This week’s denim challenge accomplishes what the “single bolt of red fabric” challenge, inexplicably, could not: It shows off the individual style of each remaining designer. When our (by this point, thoroughly exhausted) cohort arrive in Westport, Connecticut, to tour Christian’s latest outpost, he informs them that “every major designer”—himself included—is “doing denim.” Naturally, then, episode 8’s one-day challenge is to craft a head-to-toe look using only recycled jeans. To make matters even more exciting, the designers will be facing off in head-t0-head battles, with the losers up for elimination and the winners carried through safely to the next round. Oh, and the winner amongst the winners will haul away $5,000 from Gloria Vanderbilt. How’s that for incentive?
Kara Saun gets first choice of whom to fight, and she picks Anna—a strategic move, considering the latter has never worked with denim. Brittany then picks Laurence (a mystifying choice), while Rami opts to spar with Korto, leaving Bishme and Prajje against each other. In Westport, they all scramble for denim scraps, then drag them back in a sprinter van to the workroom. Each face-off starts off genial, so Christian tries to stir up some drama about why so-and-so picked such-and-such for war. (Laurence supplies the best response: “I wasn’t surprised, I was shocked that Brittany chose me. That, to me, didn’t make any sense. But, hey—I’m definitely gonna miss her.”)
At the first model fitting, it’s already obvious just how innovative some of these designs will be, at least in comparison to those of earlier challenges. But not all goes smoothly: As Korto bleach-dyes her jacket, it dawns on Anna that her bleached-white look is already a doomed venture. She forgot to wash the material after bleaching it, making the fabric dangerous for her model’s skin. With only five hours left to sew, Anna decides to re-create her original design, from scratch, using un-bleached denim. It’s a ludicrous risk, but it’s either work like hell or send her model out naked.
Thankfully, all the models are clothed by the time the runway opens. This episode’s guest judges are fashion designer Willy Chavarria and actress and model Julia Fox. (Again, Nina has other obligations. Bless her.) A few thoughts on the week’s line-up:
- Prajje (vs. Bishme): I love the textile Prajje has created with interlocking belt loops on his sleeveless jumpsuit; it takes what would be a classic, flattering but ultimately ordinary design into an entirely new dimension. I think the concept is fun, but the construction is a bit lacking—there are threads hanging out, and some pieces look haphazardly stuck-on rather than intentionally placed.
- Bishme (vs. Prajje): As much as I appreciate the creativity of Prajje’s design, I think Bishme’s is the clear winner here. The shape of his mini halter dress is flawless; add in that denim fringe jacket and the pleated sweetheart neckline, and you have a look that feels as couture as it does accessible.
- Korto (vs. Rami): The structure of Korto’s fit-and-flare belt-wrapped jacket and mini skirt would be enticing enough on its own, but its her bleach-dyed details that elevate the look to high-fashion. Even if its not the riskiest look if I’ve ever seen, I think the judges will nevertheless be pleased.
- Rami (vs. Korto): Wow, what a tough battle to score. I might like Rami’s look as much as Korto’s, for the simple fact that the cage textile detail and the cropped vest are inventive. But the fit isn’t perfect, and some of those cage straps look puckered along the model’s curves. (I’m also not a fan of how they align along her midriff.)
- Anna (vs. Kara Saun): I’m flabbergasted that Anna managed to put together this slouchy cut-out column dress in five hours. For the speed with which it was stitched together, it looks remarkably modern, sexy, and well-crafted.
- Kara Saun (vs. Anna): I had a really hard time deciding how to feel about Kara Saun’s creation. The halter neckline and the grommet detailing along the bodice are cool, as is the sublimely sculpted fit. But some of the other components (the weaving at the thighs, the layers of fabric, etc.) seem less purposeful than they do on, say, Rami’s or Prajje’s works this week. Still, there’s a feeling to this design—a confidence, perhaps—that some of the other ensembles lack.
- Laurence (vs. Brittany): Can we get a little applause for the dress, please? What a beauty. Brittany absolutely picked the wrong opponent: Laurence’s full-length denim gown with puff sleeves, a cone bra, and a back cut-out manages to be both ultra-chic and ultra-wearable, already prepared for a red carpet.
- Brittany (vs. Laurence): Against any other opponent, I would likely pull for Brittany’s design. The strappy dress and ombré puffer coat adhere to her well-established trendy sportswear style, but she added in some elements of surprise, such as the distressed denim strips that compose her textile. This is a fabulous outfit, but I’m not sure it can win against Laurence.
At the end of the show, Julia announces, “I would wear everything that I just saw come out.” This isn’t exactly a surprise given the contents of her personal wardrobe—but it’s nevertheless a kind compliment, one I’m sure the designers appreciate. The judges then select Bishme, Korto, Kara Saun, and Laurence as the winners of their respective battles, with Prajje, Rami, Anna, and Brittany at risk of going home. Although Laurence is quick to claim the highest spot on the podium—and that sweet stash of Gloria Vanderbilt pocket change—the judges bicker over whom to eliminate. Nor do they all agree by the time they land on a final casualty: Rami.
Thankfully, Christian Siriano has a heart, and he swoops in to Siriano Save his old season-4 friend and competitor. He’s actively fighting back tears as Rami hugs him, and he puts his hands on Rami’s shoulders, pleading, if not actually insisting, “You’re going to show them, okay?”
So Rami—beautiful soul that he is—makes a promise to the audience: “I’m coming back swinging, so you better watch out, y’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.