Well, that was emotional. When I tune into Project Runway, I expect snarkiness, intrigue, maybe the occasional good design. I don't expect to be made a better person by the end. Jeez.
The show starts innocuously enough.
Valerie is still bumming that the other half of Latasian has left the building.
(Ivy, for her part, is somewhere bumming that the “La” part is still in the building.)
Valerie, actually, is a reality show casualty I’ve seen many times over the years: Someone who comes on the show filled with brio and pluck and confidence and basically becomes a broken down shell of her former self.
To prove my point, she sings the following little ditty on her way out of the apartment: “You can’t go home until Heidi says so, do-do-do.”
Keep dreaming, Valerie.
Heidi greets the designers, shows off today’s outfit and sends them back to the studio to meet Tim Gunn, who has baby pictures loaded onto their HP computers!
(No, not baby pictures of Tim Gunn, that would be too much to hope for.)
But we have Mondo! Oh, 10-year-old Mondo—dressed like a harlequin, his face painted white, his lips red like tulips, a frilly Elizabethan collar wrapped around his neck.
It’s hard to sufficiently explain the true awesomeness of this photo. Behind him there’s a pirate and maybe a kid dressed as Smurf—it must've been Halloween. But 10-year-old Mondo is all sad and stoic, with a look that says, “I can’t deal with these peasants.”
There’s also a picture of a 10-year-old Michael C. in droopy underpants and a sweatshirt. Hey, we can’t all be stars.
So today is the HP Design Your Own Textile challenge. Yay!
Tim says that the point of departure is a moment you found to be profound and inspirational from your life.
Valerie chooses a blueprint-like design because her dad was a contractor.
Michael C incorporates the evil eye symbol that everyone in his family wears for good luck.
Christopher does a blue print that represents San Francisco and sapphire, because his mom likes sa. . .. zzzzzzz. . .sorry, nodded off there for a second.
Gretchen picks a graphic interpretation of a sun bonnet.
April does a print that represents her turmoil over her parent’s divorce. . .and miniature ponies!
And Mondo does a plus sign to represent his. . .HIV positive status. (Cue the needle skidding across the record. )
It’s not just that Mondo is HIV positive, which is sad enough. It’s that he hasn’t told anyone. Not his family. Not any of the designers. Not all of his friends. That is one big secret to keep bottled up like that.
Here’s what I was thinking to myself when Mondo dropped this little bomb: If Project Runway were to follow the “very special episode” formula of TV, Mondo would open up about his status, feel the warmth and love of his fellow designers, and WIN the challenge. But this is reality—or at least something akin to reality. So maybe that’s not what’s going to happen?
So Tim says there are going to be special guests and they do a little Project Runway commercial-break cliffhanger with all the designers screaming a medley of “Ohmygod!”
Yup, the moms are in the house.
Andy’s mom has very distracting painted on eyebrows.
April’s mom looks like one of the Real Housewives of Orange County, which kind of explains why April is both angry Goth girl (rebellion) and My Little Pony girl (poor little rich girl.)
For a second it looks like Valerie is being hugged by Cousin It, but it turns out that her mom just has a lot of hair.
Mondo’s mom is cute and roly poly and presh, as expected.
Michael C’s mom brings his son (who knew?)—who squirms away from his father’s sobbing grasp. (Even Michael C’s own son doesn’t seem particularly fond of him.)
Christopher’s mom is not actually not his mom, but his partner JJ.
And Gretchen’s mom is … nowhere to be found.
“She has a really hard life,” Gretchen explains sadly. “My step dad is in a wheelchair and she has to take care of him. . .We’re not that well off.”
Gretchen is really trying to keep her disappointment in check. And then. . .her mom comes!
And she cries and cries, just like the rest of the slobs.
Damn you Project Runway, for making me feel for Gretchen!
Everyone gets a pep talk from their mom/significant other, especially Michael C, who needs a pep talk more than most.
“Be strong,” she says. “To me, you’re always a winner.” Awww.
April and her mom get mani-pedis. (My guesses: Her mom gets “Big Apple Red” and April gets “Midnight in Moscow.”)
And Mondo has a very sweet moment with his mom on a park bench. He considers telling her about his illness.
“But I didn’t want to bring her any pain in that moment,” he says.
Back at the studio, they continue working on their designs. Everyone is really inspired and energized by their visits except for Andy, whose mother “threw me off my game.” I blame the eyebrows.
When asked to rate Christopher’s outfit, Gretchen gives it a C+. (Oh, wait. . .nobody asked her to rate Christopher’s outfit.)
Tim comes in, gives his feedback, and. . .is verklempt.
“There are only seven of you left. I’m so proud . . .” he says, needing a moment.
Okay, what the hell? Tim didn’t even know that Gretchen almost thought her mom was too poor for Project Runway and that Mondo has a big sad secret—and he’s getting misty anyway?
Tim, pace yourself. It gets sadder.
I actually thought that Mondo’s Awesomely Mondolicious Look of the Day ™ was going to be his pint-sized harlequin look (it certainly qualified), but then he decided to sport a kind of rockabilly club kid get-up that begs for description:
Hair: a fabulously freewheeling pompadour
Shirt: charcoal grey western shirt with torn off sleeves
Neck piece: A white leather fringe thingy (holster cover?)
Bracelets: black bandannas wrapped multiple times around his wrist
Pants: shredded cropped jeans, with black leggings, and black suspenders
Today’s outfit, while putting some giddy-up in my heart, doesn’t quite measure up to last week’s sartorial masterpiece, and therefore deserves a Mondorrific rating of: 4.
Today’s guest judge is designer Rachel Roy, who is not Rachel Ray and therefore already a winner in my book.
The looks come down the runway and I ask you: Were the designers always this chatty? Or is this simply the first season they’ve been miked? Because there’s a frickin Greek chorus of (mostly) self-congratulatory chatter every time a new look comes down the runway.
“She’s a California girl!”
“She’s classy, not trashy”
“She’s a cool breeze.”
“The judging is going to be hard!”
“You nailed it!”
And so on.
A Project Runway first: Heidi notes that fashion is subjective and since opinions are so conflicting, they want ALL the designers to stay on stage. Intrigue!
Sooo. . .
They mostly like Gretchen’s look, but wanted her to mix up the size of her sun bonnet print. (Did anyone else think that her top was poorly constructed?)
They all criticize Michael C for his bad styling, but Michael Kors and Heidi disagree on the pseudo men’s tie, vest, and collar detailing on the dress. (Heidi likes it. Kors doesn’t. )
They are unanimous that Christopher’s cool breeze look is safe, boring, and not fashion. True dat.
They like Andy’s memory bubbles print, but Rachel Roy says his go-go look is “odd, confusing, and upsetting to me.”
(Probably not what he was going for.)
They’re feelin’ April’s family tree print, and agree that the push/pull conflict she was aiming for comes through.
“Your print was my favorite,” says Rachel Roy.
Valerie’s dress is a bit of a bust, with its random and unnecessary blue hem and unintentional echoing of her napkin dress.
“You took all the life out of the fabric,” says Rachel Roy.
And then it’s Mondo’s turn.
Mondo explains that the genesis of his plus-sign print is very personal and very inspirational.
“I wish I knew what the story was,” says Nina.
(Commercial break, during which time we are supposed to believe that Nina was puzzled and put-off by Mondo’s design. As if.)
“I wish I knew what the story was because . . . it’s terrific,” says Nina, after the break. “It says fashion to me.”
But Rachel thinks the plus pattern is too perfect. “No one’s life is so perfect,” she says.
(And she is going to feel like garbage … in 3, 2, 1. . .)
“The inspiration for my design is. . .” Mondo starts, exhaling, “I’ve been HIV positive for 10 years.”
And then, because sometimes even life has very special episodes, Mondo feels the warmth and love of his fellow designers, and WINS the challenge.
“I feel a lot better,” he says back stage, laughing through his tears (and if I ever type that phrase again, feel free to come to Baltimore and shoot me). “I feel free.”
The other safe designers file in: April first, then Gretchen, Christopher, and Michael C.
“I feel grateful to have been here and be part of you opening up,” Gretchen says, managing to make Mondo’s HIV status all about her.
Group hug, tears, etc.
Back on stage, it has come down to Andy versus Valerie.
And Valerie is . . .out.
She can sing her little “You can’t go home until Heidi says so” song with conviction now.
In the Green Room, Valerie gives a little personal message to each of the designers, talking about how much they inspired her and how much she learned from them.
One word: Class.
“I’ve never laughed so much, or cried so hard or been so stressed or had such a crazy good time all in one experience and no one can take that away from me,” Valerie says.
Preach it, girl.
So Tim comes in and now he’s really verklempt and he hugs Valerie and he hugs Mondo and everyone is crying and, with that, the best very special episode of Project Runway ever comes to an end.