'Project Runway All Stars' Recap: Art Meets Commerce
'Project Runway All Stars' Recap: Art Meets Commerce
Jenn Lee
Jenn Lee
Staff Writer, BuddyTV
While last week's challenge was all about experimentation, this week's challenge brought the competition back to the practical constraints of the fashion industry. The designers were introduced to Nanette Lepore, who started her fashion business in the Garment District of Manhattan over 20 years ago. With the neighborhood now at risk due to financial woes, the profits from the winner's garment (which will be sold at Lepore's stores nationwide) will go to saving this historic neighborhood.

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Mondo's Early Troubles
As the designers' looks will be sold commercially, the goal of the challenge is to create an outfit that is ready-to-wear within a budgetary limit based on production costs. Right off the bat, Kenley seems confident as she purports to have much experience in this area ("I've done this a few times. I nailed it.") Michael and Austin both seem excited and inspired to meet this real-world challenge, but Mondo is clearly out of his comfort zone. To begin with, he doesn't sketch - his drawings appear to have been drawn by "an 8-year-old." He admits to this peculiarity when discussing with Nanette, and is forced to explain his design conceptually. But it seems simple enough -- a dress made of five different fabrics, each a stripe in the layered, box-shaped dress, which as a sketch looks like "a tin can with a pull string" to Nanette. Hopefully Mondo's process pulls through and creation will far surpass outline.

Hideous or Fabulous?
During Joanna's rounds, Nanette, who seems to be the most integrated guest judge in a challenge this season, accompanies her on "the most important challenge of the series--where art and commerce meet." Most of the designers seem to fall into their usual grooves, with Kenley adamantly sticking to her guns when they suggest her peacock-print short dress is a little too loose-fitted and therefore "harder to sell." Michael of course is doing a draped kaftan (this time with a bright, beach-ready print) with a deep V-cut in the front and back, causing Joanna to yet again reel from her "absolute pet peeve," the inability for a woman to wear a bra with a dress. But Michael keeps the peace by offering an optional hook and eye in both the front and back. Austin's upscale raincoat seems to straddle the fine line between "hideous or fabulous" according to Joanna, but Austin is excited about the level of luxury he feels he can achieve.

Play to Your Strengths
When it gets down to runway time, all the designers seem to have fallen squarely into their predictable niches: Austin's gone high-end with his fancy ruby coat-dress, Michael is enamored with his draped kaftan, Kenley is super confident with her cute dress with tulip sleeves and vintage print and Mondo has pulled another trick out of the bag in his last-minute transformation from "I've never felt so wishy-washy" to "the dress alone speaks for itself." And like every other week, the designers are not shy about expressing their critiques about their fellow competitors: Austin calls Michael's dress "very inappropriate" and believes he should be eliminated, Mondo feels Kenley's look fails in the "cut work," and Michael feels Austin's garment "looks very unfinished."

The Runway

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Mondo: The pockets was a nice touch and it's definitely a fun embrace of color. But it's also not the most flattering silhouette and I feel like it's missing that special something that Mondo usually brings to the runway.

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Michael: It seems like we've seen this cut one too many times from Michael, although he did manage to incorporate an interesting print for a more casual look.

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Kenley: There are no polka dots or plaid in sight, which is a good sign. But I wish she had taken the design a step further, with some sort of embellishment or detail.

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Austin: I loved the versatility of the coat (three looks in one garment!), but personally would have liked a different color (I sort of agree with Mondo on the "older" feel of it).

The Critique
Overall, the judges seem to have positive-to-mixed reviews about all four designs. With Mondo, they appreciate his "masterful" way of "balancing colors and use of fabric," but felt it could have been slimmer at the waist for a more flattering cut. Plus, it's Angela's "least favorite" of all his designs. Nanette loves Michael's dress so much she would put it in her suitcase immediately and everyone agrees it's just sensual enough without being "overtly sexy." The only complaint is about the slightly long length. They feel Kenley's dress was lovely in its "vintage quirk," but that the mismatched seams "throw off the eye" and the lack of the keyhole in her original sketch was a disappointment. Austin's raincoat was praised and forgiven its wrinkled fabric when the judges discovered it was a coat, not a dress--but they just wished it had been more pressed.

In their post-critique discussion, the judges seem to be focused more on who is a more fitting designer to enter the finale rather than a specific analysis of the outfits designed today. They narrow down the elimination to Michael and Kenley, debating whether Kenley's stubbornness coupled with her strong feminine style outweighs Michael's hit-or-miss sometimes-greatness with a less certain point of view as a designer.

The Results
The Good News:

Austin is safe! He's made it to the finale.
And the winner is... Mondo! Like Mondo, I am a little taken aback ("I really thought I was going home this week"). With all that buildup surrounding his uncertainty and lack of inspiration in this challenge, this win is unexpected.

The Bad News:
Now it's down to the remaining two designers: Kenley and Michael. Will it be the excellent draper with not-so-ready-to-wear designs, or the quirky vintage girl whose resistance to criticism may be her ultimate handicap?

It's... Kenley! Which means Michael is safe and has thankfully avoided the painful flashback of his previous elimination just before the final runway. True to form, Kenley seems nonplussed -- "I don't compromise my vision" -- and to be honest I agree with Angela's comments that Kenley will do just fine, as her designs are incredibly feminine, fun looks that many girls would relish.

Once again, our predictions are on track, leaving the three extremely talented guys to duke it out on the runway in the two-part finale over the next two weeks. Who do you think will be named the ultimate winner? Do you think Kenley was the right decision?

(Images courtesy of Lifetime)