04/19/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Inside the Season Finale of Lifetime's Project Runway

Six of the 11 remaining finalists in this seventh season of Lifetime's Project Runway are likely the luckiest six designers in the history of this franchise. Even though many of them will be eliminated before the season finale, they got to present full collections in the tents at New York City's Bryant Park last Friday during Fashion Week, an invaluable opportunity for any designer on the rise.

Each season of Project Runway thus far concludes with the presentation during Fashion Week of full collections by the three designers who have avoided those weekly painful eliminations handed down by host Heidi Klum and judges Nina Garcia and Michael Kors. Historically, the timing of the show has been such that its final few episodes have lined up nicely with one of the twice-yearly Fashion Week extravaganzas, allowing for the timely filming of its season finales. This season of Runway kicked off in January, however, so its finale will be telecast many weeks after the essential Fashion Week production.

It has long been the norm for Runway to film collections by the last three designers standing plus one decoy to avoid the seemingly inevitable leaks and spoilers -- a challenge more daunting than ever now that everyone in the Fashion Week audience has some kind of instant communications device in hand throughout. But those of us who were invited by Lifetime to attend last week's fashion show hit the jackpot, unexpectedly treated to a record ten collections on the runway -- that would be collections by the final three (whoever they may be), the traditional decoy finalist and six additional possible contenders, all of them still in play on the show. And so it is that six designers who would not have had the opportunity had they participated in previous seasons instead got to have their stuff strutted at one of the most important and prestigious events in their business.

Adding so many extra collections was a brilliant strategy, seeing as it is seemingly impossible for the media to keep secrets in the new digital world. At a time when television networks and studios are loathe to provide significant advance information about their shows to the traditional press for fear they will pump out ruinous spoilers, Lifetime creatively went the reverse route, inviting more reporters than ever to attend the Runway Fashion Week show and producing it in such a way that the identities of the finalists are still safe. The buzz for Runway has been somewhat diminished since its news-making move from Bravo to Lifetime, but this publicity strategy should help build it up again.

Listening to each of the ten designers introduce their collections provided invaluable collective insight into their creative processes, one that may not come through when only three of them are showcased in the telecast of the actual season finale. I was struck by the overall oddness of their inspirations, which included crime novels, rocks, shadows, insects, birds and digital printing. There was no talk of beauty, sexuality, romance, glamour or haute couture. Tellingly, many of the female journalists I spoke to after the event were impressed by the sheer number of outfits in the collections that real women might actually wear.

Still, as impressive as most of the ninety displayed outfits were -- at least to someone like me who knows nothing about fashion -- there was no single design that made the hundreds of people in that tent sit up and gasp. I kept waiting for one like the unforgettable final dress from Season 4 winner Christian Siriano, who forever raised the bar for Runway expectations. Interestingly, three of the male designers on Friday had styled their hair very much like Siriano's, perhaps hoping that imitation might lead to similar success, at least in establishing themselves as media personalities.

The closest anyone came to delivering a genuine eye-popper was Amy Sarabi, who kicked off her collection with a goofy but memorable dress that reminded me of a mushroom with a model's head and legs sticking out of it, or a poncho that had become caught on its model's earrings. (Online research later revealed that she has a thing for mushroom-inspired designs.)

Based on her collection, Sarabi seemed very much a likely candidate for the final three. That wasn't a big surprise given her work so far this season. It also seemed to me that Mila Hermanovski, who is not as popular as Sarabi on the show, produced a collection befitting a finalist.

As noted above, I understand little about fashion. Similarly, after attending this Project Runway finale, I don't know anything about how it will end (though I can reveal that country superstar Faith Hill will be the guest judge). But for the reporters who were there (myself included), being on hand for the actual finale, even with its abundance of decoys, will most certainly enhance the experience of watching and writing about this season's remaining episodes.

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