I've been an avid fan of the reality show since its inception in 2004, when my rad fashionista sister brought it to my attention. For those of you unfamiliar with the show's concept, it works roughly the same as ABC's The Apprentice: a handful of (mostly) talented, (mostly) young fashion designers are brought to NYC, given challenges that test their skill, ingenuity, and creativity, and are eliminated one by one each episode. The final three designers (in some seasons, four) are given a chunk of cash and a few months to create an entire line of 10-12 garments to be shown at New York Fashion Week, a dream come true in itself. These lines are judged, and a winner is selected.
Season 5 presented an impressive array of personalities and talents. And although I thought some episodes were a bit on the drab side, and some contestants were utterly abysmal (cough, cough, Blayne, cough, cough, Keith), the season ended with one of the better finales in the show's history. It's here that I switch gears and quit with the polite intro. On with the specifics.
Kenley the high-pitch-bitch, Korto the African with 'tude, and Leanne the painfully boring Portland hipster--yes, it was quite the final three. As a refresher, here were their lines:
In prior seasons, there has often been a designer who did well in multiple challenges, was enormously skillful, was very popular with viewers, and who ultimately had an exceedingly boring final runway show. Such was the case with season 2's Daniel Vosovic and season 3's Mychael Knight. These designers had the talent to respond to a challenge with specific parameters, but when given the freedom to produce a line representative of their style, fell short.
I must admit I was fairly certain Leanne would fall prey to similar perils. She showed some impeccable craftsmanship this season, particularly with her fantastic car seat garment:
Fortunately, Leanne had a stunning line. But first, let me say a brief word about Kenley & Korto.
All season long, Kenley made cute clothes well. This culminated in one of the season's best pieces, the bridesmaid's dress she put together to bump Jerrell in the penultimate episode. But I just never found Kenley's style to be all that, well, original. The judges constantly called her out on silhouettes which looked remarkably similar to the work of other designers. Perhaps most astonishing are the similarities between her wedding dress and one made by Alexander McQueen, something Michael Kors pointed out. Now, I should clarify that I know next to nothing about fashion and its history, but Kenley basically made throwback outfits. And ultimately, Project Runway has always been about finding the "next big American designer." In that regard, did Kenley ever really have a chance?
Personally, I thought Korto's line was quite strong, particularly in its marketability. Like season 2 winner Chloe Dao, Korto makes clothes women might actually want to wear--fancy that. But let's be honest, the only reason Chloe won that year was because Santino couldn't close; in an effort to please the judges, he held back, and his style was lost. Korto's line probably would have beaten Chloe's, but it just wasn't forward-thinking enough to top Leanne's.
Leanne took an abstract concept (water), used 50% sustainable fabrics, integrated her architectural style, and ended up with an elegant, cohesive collection. The line was undeniably modern, pretty, and skillfully constructed. While the colors were a bit dull, they certainly weren't ugly. And keeping the line conservative in color allowed for her knock-out punch to be just that. Not to mention that, as Nina pointed out, Leanne did it all: a pant, a short, skirts, and dresses. You name it, Leanne had it, and it was all executed beautifully. Without a doubt, Leanne showed the most potential to truly be the "next big American designer." Yes, as they've done in all five seasons, the judges picked the right winner.
At the end of the day, season 5 of Project Runway was as good as any, and they've all most certainly been excellent. Thanks to a well-spoken and constructively-critical cast of judges, two phenomenal hosts, and enough drama to keep things interesting, Project Runway has exceeded all expectations. Regardless of your knowledge of--or interest in--fashion, everyone who has ventured out of their house in the last year has some idea of what looks both beautiful and modern. And that's the show's greatest strength: every viewer can be a critic, and even the staunchest of critics can occasionally be floored. Here's to hoping Lifetime doesn't blow it.