Project Runway: We Have a Winner!

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 20 2009 12:03 AM

Project Runway: We Have a Winner!

"It'll be better next time" is a phrase that rarely brings the reassurance the speaker intends, but it's the best thing that can be said for Project Runway . The book is now closed on Season 6, which was beset by legal problems, second-rate contestants, uninspired challenges, inconsistent judging, absent judges, too many one-day contests, and the wrong venue. Let's pretend it never happened and hope that Season 7, back in New York and with Michael Kors and Nina Garcia guaranteed to be on hand for all the challenges , will induce a case of selective amnesia.

But first, the formalities: Thursday night brought the second part of the finale (and someone needs to tell the folks at Lifetime that "finale Part 1" is like "a little bit pregnant"—it is or it isn't the finale), and there was only one question left unanswered: Who would win? The collections had been out there since the Bryant Park shows back in February, and Tim Gunn had explained the meltdown shown in Lifetime's promos for the finale in a fabulous interview with the Los Angeles Times . After an avalanche of faint praise (Nina Garcia, "I thought they all put a lot of time and effort into their collections"; Heidi Klum, "It really looks finished"), Heidi named Irina Shabayeva this season's winner.

Despite Irina being the clear favorite going into Fashion Week, her victory was by no means assured. The judges praised Althea 's coolness and her talent for connecting with "the street." They enjoyed Carol Hannah 's impeccable draping and tailoring and her willingness to play with color (at least in comparison with the others—the whole show was like a scene from Pleasantville ). What won it for Irina was that her collection was the most cohesive. Too cohesive, perhaps—every single garment was black, which doesn't photograph well. As Nina Garcia observed, "It gets very little editorial, black." Still, Irina had a story—"My collection is all about New York. ... What it takes to survive in this city as a woman. It's about comforting and shielding yourself"—and she paid attention to detail. She was the only designer who had made hats to accompany her looks, for example, and, overall, her pieces looked as if they belonged in Bryant Park rather than at a high-end fashion show in a suburban mall.

Still, there is one unresolved issue. As Tom & Lorenzo, the kings of Project Runway commentary, revealed earlier this week , the T-shirts that garnered Irina so much praise weren't exactly all her own work. The slogans were copied from " Reasons To Love New York ," a December 2008 piece in New York magazine.

Oh, Gucci, maybe Season 6 isn't over yet after all.

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June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section.