The Date: Sept. 12, 2008
The Venue: Bryant Park, New York
The Crowd: Bravo stars of all stripes -- former contestants from "Runway," "Make Me a Supermodel" and "Shear Genius"; current Bravo star/celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe; "Runway" sponsors Tresemme and Elle magazine, including publisher Carol Smith; "Ugly Betty" actress Judith Light. (Of the latter two, Freeloader couldn't help but notice that Ms. Smith and Ms. Light were seated directly across from each other, with the actual publisher of Elle and the fictional publisher of the fictional, Vogue-esque Mode watching the collections from opposing vantage points.)
The Food: If someone was eating this week, they kept that food far away from the tents of Bryant Park. Freeloader contemplated sharing a bag of M&Ms with more than a few of the front-row denizens.
The Drinks: None provided, though many attendees were seen slamming coffee before the 9 a.m. show.
The Swag: Nada. Now that Bravo has been forced to hand over the reins of the show to Lifetime next season (provided that pending lawsuit shakes out, of course), certainly they couldn't be expected to shell out for another epic goodie bag like the one they offered last season.) Couldn't Harvey Weinstein have used all that extra sponsorship money to shell out for some kind of goodie bag?
Ah, the blissful, chilly, halcyon days of February 2008. When Freeloader and hundreds of other fashionistas, Bravo stars and dedicated fans last flocked to a "Project Runway" finale at Bryant Park, the prospect of a lawsuit between NBC Universal and the Weinstein Co. over the show's rights still seemed ludicrous. What a difference seven months makes.
Not only did this fall's "Runway" finale double as a farewell party for Bravo (not to mention editorial partner Elle and hair-care sponsor Tresemme), it was also the least impressive yet by a long shot. Anyone who's seen a single episode this season certainly shares Freeloader's assessment that there is no standout talent like a Santino (season two) or Christian Siriano (season four), although Korto and Leanne have quietly climbed their way up the ranks with consistent if less-than-amazing designs.
So it's no surprise that when Heidi Klum took the stage to thank Bravo for a fifth and final time, there was a palpable lack of excitement compared to finales of yore. Particularly since the widely reported celebrity guest judge, J. Lo, was a last-minute no show due to a "foot injury" (which Freeloader thinks was code for bad pedicure).
Filling J. Lo's apparently faulty shoes was Tim Gunn, who readily acknowledged the awkwardness of judging contestants he had played a direct role in mentoring throughout the competition by saying, "I will do my best to put my relationship with the contestants on the metaphorical shelf." Riiight. And Freeloader will do our best to ignore the fact that we ended up swag-free.
At any rate, onto the clothes. Let us first preface our review by saying that six contestants showed at Bryant Park, at least two of whom are decoys, because there were six still competing as of Wednesday's episode before the finale airs Oct. 8. But after seeing the collections, we wish they could've added two more decoys to that list.
First out was Jerrell, the crazy-hat-loving designer perhaps best known as the only designer who could tolerate Stella, aka "Leath-uh." Jerrell was surprisingly hatless, but his collection was also a bit tasteless. Unless, of course, you think sequins should be incorporated into every aspect of an outfit, be it sleeves, skirts or blouses. Short of sequined eyebrows or sequined socks poking out of someone's heels, that man explored every possible use of sequins this side of a drag show. If he does not turn out to be a decoy we will be seriously shocked.
Same goes for Suede, who shockingly only referred to himself in the third person once. "Suede was inspired a lot of the colors you'll see on my head," he told the crowd, pointing to his aqua-and-fuchsia-colored faux-hawk. And boy was he not kidding. The ensembles that proceeded to stroll down the runway combined every pink and blue combo imaginable. It was actually very similar to that scene in "Sleeping Beauty" where the fairy godmothers keep changing the color of Aurora's dress with their wands -- pink, blue, pink, blue. Unfortunately, no princess would be caught dead (or asleep) wearing any of Suede's outfits, as they appeared to be made from recycled costumes from a pre-school ballet recital.
Slightly more encouraging was the next collection from Joe, the season's token straight male designer and therefore the least interesting to watch on TV. Fittingly, Joe's collection was inspired by "Americana and classic glamour," so there was a lot of denim and a lot of leather (unfortunately not the lace-up kind favored by the dearly departed Stella). Joe's collection was perhaps the best tailored of the three so far, but also the least interesting. If Freeloader has learned anything from five seasons of "Runway" watching, playing it safe will get you nowhere.
So what, then, to make of Kenley's collection, the Bettie Page-esque designer with an eye for retro 1940s glamour? Freeloader wanted to like several of Kenley's colorful pieces, but they often looked incomplete. One dress that came down the runway had a ruffled sash that on any other designer's dress would've been sewed to the garment. Instead it was draped around the model's shoulder not unlike an inflatable inner tube. There was also a large-skirted wedding dress with a feathered top and half-skirt, with layers upon layers of tulle sticking out, like she didn't have time to add more material to it. The model also came adorned with a feathered hat, apparently to distract from her haphazard gown.
Next was Korto, Freeloader's pick to win and the most consistently smart contestant all season (though we do miss our Terri). Korto told the crowd her collection was heavily influenced by her African heritage, with a bit of her new hometown in Arkansas thrown in for some classic American glamour. True to her word, her collection was by far the most inspired yet, with brightly colored gowns, dresses and skirts that were equal parts American businesswoman and African tribe-girl-goes-to-a-cocktail-party. She even made colorful, basket-woven fans for her models to wave at the foot of the runway, which means her photos will be the most memorable by the time they start circulating the blogs.
Freeloader would love to see Korto win next month, if only because she brought out her young daughter with her on the runway at the end.
Last and not least was Leanne, the mousy but crazy-talented young designer who shared with us recently that she can be a "Leanimal." All we know is, whatever she unleashed on her collection really worked, because her first piece alone was the only one to elicit applause from the audience up to that point. Several more garments that incorporated her now-signature layered skirt design received similar accolades from the crowd, a good sign that she'll curry similar favor from the judges, a la Christian. Leanne also takes the cake for designing the best pseudo-wedding dress, an unofficial theme that closed no less than four designers' collections this season. One designer even sent a model down in a mock wedding dress with a veil and all. Was there some bridal challenge we weren't privy to? At any rate, Freeloader is a big fan of anyone who can design a chic wedding dress with pockets. How practical!
All in all, it is with bittersweet feelings that Freeloader departed his final "Runway" finale for Bravo. Sure, Lifetime will make an interesting new home for the show next season, and heaven knows a move to Los Angeles might be exactly what the show needs to get it out of the creative rut its run into this season. But when even J. Lo can't be bothered to show up due to a broken foot, you can imagine how excited Freeloader felt at this point. Till next time, auf Wiedersehen!