The end of the “Runway”

Gabrielle Santella

“Project Runway,” Bravo network’s hit reality show, ended its third season with a showdown among its final four designers last night. The finale marked the conclusion to arguably one of the most highly dramatic seasons of this high-fashion hit. Season three has been unusual from the start: this season began with a summer premiere, and two contestants who were eliminated came back for a later challenge with the chance to continue the competition. Season three will also be forever be marked as the first season a contestant was disqualified from the competition for allegedly cheating. The finale was just as impressive, as four finalists were given an opportunity to show a collection at Bryant Park, as opposed to the usual final three.

Each week the competition was narrowed from the initial 15 contestants down to the four finalists. Episodes followed a specific pattern: designers were given a challenge to complete with a limited budget and time constraints. As they worked, they were questioned and guided by Parson’s School of Design’s own Tim Gunn. Each episode ended with a runway show featuring the results of the challenge, which were then scrutinized by a panel of fashion experts. The panel always included the show’s producer Heidi Klum, and usually featured regular judges such as Michael Kors and fashion director of Elle Magazine Nina Garcia. After reaching their verdict, one designer was awarded as the winner, and one designer is “auffed” and sent packing.

This season the challenges really stretched the limits of the designer’s creative capacities, such as the premiere episode in which the contestants used the décor from their Atlas apartments to create their first garment. Several lucky contestants were flown to Paris during the “Jet Setter” challenge to prove if their designs for travel actually held up after enduring trans-Atlantic travel.

While in Paris, the designers then faced the daunting challenge of creating a couture dress in a mere two days. After surviving these grueling weeks of non-stop demands for innovative design under high pressure, only four designers remained for the final challenge of showing a collection at fall fashion week.

Ulrike “Uli” Herzner: All season long this German native has appeared to be a one-trick pony with her signature flowing peasant dresses and her love of wild prints. Her show at Bryant Park however, surprised us as she presented a more eclectic presentation of her talents. She displayed range with her use separates, causal and evening dresses and even a bathing suit. Her collection, perhaps out of all the finalists, appeared the most cohesive and thoughtful. Her collection began with a fairly neutral color palette and transitions to the vibrant prints we’re used to seeing from her. Standouts from her collection included a metallic silver tube mini-dress and a vibrant blue-print gown with a plunging neckline reminiscent of the dress that secured her win in the last challenge.

Who we thought should win: Uli Herzner

Laura Bennett: This New Yorker has a very specific style: classically tailored and elegant evening wear. Throughout the season, Bennett was constantly warned by the judges that her pieces were “safe” and seemed to target a narrow demographic. For her collection at fashion week, She stuck to her guns and designed dramatic but tasteful evening wear pieces. Her color palette was very rich; she made use of plenty of black lace which she livened up by employing unique accent choices such as feathers. Overall our favorite from her collection was a gun-metal silk gown, with cascades of sequins and cinched at the waist with a vibrant olive colored belt.

Michael Knight: This season’s golden boy has definitely been Michael Knight. His hip-hop inspired fashions allowed him several challenge wins and the admiration of the judges. He is known for “getting the whole look;” everything about his presentation down to the styling of the model’s hair accentuates his designs. For his 12 looks, Knight continued to work with his feel for trendy urban style. His designs were flashy and up to the minute; his style is young and edgy. However, one element of his collection that we weren’t fond of was his use of crisscross laced up shirts and dresses. Our favorites from his collection included his jewel toned shirt-dress accented with a wide belt, and the silk-chiffon printed baby-doll dresses.

Who we wanted to win: Michael Knight

Jeffrey Sebelia: All season long Sebelia has attracted drama, because he seems to feud with anyone who crosses his path. And on the brink of the Bryant Park unveiling, fellow finalist Laura Bennett accused Sebelia of illegal usage of outside help on his collection, threatening his chances of showing his collection. Despite the uproar, his collection was actually shown, and it was very diverse to say the least. His collection didn’t appear to have a common thread among his silhouettes or color choices. Though individually the pieces had their own fashion merit, together the hodgepodge of sequins, stripes, polka dots and prints did not impress upon us that had a true theme behind his collection. A major disappointment.