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J'Accuse!: Allegations of Cheating Rock the Season Finale of "Project Runway"

I'm really torn by last night's episode of Project Runway, the first of a two-part season finale that sees the final four designers--Michael, Uli, Laura, and Jeffrey--present their collections at New York Fashion Week. Getting to show a collection at Bryant Park is a huge feat and an entry to the rarefied world of fashion. Let's just hope all four designers actually get there now.

I'm speaking of course of Laura's decision to inform Tim Gunn (and by dint the show's producers) of her belief that Jeffrey had outside help above and beyond that dictated by the rules set out by the producers for this challenge. They were given two months and eight thousand dollars to create twelve pieces to present on the runway. It's an arduous task, regardless of the timeframe, but all of the designers managed to assemble their collections and put the finishing touches on their outfits in the studio in New York.

Laura believes strongly that Jeffrey's outfits show a craftsmanship and finishing that he had heretofore never displayed on the show and she believes that, while the designs, fabrics, and aesthetic are all Jeffrey Sebelia, he had assistance with the actual sewing of the pieces. It's a serious accusation and, as Tim says, extremely difficult to prove. I'm not really sure where I stand on the issue. If Jeffrey cheated and they can prove it, he should definitely be disqualified and eliminated from the competition. However, if he didn't cheat, I feel really bad that he's being dragged through the mud on this occasion. While Michael and Uli are also suspicious of some of the finishings and the gorgeous leather jeans (at least from afar), Laura takes her accusations to the level of personal vendetta. I wish that she had confronted Jeffrey herself before taking her suspicions to Tim and allowed him to defend himself before an investigation was launched.

While Tim says that on Project Runway, everyone is innocent until proven guilty, the onus is definitely on Jeffrey to prove his innocence as Tim catalogues each of his collection pieces, asking if he did the work himself on each of them. (He admits to sending two pieces out for pleating, but it's not certain whether that's allowed or not.) Having collected the receipts from each of the designers (why did the cameras hold on Jeffrey while he took so long to hand them in?), Tim says that the producers take these investigations very seriously and will be going through Jeffrey's receipts to double-check the veracity of his statements. But... what would the receipts show? Surely, if someone were stupid enough to cheat, they wouldn't be even more stupid to turn in receipts showing payment for work done by someone else. Am I missing something here?

While I am not a fan of Jeffrey as a person, I do feel bad in this situation. That is, if he is innocent of any wrongdoing. While the other designers may not have noticed from challenge to challenge (being so busy working on their own designs), Jeffrey always seemed to finish the task early and way ahead of schedule. So there is precedence to support the fact that he actually finished the garments before the deadline. He also does this professionally, for a living. He's used to making lots of one-off garments for (celebrity) clients on deadline and, call me crazy, but I think it's entirely possible that he made these himself. Especially since he seemed to be ahead of everyone else (save Laura) during their two-month design period and had the strongest vision ahead of time of what he wanted to do.

Putting aside the aggravated accusations, let's instead focus on the sartorial statements made by the Final Four. First off, I am extremely nervous about Michael's collection. No longer restricted by the challenge rules, he seems to have lost focus of what made his designs stand out from the rest of the pack; they were always sleek, stylish, filled with energy and comprised of separates that were beautifully constructed and eminently wearable. But his urban safari theme made me a little concerned when Tim visited him in Atlanta and even more so when I saw the gold sequined pockets on that white shirt. That is the exact opposite of the design aesthetic we've seen so far from Michael Knight on Project Runway and I was hoping for more from him. I can only hope that the rest of the collection is more "cohesive" and expressive of his talents and vision than that one piece. Because, based on that garment, I don't think Michael can win this competition... and that depresses me.

I think that Uli's use of the safari theme is more thought out and better executed than Michael's and she's played up her strengths (diaphanous dresses and bold patterns) while also veering away from the tried-and-true approach that marked many of her designs this season. I absolutely loved that skirt that Tim focused on in Miami (it was gorgeous and so not typically Uli) and it was great to see her try something outside her comfort zone a bit. The bone detailing on the belt was a beautiful touch and the pieces we've seen so far could have all come out of the closet of the same woman. There's a distinct theme, but it's not so overt as to make one blanch, but it does link all of the pieces together.

I was very impressed with Laura's collection from what we saw in New York (and, damn, her simply amazing Manhattan loft apartment), which utilized some of her stylistic trademarks (deep, plunging V-necklines, anyone?) but had a real charisma and spark, especially since she trashed the chartreuse nightmare to which Tim reacted so violently. Some of her hemlines were a bit long and I thought that the red dress, with its inner detailing, was a little plain, but I can only hope that she was able to bring some youth and vitality to her gorgeous designs. Much of that will come from the styling of the models and accessories but I thought she did a particularly fantastic job, especially given the fact that she's pregnant with five kids running around her. If she manages to keep the designs fresh and young, she could win this competition.

Finally, there's the beleaguered Jeffrey who, despite accusations to the contrary, managed to create a gorgeous collection of rock and roll pieces, including a Japanese Kabuki woodblock-inspired line of hotter-than-hell dresses (I loved the blue-and-yellow zipper dress), leather jeans, and halter dresses. Very Vivienne Westwood-meets-Harajuku. His collection definitely showed a singular vision and it was upbeat, inspired, and fun. All of his designs will show well on a runway... if he can make it to Bryant Park, that is. Laura's accusations definitely shook him and he didn't respond with his normally aggressive/defensive attitude, something she even remarked upon. While the pieces weren't as finished as Laura believed (Uli found some very messy seams), the allegation is out there and I know that everyone will be keeping a very close eye on the garments until the situation is resolved. Me, I hope he does get a chance to present his collection as it's so drastically different than those created by the other three designers.

In the meantime, we'll have to wait for next week's Project Runway season finale to find out if Jeffrey does get to show his collection or not. (Something tells me he will.)

Next week on the season finale of Project Runway: it's finally here, the moment we've all been waiting for as the designers present their collections during New York's Fashion Week. Who will take home the prize as the winner of Project Runway? I'm already breathless with anticipation.


rockauteur said…
Was it just me or did Laura's husband look a lot like Albert Einstein?

Hopefully Jeffrey will get to show at Olympus Fashion Week (I mean we all know he actually did, regardess of the investigation outcome, as to thwart any confidentiality issues - the show always shows its final four designers, though usually only three make air on the finale). Hopefully, his show wasn't in vain, and he is still in the competition - his designs were the best and I hope he didn't cheat. And its a crying shame that Michael's vision fell apart.
Anonymous said…
Michael has been my favorite from Week One but, sadly, after seeing his confused collection, I don't think he'll be able to pull off a win.

Jeffrey is certainly not my favorite person but his designs do show a lot of verve (yes, verve) and I really hope that he's telling the truth and will remain in competition.

As for Laura and Uli, I think they both really played to their strengths and, with Michael's rather dismal design display, I think it's really anyone's game.
Anonymous said…
To me, Laura's husband looked like Bruce Dern.

What really bugged me about the accusation (and I am no Jeffrey fan) is that Laura has no context to know whether or not Jeffrey has the skills to make such well-stitched outfits. Their challenges on the show usually take place over 24 or 48 hours, so of course the sewing work is not going to be as good on the show as it will be when one is given more time. There is no reason to think that given 2 months, Jeffrey would be able to make well-crafted outfits.

i hope he stays, and I worry for michael. Bring on Top Chef!!

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