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"Project Runway": A make-it-work moment

FinaleBased on the runway show, I had a definite pick to win the sixth season of "Project Runway," and just like when Chicago was painfully knocked out of the running for the 2016 Olympics, my choice to win was rudely elbowed aside first.

I had to admit that despite this disappointment, it was a strong show overall, probably because Tim Gunn freaked out and set everyone straight before the show (just kidding: what Lifetime billed as his OMG BIG MELTDOWN was more like a case of flustered consternation. He adjusted his glasses.)

Althea Harper led off the show with her sci-fi inspired collection. I agreed with the judges' comments: I couldn't  see a lot of futurism in her pieces, which worked best when she played with proportions and color and texture--even though I'd never wear them, the cropped/harem pants she made looked good, and, like Nina Garcia, I really liked the green dress with the black leather jacket. I also agreed with Heidi Klum that the silvery metallic top was a winner. I did think one of Althea's models received an unfortunate makeup job that made her look a bit like a drag queen, however. But while the judges loved the everydayness of Althea's separates, I wanted a bit more pop from her line, especially in terms of color. I also thought the big grey sweater that kicked off the show was just past the line of dramatic and entered costumetown.

Poor Carrol Hannah Whitfield still looked sick when she introduced her collection but I thought she put a great line down the runway. I especially loved the leadoff beige and black halter dress (and so did the judges), the purple pieces in the collection, the detailing on the black dress, the 13th-look blue gown, and the flouncy party dress made of a pretty beige/brown iridescent material. The judges didn't see enough of a "story" throughout the pieces but I couldn't see how there was more of a story in Althea's line than Carol Hannah's. There were a lot of pieces that she showed that I would like to see again, either in photos or in my closet.

In terms of a "story," Irina Shabayeva certainly stuck to her New York look: there were a lot of dramatic, tough black pieces in her collection, which wasn't perhaps didn't provide as much eye candy as Carol Hannah's but represented a lot of beautiful structure and looks that everyday women could pull off. I thought at times it veered a little bit towards a dominatrix look when the black leather was invoked a few extra times, but I have to say, as a Midwestern girl I appreciate a stylish and comfortable t-shirt as well as a warm yet fashionable sweater. Michael Kors pooh-poohed that the "warrior woman" was not a "new character on the scene" but even though I thought Irina was rather mean-a this season, I have to admit that I like the warrior woman.

My complaint about the episode was that I didn't think the judges' comments matched their actions. I wanted Carol Hannah to win, and the judges had nothing bad to say about her collection except that the story wasn't cohesive enough--I didn't understand then why she got eliminated first. I especially thought Suzy Menkes gave Carol Hannah a special blessing when the be-banged one said, with a special smile, "I noticed it," referring to Carol Hannah's inverted pyramid dress  The judges seemed to have a bigger problem with Irina's lack of color in her collection (although how would Michael Kors know, since he wore sunglasses during the show?) but they deemed her the winner.

I was glad for Irina (and for my old pal Tim Gunn, since his student won), even though my first pick didn't win.

I know some people who have described this as the worst season ever of "Project Runway." Do you agree and if so, what was the issue? I personally didn't feel any problem with the show being on Lifetime, although perhaps the show being set in L.A. did throw something off. Good news though, fans: "Runway" will be back in January, with the season of the sashay!

(PS: tomorrow I have ten minutes to chat with Irina. If you have any suggestions for questions for me to ask her, leave them in the comments!)

--Claire Zulkey

Irina Shabayeva and model Kalyn Hemphill. Photo credit Mike Yarish/Lifetime Networks 2009

Comments () | Archives (80)

Hey! I just wanted to know two things about Irina: What was her favorite look of her own as well as another designer's during PR. Also, does she has plans for a line of her own?

PS: You got the name of the model wrong in the photo. The model is named Kaitlyn (sp?) she was Irina's model during the PR. ;)

I completely agree that this was the worst PR season. Especially when they began the show with Althea's underwhelming collection and horrible sweater it began with. Carol Hannah's was a breath of fresh air compared to the drab coloring of the other two collections. I actually was excited to see Irina's collection; i thought the whole cohesively black idea would be interesting, but it turned out to be underwhelming, too. Kors said it right about her not being a "new character on the scene." It all seemed like something a trashy young hollywood starlet would have thrown on a couple years back. Also, she completely disregarded Nina Garcia's advice to switch up the coloring and if she can't accept guidance, I worry about how she'll do in the industry. I wasn't fond of her using her ethnicity to get ahead either in the earlier episodes. That was just silly.

Overall, Carol Hannah seemed like the most unique and professional one out there. Beautifully designed and constructed, as well as a line that moved forward, not backward, as opposed to the other designers. She deserved to win, but I suppose it has a little something to do with the models as well.

Oh, and the bit about the judges advice not adding up to the eliminations? Completely accurate.

Who made the hats for Irina's show?

I'd be interested to know what Irina thought of Christopher making it so close to the end, it seemed like his pieces were truly home-ec projects and that his lack of training was apparent. While his vision may have been well intentioned, he was never able to really pull of a piece well.

Also, what was her favorite look? And, did she agree with Nina's comments about her sweater + dress to match her winning look, I personally thought the dress was a great cocktail/going out outfit and really matched what the woman from the ski lodge would wear to a cozy bar on the Upper East Side.

In terms of quality of the final people, the first season was the worst. (Remember when that tall guy didn't have a single thing completed when Tim came to see him at home?) The quality of the contestants overall this season has been much weaker than the last few seasons, but the final three were OK (still think Ramon was robbed, though).

Irina was always going to win from this group -- she's a designer's designer -- though I did think Carol Hannah's collection was the best of the three. If only she'd thought to put matching hats on them all...

Whatever you do with the interview, don't let Irina get away with the classic, "It's the way the producers cut the episodes. We actually got along well."

In the end, I was pretty surprised at how weak and one-note Irina's collection was given the rest of her work this season. Too bad the judges didn't see notice.

i felt this season was almost "random". obviously, the lack of regular weekly judges meant that the contestants were judged only on that week's look. we all know even the best can have a bad day, but their previous creations give you more faith in their abilities. but not this season. i'm guessing the producers stepped in more this season than ever before. perhaps this is why Christopher and Logan stayed in longer than anyone would have thought. when Nina said of Gordana "i have no idea who she is as a designer" i felt the same about almost every contestant this season. i consider this "the lost season" and i feel sorry for the contestants. not even a reunion show after all they went through?

Can you ask Irina which judge she slept with to win this competition?

I thought Carol Hannah should have won. I do not get it. Her clothes were maybe too beautiful? The only negative comment towards her collection was that it wasn't cohesive. I guess a collection is supposed to have one look repeated in different variations. God forbid we have simply beautiful clothes. Irina's designs were out there, but most of us would not want to wear them. How many outrageous looks have we seen through the years that no one wears? I would compare Carol Hannah to Vera Wang.

I've never watched Project Runway before and probably won't again because it was disappointing to have the "mean girl" win. Character still matters no matter where you live and what you do for a living. To win after totally disregarding Nina's advice to switch it up, just reinforced her bad behavior. I"m sure I won't have to worry about it, but I wouldn't purchase her designs just on that principle. I agree that the judges comments did not match their actions. If they had Carol Hannah would have been in the top two - if not the winner. Joanne

I disagree with your comment about Lifetime not being part of the problem. When the show was on Bravo, even the never ending ads that surrounded it were humorous, hip and upbeat. Lifetime surrounded the show with advertisements that were uninteresting, not hip, unaesthetic. and geared to women housekeepers. The lack of the presence of Michael and Nina also made the judging seem less solid. Some of those judges seemed like idiots and some were downright mean as was Heidi from time to time. It seemed as if the show was edited badly. Everything seemed hurried and not much background on the designers was offered and seeing their processes in action was severely cut. The finale Part 2 finally gave me a viewing experience that was satisfactory. I was about to give up watching this show that I had loved in previous years. My thoughts were that the same greed that is so prevalent in our country was responsible for the change from Bravo to Lifetime. and that the producers took a wonderful thing and turned it into garbage.

I wanted Carol Hannah to win as well (especially because I am a Dukie!) but it really seems like she wasn't rewarded at all for creating elegant pieces that the girl next door could wear. It was very apparent from Irina's collection that she could make it in high fashion; she didn't seem like an amateur. I also have to give her credit for winning so many challenges. What I would obviously want to know is why she was rude to others on the show. Viewers disliked her even though she was so talented. She always had negative comments about every other designer. I'm happy for her because ambition certainly got her somewhere...she will obviously fit into the cold industry.

I liked Carol Hannah's designs the best, as did over 67% of the everyone else out there according to the polls. What gives? I guess Irina had the NY edge, i.e. vote so she won. Carol Hannah's designs were simply too beautiful and stunning for the judges. Michael Kors is boring and Nina Garcia also is lame. Michael wears the same pathetic black outfit, year after year after year, yet he is telling us what is fabulous. He couldn't design as well as Carol Hannah if his life depended on it. Nina has had the same look for 6 years too. Normally Heidi looks fabulous, but her pink pant suit outfit was just ugly. I think this was the worst season, simply because the judges made a really poor choice. If the show does not get new judges, then I probably will not watch it.

Please ask Irina how she actually thinks her collection will play in the real world...There was not a piece in her runway show that I would buy, except maybe a t-shirt.

Carol Hannah definitely has an outstanding future awaiting her. I am having a Christmas party and I would love to be wearing the teal 13th gown..stunning in every way. I watched the show with my 25 year-old daughter-in-law...we both equally loved her style, her personality, and most of all her designs. To me this is a mark a great designer, the ability to appeal to a wide age-group.

What is Irina's response to allegations that her winning collection incorporated material plagiarized from New York Magazine?


Althea's last name is Harper.

I was a bit disappointed by this season. The judges' comments seemed so canned and over-dubbed. I would like to know what was really said and in full rather than to have it edited for maximum surprise effect. I could tell they wanted us to be surprised by Irina's win by the editing.
What was up with the weird over dubbed music on the runway? Was that b/c they filmed the shows again to maintain secrecy? It just seemed odd.

You mention that Irina was a student of Tim's. Was this mentioned on the show? I don't remember hearing that tidbit. Hmm.

Ra'mone was my favorite followed by Althea throughout the season.
I still cannot fathom how Christopher made it as far as he did. He was not very good.

Correction to the model in the pic correction. Her name is Kailyn? (no T) and she was Irinas "muse" model.

Like you, my fav from very early on is Carol Hannah. For this last show, I personally think she had more vision and so much more to say than the Althea or Irina. Everything she put on that runway was something that any woman could see herself wearing or, at least, dream of wearing and were impecibly made. Strangely tho, I somehow knew that Irina was going to win. Her line was nice but too "themed", too "stagelike" and too dark in my opinion. I couldn't ever see it as a "gotta have it" collection.

A note: That's not Irina's muse-model in the photo--that was just a backstage photo of Irina and not her main model. The pic Lifetime has of Irina and Kaitlyn is SO dark I didn't want to put it up. One of the casualties of an all-black line.

Also, to Jane, did you watch the show on DVR? I felt like when you could fast-forward thru the commercials, it felt the same as when it was on Bravo

I don't want to be rude in any way but.. yes that is Kailyn, Irinas muse model and that's the outfit she wore on the runway for the finale. It was also Irinas 13th look. I also watch Models of the Runway and Kailyn had the outfit shown in the pic on for the beginning of the finale for that show as well.

Not rude, Michelle-I am clarifying with the Lifetime people (I got the ID off their press website). Thank you for helping me make it correct. I don't watch Models of the Runway (perhaps I should have?)

Runway shows should be about a vision that's cohesive. You should look at the pieces and see the world from the designer's point of view. The only designer who did that was Irina. Carol Hannah had the prettiest clothes, but no theme and Althea, as always, had awful clothes. I haven't liked many of her designs this season and yet she managed to win a couple of challenges with perfectly awful items. As for those "meana Irina" comments, Project Runway has been known to manufacture those little conflicts to keep the show interesting. They used certain facial expressions and shots to create a lot of the "meanness" just as they made Jeffrey the "bad boy" a couple of seasons past. Overall, the Irina and Carol Hannah collections has very wearable, very attractive pieces. I would wear all of them.

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