Christian Siriano - Project Runway WINNER

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March 6, 2008 | Yes, we're as into Bravo's "Project Runway" as you are. So we've gathered a group of Salon staffers to weigh in on Wednesday night's season finale immediately following the show: Whose Fashion Week collection blew our minds? Whose just blew? And did the best designer win? We'll have our say, and then we hope you'll have yours in our letters thread. We'll spotlight the most interesting reader responses throughout the day on Thursday.

Salon contributors include Joy Press, culture editor; Amy Reiter, deputy editor, A&E; James Hannaham, staff writer; Caitlin Shamberg, multimedia; Mark Schone, news editor; Sarah Hepola, Life deputy editor; Heather Havrilesky, TV critic; Kerry Lauerman, New York editorial director.

BEWARE: Spoilers ahead!

Press: I've been in the Christian-loving camp all season, a sucker for the impish, self-invented 21-year old Anglophile with a goth streak and a whiplash tongue. But when the judges announced the winner, I found myself in a state of shock: Christian won! Christian won?

The fact is that I just didn't love his runway collection. And I had steeled myself for the worst when, at the start of this finale episode, Christian (without a shred of his usual cockiness) told Tim Gunn, "I'm not saying they’re all wearable…." Even worse, he had ignored Gunn's earlier advice to pare down some of the ornamentation. I mean, after 4 seasons, everyone knows that the Golden Rule of "Project Runway" is Listen to Tim. Christian's collection was nothing if not funereal froufrou, a little too ruffled to be fierce. It was like his models had walked out of a parallel universe in which Victorian dominatrixes swanned around in spaceships.

Jillian, on the other hand, who earlier in the competition had seemed too safe and conservative and, well, Ralph Lauren-ish, came into her own in this final collection: she had sharp, wearable shapes, a perfect diagonal between cute and edgy. Whereas Christian located the edge and toppled over it. But in way, I'm glad -- Christian is a winner in the ambitious, visionary lineage of O.D. (original designa) Jay McCaroll and I'd much rather see "Project Runway" err on the side of messy drama than elegant perfection.

Reiter: I'm with you, Joy. Ultimately, I'm glad Christian won. All night, all I kept thinking was: He did it all in a closet! Seriously, would $100,000 mean as much to any of the other contestants? (Though the car? Is he even old enough to drive yet?) Christian may be only 21, but he really does seem to have suffered enough for his art already.

Unlike you, though, I wasn't always solidly in his camp. I flip-flopped between Christian and Jillian like, well, like Jillian flip-flopping on which models to use. And I really felt bad for her tonight. I mean, there's no question that she had the most accessible collection. I would wear almost all of her clothes -- that is, I would wear them if I were shaped like one of her models -- and between her startlingly humble Long Island roots (how big a surprise was it to get a gander at the knicknacky, mirroriffic home she grew up in after looking at her sophisticated designs week after week?), the whole destined-for-greatness trip her mother laid on her growing up, and her bouts of indecision and flashes of self-doubt, she really had me rooting for her going into the Fashion Week showdown. I have a soft spot for neuroses, what can I say?

And Rami, I loved that he finally really showed the judges -- and us -- a little range. And yes, yes, the workmanship was incredible: the antique lace, the woven bodices. Also, his tribute to women when he stepped out onto the stage to introduce his collection was touching, particularly after watching Christian bark at his ultraskinny models and warning them not to eat. But though a few of Rami's pieces looked "effortless" -- to use one of the judges' words out of context -- a few others just looked downright peculiar. The gold lame number had a funny bulge somewhere along one of the thighs, as if the model were carrying an apple with her in case she needed a mid-catwalk snack. And although I wouldn't call that strange blue and red he used in his collection "'Brady Bunch' colors, as Michael Kors did, I wouldn't call them remotely appealing, either.

But Christian, well, yeah, I guess he kind of deserved to win. No surprise, really, that he was the judges' favorite in addition to the fans'. His designs had a certain power -- OK, maybe we should call it a "fierceness" -- that sort of bowled you over as they marched down the runway (those poor models in those challenging shoes -- no wonder they looked so angry as they walked). And if Victoria Beckham was sold -- and, excuse me, was she moved to tears? -- who are we to question a little overworked "funereal froufrou," as you so aptly put it? Their lovefest? That was major!

Hannaham: It wasn't really a surprise that Christian won, least of all to the imp himself, as he characteristically quipped at the end. But the editors certainly deserve a Saturn and 100K for making it seem as if there might have been some doubt. This was the first episode where Miss Thing seemed at all unsure of himself, though this time he didn't have work the sewing machine like a paddleboat, whereas Jillian spent the entire season shouting "I'll be there in a minute!" And while his conquistador chic didn't impress Joy, and to me some of the pieces felt too similar (though none as stewardessy as Rami's first two), you could tell exactly how it would go down judging by the adjectives the judges used to describe each of the finalists. Rami was "cerebral" -- a no-no in fashion; Jillian got "feminine," which translates to "commercial, but didn't wow us." But they couldn't stop using the word "drama" to describe what Christian served up. That feathered gown was jaw-dropping, the neck ruff and the hat ensemble very playful and over-the-top, ditto that shorter skirt that made the model look a little bit like she'd been stuffed inside a Philly cheesesteak. Contrary to Joy, I think Christian was right to go against Tim's wishes for the finale, because his audience included the entire fashion world, including, perhaps, some of his Euro mentors. Nina, Michael and even Heidi seemed so much smaller in importance when stuffed into the context of the larger fashion world. They began to seem vestigial, especially with Victoria Beckham weeping her eyes out over Christian's work. That queeny little pixie always had his sights over the judges' heads, and he knew that above and beyond putting together fierce clothing, he also had to keep the viewers in stitches.

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