“Project Runway” ended season 19 in historic fashion — no pun intended. It was the first time in the show’s history that women made up the entire final four presenting their collections at New York Fashion Week: Coral Castillo, Kristina Kharlashkina, Shantall Lacayo, and Chasity Sereal. In last week’s penultimate episode the judges could have made the decision to cut them down to the final three, but liked them all so much that they all got a ticket to the finale. But there could be only one winner.
After last week’s show the four designers were sent back home with $10,000 apiece and five months to put together their 10-look collections. Mentor Christian Siriano checked in with each of them two months into their creative journeys. Shantall was first. She was working on her collection at the Istituto Marangoni School of Fashion in Miami, which gave her more space to work than she had at home. Her collection was inspired by Quetzalcoatl, from which she was bringing in snake-like textures, but Christian advised her to stay away from creating a print and bring the textures into the construction of the clothes itself — that meant a lot more work for Shantall, and then even more after Christian told her to ditch the dated pale yellow color she’d used for one of her looks. She took his advice, and by the time she arrived back in New York on the eve of the fashion show she’d moderated her color palette with more grays.
Next up was a visit with Chasity in Houston, but there wasn’t much for Christian to see during his check-in. She was struggling with designer’s block: the judges wanted to see more of Chasity’s own style and personality in her collection, and she wasn’t sure what idea of herself she should base her collection around. “Christian can rip you a new one,” said Chasity about the “Runway” mentor’s occasionally tough love. But a swift kick in the pants was exactly what she wanted from him. And during his visit the inspiration came to her: since she has often felt like an outsider in her family and her industry, she would create looks to show a black sheep who blossomed.
Coral in Los Angeles had a much clearer idea of her creative point of view by the time Christian visited her. The judges consistently responded to her use of macrame as an expression of her cultural heritage, and then her son showed an interest in their indigenous family roots in Mexico, so she wanted to represent that on the runway, with one menswear look in her collection in honor of the inspiration she got from her son. However, Christian thought a lot of the designs she was working on looked too “dress-makery.” And the judges had already seen her use macrame repeatedly. What she needed was to expand her use of technique into bolder, more abstract, and more unexpected directions.
Last was Kristina in Queens, New York, a hop, skip, and a jump away from where the designers had been working all season. And if Coral already had her artistic concept well in hand, Kristina seemed the most organized around planning. She was working with a graphic designer to make custom prints and creating mock-ups to pair the right patterns with the right shapes and styles. But Christian advised her to show the judges silhouettes they hadn’t seen from her. He also thought her designs looked quite modest, so it might be a good idea to sex it up a little.
And boy did she! When she reunited with her fellow finalists in Manhattan just two days before their fashion show, she scandalized the workroom with a couple of sheer looks, one of which showed her model completely topless underneath. She was a little worried about whether her model would be comfortable showing so much skin, but her model shrugged it off, say, “I’m French.” Christian wasn’t quite as comfortable, imploring Kristina to consider what Nina Garcia might think when she sees it and design some kind of top underneath. Kristina (wisely) made the tiniest of bras to go with it. But that wasn’t her only wild idea: she also wanted to end her collection with a model riding a hoverboard on her way to Mars. Well, no one could accuse Kristina of holding anything back, which is the kind of energy you want to bring into the “Project Runway” finale.
Elsewhere in the workroom was a familiar conflict: Christian begging Chasity to hurry up so she doesn’t run out of time with her wildly ambitious hand-stitching and beading. He also wrestled with Coral about which model she’d send out first; they eventually settled on opening with the unexpected menswear look. And he gave Shantall a lot of notes as she was having fit issues with one of her signature pieces. She had to ultimately edit it out of her collection, but she wasn’t going to end the season without the judges getting to see it, so she decided to wear it herself.
Then came the moment of truth. It was time for the final runway show at The Shed at Hudson Yards. Nina and Brandon Maxwell were on hand; Elaine Welteroth couldn’t make it for unexplained reasons, but guest judge Tommy Hilfiger would help render the season’s final verdict. Also in attendance were the rest of this season’s contestants — including Zayden Skipper, fresh from witness protection in a black hood that covered his entire face — as well as fashion influencers, the finalists’ families and friends, and last year’s “Runway” champ Geoffrey Mac — no pressure. Kristina opened with her eclectic looks with a variety of colors, shapes, and constructions. Then came Shantall with some retro-inspired looks with their complex snake patterns and one absolutely show-stopping black dress. Chasity showed her rebellions black beads and ruffles. And then Coral closed out with her blend of macrame details and structured pieces.
The judges were impressed by every single one of the designers, and Brandon even jokingly asked Hilfiger if he brought his credit card so they could give the $250,000 grand prize to all of the designers. Alas, a decision had to be made. So the judges took a serious look at the pros and cons of every collection. Nina was surprised that Kristina went so abstract and conceptual with her designs when so many of her past looks had been modular and wearable, though she loved the hoverboard at the end (Brandon very much didn’t). Hilfiger’s main concern was that her use of print might be less commercially viable than if she had designed in solid colors. Many of his critiques focused on marketability, and I understand fashion is as much a business as it is an art form, but it seemed as though his main aesthetic criterion was, “Would this make me money?”
That was Hilfiger’s issue with Coral’s collection. He loved the structured pieces with the zippers and thought there was a market there, but “Would you buy more than one of the macrame dresses?” which made me think that Coral’s cultural expression was lost on him rather than those being poorer designs. As for Chasity, Nina would have liked to see more variety than the black ruffles and beads that dominated her collection, though Hilfiger thought there was a real market for her to dress costumes for stars like Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, or Ariana Grande — or anyone who aspired to look like them. And as for Shantall, Brandon thought her designs were right on the edge of dated ’80s fashion, but they all marveled at her technical skill and Hilfiger thought her snake motif would still be relevant in coming years.
So there were pros and cons for all the designers involved, but based on the fashion show (and probably also informed by their seasons as a whole) the judges decided that the season 19 winner of “Project Runway” would be … drum roll please … Shantall Lacayo! This marks the first time a designer has won “Project Runway” after being eliminated and saved by either Tim Gunn or Christian Siriano. The other three designers weren’t officially ranked when the judges announced their results, so they end the season as runners-up. Did you agree with the outcome? Who did you think had the best collection? And what did you think of the season as a whole?