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Project Runway All-Stars: Cuckoo Couture

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This week on Project Runway: It's the couture challenge! Renowned gown designers Mark Badgley and James Mischka are guest judges for this challenge, asking designers to create a one-of-a-kind gown for an evening at the opera. Host Angela Lindvall, while lovely, remains completely forgettable.

This week the designers are given $350 and one day to complete a couture gown that is fit for a formal evening at the opera. This is a challenge that is clearly geared more toward Austin, Michael and Anthony, who all love drape-y, flow-y gowns. This is the second challenge in a row that Austin feels particularly pressured to win, and when he finds out that Badgley and Mischka are the judges, he looks even more pale than usual.

$350 is a generous budget, but the stingy one-day time allowance will make pulling off a couture gown difficult. Designers who lack good time management and/or construction skills are at a serious disadvantage here. I'm looking at you, Kara Janx. At Mood the designers do the usual mad dash for fabrics, and some questionable choices were on display. Kenley went for some crazy bubble-gum pink chiffon with black polka dots, while Kara picked out a pastel print on white that looked like upholstery.

Back in the workroom Joanna Coles stopped in and visited each designer. We may miss Tim Gunn's witticisms and facial expressions, but Coles' dry humor and good nature are quite a good fit for the workroom. She has yet to really offer any of the designers specific, constructive criticism in the Tim Gunn vein, but she seems to have a good rapport with all of them.

There was a lot of "average" sent down the runway, but the top and bottom looks stood out. Anthony, Michael and Austin were -- predictably -- on top while Sweet P, April and Kara sank to the bottom. April had dyed her red dress with black for an ombre look that the judges hated; Badgley & Mischka in particular panned the look, saying they both hate red/black together. Sweet P's dress boasted a poorly made bodice in a bright coral and a large, full skirt; the judges wished her bodice were more precise and that she had flipped the fabrics. Kara's dress got a few good remarks, particularly from Isaac Mizrahi, who really loved her print, but her use of a black grosgrain ribbon at the waist was criticized.

Top 3

Austin: The judges loved his gold lamé dress with black tulle accents. This was a LOT of gold lamé, which can really look cheap...and still kind of did, in spite of Austin's great work. The judges praised it for being modest and tasteful. Issac Mizrahi called it "fresh and classic." I missed Michael Kors, who surely would have made a fantastic Princess Leah reference here.

Anthony: Anthony did the PR impossible -- he made a white evening gown that could never be mistaken for a bridal gown. With a plunging neckline and back, and asymmetrical draping, he vamped up the dress with black leather opera gloves and edgy accessories. The judges questioned whether Anthony had gone too far with the styling, but all agreed that the gown was executed perfectly.

Michael: Originally Michael had wanted to do a dress in red, but changed to black when he saw April would be using red. As revealing and sexy as Austin's was modest, Michael's dress had a dramatic open back with a beaded belt-like thing across his model's bare back. It's possible he pulled out that trick on his first season -- a review of old photos will be required to verify. Anyway, the judges loved the open bare back and the covered front, achieved through a luxe-looking feather and jeweled collar that gave the dress a true couture feel. Mizhrahi was stunned Michael created this dress in just one day, because it was flawless.

Winner: Austin! This challenge is so close to his heart, and he idolizes the Badgley Mischka designers and aesthetic, so he's thrilled. Frankly, Michael's dress seemed more couture and Anthony's was certainly more elegant, but Austin was a favorite for this challenge, so he may have had an edge going in.

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