Listening In: The Project Runway Finale

Who's in and who's out? Around 900 people gathered at New York City's Bryant Park today to watch the fourth season finale of "Project Runway." After a horrendous second-to-last episode in which the five remaining contestants were reduced to designing tranny-style wrestler wear, the crowd was on the edge of its fashionably fashion-show seat to see who'd been, as they say on the show, "auffed."

The big surprise: all five contestants remain. Sweet P, Chris, Jillian, Rami and Christian—part of a group that style guru Tim Gunn has said are the best designers the show has seen so far—all exhibited their collections, which yielded an unprecedented number of feathery dresses and ruffled skirts. Ramin Setoodeh and Jessica Bennett discuss the highs and lows of the show in Listening In, an occasional series of conversations between NEWSWEEK reporters.

Ramin Setoodeh: So Jess, have you recovered? I can't believe we were just inches from one of the great fashion icons of our time. No, not Posh—though the guest judge looked chic in an orange afternoon gown of some sort. (Fashion is not my primary language, but let's pretend that it is.) I can't believe we saw Laura Bennett, the New York mom from season three, who was wearing an impeccable gold dress. Go, Laura! I still think she was robbed of the "Runway" crown from last season.

Jessica Bennett: Ha. I'm not sure I'd call Laura one of the great fashion icons of our time—I'm a Daniel V. fan myself. But yeah, I'm finally recovering after eating the entire kingsize Hershey bar from our gift bag. I seriously can't remember the last time I woke up at 7 a.m., but the sugar is helping. Anyway, the show. It was all very exciting from our seats in row four—Posh was there (in a dress that almost matched her skin tone), Niki Taylor was there, Tyson Beckford was there, and plenty of past contestants. And despite my dislike for this season's youngster, Christian, (I mostly just hate his overuse of the word fierce), I think the 21-year-old may have pulled off the win. He clearly got the biggest audience response, from the moment his first model walked out. And I have to say, he really brought it.

RS: I agree! But let's start from the beginning. The first person to show was Sweet P. And unfortunately for her, it wasn't an entirely sweet collection. It started out decently, as a sort of Banana Republic chic—with a number of cotton purple and green dresses. But by the time we got to the ruffled ponchos and red dresses, I think it fell apart. Did you notice how one dress was so loose the model had to hold it up at the waist? I can just see Nina Garcia tsk-tsking her collection in the judge's room as we type.

JB: But do you think that was Sweet P or the waify model? I wasn't completely wowed by her collection, but I did like it. There were a lot of items that I could actually see wearing—and I liked the punk-rock plaid look. But yes, if I'd wear it, it probably means it's too tame for the judges. Chris, meanwhile, who showed after Sweet P, was far from tame. He got a big reaction from the crowd when he first came out and was cutely nervous, but his collection was … God, not cute. Seriously, it looked Seventh Grade Goth, with a lot of crushed velvet. One draping purple dress looked almost tie-died—until I realized that was the Mona Lisa on the front. And then there was the fur. Dear lord. I'm not even sure fur is the right word. It was more like hair. Long, long hair. The costumey effect that the judges are always faulting him for was definitely present. I didn't see couture, I saw 1990s Doc Martens wear.

RS: Chris's collection was definitely the worst. It looked as though it was from a different era, the era of Helena Bonham Carter's closet. As for the fur/hair, I wrote down in my notebook that it reminded me of horsehair. And it was dangling all over the sleeves. Can you imagine shaking someone's hand in that dress?

JB: Seriously. Next up was Jillian, who came out in an adorable (and I'm assuming handmade) bubble sweater dress. I'd give her second place overall. The girl is good with coats—we've seen her do them successfully on multiple episodes—and there were a lot of coats in this collection. And hats—riding hats. The theme was very military/equestrian.

RS: I liked Jillian's collection too. She opened with a glamorous equestrian ensemble, draped in black with a red belt, that looked as if it could have cost a thousand dollars. From there she transitioned into a more playful rider's skirt, a silver cocktail dress, a horse rider's jacket and a knit sweater that I could see her wearing. I wrote down in my book (why do I feel like Heidi in my critiques?) "futuristic." But where was—Nina, Nina, I'm channeling Nina now!—the big risk?

JB: Ha. I agree, though I thought Rami took even less of a risk than Jillian. I don't have our notes in front of me (Ramin—not to be mistaken with Rami—was our note-taker for the day; I was our photographer), but he's the one designer whose collection I feel I've already forgotten. Lots of drapey dresses—and I do recall one with a corset that literally looked like a woven basket. That got some good applause from the crowd, but it looked a little crafty to me.

RS: Yes—it looked like Jillian's Twizzler dress from early this season. All I remember about Rami was colors. He started with two turquoise outfits that were surprisingly plain, and then he ushered out a series of pseudo-Victorian black and red dresses that did vanish from your memory as soon as his models stepped off the runway.

JB: OK, on to our boy Christian. His first five or so models were in full black—very intense, like the collection as a whole. The middle color shocker was this insane layered chiffonlike scarf thingy that practically covered this tiny model's head. It was big—like, don't try getting on the subway in that—but fantastic. I liked his second-to-last dress the best. And apparently so did the crowd. (Cue the huge applause.) It was cream on one side, brown on the other, and layered with a ton of gauzy fabric.

RS: Yes, I saw that—how could you not—though I don't think he has a post-"Runway" career on "Make Me a Supermodel." The thing that was so surprising about Christian's collection was that it's obviously the best. Every other season, the judges spend a lot of time stepping around the two best collections, because there doesn't ever seem to be a front runner. But we have one this year. If he doesn't win, I'll be shocked (and who will they give it to, Jillian? As if.) It was bold, it was pretentious, it was totally unwearable, and it's everything a runway show should be about. It was, well, fierce.

JB: Don't say that!