It makes sense to us that the Project Runway finale show is scheduled for 9 a.m. on the last day of Fashion Week — clearly, the organizers are hoping to minimize the chaos by banking on fashionistas and fans being too tired to haul ass to the tents at that hour. Nice idea, but we are here to tell you that it is all for naught. When we arrived at Bryant Park at 8:45 a.m., it felt like Heatherette but twelve hours early, with a teeming mass of bodies pushing up against the metal fences trying to gain access or get to their “friend” who “works” for Bravo or pretending they had just been inside and forgot their purses. Or name-dropping: “The name is Carmen. Like the OPERA. Carmen WEBBER,” shouted the former contestant who infamously sent a model down the runway without a shirt under her coat. (She did at least get inside and wished the harried PR girl a very curt, “GOOD DAY.”) Nobody could figure out who was considered a guest, seated press, or some strange “other” label, and at one point the drill sergeant inside the venue told us we’d either have to sit cross-legged on the floor in front of the photo pen RIGHT THAT SECOND or go home unsatisfied. It wasn’t until a dude carrying his tripod to his space nearly beheaded one of us that she dispatched us to a pair of sixth-row seats.
The preshow frenzy felt like a class reunion: Elisa Hernandez, Rami Kashou, Santino Rice, Kit Pistol, Nick Verreos, Laura Bennett, Jack Mackenroth, and a delightfully dapper Chris March were just a handful of former contestants we spied hugging each other, not to mention this season’s Stella Zotis, Terri Stevens and Keith Bryce. Sweet P, toting an MTV microphone and a camera crew, told someone, “You don’t have to win to WIN” — and then gasped happily when she saw former runner-up Jillian Lewis, who may or may not agree with that philosophy. “How are you, my little kitten?” Sweet P cried as she got her hair stroked by the usually robotic Jillian. She must’ve had her Human Emotion chip installed for the occasion.
Inaugural winner Jay McCarroll waved his arm and shouted, with a hint of humor and perhaps more than a dash of annoyance, “I’m in the SIXTH row!” He then told one reporter, “When I was in [Runway], I watched it like twenty times. Then season two, like, fifteen times. Now I can barely get through an episode.” Christian Siriano, last season’s diminutive and sassy winner, scored a front-row seat next to the judges. Our seatmate told us he was at Christian’s own show the day before and that he heard Tim Gunn call it the best one he’d ever seen in his career; we imagine it must have been that good, because otherwise, hyperbole like that could feed Christian’s ego for at least an hour.
Celeb-wise, the crowd mostly consisted of Bravo personalities — Padma Lakshmi, Tabatha Coffey from the first season of Shear Genius, Gail Simmons from Top Chef, and exuberant network president Andy Cohen. Rebecca Budig from All My Children got a front-row berth; a seat was marked for Jaime King, but she didn’t appear to take it (we knew the hour would deter someone). Stylist Rachel Zoe, who guest-judged earlier this season, scored a front-row seat but in the section next to where Heidi Klum et al eventually sat; exec producer Harvey Weinstein later finagled them both spots next to the Big Three. Michelle Trachtenberg brought the same tall, dark boy she’s had with her all week and wore a leopard-print sheer shirt that can only be described — charitably — as something that belongs in a collection of lingerie for the Mature Woman. She seemed genuinely stoked to be there, though, and scampered over like a fangirl to greet Weinstein and air-kiss Christian. (And she made some little girl’s day simply by showing up: As we left the show, we saw a kid of about 9 clutching the piece of paper that had marked Michelle’s seat as tightly as if it were a precious diamond My Little Pony autographed by Barbie herself.) We also heard a rumor that Cheyenne Jackson from Xanadu: The Musical was there, but it’s best we didn’t run into him, because we would’ve been derailed by our constant need to sing the theme song and discuss Olivia Newton-John.
Then, just as the lights went down, Judith Light appeared before our eyes. Much dorking out ensued, and we may have commented to each other, “Forget Tony Danza — she is TOTALLY the boss.” Judith looked a bit like she had rolled out of bed, thrown on a headband and a trench coat, and ran like hell to the show. This made us like her even more, especially since we may know a little something about that strategy. After the show she and Budig traded numbers — with Budig politely asking a nearby cameraman to turn away the lens while Judith read off her personal information. Maybe Judith is in the market for some racy AMC spoilers.
As for the show itself, Heidi Klum gave a long, heartfelt thanks to the folks at Bravo and Magical Elves, the production company that won’t be following them to Lifetime, before announcing that guest judge J. Lo canceled on them that very morning, owing to a “foot injury.” Uh-huh. Maybe it’s just us, but we feel like unless she actually broke the damn thing that very morning, as excuses go, that’s totally weak sauce. Like, have Marc Anthony wheel you down the runway! Get a bunch of backup dancers to carry you on a bedazzled stretcher! Show up and do your job, lady. (We can’t wait to see if her “foot injury” mysteriously heals in time to run the triathlon in Malibu on Sunday as planned.) Luckily, the PR crew were able to call on a very knowledgeable and beloved fashion icon to step into J. Lo’s Louboutins: Tim Gunn, who got a very enthusiastic round of applause. Tim assured the crowd that he would manage to remain unbiased, even though he totally hates some of these bitches. We may have read between the lines on that one a bit.
Klum, Michael Kors, and Nina Garcia — badass in chartreuse — got a round of applause as they walked out for photographs. “Heidi looked faaaaaaaaabulous,” Nick Verreos swooned to a camera crew about her tight hunter-green dress. “I wish I could just zip up and be like, ‘I’m done.’” So do we.
Without getting too detailed about the show itself — and always keeping you spoilerphobes in mind — we suspect there were two decoy collections and four actual finalists (or at least, as with last season, four people who arrived in NYC with intentions of being in the finale). Judith Light, postshow, seemed particularly stressed about having to name a favorite. “That last wedding gown was spectacular,” she mused to what we think was a Bravo crew. “But now I’m really confused. I’ve been watching them all these weeks, and I don’t know who to choose.” We’ll withhold just whose wedding gown that was until the finale airs (although — spoiler alert — we do suspect there may have been a last-minute challenge involving bridal attire), and without giving anything else away, we’ll conclude that our bets are on a woman taking the whole thing home. But check out the slideshows and decide for yourself. We’ll see you back here when the finale airs to discuss who is in, who is out, and whose mere presence on the finale’s runway caused half the audience to gasp.
View backstage and front row photos from Project Runway.
See a slideshow of Suede’s collection.
See a slideshow of Leanne’s collection.
See a slideshow of Korto’s collection.
See a slideshow of Jerrell’s collection.
See a slideshow of Joe’s collection.
See a slideshow of Kenley’s collection.