‘Project Runway’ recap: ‘The Stitch is Back’ in Elton John challenge, and boy-crazy designers were thirsty for male models [UPDATING LIVE BLOG]

As a man who enjoys fashion and costumes, I’m always excited when “Project Runway” does menswear, but I probably wasn’t as excited as the designers were for their Elton John challenge in “The Stitch is Back.” Bravo previewed just how thirsty the designers were for their hunky models. But did that keep them from getting their work done? By the end of the episode, who was “Still Standing,” and who said “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road”? Find out below in our live blog with all the minute-by-minute developments as they happen.

On paper, an Elton John challenge sounded ideal for avant garde menswear designer Jamall Osterholm, who desperately needed another comeback after getting stuck at the bottom of the heap during last week’s “Blame it on Rio” team challenge when he had immunity. Garo Sparo‘s extravagant, corseted club looks also seemed like they would be a perfect fit — literally and figuratively. And then of course there’s Hester Sunshine, who had immunity this week after winning “Blame it on Rio,” and whose over-the-top ideas seemed like they would be right at home in the style of Elton John.

But sometimes the designers get tripped up even when a challenge is in their wheelhouse. Jamall thought he would be right at home in the streetwear challenge too, and we saw how that turned out. The good news for the designers is that they had extra help this week. The eliminated designers from previous weeks returned to lend a helping hand to the top eight contestants. Find out how they all got along below starting at 9:00pm (times listed are Eastern).

9:01pm — The designers have to follow the yellow brick road — more like patches of yellow brick stickers — into the workroom. If I didn’t already know this was an Elton John challenge, I might think they were doing “The Wizard of Oz” this week, which now that I think of it actually sounds like a pretty great idea. And inside they find a bunch of Elton John costumes and Christian Siriano, whose outfit is a tiny bit subtler. I dig it. I want that jacket, Christian.

9:04pm — Venny anticipates a “no-holds barred, go-for-it type of challenge.” As long as Hester keeps her pasties away from the male models. “Rocketman” star Taron Egerton himself introduces the film’s costume designer, Julian Day, who is there in person to show off his designs from the film — lots of furs, sparkles, and colors. Their challenge is to channel Elton John and his music circa the 1970s and 1980s to make a performance piece.

9:05pm — Jamall seems to love this challenge because his work challenges ideas of masculinity already. I’m a little worried about his enthusiasm because whenever he thinks he has big ideas he goes way off the rails (Elizabethan streetwear, Lycra swimsuit dress).

9:06pm — The designers will need help, so in come all eight eliminated designers to assist the remaining eight, so welcome back Cavanagh, Frankie, Nadine, Afa, Kovid — yay Kovid! — Rakan, Sonia and Renee. Frankie is thrilled to be able to help without the pressure of the runway on her own shoulders.

9:07pm — Garo Sparo picks Sonia to work with. Jamall works with Rakan. Bishme picks Afa. Venny chooses Nadine (at his own risk). “I’m not exactly thrilled to be back,” she says, completely unsurprisingly. She left the show in such a huff I’m not sure I’d want to ask for her help on this challenge. Lela picks Renee (justice for Renee!). Hester picks Kovid, which sounds like Sunshine squared (“He’s my crazy color baby”). Tessa picks Frankie. And Sebastian is left with Cavanagh. I think Cavanagh knows what she’s doing, but it’s understandable that no one would pick her. Since she was the first eliminated, the other designers didn’t really get a chance to know her or her skill set.

9:08pm — Tons of money! The designers get $400 at Mood and then another $300 for sequins and such. But bad news: There’s no more immunity if you win a challenge. Hester won last week, so she’s the last to enjoy immunity.

9:10pm — Sebastian knows nothing about Elton John, and I hope this turns out better than when he knew nothing about streetwear and turned it into “Aladdin” in a blender. But Cavanagh has experience with performance looks, so she thinks Sebastian lucked out by getting her. Ah, good old Cavanagh — though she’s not wrong. Her experience lines up well for this. Meanwhile, Herster’s idea is “rock and roll rooster” — totally on brand. Even Kovid thinks that’s a weird idea. Kovid. He of the scarecrow sleeping bag. Garo Sparo is doing his own version of “Rocket Man”; “This challenge has me written all over it. If I don’t nail this challenge it’ll be so embarrassing,” Garo says. Fateful last words?

9:13pm — Tessa will use “as many gold things as I can afford” to bedazzle her look. She’s the designer most out of her comfort zone. Elton John doesn’t exactly mesh with minimalism. Venny reveals that he picked Nadine because she’s good at tailoring — I hope that’s worth it, man. Then it’s time for feathers and sequins. Sebastian is overwhelmed by all the shiny and isn’t sure what he’s doing.

9:17pm — Kovid is in charge of making Hester’s jacket, but he needs to work fast, and he’s not usually great in a time crunch, so that’s worrying. Sebastian’s has narrowed down his design concept to “big and loud,” maybe an angel … that’s it.

9:20pm — The models enter, and the background music turns a little porny. Sebastian is distracted by all the hotness, so maybe the porn music is just playing in his head. Tessa likes the models too. “They smell good,” she helpfully explains. Lela is planning to put her model in chaps that are “kinda assless.” I think I understand now why this show doesn’t do more menswear challenges — too much legal liability.

9:25pm — Tessa lets Sonia know that her and Garo’s model smelled especially good. Sonia thinks it’s a little weird that Tess is sniffing models. Bishme says “FedEx is missing some packages” with all the male models in the work room. Keep it cool, folks, or this is going to turn into a hostile work environment challenge.

9:26pm — Sebastian is feeling blue — the emotion, not the color. He has been away from his family for a while, and Elton John’s music reminds him of his dad. Maybe he should have gotten Kovid as his assistant because he needs an espresso shot of joy immediately, but Cavanagh is being supportive. I wish we could have seen more of her. She might have blossomed were it not for that initial misstep.

9:28pm — Jamall puts on a pair of platform shoes and reveals that he has an inner 16-year-old white-girl alter ego named Candy. How are we only now learning this? Where has Candy been hiding all this time?

9:33pm — Lela and Bishme both have close relationships with their parents. Lela wants to redeem her family of dreams who didn’t quite make it. Bishme is also looking for redemption since he was rejected by both Parsons and FIT when he applied to them. He tells his mom that he has a male model, and the first thing she wants to know is how nice his butt is. “He’s got a nice butt, mom,” says Bishme. Well that’s a quote I never imagined I’d ever write down. Seriously, no one would ever finish a design if they had male models every week.

9:38pm — Christian consultations — He doesn’t see much of Sebastian’s style or personality in his look. Garo should channel his experience working for Beyonce and Madonna into this look, though Sonia seems to be looking for more credit for her work. Venny’s look doesn’t seem balanced to Christian, especially with the train behind the pants. He loved Jamall’s look, but needs to be a little more tailored. Jamall is supposed to have mesh for his top, but it’s missing. Will this be another incomplete look for Jamall?

9:43pm — Garo still thinks Sonia is butting into his design too much, giving too much input. Meanwhile, Hester is worried because Kovid’s work is slower than they both thought it would be. Like I expected, a ticking clock is never Kovid’s friend, and him working so hard on the jacket is keeping us from getting good jolly Kovid screentime.

9:45pm — Uh-oh, time for model fittings. Keep the “Project Runway” HR department on speed dial. Tessa thinks she has discovered her love of sparkle, either that or she’s drunk on cute boys. Tessa tells her model it’s okay if he keeps his underwear on, but then when he’s in the outfit Christian thinks her looks needs to be more tailored. It does look kind of like a big fringed disco choir robe. Unfortunately, Hester doesn’t have anything ready to fit her model in, band when she does finally finish her jacket, it looks like a big turkey. Like, that thing is turkey AF. I mean, for a challenge like this maybe that’s okay, but … maybe not?

9:49pm — Day of the runway and Hester is going all-in on turkey. It seems to be going well between Venny and Nadine. She’s a little irascible, but she’s game. Now that she’s not in the competition herself and the pressure is off, we’re seeing a more positive side of her.

9:54pm — Final model fittings, and Jamall is cutting his model free from a sequined hood over his head. It looks kind of like if Elton John composed a score for “Dexter: The Musical.”

9:57pm — Time’s up and I’m really excited about this runway show. A lot of really interesting design concepts, and even the train wrecks will probably be fun to watch.


9:57pm — Julian Day is joining the judging panel. Ironically, Julian and Brandon Maxwell are judging the Elton John challenge in basic black outfits. This isn’t the Johnny Cash challenge, guys, liven it up!

9:58pm — Bishme’s look is outstanding. Feels totally true to the Elton John aesthetic: busy, detailed, but perfectly attuned — and yep, Tessa is staring at his model’s butt. Bishme gives a shout out to his mom: his model’s butt is dedicated to her. Tessa’s look is pretty great too, neutral colors, but used in bold, extravagant ways. Venny’s look is okay: busy and a little confused, love the sparkle when the jacket comes off, but the pants train doesn’t really work like it should. Hester’s rooster is … ridiculous. I don’t know if it’s good, but is it weird that I still kinda like it? Sort of? I actually think the worst thing about it is that below the feathers it’s not extravagant enough. It’s subdued by Hester standards.

10:00pm — Sebastian’s look is cool: awesome angel wings in the back, great jacket. Jamall’s look is weird, but again I can’t quite decide if it’s in a good way. It’s like a zebra body sock stuffed into a Muppet. Brandon describes it “super chicken.” Lela’s look is just okay, a little underwhelming after all the bold looks that came before it. Doesn’t quite hit the mark. Garo Sparo’s look rocks, incredible detail, true to the challenge, a knockout. This might have been my favorite runway so far this season. I’d say Hester and Jamall’s poultry looks were the weakest, but even then I enjoyed looking at them. Julian gives them all a collective standing ovation. I concur, Julian!


10:05pm — Hester and Sebastian are safe. Hmmm, so they liked the turkey?

JAMALL — Brandon tells him not to worry, that he’s in the top three — surprising! Julian says it has the essence of what Elton was about with great fabric and sequins, “incredible.” Elaine would love to see Elton John in that outfit today.

VENNY — Brandon seems annoyed that the feathers are back, even though they just raved about Jamall’s feathers. Brandon thinks there are good ideas, but the train looks like toilet paper stuck to the back of his pants: “no bueno.” Nina thinks the red, white and blue make it look like an inexpensive costume. Karlie thinks it’s extra but went “so wrong.” I think it might actually be better without the jacket.

TESSA — Julian says there’s an element of Elton John, but it looks more like Elton’s daywear … really? Nina doesn’t think the look would have worked if she had been hired as costume designer for the film. Brandon and Elaine ding her for fit problems, and Brandon thinks it’s too safe. Again, I don’t see where that look reads “safe.” She went out of her comfort zone and I think she deserves more credit for this look.

BISHME — Nina loves that there’s “reveal after reveal,” which is perfect for a performance look. Julian thinks it has glitz and glamour and he says he wishes it were in the film — high praise! I agree he’s one of the top looks. He or Garo Sparo should win.

LELA — Julian thinks the silhouette disappears. Nina thinks it looks like a “bad costume” or like he “lost a bet.”

GARO — Julian thinks it’s “magnificent. You really have captured exactly” what Julian tried to do with his “Rocketman” costumes. Elaine says he took them to another galaxy, and she loved the bedazzled jockstrap, but Sonia is mad backstage that he’s not giving her credit for the work she did on it. Karlie thinks the execution is impeccable.

10:12pm — Sounds like Bishme or Garo is winning. I’d personally choose Bishme, but I’d love to see Garo win his first challenge. And it’ll probably be Venny or Lela going home. Lela has made less of a strong positive impact on the judges in the past, so they might opt to boot her.

10:13pm — Sonia lets Garo have it backstage. I don’t know how I feel about this. Garo was the only one who gave his assistant credit for specific design elements at all, but Sonia is the only one upset about not getting credit. Maybe because she feels like a co-designer and the other designers just thought of themselves as an extra pair of hands?

10:16pm — On closer inspection of the garments, they think Jamall is finding his voice with unconventional draping and conceptual design ideas. I dunno. I’m ambivalent about that particular disco chicken. Garo’s look is “a work of art” with incredible attention to detail. Bishme’s fitting is perfect and “ready to be sold.”

10:19pm — Brandon thinks Venny is just bad with feathers where other people are good; it looks cheap like a bad costume. Tessa’s look isn’t a performance piece, but Karlie doesn’t think it’s the worst of the bottom three. I think it’s a lot better than they do. Maybe Julian and Nina are right and that it’s just the wrong look for this particular challenge. Lela’s look has elements that are “unforgivable.” It’s not finished, unflattering. The colors are good, but there’s no shape and it’s barely held together.


10:26pm — Jamall is safe, but not in the top two. Karlie says this was one of the toughest decisions to make. And … Garo Sparo is the winner! Yay, good for him! That makes Bishme the runner-up. Sonia graciously congratulates him, deciding that she just needs to let it go. Thankfully that blip of drama seems to have been brief, and we got through the male-models episode without a single angry visit from HR, so I’ll call that a win.

10:28pm — Tessa is safe, so she’s not in the bottom two. The eliminated contestant is … Lela. Sad to see her go, but I think it was a fair call. Looking closer at those looks, I liked the craftsmanship of Jamall’s look better than on first sight and could more clearly see the deficiencies of Lela’s. I still think Hester’s was a bottom-three look. It had much less impact than Tessa’s and they basically told Tessa she was boring.

10:30pm — Next week, the designers have to make statement looks inspired by the causes they care about. And they’re going to have to dress two people: their models and themselves.

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