Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Welcome to Week Nine of Project Runway, where it's finally time for the show's annual HP and Intel Print Challenge—you know, the one where the designers get to create their own textile designs? Heidi Klum says that this is one of her favorite challenges, and it's one of ours too. In fact, it's something which we were fortunate enough to get the chance to try earlier this week. The challenge is announced by Season Eight runner up and All Stars winner, Mondo Guerra. If you missed his season, Mondo won that HP challenge by creating a gorgeous pair of slacks with plus signs on them. Plus signs—as in positive. Positive as in HIV Positive. Yes, in what was the most moving episode in Project Runway history, Mondo came out to the world about his HIV status.
For this season's version of the challenge, Mondo tells the designers they must make prints using their HP Touchsmart Desktops that show their cultural heritage. We assume that by "cultural heritage" he means family nationality or ethnicity, particularly since the designers are each surprised with a visit from a loved one. But a couple of the designers interpret it to mean, "Being bullied in high school" or, "Seeing ladybugs after their grandmother dies." It seems some of our designers are either overflowing in creativity or somewhat lacking in education.
Most of the designers are thrilled by their loved ones' visits and feel rejuvenated. Amazingly, after seeing her mom, Elena becomes—get ready for this—happy. And confident. And nice! She actually skips around Mood, giggling. Uh oh, what will the editors do without a bitchy Elena? She'd better get cranky again fast, because we're not sure her designs alone are strong enough to keep her on the show.
The biggest surprise of the visits, however, is Ven's sister. How can we put this in a way that is more respectful to her than Ven was to his client three episodes ago? She is beautiful, but probably not someone whom the "sizist" Ven would want to design clothing for.
The Princess and Prince of Prints
Joining Michael and Nina in the judges' chairs this week, are two guest judges, the prince and princess of prints, Mondo and Season Nine's winner, Anya Ayoung-Chee. Like Mondo, Anya won her season's HP Intel challenge. Mondo and Anya are amazing judges; in fact, they might just be our favorite guest judges, ever. They dissect the designs at a highly informed level, comparable to that of the regular judges. We suspect that this is due to the fact that they've walked in the contestants' shoes themselves. Anya is normally so gracious that we fear she'll hold back on the criticisms, but once we hear her tells Gunnar that his design looks like it's from TJ Max, we know we're off to the races.
Mondo is an even tougher judge, however, and we got we got a bit of inside scoop about his judging process from a Racked source. Last night, at a charity viewing party in Denver, Mondo shared that before he gave his critiques he did what he called an "emotional check" with each of the designers, since he understood "the emotional intensity of the challenge." We think that means he wanted to make sure they could take tough critiques.
Dmitri finally wins a challenge!
Forsaking making yet another dress, our winner this week is Dmitri. He creates a black suit with a red patterned top, which is inspired by the work of his father and grandfather, two artists from Belarus. The suit's jacket has geometrical sections carved out which makes it look like parts of the design are floating. Mondo feels that the jacket hides too much of the print, but the other judges think it brings more attention to the design. We're just happy that Dmitri finally got a win. Surprisingly, his nemesis Elena actually gives him a big smile when she hears that he won Hmm, on second thought, perhaps we should keep Elena's mother around every week.
Giving Dmitri some stiff competition for the top slot is Sonjia, who designs print pants in red, white, and blue, "because [she's] American," and a draped black top, "because [she's] black." Both pieces show significantly more creativity than their stated inspirations. Mondo loves the pants, which is not surprising, since he won his own HP challenge with a similar pair. Michael points out that the fit of the trousers is perfect, and warns that if it had not been, the model would have looked like a "Pac-Man is eating her crotch."
Rounding out the top three is Melissa, who steps way out of her comfort zone with a gorgeous red and white vein and artery print dress. It is inspired by the colors of the flag of Poland and the fact that her brother once said, "blood is thicker than water." Michael raves that Melissa went, "Park Avenue." We were thinking that she actually went one avenue further west, to Madison, where the Milly boutique is.
Our Bottom three for the week includes Christopher, who goes into a total meltdown about this challenge. We're not sure if this is because his mom is there distracting him, or because he hates working with prints, but everything seems to stymie him. He eventually designs a ladybug print pattern which Michael thinks looks like upholstery. Christopher himself dislikes it so much that he tries to obscure it with organza.
Ven's post-Maxi Pad design
Ven is also in the bottom three, and probably should have been the one sent packing. To no one's surprise, the king of the Rose Bowl makes yet another folded rose design. This time in the form of a white skirt attached to a top with giant hibiscuses on it—which, of course, also look like roses. Heidi hates the dress and says, "It looks like a Hawaiian airlines hostess is waiting to put this lei around my neck."
The judges all rip on Ven for giving them that folded rose pattern again. It seems that they have been criticizing him about it for weeks now. This is news to us home viewers, who were not privy to any of that. This leads Heidi to ask Ven if anyone warned him not to do the same design again. After he denies it, Heidi is so stunned that she asks Tim Gunn to come to the judging panel. Tim admits that while he had told Ven not to do the rose pattern in the past, (again, something we home viewers did not see), he didn't give him the same warning this week. Why? Because Ven was already in meltdown after Tim called his original design, "an homage to a menstrual cycle," with pleating which, "looked like a maxi pad." Yes! Our fastidious Tim Gunn said that!
Good Bye to Gunnar
Our loser for the week is Gunnar, whom we didn't like initially, but who eventually won us over. Interestingly, Christopher, Gunnar's former foe, had the same experience. Gunnar makes a print of hands and birds, which he says symbolizes how picked on he was growing up. Unfortunately, Michael thinks it just looks like postage stamps. Gunnar uses the fabric to make an unflattering riding jacket, which also does not win him any love from the judges. We wish Ven had been the one to go this week, especially after he hogs Gunnar's onscreen "aufing" time, by staying on the stage to kiss up to the judges. Unfortunately, Ven's construction skills and eye for proportion save him. For now. As for Gunnar, he leaves so graciously that Christopher gives him a hug and all the other designers applaud him. Ven, take a lesson.
Be sure to tune in next week, when we'll apparently hear Tim Gunn say, "Bitch slap that bitch." We can't wait!