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In Which the All-Stars Design Couture in Paris

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It's Week Eleven of Project Runway All Stars and even if you've never watched Project Runway before, we think you should check out this week's episode—at least the first part. Although this is the challenge which determines which three of our four remaining designers will go through to the finale, that's not what makes it so special...

Things kick off with Carolyn telling the All Stars that for this challenge they must make couture designs, and that they will be buying their fabrics at Janssens & Janssens, which, oh yes, just happens to be in PARIS. Before the designers can stop hyperventilating, they learn that they'll also be getting some instruction in creating couture—from THE HOUSE OF VALENTINO. At this point we lose all interest in the challenge itself and become completely focused on the fact that we're going (via the cameras) to The HOUSE OF VALENTINO!

Learning about couture at The House of Valentino
The designers are whisked off to Paris and immediately brought to the House of Valentino, whose interior is festooned with gold leaf. It looks like a modern day Versailles or a more tasteful version of Donald Trump's apartment. There we meet Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, the house's creative directors and designers. Maria's eyeliner, we are surprised to note, looks pretty Goth. The All Stars watch the house's seamstresses create gowns for their fashion show, which just happens to be the next day. Not surprisingly, the thrilled All Stars are each presented with invitations to attend. Joshua is so excited he declares, "I'm like a straight guy at a baseball game!" The show itself is impressive, although some of the first outfits look a bit like goth lingerie (Maria Grazia, we're looking at you...).

The designers are very inspired and go off to sketch their designs and then shop for fabric. Their fabric budget is 3,000 Euros, which thanks to a quick search on Google, we learn translates today to $3981. Yes, that's $3,981 each. Their money is well spent because the fabrics at Janssens & Janssens are amazing. Some are even bejeweled. Toto, I don't think we're in Mood anymore.

You might think that if Project Runway All Stars is going to fly their designers to Paris and give them each almost $4,000 to spend on fabrics, that they'd also give them more time than usual to create their garments. Nope. When the designers return to New York, they are immediately taken from the airport to the workroom and are given one day to make their garments. We're guessing that this is because adding extra days to a shoot increases a show's production budget significantly more than sixteen thousand dollars. We think they should have sprung for it.

Our judges this week are Georgina, who goes from "beautiful" to "exquisite" (we're not sure if this is a promotion or a downgrade) and Isaac, who is still "famous." Joining the two, as this week's only guest judge, is designer Cynthia Rowley. We like Cynthia and she's always a good Runway judge, but we confess, we were hoping for someone more closely related to the world of couture. Unfortunately, the great Valentino, who gives Joshua and Michael Kors a bit of a run in the orange department, does not make an appearance.

Anthony Ryan's Design
Our winner this week is Anthony Ryan, who designs a black lace column gown. All season we've been trashing Anthony Ryan's designs and complaining about his many unjustified (in our opinion) wins, but this week we're completely on board. Although Anthony Ryan gets very frustrated during the design process and casts aside his original design, he hits a home run with his end result. It's stunning and original. Cynthia calls, it "Scary pretty," which she says is high praise from her. The only criticism any of the judges make is that Georgina points out that proportionately, the shoulders could have been a little larger. We agree, but it's a minor point. We really liked the gown. Well done, Anthony Ryan!

Emilio's Design
In second place is Emilio, with a dramatic red print ball gown. He tells the judges that although the fabric looks like it's a heavy brocade, it's actually very lightweight. In response, Isaac and Cynthia immediately head over to the runway to cop a feel of it. They're both impressed. The judges love Emilio's gown, although Isaac and Georgina both wish he'd made the front of the skirt shorter to give the design a bit more personality. No one points out that it makes Emilio's model look heavier.

Uli's Design
Initially, our bottom slot this week is a tie between Uli and Joshua. Uli creates a long golden lace gown with a skin tone lining underneath. Although the dress is similar to other designs she created this season, for some reason the style doesn't work as well here. Isaac says that it doesn't look couture, but rather more like expensive ready-to-wear—he's seen similar styles many times. Georgina is more concerned that you can see the nude lining clearly under the dress.

Joshua's Design
This week's fellow bottom feeder, Joshua, creates a black and white embellished top and pairs it with a multicolor floral floor length skirt, which looks somewhat Vera Bradley. The judges appreciate his risk taking, but don't think the combination fully works. They all blame the floral fabric, although they don't seem to be able to fully agree on what is wrong with it. Is the print too small or too colorful?

The judges say they can't decide which of the two bottom designers' garment is worse, although we wonder if perhaps they felt Uli's was but didn't want to see her go. Either way the end result is that they propose one final challenge for Uli and Joshua. The two will each have to take their couture design and remake it using their sewing tools and leftover fabrics. Unfortunately, they must do this on the runway itself, in just one hour. Alexander McQueen once challenged himself in a similar manner, only as far as we know, it wasn't to impress Isaac Mizrahi.

The Results of the Sixty Minute Challenge
The two very frustrated designer work their magic and both manage to create designs that the judges prefer to their original ones. Joshua reverses his bodice and then cuts both it and his skirt down to make a more ready-to-wear shorter version of his couture design. The judges all like it and think it looks fresher and more fun.

Uli goes a different direction. She takes what is left of her lining fabric—the one that the judges hated, and turns it into a dress. She then pairs it with a beaded shrug made from the trim on the top of her original gown. Georgina like the shrug so much that she gasps when it comes out on the runway and then says she'd wear it. The other judges are equally impressed with it.

The judges are so impressed with both of the dresses, that Isaac pretends that they'll have to have another face-off challenge to determine a winner. But eventually they let Joshua go and send Uli through to the finals.

Joshua exits with grace. During his run on All Stars, he redeemed a lot of his bad behavior from his original Runway season. He had a much better attitude. We really enjoyed the camaraderie he and the other remaining All Stars shared this episode. We bid Joshua a fond farewell and wish him good luck.

Next week...the finale!

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