Project Runway: The Avant Garde Challenge

This week on Project Runway: Bert and Anthony Ryan call a truce after last week's team challenge debacle, Laura Kathleen announces that "it's no secret" that she hates Becky -- only we've never heard that before at all, and Joshua M. wears this on the runway:

Cutoff jean shorts, a mock athletic neon yellow tank, and dress socks with old man sock garters. This guy is supposed to know about fashion, right? I love me some Joshua M., but seriously? WTF.

Heidi tells the designers she is sending them "back to school" and then they go off campus to meet up with Tim. Everyone catches up at the Harlem School of the Arts, where the designers are teamed with student artists whose works will serve as the inspiration for an avant garde look which the designers will then have two full days to create. If you are new to Project Runway, or to fashion in general, avant garde loosely translates to, "Totally effing weird, and even more conceptual and obscure than couture."

The designers get to steppin' and begin painting collaboratively with the student artists. Viktor seems scared of children, while Anya is right at home--turns out her parents run a school that teaches the arts. And then there is Laura Kathleen, who uses her time with her 11-year-old partner, Kai, to pour her heart out about what went wrong in the last challenge while Kai dishes out sage advice. I think I'm backsliding on my admiration of LK, just a little.

Once the paintings are complete, the designers sketch and then head off to Mood for fabric shopping. The mood at Mood is somber: picking out fabric is always the hardest part, and in an avant garde challenge you need even more than usual. Josh C. is working from a painting of a big, scary wolf and Tim warns Josh, "We're fur-free," and then chases the Mood mascot puppy around the store. Tim, you make my heart melt each week.

The workroom becomes a love fest this week, although after last week even stony silence would be an improvement. Laura Kathleen asks Bert if he is straight or gay, and Bert shares his story with the group, which, I think, garners him some sympathy. Bert might be kind of a dick, but he did lose his partner of 18 years to AIDS and then suffer from alcoholism for years afterward -- dude's been through shit. Respect. And I think the designers do. Joshua M. fawns all over Becky's design, telling her how much he loves it and then sharing in his private interview that he feels like maybe his "guidance" in the last challenge "inspired" her. If by "inspired" you mean "caused her to run into the ladies' room sobbing hysterically," then yes -- you inspired the hell out of her, Josh.

The emotional twists and turns continue when Joshua M. shares that his mother died of ovarian cancer two years ago. I have more sympathy for Joshua M.'s childish outbursts now, because I've seen someone die of ovarian cancer and it's incredibly ugly. Project Runway has me on an emotional roller coaster this season, and I reach for the tissues when Joshua gets choked up talking about his mom.

As we move through two days of workroom footage there is no real way of evaluating any of the looks because, like I said, avant garde is just weird; even more conceptual and subjective than couture gowns, it's basically abstract art, only on people instead of the wall.

Nina has a fill-in judge this week, another editor from Marie Claire, Zanna Roberts Rassi; the guest judge is fashion designer and AMFAR chair Kenneth Cole. Did you know he is married to Maria Cuomo, daughter of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and sister of current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo? You do now!

Top 3

Joshua M.: All of the judges love his skirt, which he painted on neoprene to resemble tree bark. Michael Kors does knock Joshua's styling, calling it a little too "Tim Burton." IT'S THE AVANT GARDE CHALLENGE, Michael. If it were a red carpet challenge, I swear Kors would say, "It's too Grace Kelly" and mean it as a criticism.

Laura Kathleen: All of the judges love her interpretation of the painting, which is of a rose with a thorn. They like the way she used the dark boning under soft ruffles to interpret the painting. I just think it looks like a frilly yellow dress, but what do I know?

Anthony Ryan: Heidi can't believe how well AR uses color, considering he is color blind. All of the judges think the dress is powerful and makes an impact on the runway, but Kenneth Cole thinks it looks too unfinished.

Bottom 3

Joshua C.: Michael Kors says his model looks like a "Victorian cocktail waitress in Vegas," while Heidi uses the phrase "Halloween hooker." If anyone else gets sent home after criticisms like that, they should quit designing clothes.

Bert: Heidi is the only one who likes Bert's clown pants with 3-D geometric shapes sewn onto them. She says at least it isn't boring.

Olivier: The judges agree that half of the top looks well constructed and the rest is a mess. Words like "sad," "depressed" and "cheap" get bandied about.

The Winner: Anthony Ryan, which is sort of surprising given that Joshua M. produced such a strong look that was widely well-received. I think the styling -- which Anthony Ryan did quite successfully -- had to have been the deciding factor.

Out: Joshua C., who somehow managed to interpret a painting of a wolf into a cocktail waitress uniform.

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