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'Project Runway' finale recap: 'It’s a fashion show, not a circus.' [Updated]

Proje6307 Most seasons of "Project Runway" glide into the finale with a pack of evenly stacked front-runners; we watch curiously, not at all sure whose collection will take the lead. But this year seemed to tip severely in one direction: All signs pointed to Mondo.

Mondo started out the competition as a freaky loner. A tiny Latino dandy, his aesthetic was strong -- almost unbearably so, with his endless displays of mismatched patterns and wild, clashing color schemes. But he earned the respect of his fellow designers, not to mention the judges, who admired his clothes for being well-made and standing out amid the slightly disappointing selection this season.

And he had a deeply emotional story line, revealing in one episode that he'd kept a secret from his family for a decade: He's HIV-positive. "I feel free," he'd said after sharing this information with the judges -- and the world.

Mondo's only real competition was Gretchen, the boho-chic designer from the southwest who now lives in Portland. [Updated at 12:30p.m. This post originally failed to say that Gretchen now lives in Portland.] After winning the first few challenges, Gretchen fell into the role of villain -- an overconfident mean girl who manipulated her fellow designers. She squeaked through to the finale, but by the end she seemed like a burned-out shadow of her trendy earlier self. When Tim Gunn came to visit her at home to see her final collection, Gretchen revealed that she was not only broke but that she had split with her partner and now had no place to live. And though her looks were fine, they seemed so subdued they almost vanished into the woodwork.

The third finalist, Andy, had started out as a long-shot -- his clothing  was willfully avant-garde without being all that surprising. And though he had gradually proved himself to be capable of making some lovely black-and-gray garments and taking some risks, his work was never quite as startling or playful as Mondo's.

The finale was Mondo's to lose. Right? Right?

Proje6347 Wrong!

Just as this season of “Project Runway” was different from previous seasons (longer episodes, more emphasis on emotion), this finale also had a very different feel. A mini-reunion with eliminated designers was incorporated here, instead of letting them battle it out on a separate episode. (Maybe the producers were worried there would be too much sobbing; has there ever been a bigger bunch of criers on any reality show?) The highlights of the season were kept to a minimum -- though who could forget Tim telling Andy during one challenge, "Jackie O would not have a cameltoe!" And the deliberation between the judges was shown at great length.

Who knew how tense a "Project Runway" judging session could be?

Tim, of course, had gone in and counseled all the designers to be their best selves. He told Mondo not to play it safe with a black ballgown but to choose the more Mondo-esque polka-dot long dress. He warned Andy off a "disturbing" bathing suit with brown strands of fabric emerging from bikini bottom. ("Tim thinks it looks like hair growing out of her crotch, but I just don't see it," Andy told the camera.) Tim's main advice to Gretchen was that she needed to make her models look less ordinary: to "pump up the drama."

And she did -- her "Running through Thunder" collection exuded a genuine aesthetic. Everything was muted and mellow, earthy and distressed like the colors on an old geological map. There was a vibe of '70s ease, with floaty blouses, knit shorts and loose pants, and big sunglasses and brimmed hats to ward off desert heat.

Proje6354 Andy's models came out out clad in delicate but distracting silver headpieces; almost every look was some variation on silvery silk, with a few shots of lime green mixed in. It was chic enough but not at all Andy's original, edgy style -- more Eileen Fisher than Yohji Yamamoto.

Mondo was last, explaining that his inspiration was his Mexican heritage, apparent in a Day of the Dead-style skull T-shirt embroidered with bright beads and a fuchsia-and-blue aztec-patterned tunic. As usual, his looks were a riot of clashing patterns -- an alpine shirt matched with gold leather shorts, a plaid bubble party dress -- that seemed just the right side of crazy.

As soon as the judges began to speak, it was clear that they weren't overly impressed by Andy. Heidi Klum called some of his work "sassy and a little more plugged in," but Nina Garcia worried that "you lost Andy somewhere in here."  And guest judge Jessica Simpson told him that his pieces looked too safe. If Jessica Simpson thinks you look too safe, that's probably not good.

And it wasn't -- Andy was bumped from the running as soon as the serious deliberation began.

Proje6336 Which left Mondo and Gretchen. Nina expressed concern about Gretchen's monotone color scheme, but it quickly became clear that she was excited by Gretchen's clothes. "They're on trend," she insisted. "She's in tune with what is happening now." Michael Kors agreed. "It's not so easy to look that relaxed and easy."

Mondo, on the other hand, was not so relaxed and easy. "He wows me," Heidi insisted. But Nina found some of the looks costumey and young: "The skeletons and the leggings and the color ... it becomes too teenager." Backing Nina, Michael expressed concern that Mondo doesn't know how to edit a collection of wearable clothes.

"A black dress could have been his best friend," he sniped. (You mean the one Tim advised him not to show?)

Deadlock set in, with Heidi and Jessica up against Nina and Michael. Never has such an intense judging session been shown on camera. Was it genuinely tougher than usual, or were they just trying to fill two hours? Either way, the discussion got snippy. Nina sniffed, "It's a fashion show, not a circus!"

When Michael argued that Gretchen's looks were more cutting-edge, Jessica replied, "But everything is loose!" To which Michael trilled, "Hell-lo! Read a magazine!"

I guess you're better off with Michael Kors on your side than Jessica Simpson, because Gretchen prevailed. As Heidi went to hug the winner, she said, "It was a battle, and you won!" Did I sense a hint of irritation in her voice?

But it didn’t matter, because Gretchen had won $100,000 and got to do the "I won $100,000 dance." No longer the villain but the humbled impoverished designer made good, Gretchen said, "I have no idea where I'm going, but I at least have the ability to go."

-- Joy Press


Upper photo: Jessica Simpson, Nina Garcia, Michael Kors and Heidi Klum on the runway. Credit: Barbara Nitke / Lifetime

Middle left photo: Gretchen's design. Credit: Barbara Nitke / Lifetime

Middle right photo: Andy's design. Credit: Barbara Nitke / Lifetime

Lower photo: Mondo's design. Credit: Barbara Nitke / Lifetime


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Comments () | Archives (38)

Nice recap! The finale left me confused. Don't really understand the editorial rationale for the mish-mash of material included or cut. The editing for this last episode was rough and awkward. Yes there was longer than usual deliberation, but the transition was abrupt. One moment the vote was split and they were in heated debate, then suddenly they were ready to announce the final verdict.

Throughout the season, they kept talking about how Gretchen’s look appeals to the everyday woman. But with the exception of a couple of her dresses, none of her separates would work on my body type because I am not pencil thin. On the other hand, I could probably pull off several of Mondo’s pieces. His looks are unique and original - isn't that the point to fashion? Something fresh that people are dying to wear? But according to Michael Kors, I shouldn’t be interested in actually buying Mondo's work.

Judging from the dearth of articles, blogs and facebook posts, it seems the overwhelming sentiment out there is that the clear winner did not win. Kind of feels like this drama was the producers’ goal. Yet I’m afraid it’s going to backfire unless they do something equally dramatic next season with the slate of judges.

Seems like the only reason Gretchen won is that she shares the same obsession with Michael over “wearable” separates. The show’s tagline is “one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out,” yet viewers are constantly subjected to Michael Kors' tired, two-dimensional judging. Sniping was so yesterday. Yawn. It’s time for Michael Bores to go.

mondo was the clear winner! come on folks, take creativity and run with it!!!!

Uh... didn't Nina and Mr. Orangehead find those same safari hippy clothes boring just a week ago? Bad call. Mondo should have won easily. I think I'm done with this show. Lifetime has turned it into a bloated cry-fest.

the ending was just really criminal - Mondo was totally robbed. her clothes looked like anything you can find on the sale racks in JC Penney and may be "now", but were boring beyond belief in a color palette that few women look good in and did nothing to indicate that she'll ever be designing anything outside of what she does currently. many had cutouts in the back that only a young'un could wear and the less said about those horrible pants-less things, the better. she'll probably do well on QVC though.

as for the show itself, I think it's lost a lot of cred with this outcome. eliminating Michael Costello for an all-brown semi-finale and then crowning Gretchen the winner with an almost identical color scheme was hypocritical to say the least. also, no one but Mondo did anything remotely red carpet "wow", which should be part of any of these designers final runway show. and seriously, Jessica Simpson as the guest judge? but hey, I give her credit - she didn't think Gretchen's stuff should've won either!

Loved the show, but was sorry that Mondo did not win.

Horrible...when they preached against and eliminated designers with "off the rack" designs, they ultimately picked someone because a) she produced "wearable" clothes and b) she listened and responded to their critiques. First, they slam Gretchen for her "granola" clothes, but yet, the same granola clothes are suddenly fashion forward. Mondo was the clear winner in my book.

Was I the only person who wanted to make a weight comment after Jessica Simpson complained that Gretchen's clothes were too loose???

Both the LA winner and Gretchen rewarded bitchy women with a fashion sense straight out of the back alley or more appropriately stated, MS WORD: CUT-COPY-PASTE

Nice job Project Runway, reward the unoriginal - uninspired - untalented hacks ... we'll never hear from Gretchen again (other than on a future episode) or ... who was last season' winner again??? You know the one who plagurized tee-shirts and then created another cut-copy-paste version when she was called out ??? Oh ... yeah ... I don't remember her name either ...

Gretchen must have spent some time in Tucson, all of her flowy garments remind me of a super cheesy local commercial for some boutique called 'Kathy's Fashions' ... If you're out there Kathy ... give Gretchen a call so she can find 'new' designs to sell.

I cannnot imagine how someone as original and talented as Mondo was beat by someone as boring as Gretchen.

The reason Gretchen seems 'right now" is because we have seen these boring looks a thousand times before on the racks of Walmart or Kmart - they are uninspiring!

Mondo is unique and creative and makes you want to buy something and wear it and be a part of what makes fashion - to be beautiful!

Mondo was CLEARLY the winner His designs imaginative, individual and his perspective was cutting edge. Gretchen's designs were nice, but lacked the individuality Mondo showed. I was shocked at the outcome and must question the judging

Gretchen's line was a snooze fest. This whole loose-fitting dashiki trend is irritating. I can't even find a decent silk blouse for work because everywhere I go I'm bombarded with these "easy, relaxed" looks. I'm so bored of it already.

Viva El Mondo!!

Gretchen designs were too bohemian and hippie. I prefered either Mondo or Andy. She might want to work with Ralph Loren collection for the older and boring types.

Mondo was robbed. He clearly was the winner. Gretchen's clothes were boring.

Get new judges!

We need to call the police!! MONDO was robbed last nite!! Gretchen and her Little House On The Prarie clothes have no place in today's fashion or in future fashion. It's stuff we wore back in the 70's!! I am a fashionista and I wouldn't wear any of her styles...particularly those Granny Panties! Did the judges give someone a tongue lashing earlier in the season for those type of "shorts". But now...it's ok for Gretchen to win with those panties??? Also...Michael C was eliminated because of lack of color...and Gretchen with that dry, boring brown pattern. What????? I think they didn't pick Mondo because he refused to back down...and he put his gown in the competition. You know Michael and Nina hate to be ignored!! I think it is time for Heidi to find two more judges. Obviously Michael and Nina have totally lost their minds!!!

Mondo was clearly the winner! He is "fashion forward" as the judges like to keep saying. All these comments, by the public who will wear the clothes, should be passed on to Nina & Michael. Heidi next time stick to your guns.

Mondo should have won. They praised his originality right up to the end. I don't get the wearable thing when a lot of his stuff was. It's easier to tone down and tighten up a collection than do the opposite. The same is true throughout the arts. It's better to start with too much than too little. Mondo will be like a lot of should haves (Susan Boyle, Adam Lambert) and succeed beyond what the show could ever promise. I'm very disappointed in this choice and been of fan of the show since the first season. Could their move to Lifetime have an influence? Like, favoring a women over a man for winner?

Simply put - Mondo was robbed. There was nothing luxurious about Gretchen's designs - they looked cheap, and they had like a $9,000 budget.

They wanted her to win - the producers and like, so they got what they wanted.

Mondo and even Andy's were fashion and in Mondo's case had pieces that would be wearable for any age. I can see kids as well as adults wear a variation of his skull or cross shirt.

To say that Mondo's outfits aren't mainstream shows me that Nina is stuck in Marie Claire Magazine dredge - mainstream is Mondo's style, not Gretchens.

It said enough when I made a fused glass bracelet in a similar idea as Mondo's ideas (clashing prints, bold colors), and people are asking me how much for one. A bracelet I have similar to Gretchen's (white with a simple earthy confetti and flower print)? - no peeps, too simple, and not high fashion.

Nice job Project Runway, reward the unoriginal - uninspired - untalented hacks ... we'll never hear from Gretchen again (other than on a future episode) or ... who was last season' winner again??? You know the one who plagurized tee-shirts and then created another cut-copy-paste version when she was called out ??? Oh ... yeah ... I don't remember her name either ...


This was Irina, and I think the other shirts didn't have that design. She too was going to most likely win her season, but at least she had more talent in her one finger (even taking out that plagiarism issue - which actually was a copyright violation because she was using the design without permission), than Gretchen does.

I'm so dissapointed. I'm speechless. I really can't understand what they were thinking about: Gretchen's clothes are "wearable", "now"? In what parallel universe are brown diapers considered as "wearable" and "now"? Look, I know we have this Great Depression and all, but NOW more than ever I want to WEAR HAPPY clothes, MONDO clothes!
Viva el Mondo!

I wouldn't wear Gretchen's clothes at all. They looked worse than what I buy from Ross Dress for Less on discount Tuesday. I wanted to see Michael Costello's collection, clothes I would love to wear. It's hard enough being a transvestite without asking me to go back to the 60s aesthetic of Gretch. A disappointing season. Mondo and Michael were robbed.

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