a TV remote it starts looking more and more like a Slanket wrapped in a bedsheet. Anyway, point being, A) She's not at a fabulous cocktail party, Mike, she's leading the world to freedom with no shoes on; and B) You're being too literal.

April and Mondo both pick the Brooklyn Bridge, as the Manhattan Bridge looks on trying not to feel like a total butterface. Andy goes to Central Park, where he says he's "naturally drawn to the organic lines." And Gretchen heads to the Lower East Side, which is not a landmark, but okay. (She could have picked Katz's Delicatessen. Now that's a landmark. Plus, she could have made a pair of harem pants out of pastrami, which Lady Gaga probably would have chosen to wear as pajamas, and then Gretchen would totally be famous. Missed opportunity.) Gretchen says that she's feeling under-inspired. Well, if she wanted to do her boho prairie schtick she should have just picked the Park Slope Food Co-Op. Then she could have made one of her beloved grandpa sweaters out of kale chips. Yet another missed opportunity.

At Mood, Michael C. tells Tim about his Statue of Liberty dress and Tim looks duly horrified. As does Swatch.


Back at Parsons, Tim announces, obliquely, that "at least one" designer will be going home. This, predictably, makes everyone even more cracked out than they already were. "Yes, dress shape," Michael coos to his headless mannequin, "I will stand by you because you are pretty to me." Gretchen is on hand for a second opinion, of course: "It looks like the curtains in my house," she says helpfully. OH SHUT UP, WHOREFACE. YOUR MOTHER LOOKS LIKE CURTAINS.

(Sorry, that was meant for my neighbor playing Rock Band. Ahem.)

Gretchen has one of her thoughtful, reflective, self-congratulatory talking heads in which she likens Michael C. to herself five years ago: "I could only make dresses, that was the only thing I knew how to make, and I replicated a lot of things I liked because it was only way I could learn." I mean, she has a point. But I still hate her.

Mondo doesn't really know what to do with all of his potentially seizure-inducing stripes, so he takes a nap. For, like, a really long time -- we know this because of the frequent shots of the clock, and also because Mondo starts to grow a curly white beard.

Meanwhile, everyone gets slap-happy in the work room:

Andy humps a column (or attemps Carmen Electra's aerobic striptease...unclear):


MC morphs into a sequined ninja...


...and then into the Invisible Man


P.S. Michael C. reveals a hidden talent in the sewing room: Boy does a spot-on Michael Kors impression. Seriously, it rivals Santino's Tim Gunn.

Gretchen cracks up too, by continuing to give even more helpful advice. "It looks like a madam," she says of Andy's little black dress. "Like a woman you'd pay a high, high price to have spank you." But wait! There's more. "I think Andy tends to like it just this side of slut," she interviews. "And I think he nailed that." Gretchen may be a bitch, but I'll have to credit her for coming up with the title of my future autobiography, Just This Side of Slut: The Una LaMarche Story. My parents will be so proud.

"I translated Central Park into Mai Ling, waitress at a tea house who does happy endings!" Andy laments, adding, "I gave birth to a Chinese prostitute!" Hahaha. They should deprive the designers of sleep on purpose so that we can get lines like this all the time.

That night, at Atlas, Gretchen reflects on her helpfulness. "I think I did Andy a disservice but also a nice service as well telling him that his dress looked like a madam," she muses. Is it me, or is Gretchen starting to sound like Ralph Wiggum?

Me fail English? That's unpossible!

Anyway. The next morning, the gang convenes for their last day in the work room. Michael C. reveals that he has been working on a second, backup dress, with layers or horrific pleating that represent the bricks in the base of the statue. There are a lot of people, notably Rachel Zoe, who do not make proper use of the word "literally," but Michael Costello is not one of those people. "Michael C. is doing Michael C. but I don't see what Michael C. is doing," Mondo interviews. Um, I think he's selling seashells by the seashore?

Tim arrives to do check-ins, ushered in by weird disco synthesizers. Even the sound guys are getting crazy, y'all.

Mondo was going to incorporate a yellow sequined fabric that resembles the pelt of Big Bird into his garment but decided against it, which Tim thinks was wise. "That's an eye-catcher for all the wrong reasons," he says.

April is doing an abstract coat dress full of zippers, cutouts, and asymmetrical flourishes. Tim tells her to edit, but is generally encouraging.

Michael shows Tim his inspiration photo, which is just a full-on photo of Lady Liberty, and then his simple black dress. "Look around the room," Tim says gingerly. "Are you being as ambitious as the rest of the designers here?" Then he starts singing that "one of these things is not like the other" jingle from Sesame Street and backs away slowly.

Andy has decided to stick with Mai Ling but has cleaned her up a bit. Tim likes the construction but warns Andy to be careful not to veer too far into Real Housewives of New Jersey territory. Ha! Oh, Tim, that dress is WAY too classy for Posche!

Gretchen has made a very Contempo Casuals skirt that's supposed to reference a brick wall. So, let me get this straight: She's a brick... house/Mighty, mighty, just lettin' it all hang out. Yes? Just checking. "Gretchen is one of most exhausted at this point," Mondo interviews, "And her piece is looking that way." Tim tells her to reference her customer instead of herself, not realizing that Gretchen is her own favorite customer. "It's been an honor to get to know you," Gretchen tells Tim, tearing up, and Tim replies, "Oh, please." He's being self-deprecating, but he also looks slightly horrified.

The models come in for fittings, followed by some dude from Garnier who says that since the judges' comments have been all over the place, he's there to make sure the hairstyles complement the outfits. Wait, that's what the Garnier stylists do every week, guy. That is the whole entire point of the Garnier hair salon. I call bullshit. Even on a show that's not exactly shy about product placement, this is overkill. THIS IS 90 MINUTES OF MY LIFE, LIFETIME. Given your network's name I'd think you might be more sensitive to the fact that I could be using this time to watch more interesting things than this dude rattling off hairspray names.

After asserting that he would totally bang his model because she look so hot in his liberty robes, Michael C. decides to weave a shrug to go with the dress. He thinks it could be missing element--the wow factor. "Michael C. is either an idiot savant or just an idiot," Gretchen says. "You never know till the runway."

The next morning, Mondo is dressed like Pee Wee Herman trapped in a black and white movie, which at this point just seems natural. While primping, April tells Gretchen that to have gotten this far as a 21 year-old is a big accomplishment. "Uh huh," murmurs Gretchen, who clearly could not care less, as she gazes at her own reflection.

In the final moments at Parsons, Michael C. says that no one really wants to talk to each other -- "we're sweating this one out." He ends up hating the pot holder-like shrug he made, so tosses it. Gretchen and Andy whisper that MC just recreated the Statue of Liberty's dress. Then Gretchen cries and says she feels horrible (not for being an asshat to others, but because she's stressed out, y'all) and that she's sacrificed a lot to get here. Uh huh.

On to the runway!

"There are five of you left," Heidi says, because she is hella observant. "After tonight there will be... less than five." Did everyone else also immediately sense that this was a weak and empty threat? I didn't believe she was kicking two people off for a second.

Tonight we have CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award winner and disco enthusiast Michael Kors! Marie Claire fashion director and anti-jowl activist Nina Garcia! And everyone's favorite Project Runway winner and faux-hawk champion Christian Siriano! Let's start the show. This is going to be more New York than dirty-water street hotdogs and avoiding eye contact with strangers.




Ha. Kidding. For real:


I thought MC really set himself up for an epic pooch-screw with the Statue of Liberty reference, but you know what? I think this is his best work yet. It's basically just a deflated parachute but it manages not to look shapeless. It's simple and elegant and -- to borrow one of my favorite Nina isms -- it's sexy without being vulgar.

The only thing that takes away from this, for me, is the distinct impression I get that Michael's design successes (and, for that matter, his failures) are accidents; he always seems as shocked as we are when he pulls one off.

P.S. As his look leaves the runway, Michael whispers, "Did you guys like it?" and Gretchen just says, "Sexual." I'm going to start saying that whenever I mean "No."



I actually think the leather jacket is my least favorite part of this, which is saying a lot given that skirt. You all know that I take no joy in Gretchen's failure (false), but this is a hot mess of Jason Troisi proportions. If only she had said her inspiration landmark was the Port Authority bus terminal.



The main reason I go to Central Park is for the beautiful foliage, the serene pastures, and, of course, the leather.

But even if this reads more Meatpacking District than Frederick Law Olmstead, it's sexy. And flattering. And well-made. I just hope the judges remember the safe word.



This reminds me, for reasons I can not fully come to terms with, of the movie Hocus Pocus, the 1993 Disney romp starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as a trio of witches.

I mean, obviously this dress makes me think of witches, but WHY THAT SPECIFIC MOVIE? It saddens me that the brain cells currently being used to store pop culture references to obscure 90s children's movies (or, say, the lyrics to Rico Suave) could be busy memorizing my bank account number or remembering my blood type.

Anyway. This looks like a prom dress from The Craft but ultimately it's just another variation on the same dress April has been making all season. I'm kind of bored.



I would be kind of a hypocrite if I took April to task for being one-note without acknowledging that Mondo loves houndstooth so much that he should probably marry it. But I love the subtle shapes he created that embody the Brooklyn Bridge without taking away from the wearability of the dress. Like everything he does, this is creative and fun and polished. I'm so Team Mondo it's not even funny. Can't he just win already?


Back on the runway, each designer defends his or her look. First up is Mondo. The judges, rightfully, love it. MK says that Mondo proved that color is not his crutch, and made neutrals "full of joy." Nina calls it "phenomenal" and thinks that Mondo doesn't lack for ideas. Heidi is somewhat skeptical, saying that she wished he had done something more surprising and that she's seen the houndstooth more than a few times. Christian Siriano thinks the look is "really chic," but deems the model "more uptown than Brooklyn Bridge."

The bell tolls next for Andy and Mai Ling. "The last thing I'm getting, quite frankly, is Central Park," sniffs MK. "Bladerunner, Robert Palmer video girl in the 80s... it's not the freshest look. But it's beautifully crafted." Nina loves the "wet look" of the fabric he chose, calling the dress the perfect LBD for an edgy girl, and Heidi loves the lines.

The lovefest stops with Gretchen. "I'm so confused," sighs MK. "I think you really lost your steam. It's not downtown, it's not uptown -- it looks midtown." DAMN, MK, THAT IS COLD. (But correct. I work in midtown, so's I know. That is straight-up 8th Avenue.) Nina is also confused and asks Gretchen, "What happened?" Gretchen starts to cry and explains that she's tired and sick of the challenges. Heidi's eyes flash, her head cocked like a velociraptor from Jurassic Park. "What do you mean, you're tired of the challenges?" she hisses. Ooooh, Gretchen, time to start backpedaling, girl. I may not like you, but I don't want to see you get mauled on national television. This isn't Man vs. Wild. But no. Gretchen says that the challenges are crazy and she feels the need to fit into a cookie-cutter idea. And Heidi calmly but coldly points out that this challenge was all about freedom of choice. Christian, bless his heart, jumps in to say that the clothes are wearable but look off the rack. "You're better than this," Heidi says.

The second tongue-lashing of the evening goes to April. "The sameness is so numbing!" MK moans. "You have made a version of this garment so many times I can't count. There's no joy in your clothes. She's a pregnant witch." Why even bother letting the other judges say anything, when MK has all the best lines? Suffice to say, they do not like.

Finally the judges come to Michael C. "I wanted to make a showstopper," he says. "Well, you got one," MK beams. They heart MC's dress. After panel they're all going out to get boob tats that say "I HEART MC'S SEXUAL LIBERTY ROBE 4EVS." Christian thinks the thigh slit is a little high, but Heidi loves it. Just This Side of Slut: The Heidi Klum Story.

Then they go around asking each designer why s/he should go to Fashion Week and which two designers s/he would take with her/him.

MC says that he's showed range and really, really wants to go to Fashion Week. He would take Andy and Mondo.

Gretchen says that a full collection gives the opportunity for designers to really show what they're about and, basically, that she wants the judges to know she's better than this. She'd take Mondo and April.

Andy says that he's taken risks and kept the judges' interests and wants to keep doing that. He'd take Mondo and April.

Mondo thinks he should go to Fashion Week because he feels ready to push forward. He gives a little speech about how much Michael C. has grown and chooses him, along with April.

April says something that I forgot to write down, and chooses Mondo and Gretchen (interesting that Gretchen almost got shut out entirely by her peers, isn't it?)

In the designer lounge during deliberations, Gretchen acknowledges that she wasn't in love with her look. "If I'm supposed to go I'll go," she says in that irritating, philosophical way of hers that makes it clear she thinks she's being incredibly deep. "If I'm not supposed to go, I'll get there soon." Everyone seems genuinely traumatized by having to choose two people out of the other four, and there are many tears. Despite their disparate natures, this group seems to have genuinely bonded. I wonder if previous season's contestants were as close, and we just never got to see it because the episodes back then weren't as long as feature-length films.

Well, one thing's for sure: no previous group has ever hugged it out on the runway before final judging. Awwwwwwwww.

Heidi says that they're all talented but that they can't all compete at Fashion Week (lie!). Only one will be out tonight, but of the four who will create collections only three will compete as finalists.

She tells Michael C. that he's had very high highs and very low lows, but that his dress for this challenge was a major high. He's in. His face crumples in a fake-looking cry (it might be real, but it looks fake, which is kind of the essence of Michael C.'s entire personality).

Mondo, of course, is awesome and is in. Backstage he and Michael C. weep in each other's arms. This season totally has its period.

Out on the runway, Heidi tells Andy that he, too, has had high highs and low lows. "We do worry about the played-out warrior woman look," she says. "But believe you deserve another chance." Andy is in.

Which leaves Gretchen and April in the bottom two, ruining my original final three prediction (Mondo, Gretchen, April) even before the elimination!

Heidi says that April had major ups and downs, and that while her look this week had some interesting elements the judges felt like they'd seen it before. Meanwhile, Gretchen was the only designer to make separates, but lost her way. "You went to the Lower East Side," Heidi says, "But your look was not cool."

Still -- and we knew this was coming, didn't we? -- Gretchen is in, which means April is out. Sad! April has really grown on me. But she is only 21. Begrudgingly, I will admit that based on overall performance this season Gretchen deserves to go to Fashion Week over April. But based on that same criteria, April should have gone in place of Michael C. The fact that he is still in the competition is mind-boggling, regardless of his prowess in this challenge.

[Okay, getting down from soap box now.]

Backstage, Gretchen tells the boys, "I'm really relieved that they gave me the second chances that each of you guys got." Hahaha. What a backhanded, bitchy thing to say! Gretchen is a turd.

Tim reminds the final four that while they're all creating collections, only three will compete at Fashion Week. Smart money's on Mondo, Gretchen, and Andy, but if my theory* holds (POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT -- although there's no real evidence that I'm right), it'll be MC, Gretchen, and Mondo. We'll see.

*My theory:

I went to the Fashion Week show last season, and while I didn't know the outcome then, I looked back at my notes and it turns out that Seth Aaron, Emilio, and Mila all showed in a row in the middle of the group (they were 7th, 8th, and 9th to present I believe). This year, the only three of the final four to show in a row were Michael, Gretchen, and Mondo (6th, 7th, and 8th). It seems like it would make sense for the final three to show in an unbroken sequence so that the editors don't have to splice the footage together later, but on the other hand there are so many cut-away shots in the final version that I'm not sure it matters.

Next week: Home visits! Tim tells someone they have design diarrhea (which can only be cured, I assume, with IMoodium AD. Hahaha. Forgive me, that's the DayQuil talking). The velvet bag, much to my delight, is featured prominently. "Whatever's in it is going to be evil," someone says. One of the final four will be out.

Also: I'm thinking of live-blogging the finale. What do you guys think: yay or nay? I've never done it before and it might be a fun way to end the season. On the other hand, I can't post photos, or give any extended commentary, until afterwards. Thoughts?

Thanks again for sticking with me this season. We're almost done! As always, if you like my recaps, check out my blog or become a fan on Facebook.



I forgot to tell you guys: I interviewed Tim Gunn for Capitol File magazine (he grew up in DC). And he was the most gracious, funny, dishy, wonderful person -- even better than he seems on the show. He talked to me for almost 90 minutes, well past the time his publicist wanted him to. And when the interview was over he walked me to the subway.

(No, he does not read these recaps. But he was tickled that I did them.)

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I met Saint Tim, and now I can die happy. Also, his book is actually pretty great. I read it on vacation.

Okay, bye for real now.