‘Project Runway’ season 19 episode 9 recap: ‘The Last Straw’ unconventional materials challenge came straight out of the cocktail bar

Last week’s “Project Runway” episode, “Couch Couture,” hoped to elevate pandemic loungewear into something luxurious, but the judges brought the mood way down at the end of the night by eliminating two designers: Octavio Aguilar and Zayden Skipper, whose looks were unoriginal and unflattering, respectively. So what happened when the remaining designers embarked on the most difficult challenge of every “Runway” season: the unconventional materials challenge?

The eight designers remaining in the competition going into this episode were Coral Castillo, Prajje Oscar Jean-Baptiste, Bones Jones, Kristina Kharlashkina, Shantall Lacayo, Chasity Sereal, Aaron Michael Steach, and Anna Zhou.

And you could feel the absence of Octavio and Zayden from the very beginning; the morning after their double-ouster left the other designers in a melancholy mood. The season started with 16 designers, so the cast was now cut in half. Anna was especially upset as she had developed a close bond with Octavio. “There are so many memories … He’s more like a brother to me,” she said. Coral was shaken too; she was sure the judges would eliminate her since they’d been such fans of Octavio.

However, spirits were up — literally — when the designers were invited by their mentor Christian Siriano to enjoy drinks at a cocktail bar. But Prajje knew better. “I already don’t feel good about this,” he said. “Christian don’t invite you to a bar to have drinks.” And of course he was right. After the designers enjoyed a few libations, Christion emerged with judge Brandon Maxwell to explain that the bar wasn’t just their current locale, it was also their whole challenge. They were to make cocktail dresses using whatever unconventional materials they could grab from the bar, its kitchen, and its storage room.

So off they went to collect straws, doilies, upholstery, decorations, coffee filters, and much more. Kristina even grabbed a cornhole game board. Chasity was one of the most enthusiastic about the challenge since she’s already accustomed to using unconventional materials in her own designs. But her strategy in this case was to collect as much stuff as she could and then figure out her design in the workroom. Unfortunately, when she finally spread those materials out on her table, she had no idea how she was going to use them.

Inspiration seemed to come faster to other designers. Bones planned to break some glass to create a mosaic. Prajje was inspired to use doilies to create a lace effect inspired by his Haitian heritage. And Shantall started the painstaking work of creating a brand new textile using black straws, though Coral was worried about her own straw-based design since multiple designers had chosen to highlight that same material.

Anna was off to a rocky start, crying over the loss of Octavio, and getting a warning from Christian when he came in for his check-ins that her idea would look too much like a tin-foil dress and that she was veering too far away from her usual aesthetic. That set her on a new path for a Shanghai-inspired dress. Christian also inspired Kristina to ditch a plaid picnic-looking design, and he gave Chasity the bright idea to spray-paint her cut-up straw beading after constructing it to save her much-needed time. Christian also worried that Prajje’s doilies would look too much like an arts-and-crafts projects. But hallelujah, he thought Bones was on the right track, which was a rare sigh of relief for Bones.

But as the two-day challenge wore on, Chasity was still struggling with time management, spray-painting and gluing just to get enough materials onto her model as time was running out. Prajje struggled with both time and silhouette as he tried to create an hombre effect on his dress. “I cannot feel my fingers,” Kristina said about all the last-minute work she was doing. But eventually, for better or worse, all eight looks made it to the runway (almost) in one piece.

Before the designers showed their work, Nina Garcia introduced their special guest judge for the challenge, fashion designer Christopher John Rogers, who has worked with Lady Gaga and dressed Vice President Kamala Harris for the inauguration. And after the looks came out, Nina praised them for an unconventional materials runway presentation that was “one of the best” in the history of the show — and she would know since she has judged every season of the show.

Those looks weren’t created equal, though. There would have to be a winner and a loser. First, they announced that Bones and Coral were safe, so Bones really was on the right track and Coral needn’t have worried about too many straws on the runway. That left the other six designers as the highest and lowest scorers.

The first look that got a high score was Aaron’s, whose use of silver-spray-painted mats and straws was “beautiful” and “complex,” according to Brandon, while Nina called it an “architectural feat” with great “geometry.” Guest judge Christopher didn’t love the capelet Aaron added on top, but he thought the rest of the dress was a success. Also getting a high score was Shantall, whose ability to create a textile out of straws without using any glue at all was astounding; Brandon said the construction was “insane,” and Elaine Welteroth almost broke down in tears over how proud she was of Shantall’s comeback after Christian saved her from elimination in “Are You Fur Real?” the last top look was Kristina’s. Christopher thought it looked expensive and even loved the sound it made with all its innovative sequins and feather effects on a mesh base, and Elaine said it “feels like what’s next” in fashion.

Unfortunately, Chasity’s time woes were her downfall, as pieces were literally falling off her dress as it went down the runway and it was clear she hadn’t finished paiting the bottom half of her dress — “You just ran out of time, it happens,” said Brandon graciously. Anna also received a low score for her dress made of plastic takeout bags and the lettering from an “EXIT” sign; Christopher didn’t think she used the lettering thoughtfully enough, and while Elaine liked the construction, she didn’t like the design or taste level. The last bottom look was Prajje’s doily dress: Brandon appreciated the “lightness and happiness” of it, but there were major fit problems due to the pleather he used as a fabric base, and Nina thought she was “drowning in so much doilies.”

After some difficult judges’ deliberations, it wasn’t surprising that Shantall was the winner of the challenge for her utter mastery of her materials. It was tougher when it came to eliminating someone, though, as Chasity, Anna, and Prajje had all won challenges before, so this would be the first time this season for a designer to be eliminated with a challenge win under their belt. The judges ultimately decided that they liked the idea and the shape of Chasity’s look even if the execution was faulty, and Nina defended Anna’s creation of her own print. Prajje’s look didn’t have those redeeming qualities, so he was eliminated. But the competition has gotten so tight that the judges don’t like having to send anyone home. Brandon told Prajje on his way out, “We really cannot wait to see you shine.”

NEXT EPISODE: It’ll be a real client challenge as the designers will be tasked with creating looks for “Real Housewives” stars to wear during a reunion special, with Andy Cohen serving as guest judge. Hopefully there will be less drama than there usually is on that soapy reality show.

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