Welcome to the future: The year is 2022, and the Real Housewives still command the airwaves. In the spirit of that truth, this week’s Project Runway episode unites the two franchises for a client challenge, in which our remaining designers must manifest a look fit for the divas’ upcoming reunion special. Let’s brush aside that this crossover is such low-hanging fruit it’s almost laughable. Potomac Grand Dame Karen Huger is here! Gizelle Bryant is apparently longing to look like a suntanned Barbie! Leah McSweeny covets a “sexy Disney Princess” gown! With such loud opinions bouncing off the workroom walls, something is about to go deliciously wrong.
As soon as Christian introduces the ladies to the competitors, our beloveds are immediately split down the middle: Some (i.e. Bones and Chasity) start caterwauling the moment the housewives sashay down the runway. The others (most noticeably Anna and Shantall) seem unsure what they’re meant to be so psyched about.
The designers link up with their randomly assigned clients, which include Shannon Beador and Gina Kirschenheiter of The Real Housewives of Orange County; Gizelle, Karen and Dr. Wendy Osefo of The Real Housewives of Potomac; plus Leah and Luann de Lesseps of The Real Housewives of New York. Problems spring up within moments, as the women seem equally confident in their wishlists and confused as to what actually works on their bodies.
Dr. Wendy tells Kristina she wants to show off her “new boobs” and “new butt,” while Shannon implores Bones to cover up her stomach and arms, drape her in a knee-length dress, and stay far away from color. And Leah throws out several perplexing ideas to Coral; she wants butterflies (?) on a Disney Princess dress (??) in an eye-catching color, but preferably emerald green or navy.
Coral, bless her, opts to ignore these suggestions completely. At Mood, the crew has 30 minutes and a whopping budget of $700 to find the perfect fabrics, and Coral almost immediately gravitates toward a nude chunky lace, aesthetically akin to the macrame she specializes in. It’s a risky move, but she takes the leap and grabs yards of it by the armful.
Back in the workroom, Bones and Chasity run into trouble with the ebony fabrics they’ve dragged home from the shop. Chasity’s beaded material is fraying as she hammers down the adornments, and Bones’s vision struggles to materialize amongst Shannon’s narrow parameters. Even Anna, typically so poised, seems lost in a swath of her black fabric. When she shows Christian the pointed-shoulder top she’s assembled on her mannequin, he’s impressed, but as soon as she mentions the pencil skirt she’s planning next, he shuts that notion down pronto: “No.” He begs her for manipulation, for texture, for anything to make a pencil skirt more innovative than its flight-attendant contemporaries. Only over at Shantall’s station does he seem truly inspired. He suggests she play with her concept for Luann by making her budding wrap dress into a dramatic half-suit, half-lingerie ensemble. To co-opt his eternal catchphrase: “Fabulous.”
When our models—ahem, housewives—come pouring in, their reactions are predictably obvious; no need to speculate on what they think. Leah, practically shrieking, is obsessed with the all-nude look Coral’s put together. (Coral’s so relieved she tosses her arms around Leah’s neck like a sorority sister). Meanwhile, Dr. Wendy’s got some serious reservations about Kristina’s pink dress-over-trousers get-up. “I just thought we were going to show my legs off because I have nice legs!” she whines.
At first this side-eying seems playful, but the mood takes a turn once it dawns on Kristina how little Dr. Wendy likes the design. As the housewife glumly blinks at her reflection in the mirror, Kristina breaks down into tears, a turn of events that leads her client to feign shock: “What did I say?” In Dr. Wendy’s mind, Kristina’s design is an act of defiance, not of miscommunication. She asked for something that accentuated her bust and butt; the bustier and wide-leg pants do neither.
Kristina, now openly weeping, bums a cigarette off of Anna and stumbles outside to smoke, proclaiming, “She’s such a diva; I cannot work with this.” Even if we conveniently ignore the irony of this statement, it’s certainly not a good look for Kristina in Dr. Wendy’s eyes.
Thankfully, it’s the end of a long day, and by the time Kristina is juicing celery sticks the next morning, she’s ready to exorcise her demons. During breakfast, she steps out onto the rooftop patio with Bones, and, in pursuit of stress relief, they both unleash bloodcurdling screams directly into the New York City skyline. I’m sure the passersby on the street below considered this relatively normal, by Manhattan standards, anyway.
As everyone rushes to make final touches ahead of runway day, Dr. Wendy still isn’t satisfied. Kristina has draped her client’s shoulders in a gigantic pink scarf—“The scarf needs to go in the trash can; just put it away,” Gizelle remarks from the sidelines—and Dr. Wendy’s fake-grin is so grimaced it looks painful.
But, alas, we’ve survived this collaboration without any spilled champagne. The ladies are ready for runway day. Let’s dig in.
- I’m not one for hot pink. The color often looks outdated on everyone but Barbie herself. And yet Gizelle is absolutely breathtaking in the asymmetrical jumpsuit Aaron’s tailored for her. The flare pants and fitted corset sing “toga party” meets “business lunch,” and Gizelle is so clearly feeling it.
- Similarly, I was unsure about the one-sided straps and black beads of Chasity’s hip-hugging ankle-length gown, but on Grand Dame Karen, those details are flattering and elegant. I’m not sure such a predictable silhouette shows off Chasity’s creativity, but it’s certainly one the client seems to adore.
- Dr. Wendy is next, and I’m forced to stifle a snort as she rips off the scarf the second she steps onto the catwalk. Yet I’d argue Kristina deserves some credit for this metallic pink bustier top and trousers. The design might not be the best of the night—the fit around Dr. Wendy’s bust, in particular, seems outright dangerous—but the look feels distinctly Bravo. And hey, we’re all watching for a reason, aren’t we?
- Anna’s client, Gina, comes out in that pointy shoulder-pad top and structured skirt, both in black and silver brocade. I long to love this look, largely because it’s the most fierce silhouette of the bunch. But this design doesn’t fit with the Real Housewives feel, nor does it demonstrate Anna’s usual sophistication.
- I want to cheer when Shannon comes bouncing down the catwalk. She looks so happy, so in love with her own body! This is exactly how a client should feel in a designer’s look. The dress Bones has crafted isn’t wildly innovative—it is an LBD, after all—and yet he found smart ways to take risks by adding feathers and asymmetry. Exquisite.
- Nude dresses are notoriously challenging to pull off, but they can be done to astounding effect (see: Zendaya’s Balmain gown), and Coral has done well with Leah’s a-line lace dress. It’s eye-catching without being ostentatious, and the movement of the skirt is riveting to watch.
- Luann’s half-suit, half-corset dress by Shantall is, far and away, my favorite. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that so perfectly meshes the intimate and the professional in a gown. The choice to use navy fabric and black lace is so intelligent, subverting the expected “business attire” colors to make something new. And that high skirt slit? Phew!
When the judges—with the addition of guest judge and Real Housewives host Andy Cohen—break down the scores, they’re almost all in agreement: Shantall’s look is the winner. “You couldn’t have presented [Luann’s] body better,” Elaine tells Shantall, while Brandon admits “this is probably one of my highest scores ever.” They feel similarly about the designs by Bones and Coral, who each get a few notes but ultimately make it through to the next round. Aaron earns some extra praise: Nina tells a hot-pink Gizelle that “you do look snatched,” which might be one of the most hysterical things I’ve ever heard come out of Nina’s mouth.
After narrowly escaping elimination (following a stinging remark that her Grand Dame dress is one the judges “have seen before”), Chasity escapes to the lounge. That leaves Kristina and Anna in the bottom. The judges are frustrated by how poorly Kristina worked with her client, and they fear her metallic fabric choice was in poor taste. But Anna gets the real brunt of their criticism, as they call her “gothic” top “poorly made” and argue they can’t see her influence in the design itself. Unsurprisingly—but to my horror—Anna is sent home.
This is the part of competition shows I’ve always found so disappointing, so unscientific. The scores aren’t tallied over multiple weeks of success; instead, one bad turn can make or break a hot streak. I understand this live-or-die urgency is what boosts the drama every episode, and I wouldn’t be a television writer if I didn’t crave drama. And yet—as I’ve mentioned in these recaps before—such stakes put these very real designers in a precarious position. Who are you, when you are both a personality and a creator on the brink? I long to see some reward for the talents who don’t quite nab the Pilot Frixion Erasable Pen prize money, even when they could. And Anna’s one of them. If I ever have a good reason to splurge on a Halloween gown, I know just the girl to call.
Next episode, we’re getting another intriguing collaboration, this time with a cohort of up-and-coming stylists. Christian reveals the designers will assemble designs inspired by their models’ hairstyles, which I can only imagine will lead to some, uh, unique interpretations. In the meantime, there’s always the Real Housewives to keep us company.
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