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'Project Runway' recap: Like that old time rock 'n' roll

September 23, 2011 |  7:30 am

Kimberly sums up the challenge: "Oh crap. It's menswear." Specifically, rock 'n' roll menswear supported by hair care sponsor Garnier Fructis. Mr. Garnier Fructis -- who has a name, but why waste a good product placement when it's bashing you over the head? -- explains to the designers that they'll each design an outfit for one member of a four-person rock band.

The band, the Sheepdogs, will be the first unsigned band on the cover of Rolling Stone, but the outfits won't be there. They'll appear in two advertorials, one in Rolling Stone and the other in Marie Claire. I'm sorry, let's make that Garnier Fructis advertorials, in case you missed the other mentions.

Kimberly explains the contestants' consternation: Menswear calls on a different set of skills than the designers have. Only Olivier has designed for men before, which should put him at an advantage. But he winds up whining about how the band member he's designing for, lead singer Ewan, is big -- which seems a little off base. Ewan is tall and not skinny, but he's normal-sized -- it's not like Olivier is designing for one of rock's big men, like Blues Traveler's John Popper, the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia or punk rock's Tad. Nevertheless, Olivier is obsessed with the bigness issue. "You're saying I'm a big man," Ewan says to Olivier. "You're big," Olivier answers, a note of accusation in his voice. Cut to: Tim Gunn looking away with a pained expression. Later, Olivier keeps up his complaints: "I never really thought of making things for plus-sized people."

Last week, ladies' bodies with breasts! This week, men's bodies with shape and hair! How can they be expected to design clothes under these conditions?

Maybe this is why it's hard to shop for clothes: Because designers don't want to design for real people.

Anyway, the band members explain they are inspired by "classic sounds," which amounts to a heavy Grateful Dead influence with a dash of Led Zeppelin. When they play a song to demonstrate, waiflike Olivier flaps his hands around his ears in distress. 

The irony of a hippie-era influenced band called the Sheepdogs appearing in ads for mousse and hair spray is lost on our Garnier Fructis representative.

We get not one but two episodes of staged hair planning. There should be a phrase for this, when contestants comment on something entirely out of their field simply for product placement purposes. One after another, the designers tell the hairdressers how to do hair, simply so the hair care products -- excuse me, Garnier Fructis hair care products -- can be discussed on screen. Faux consult? Fraudspertise? Placement prattle?

The designers go to Mood, buy fabric, dye fabric, try to make men's pants, try to make dashikis for the drummer, cut fringe and, in Viktor's case, braid pleather. Everyone who gets camera time is struggling; fittings go poorly. Olivier is running behind, and when it's time to show the designs, he leaves Ewan sitting on a stool in his underwear in the workroom for ages. Ewan jokes that he'll have to perform naked, or that Olivier is making him a Red Hot Chili Peppers'-style sock.

To showcase the designs, the show does something new: "Instead of walking the runway, they will be performing two songs in front of the judges," Tim Gunn explains. It sounds like he's gritting his teeth. Product-placement-lockjaw, maybe?

Overall, the outfits have a hard time rising above boring hippie tropes. Brown prevails and the playful, electric elements of Haight-Ashbury psychedlia are absent. The judges have fun trashing the work, though.

The eight contestants are judged individually, although they nominally were working in teams. The concept of her team was a modernized Jimmy Hendrix, Anya explains. "I don't see the swagger," Michael Kors says, shaking his head.

Laura's outfit is one of Heidi's favorites. But not Nina's: "I don't like it, I'm sorry," she says. The two are trading off tastes. "I'm not a big fan of the pigtails," Heidi says of Ewan's hairstyle (maybe she has Heidi issues?) Meanwhile, Nina thinks they're fabulous. What the two lady judges can agree on is that Anya's outfit for drummer Sam looks like Pocahontas -- they both came up with the exact same word, less a coincidence than a clear design disaster.

Kimberly's outfit for Sam is even worse. It gets trounced by everyone. There's not enough room to list all the insults they hurl at her.

"American Idol" not-winner Adam Lambert gets sparkly-eyed when Josh describes how he gave his pants an exposed zipper for extra sex appeal. Adam likes it, Josh likes it, and Heidi chimes in that she likes it too.

Poor Sheepdog. I wasn't sure when I decided they were the big losers in this: when they played their songs on the runway with fashion critiques layered over them, or when we saw them getting face makeup for the cameras (everybody gets it, but we don't always see it, and it's particularly sad for a group of four long-haired guys playing classic rock).

The designers who are safe but not on top: Bert, Laura, Anthony Ryan, Josh and Anya.

Winner: Viktor! A good fitting pant and fancy jacket win over the judges.

The final two: Olivier, whose look, Heidi says, is "Just not cool." And Kimberly, whose outfit is "majorly disappointing." Kimberly stays; Olivier is out.


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Austin, Mondo on "Project Runway All Stars," but no Heidi or Tim?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos, from left: Viktor's winning design, Anya's Pocahontas mistake and the pants that brought a smile to Adam Lambert's face. Credit: Lifetime