This week’s time travel episode is brought to you by the haunted look in Brandon’s eyes as the designers pound the lockers of MoMA PS1 high school in Queens. “That entrance brought me back to a place that I’m not sure I was ready to go,” he proclaims—not exactly the cheeriest foreshadowing for the plaid, pleather and puffer looks to come. In episode 6, “Totally ’90s,” the designers are tasked with dividing into two teams to dream up collections inspired by the ’90s. The key, however, is to make these dreams modern and coordinating. Oh, and no Clueless costumes!
The lead-up to the actual runway show (set in the aforementioned high school) this episode is devoid of drama. The expected fallout from last week’s kvetching about Anna never comes to pass. (So much for “this right here is going to divide us.”) Korto meets with her fellow designer in Anna’s hotel room to discuss, briefly, why the latter’s ruffles caused such a fuss, but their resolution is swift and spice-less. “It’s a competition, things are gonna happen, but I don’t want you to ever feel like it’s against you and your personality,” Korto tells Anna. It’s a miracle of modern conflict resolution; they didn’t even need therapy–speak to get it done!
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In the workroom, the teams meet to sketch out their collections. The blue team—Laurence, Bishme, Prajje, Korto and Rami—theme their designs around hip hop-inspired streetwear, while the red team—Kayne, Brittany, Fabio, Kara Saun, and Anna—opt for bad-girl grunge. And at Mood Fabrics, the already stark divide between their approaches is widened: The blue team invests in leather, as well as multiple textured prints in florals and oranges, while the red team shells out cash for black lace, red and yellow plaids, and a dreaded roll of pleather.
As Laurence leads the charge for the blue team and Kara Saun for the red, we’re treated to baby photos of each designer—as well as a few tales of how they spent their ’90s. By far the most moving of these confessional asides is Laurence’s: When Christian greets her for his first round of feedback, she shares why “the ’90s was the best and the worst for me.” The story of her pregnancy and estrangement from her father, leading directly into her informative years of fashion school in Paris, gives her triumph on the runway this week a much deeper significance.
The runway itself is treated to the presence of Beverly Hills, 90210’s Jennie Garth; Elaine, Nina, and an amusingly nervy Brandon join her to applaud the models as they hit the laminate. A few thoughts on the looks from the blue team, up first:
- Bishme: This is such a fabulous, inventive take on two of the most iconic silhouettes of the ’90s: the puffer jacket and the mini skirt. Combining them into one piece with two cargo pockets at the chest—and making the whole thing off-the-shoulder? Absolutely genius.
- Rami: It took me a second to grasp the full concept of Rami’s ensemble. The clashing fabrics, the overlapping straps of the bra top, the white cargo pants, the coat tossed over the shoulder—it’s a lot. But that doesn’t mean the look doesn’t work, especially with Rami’s clever styling additions of a side-parted ponytail, skinny glasses, and a Walkman. It feels deliciously ’90s: extra, extra, extra.
- Prajje: I could see this streetwear jacket selling out everywhere Prajje can place it. The overlapping fabrics are zany but cohesive, especially when contrasted with the clean, crisp, athleisure-like fit of the white halter top and sweatpants underneath.
- Laurence: I was concerned Laurence’s cone bra might come out too costume-y, but it’s remarkably subtle in the context of her neon-orange cut-out sweatshirt and green leather overalls. (I especially love how Laurence styled these overalls, draping the straps asymmetrically.) This is one of those classic Project Runway looks that nails the balance between inventive and marketable.
- Korto: I don’t know how to feel! I love the heft of Korto’s oversized jacket—the confidence of its bulk lends the piece extra glamour, and the stripes of orange over black are an unexpected choice. But as we see Elaine write in her notes, the overall effect is “Halloween vibes,” especially with the addition of a floral puffer train.
And from the red team:
- Anna: No ruffles this time! But it’s still an Anna look, so there’s ample use of lace. The textured black crop top is sure to be a hit, and the low-rise bell-bottom plaid pants are about as obvious a ’90s nod as grunge fashion can get.
- Brittany: The concept of Brittany’s lace-up pleather jumpsuit (with off-the-shoulder plaid sleeves) is one of my favorites of the entire night. It’s so modern, even as it pays crystal-clear homage to the fashion of yesteryear. But the construction has issues, enough so that the impact of the look is flattened by the time the model reaches the end of the (makeshift) catwalk.
- Kayne: It’s a pleasant surprise to see Kayne make something other than a red-carpet gown, and I appreciate the shape of his corset in particular—even if I’m not convinced the lace cape adds as much dramatic flair as he’d hoped. It’s a fine design, but not one I think the judges will fawn over.
- Fabio: I like seeing something a little sexier, a little more boundary-pushing from Fabio here. I’m not totally convinced about the cut of his sharp-collared vest —as much as I appreciate the peek of underboob beneath—but the creativity alone should get him through to the next week. Still, the best detail is the “backpack” sewn into the vest itself. We love built-in snack storage!
- Kara Saun: Oh, it’s delicious. You can tell just by looking at Kara Saun’s design that she’s the leader of the blue team: Everything about her design is intentional and executed to perfection. The full-length puffer vest is of particular note here, but it pairs beautifully with the sequins, lace, and plaid of her mini dress underneath.
Almost every look this week is strong, but as far as I’m concerned, the best team is obvious—and the blue crew does indeed cinch a win. Amongst the judges, Bishme, Prajje, and Laurence are the favorites, while Brittany, Fabio, and Kayne hit the bottom.
After much deliberation, Jennie and Co. decide Kayne’s corset isn’t enough to rescue the clashing plaids of his mini skirt, nor the confused intentions of his cape. Still, his exit is one of the most uplifting of the season so far: He seems almost unsurprised by the turn of events, and repeatedly expresses his respect for both the judges and his fellow designers. “Going out with grace is the way to go; that’s how Dolly would do it,” he tells the camera as he packs away his sewing supplies. He, like Dolly before him, is an inspiration to us all.
Lauren Puckett-Pope is a staff culture writer at ELLE, where she primarily covers film, television and books. She was previously an associate editor at ELLE.