An avant-garde challenge produces works of art, as some designers fall apart

By Kate Hogan
September 02, 2011 11:50 AM
Richard McLaren/Lifetime (2)

With kids returning to class this week, it was the perfect time for Heidi Klum to send her Project Runway designers back to school to “further [their] education.” And she did, handing them off to Tim Gunn and 11 students at New York’s Harlem School of the Arts, where they paired with teens and did some painting to inspire avant-garde creations.

While some contestants, like Anya and Anthony Ryan, took to their younger counterparts right away, others, like Viktor, weren’t fans of working with kids. But the students seemed to impress the designers with their artwork, and they offered lots of inspiration for some out-of-this-world looks.

After some sketching and a trip to Mood, where everyone could spend up to $300, contestants hit the workroom. There was decidedly less drama this week: designers felt for Bert as he opened up about his marriage and deceased partner, and Josh M. discussed his mom’s death – and even paid former frenemy Becky a compliment.

But Tim Gunn showed lots of concern: some were too literal, like Bert, whose art featured geometric shapes, and Josh C. (above, left), who drew inspiration from a painting of a wolf; others, like Becky and Laura, needed to be more avant-garde. Olivier struggled again, too, running low on time and second-guessing his design.

Before the models hit the catwalk, Olivier actually found himself in trouble with Tim; he’d tried to glue a piece of fabric onto his model, which is against the rules. However, he was allowed to show.

On the runway, looks ran the gamut from dreamy – Kimberly’s leather-and-feather dress was cool, while Anthony Ryan’s (above, right) brushstroke-inspired gown impressed – to outright nightmarish. Josh C.’s wolf-themed outfit – a short-leather get-up – looked cheap, and Bert’s voluminous pants, accentuated with patchwork shapes, were just wrong.

Josh M., Laura and Anthony Ryan ended up on top. The judges loved Josh M.’s textured circle skirt, and appreciated the work Laura put into her dramatic yellow-and-ivory chiffon gown. But it was Anthony Ryan who was crowned the winner for his sheer dress, which Heidi called sexy and modern.

The bottom three – Bert, Josh C. and Olivier – took a lot of criticism from Heidi, Michael Kors, guest judge Kenneth Cole and Marie Claire editor Zanna Roberts Rassi, who was filling in for Nina Garcia. Though Heidi fought for Bert’s point of view, Michael compared his odd garment to “something a Teletubby would wear to a party.” Heidi deemed Olivier’s dress “really sad,” while the other judges thought it looked cheap. “His clothes they’re like Valium clothes,” Kors teased. And Josh C. was chided for failing to interpret his strong painting – and for what Zanna called a “trashy” look. In fact, Heidi compared it to a hooker’s Halloween costume.

Sadly, Josh C. went home – again – packing up for a second time. But he wasn’t disheartened. “I am very content with my effort,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”