This particular episode turned the entire season around for quite a few reasons. With only seven designers left, we're extremely close to the end of Season 8. Asking the designers to create something based on an important moment in the past after viewing childhood photos at the fragile state they must be in at this point - yikes. Bringing in their mothers and loved ones after a drought of personal contact, and giving them a day off to just hang - double yikes. Michael C no longer being the pariah, and Mondo's brave revelation to the world, and goodbye to my girl V, yikes times fifty, and the whole dynamic is changed going forward. I usually don't like to list all these spoilers in the first paragraph even though I know you've all seen the show by now, but this episode was a bit more special than most.
Last week Mondo won the advertorial challenge plus a tidy sum of 20K so he now has a bank account with $2014 and methinks his days of counting pennies are soon over. Poison Ivy was put out to pasture at last. Valerie took another sucker punch to her self esteem being in the bottom two and narrowly escaping being ejected from the pod. The show starts this week in girltown, with Valerie telling roomies April and Gretchen she didn't expect to make it through last week's challenge and wants to keep going "for Ivy." Oh hell no. I can practically see a target affixed to her head at this point, actually I saw it last week when she told everyone she should have been sent home instead of Ivy, who she felt wanted it more.
Meanwhile, Egomaniac Gretchen shares to the camera that she feels Mondo to be her biggest competition. The judges still seem to be drunk on the Gretchen Kool-Aid, so I can't say for sure what's going to happen come Fashion Week, but honestly, my feeling is - girl, you wish.
Heidi greets the gang on the runway to give them cryptic clues as to their next challenge, and this time she practically sings, "Time for your next challennnnnnnnnnge," wearing the ittybittiest minidress ever. All she'll say is, mysteriously, the next challenge requires them to start from scratch. Okay, then.
And here is Gretchen's reaction face
They enter the workroom to find photo collages of themselves as children at each station on their HP touchpads. May I say here, way to hit them where they live at this point. At week 10, it's been at least two and a half months since they left home, n'est-ce pas? Nothing like some photos of your childhood when you're exhausted, stressed, and missing your friends and family to mix things up. Of course, everyone gets pretty emotional.
Tim comes in to describe the challenge, accompanied by Tracey Trachta, Executive Director of Global Marketing for HP Worldwide. They are bringing back the HP challenge from last season to create a textile design that will be placed on fabric using their handy HP touchpads. The inspiration for the design is to come from a moment in their past they found to be "especially profound, important, and inspiring," says Tim. They'll have one hour to create the design and two days for the challenge. Next will be a shopping trip to Mood for additional fabric and such, with a $100 budget.
I would feel remiss if I didn't show you how cute Mondo is as a tiny matador
Valerie says her dad built houses, therefore she is basing her design on blueprints as she remembers him bringing these home when she was a little girl. Michael C shares that his siblings have weird names (Spanky, Peaches) and they all wear red strings against the Evil Eye, therefore he is incorporating the Evil Eye into his design (hmm, I'm not quite sure how to react to this). Gretchen, having been raised in the Southwest, wants to make a graphic interpretation of her mother's sun bonnet. Christopher's design combines blue, representing his mom because she loves sapphire, and gray lines for San Francisco where he's from. April designs a black and white print that represents her parents' divorce when she was thirteen and how she felt torn between the two sides. Mondo's print is very Mondo but he won't share what it means. It turns out that the bold plus sign represents his HIV status and he's held this secret inside for ten years.
After their shopping trip, Tim announces that he's sending in some special guests and "be nice to them." Of course everyone's first thought is that it must be old contestants, because, contrary to how it has sometimes seemed this season, they have watched the show before. But no - the door opens and Andy, Mondo, and Valerie's mothers come in. Many hugs and tears ensue. They are followed by Gretchen's mom, April's mom, and Michael C's mom and son. Christopher's partner JJ comes in also. Tim enters with another surprise; he's suspending the work day so they can spend time together. And also, no doubt, because it takes many hours to print out the fabric they've designed and it won't be ready until the next morning anyway.
And here I have to say, how much fun is this? You're in a weakened emotional state by viewing childhood photos and then having your mom (or partner) sprung on you after a two month plus absence of people that you trust. Then you go off to hang with them along with a camera crew to capture every word you say to each other. Good times! This is why you won't find me on a reality TV show anytime soon.
April and her mom go off to have pedicures together. Mondo and his mom sit on a bench at the Highline and he tells her he had a breakdown during the first few days of the show and wanted to go home. He tells the camera he's from a very religious, Catholic family and therefore is very conflicted about revealing his HIV positive status to his mother because he didn't want to ruin her first trip to New York. Gretchen's mom gives her positive reinforcement, telling her she's talented and a strong contender. Christopher feels that "having JJ here right now is just like fuel...spaceship engine fuel. I can do it, I'm ready to stay and I'm ready to keep going."
Michael C, his mom and son sit at a table at a restaurant and he tells her about the group trashing him and the under-the-bus-athon. His mom, resembling Livia Soprano in just about every way, listens carefully and imparts advice about playing well with others (ok, that part isn't very Livia Soprano), finishing with "To me you're always a winner."
Michael C's Mom, in case you think I'm kidding
Of course, everyone's just a wee bit more fragile the next morning after seeing their mom or partner, but Andy's feeling it more than everyone else: "Seeing my mom took me way off my game." He even admits he'd rather be with family, "which is scary to me because I don't want to give this opportunity up." Gretchen's back to her old self, advising the camera that she really loves Christopher but she doesn't really love what he does. "His look, I think it's a C-plus." (That being said, it kind of is. Maybe even a C-minus or a D.) Along with general fragility, everyone has seemed to be softening up a bit. Michael C even likes Gretchen's fabric. Or at least that's what he's telling the cameras.
Tim advises Valerie that her design is "looking like an ice skating outfit," agreeing vehemently when Val says she thinks the top looks a little 80's. La Gunn warns her about using too many different construction styles, "I don't want it becoming a pupu platter of too many different construction methods." That particular simile is interesting since it seems they had some kind of Hawaiian themed party during this episode that ended up on the cutting room floor. And, by the by, it's Valerie's birthday.
Welcome to Hawaii
Tim asks Mondo what inspired his print to which Mondo will only say he's very deeply connected to the print and the symbolism, "who I was, where I've been, and where I'm going to be in the future." And that's all he'll say except privately to the camera. As Tim gets ready to do his exit speech he gets all verklempt, "there are only seven of you...yeah, this gets harder."
Andy's in serious trouble. At the model fittings he decides to cut the pants down to shorts, and just hopes he's going to be safe at this point. The next morning, he thinks it's just okay, "and just okay is never good enough." Meanwhile, Valerie is all in for her look. "The judges said last time my concept was not clear. This time it's definitely ringing like a gong."
In the workroom the morning of the show, Tim comes in to tell them all to send their models to the Piperlime makeup room and the HP Touchsmart hair salon and to be sure and use the L'Oreal Paris accessory wall thoughtfully. I'm kidding. This was just to make sure you're awake.
Final model fittings ensue. Michael C sings a country song he's made up, offkey. Andy says Michael C has grown on him and he gets along with everyone now. And in fact, Michael C, always the first one finished, is going around the room helping the others finish their looks. "I love Michael C, he's not afraid to grow," says Mondo. "And a lot of people, they're not that humble." (Hmm, who could he be thinking of?) Also, I think after their experiences this week, everyone's a tad more touchy-feely than they were a few days ago.
And it's Runway Time.......Valerie being the last out of the door as usual. The judges are joined this week by guest judge, designer Rachel Roy.
Now, seriously, April is growing on me and I do like the print. But am I crazy or is she making the same dress every week? And in case you think I am crazy, check this page out on her very own website.
Oh, boy. He's dancing dangerously close to the precipice of bad taste with this one. After last week's fierce warrior queen, it's like Night and Day. I'm now not so sure he can sustain an entire collection.
What can I say...he delights me every week and this week is no exception.
Like two different dresses, and both are drab and strange. Oh Valerie, doll, I think your luck has run out.
Gretchen is a little concerned because this is so simple compared to her usual frou frou earthycrunchiness.
And more drab drab drab. Worse than a few, but not the bottom.
All the designers seem to be wowed by this and are calling it very California. I'm not really understanding this. It almost looks like something Peach would have made. And since when do the designers sit there freely chatting during the runway show?
This week, everyone's in the hot seat, there are no safe's. It becomes clear that the judges are favoring Mondo, Gretchen, and April. The other three are on the low end and one of them (Christopher, Andy, or Valerie) will be out. Gretchen is first under the microscope. MK likes the motif and is "happy to see you try something that isn't about a Lady of the Canyon flowy moment." He also thinks the pants are more Olivia Newton-John in Grease than Gretchen, but the saddle colored suede gives her a little earthiness "so she's kind of disco-earthy." However he does think the print should have been more varied in size, it's too much "fried egg on the boob." Nina likes the print but is disappointed as she expected more from Gretchen, "it's just fine but it's not wow." Rachel loves the earthiness, the organic quality, but felt it was "almost there." Heidi likes the print and the piping on the pants.
Michael C is next to be critiqued. He tells the judges that his inspiration was the evil eye, and "the darkness in the fabric comes from my family because they're kind of crooked and they have a bunch of secrets." (Aha! Livia Soprano makes more sense now.) MK says he was smart enough to realize the print wasn't a wow, so he designed into it and broke it up, but it didn't exactly work and looks like a men's tie that was belted. "It makes it look funny like a joke." Heidi likes it except she feels the print could have been punchier, and the pumps exactly match the yellow in the piping, and of course, "Matchy-matchy is just not what's happening!" Rachel and MK both feel the bad styling brings the whole look down.
Christopher starts to explain something about California and water playing a part in his design. Rachel likes the off the shoulder look but feels that might have been an afterthought. Heidi says - nice, safe, boring. Christopher tries to defend himself in the worst possible way by saying something along the lines of that not every time does it have to be a wow. Heidi comes back at him saying "It's a show about design. I'm not sitting here in my jeans and t-shirt either, that's not what this is about." Nina thinks they are fine clothes but not necessarily fashion. MK says the outfit is what you'd see in the showroom, but what you'd want on the runway is something that would take it further. "That doesn't mean it has to be a warrior woman with thigh high boots and a whip. It's just that the last thing you want someone to say is, it was nice."
Which brings us to Andy. Half heartedly he begins by saying the print is about memories fading in and out and he wanted to do something more relaxed than what they'd previously seen from him. Nina gets the emotion of "sad" from the print and the design and she doesn't understand this given his work in the past. What happened? Andy responds that his visit with his mom made him very emotional and he got lost. To which Nina says, "the show must go on." Rachel finds the outfit odd and confusing and upsetting and the opposite of sexy. Heidi "hates to put salt onto the wounds" but she really finds it "unwearable." And MK continues his obsession with breasts by observing that "it looks like she has sleeping eyes on her boobs" and in fact he sees a face in the design.
The print April made is a hit with the judges even before they know the story behind it, which has to do with her family tree and her parents getting divorced when she was thirteen and April herself feeling torn. MK says the push and pull is a connective thread in April's work, but that being said, it looks like scraps of fabric were inadvertently tacked onto the bottom of the dress. Nina finds the print charming, Rachel says the print had the most unique voice, and Heidi says it was also her favorite print but the poofiness of the dress makes it unflattering.
Valerie starts off by explaining her design was based on blueprints of a home like the ones her father brought home when she was a child and he built homes for a living. Heidi points out how much the skirt looks like the party store dress challenge with the napkins. MK agrees, plus he points out that the layered effect on the hem with black tulle and then a final wool knit layer is not appealing. Nina finds the overall effect to be very heavy. Valerie looks like she can see the writing on the wall at this point, and remains calm.
Mondo is last. They all love his outfit, particularly the way he mixes colors and patterns, which he excels in and does so well. "There's a sharpness to it and it has joy," says MK. Rachel loves the pant, the fit, and would personally love to wear it. Nina says it's extremely editorial. After at first stating that the print is symbolic and very personal, Mondo finally is candid about the story behind the design, telling them that the pluses indicate that he is HIV Positive, which he has been for ten years and hasn't told a living soul. He feels better now for telling them, he feels free.
The judges seem to be surprised this challenge was so emotional for the group. They ask Rachel who she thinks was the worst, and she says it was Andy's, "the go go dancer." Sad...unwearable...and, says Heidi, "you can't fall apart so close to the end." MK feels Valerie's was the worst. They're also not thrilled with Christopher's look, finding it "unmemorable." Michael C's look, says MK, is "Annie Hall going to the Country Club." "...Years ago," adds Rachel Roy. Nina adds "old fashioned."
Of those they like, they're digging Gretchen's print, the "joyful" colors, but they all agree it wasn't enough from her. "But hands down, she's the best stylist," says MK. They all like April's print and the way it was used in the garment. They universally love Mondo's look, the mix of prints and fabrics, it's smart, it's chic, and the print was so joyous in spite of the story behind it.
Mondo is the winner for the third time in a row, and this time to my mind he's the winner not just because of a fantastic look, but also because he was so brave and honest about telling the world his situation. Again he's the winner of my heart, and as far as I'm concerned, he's already the Season's winner. No one even comes close.
April and Gretchen are in, as are Michael C and Christopher. Andy and Valerie are the bottom two. Andy narrowly escapes being sent home because Valerie's look was just that much worse than his. Valerie does a wink and a Lucille-Ball-like gosh darn it fingersnap, and gives Heidi a "Hasta Luego" to her "Auf Weidersehn."
And because we haven't had enough tear-jerking moments on this episode, Valerie gives everyone a goodbye speech and tells them all they're worth their weight in gold and that they all feel like family to her. She even apologizes to Michael C if she was ever unkind to him or misjudged him, and to April for underestimating her in the beginning due to her age "and shame on me for it because you are so skilled." I had high hopes for that little Clevelander, she didn't entirely deliver, but I will miss her, that's for sure.
And now that we're down to only six left, what are your thoughts? Who is actually going to make it to Fashion Week...besides Mondo, that is? I'm hoping Andy can pull out of his slump and do it to it, and based on the judges' decisions thus far I think Gretchen might be the third. What do you think?
And sew it goes........!
Project Runway airs on Lifetime TV Thursday nights at 9pm ET