Last Thursday on the new episode of Project Runway, we got something that all fans of the show are well used to: a challenge where they pretend that the hair or the makeup totally matters so that they can have the Garnier or L’Oreal people on to shill for a minute or two, and then they completely ignore the hair or makeup unless it’s an epic fail.

Luckily for us (and unluckily for one of our designers), we actually got an epic hair fail. Did it matter? Well, we’ll talk about that.

Thankfully, the challenge also had another dimension – it had to be based on one of the four…elemental thingamabobs? What do you call them? I mean, I wasn’t really a science wiz in school, but I’m fairly sure that “fire” isn’t on the Periodic Table, so it’s not an element…whatever, they all had to pick cards from the magic Deck o’ Choices and design an outfit based on Earth, Wind and Fire…err, no, it was earth, air, fire or water. There. Challenge explained.

We’re down to what, like, eight or nine designers? And none of them are terrible, thankfully, so the show is starting to get a little interesting. It’s impossible to guess before the show who is most likely to win or lose, and since there are fewer designers, it’s harder to figure it out while watching based on who gets the most face time and/or who cries during the spliced-in interviews. I have to mourn that element of the first half of the season for a moment, because trying to read the subtextual editing clues is my favorite thing to do in the episodes that are there to get rid of dead weight.

Now that the weight is mostly gone, on to the real point of the show – find out which of these formerly nameless people is the best. I was bracing myself for a workroom full of super-literal red “fire” dresses and “airy” frocks of floaty nothingness. Thankfully, most of our designers didn’t take the bait and go literal. If they had, I would have had to track down every last one of them and beat them about the face and head with a copy of Paris Vogue, so their willingness to widely interpret their looks saved me a lot of airline miles.

My personal favorite was Seth Aaron, who turned his air-inspired assignment into a black leather look with a plausible explanation and an incredibly fierce, sculptural jacket of which, dare I say, Alexander McQueen might approve. I was a bit suspect of Seth Aaron’s taste level at the beginning, but between this look and what he did for the kid-and-models challenge, he’s got something great going on if he can just distill his point of view down into its very best elements. Seth Aaron didn’t win, but if it would make him feel better, I would like to contact him and order one of those fabulous leather coats.

Also among the elite this week was Maya, whose inspiration was also air and who made a structured dress with a few floaty elements that really reminded me a LOT of springtime version of this. To Maya’s credit, however, Lanvin Fall/Winter 2010 just debuted last week, while this portion of the season was shot months ago. That didn’t stop Nina Garcia from wrinkling her nose and tut-tutting to Maya that it reminded her too much of Nina Ricci, however, which was pretty accurate. Maya didn’t win either.

Finally, FINALLY Jonathan won something. His inspiration was also, you guessed it, AIR. He made a dress out of laughter and bubbles and happiness, and he somehow managed to accent it with a material that almost perfectly matched his model’s porcelain skin. During judging, he explained that his own pale existence made him particularly fond of playing up her complexion, and as someone that often finds herself buying the lightest color of foundation in any given makeup line, YAY FOR PALE PEOPLE.

His dress was beautiful and light, and guest judge Roland Mouret thought that it was brilliant in a way that only a French person could. I liked the dress and I love Jonathan whenever they show a portion of his interviews (he’s the one that’s scared of children, remember), but I would have still preferred it if they had given the win to Seth Aaron. I’m happy to accept a win for Team Pale, however.

Now, to the unpleasant task of talking about those that weren’t quite so full of win on Thursday. First, Mila. We saw the Bob Twins staring longingly into each others’ eyes, talking about how similar their souls are early in the show, which piqued my interest. Then Mila said that she’d be happy for Maya if she herself was to be eliminated in her place, and we had to know that Mila was skating on thin ice. She was – the judges finally called her out on being a one-trick colorblocking pony, since her assigned “earth” inspiration stopped her from reverting back to black and white and caused her to instead make a boring outfit with a slightly-less-boring asymmetrical vestjacket. She was safe, however, because at least the outfit’s three pieces were competent as clothing.

Not quite as competent was Amy, who made a stab at conceptualism by creating an enormous hair bowl at the top of her garment. I don’t remember what the rest of it looked like, because all I could think the entire time that it was present on my screen was that I didn’t understand how someone could make such beautiful dresses in almost every challenge and then look at a hair bowl and think, YES, OBVIOUSLY THIS IS GOING TO WIN ME THIS CHALLENGE. It’s just…I can’t even.

Amy was lucky, however, since in the great hierarchy of Project Runway sins, doing something conceptual and doing it badly is not quite so heinous as doing something basic and screwing it up. Ben. Poor, dear, gay-husband-missing Ben. His inspiration was water and he decided to make a suit inspired by sharks, which maybe would have been okay if he had any earthly idea of how to make a suit. He didn’t.

That’s why almost everyone makes a dress for every challenge – pants are hard. Jackets are even harder. Doing both in a day is nearly impossible, particularly if you’ve never done it before, which poor Ben hadn’t. Apparently, he had also never taken a gander at how pants are constructed, because the weird seaming around the crotch made his model look like she was wearing a jock strap over her pants, but probably a jock strap that came with the suit because it was made of the same material.

It was bad in a basic, head-scratching way, and for that indiscretion, he was sent packing. He seemed like a nice guy, but I was never all that excited about anything that he designed, even the look that nearly won him the Marie Claire cover challenge. It was time for him to shuffle on, out of the way of the other designers and back to his adorable husband, who probably misses him dearly.

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  • PhotoGirl

    I find PR beyond boring now. The move to Lifetime has ruined it for me. That said, I did like Seth Aaron’s outfit until I saw the back of it. Who needs all that confusion draped over her bum?

    As for the elements, this Wikipedia entry explains things very well, I think.

    “Many philosophies and worldviews have used a set of archetypal classical elements, most developed sets of the simplest essential parts and principles of which anything consists or upon which the constitution and fundamental powers of anything are based. There are several approaches (Ancient, Medieval, and Modern), the most frequently occurring theories of classical elements are held by the Ancient systems of thought. In use as an explanation for patterns in nature, the word element refers to a substance that is either a chemical compound or a mixture of chemical compounds (as in the Chinese Five Phases), rather than a chemical element of modern physical science.”

    • Honestly, this might be the last season that I recap it – I still like watching the show because occasionally, someone comes up with something brilliant, but it doesn’t have that spark anymore and it doesn’t give me a ton of dramatic material to work with. Plus, it competes with Real Housewives, which seems to be a ton more popular.

      As far as the elements go…that’s why I only took one college philosophy course :-).

      • Chris

        I admit Project Runway has lost some spark, after all, it is the 7th season and it must be hard to come up with new ideas for the challenges – but it is still the best fashion doku soap out there. It always depends on the designers. Only few of them are really gifted and even fewer are good in front of the camera. Thinking about it – Rachel Zoe Project was kind of entertaining. Unfortunately, it only shows what a great stylist, but terrible manager good old Rachel is.

  • 19yearslater

    In biblical times those four elements were thought to make up a person and at death air and fire would rise to Heaven while earth and water would remain behind. Anyway, I really liked Seth Aaron’s look, and the idea of his element as seen through an apt. window, and Jonathan’s laughter. He got really confident all of a sudden and for a good reason. Whenever someone calls their significant other at the beginning of the show and admits how hard it is to be away from them they will be returning at the end of that episode. Remember the fate of Letha Stella?

  • JenG

    It is hard to figure out who is leaving looking at the clips from the show. I predict the final three will be Anthony, Mila and Seth Aaron.

    • JenG

      I meant to say Maya not Mila.

  • Loquita

    I love love LOVED Jonathan’s winning look – and I will go out on a limb and predict that the final three will be Jay, Seth Aaron, and Jonathan *or* Maya.

  • Loquita

    Oh yeah – and the last episode of PR made me NEVER EVER want to use a single Garnier styling product. EVER. You can sign this one in blood, people.

  • M

    so excited that jonothan finally won one! he’s my favorite, and i don’t care if he isn’t as fierce, he’s such a nice person and fun, who doesnt want REAL personality
    as opposed to the black bob twins.

    but jon’s design was amazing as well

    i also really really liked seth aaron’s design, i really hope he makes it to final 3 and he has a lot of personality too! since SA has one once, jon deserves this one!

    i wish they didnt send ben home =( i really like him. i wanted mila ? (the older bob) to go home..pleasee no more color blocking

  • Anna Cooperberg Gzz.

    Great recap, Amanda!!! I missed it again this week. But Thursday night I’ll watch it (or DVR it), if only to be able to read your recapw without having to google the creations :)

  • H

    Maya had water not Air.
    Jay had Air.

    Just you to know :P

  • sarah

    What’s up with Mila staying on week after week? She’s really not a great designer. Something fishy ! yo!

  • Elyse

    Mila needs to go! (fb)

  • Jocelyn

    Nice recap.

    Tag for Linea Pelle (fb)

  • Joy