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'Project Runway': I do's and don'ts

Last night's Project Runway was the first of a two-part season finale, and this episode focused on the collections the designers had made during their month at home, as well as the continuing drama over Kenley's attitude. The show backtracks at first, showing Kenley storming out of the apartments on her way home (to Brooklyn -- on the subway?) and Jerell, Korto and Leanne saying goodbye and giggling that Kenley had ditched them: "Was there someone else here?" They say it was "rude" and typical of her, but I have to say in Kenley's defense that they're not making anything any easier by ganging up on her and being catty and passive-aggressive. (OK, I feel better now.)

The first half of the show features Tim's visits to each of the four designers' homes, where he critiques their collection -- all of which must include a wedding dress -- and then visits with their friends and family.

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First up is Korto, in Little Rock, Ark. She tells Tim she was inspired by the woods that surround her office building and uses a lot of snakeskin in her designs. (Lots of snakes in Arkansas! Won't be visiting anytime soon!) As will be true for all the designers, we see less of the collection and more of the wedding dress because that's what they'll be judged on for this show's elimination. I like Korto's at this point, on the rack; it's beige and eclectic and very Korto. Tim points out a "very sexual" cutaway in one of Korto's other dresses (awkward!), and they repair to her home, where Tim repeatedly tries to engage Korto's very cute daughter to no avail, and Korto and a friend put on a drumming show. Korto talks a bit about her background, coming with her family from Liberia at a young age, and gets a little choked up, which will be another theme of this episode.

Next, Tim visits Leanne in Portland, Ore., and she explains that she was inspired by the water, particularly waves, and used that motif to guide her collection. Most of it is white and blue, and Tim fawns over a blue skirt with wave pleats and suggests she consider making her whites less white. Leanne responds with her typical refrain: "I've got a lot of work to do!" For her family/friend/social vignette, she takes Tim on a tandem bike ride to a city park, and Tim looks hilariously awesome (and awesomely hilarious) riding on the back. (Why isn't Leanne wearing a helmet? Bad, bad!)

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Tim's third stop is in Los Angeles, where he visits Jerell and his friends and family. Jerell's collection is very ornate (lots of evening wear), and many of the dresses' busts are heavily adorned, as we saw in his last elimination-challenge dress. Tim has some tips on the wedding dress, which is large and asymmetrical and very busy up top, and suggests Jerell bring in some of the fabric that sticks out from the bust, but Jerell says later that "it speaks to me as a designer" and hints that he's not going to change it. Death wish? Tim and Jerell then go meet Jerell's mom, sister, "love interest" and assorted friends, and it's Jerell's turn to get choked up as he talks about growing up in a bad section of L.A., near where the riots began in the '90s, and how his father worked long hours driving trucks to support the family. Jerell's mom and sister confirm that he was a really creative child, and Jerell wins an award I didn't know I was giving: cutest kid photos of the episode. He was adorable!

Finally, Tim visits Kenley, back in New York, where she lives in Brooklyn. He compliments her apartment and a photo of her grandmother, and Kenley tells him she was a model in the '40s and a huge inspiration to Kenley. (It's all making sense now!) She died a few months ago, and it's Kenley's turn to cry, which she does, and again when Tim compliments her collection. I'm personally blown away by what she's sewn, including hand-painted fabrics, and her wedding dress is a huge, puffy, feathery, really gorgeous creation. We may have underestimated Kenley through this point, but the judges must have known what they were doing in keeping her around. Oddly enough, Tim and Kenley don't have any activities planned or anyone to meet, which sort of underscores what everyone's been saying about her attitude and even what she's been saying about "fighting my way through life."

In Manhattan, the designers later regather for the runway show, and there's awkwardness when Kenley arrives at the apartment the four of them are sharing. Leanne and Korto avoid making eye contact with her when she shows up, though Jerell is friendly (friendly or two-faced? You decide!). Kenley offers a half-hearted "sorry for being a bitch, like, that one time" apology as she goes to put her suitcases away, and then she pours champagne for the group. That seems to do the trick.

The next morning, the designers find out they have a second challenge for this episode: to create bridesmaid dresses in about two days to match their wedding dresses. The new dresses also should be in line with their collections. No one is happy about this, and Korto seems especially tense. Jerell slaps together a shimmery aqua dress pretty quickly and defends it to Korto by saying that bridesmaid dresses are supposed to be ugly. Uh-oh.

Tim stops in for consultations and tells Leanne that he loves her blue and white creation but encourages her to rethink the length; it reaches the floor. He's appropriately skittish about Jerell's and tells him not to fight with Mother Nature when Jerell says he's thinking about incorporating some yarn. (Seriously?) Tim enthuses over Kenley's bright blue bubble dress, and he tells Korto that hers isn't easily distinguished from the wedding dress. The next day, both Leeann and Korto have chopped theirs to knee-length, and Kenley is inappropriately annoyed, thinking she had cornered the market on short dresses.

On the runway, Korto's wedding and bridesmaid dresses are a disaster. The newest dress has an odd yellow waistband, and the wedding dress is very overdone and too complicated, as the judges point out. Judge Michael Kors says Leanne's two are beautifully crafted, and judge Nina Garcia calls them dreamy. Heidi, who's had something of an overenunciation problem all episode, calls the designs "Fan-TAS-tic!" Kenley also gets high praise, with Kors saying her bridesmaid dress is the "cutest damn dress I've ever seen" but pointing out that her gorgeous wedding dress looks a lot like an Alexander McQueen that just walked down the runway. (Check both out here.) Jerrell's are interesting, but that's mostly due to the flowers the models have growing out of their heads, as opposed to the designs. The judges aren't happy about the bust of the wedding dress (the issue that Tim spotted earlier), and Garcia hates the gray tulle at the bottom -- she says it just looks dirty and like he didn't put much thought into it. (Editor's note: See all the outfits here. Unfortunately, Bravo only shows us the top of Leanne's dresses and the top of Kenley's wedding dress.)

The judges confer some more in private, and there's a growing consensus that Kenley has something to say. Kors says she's "kooky and meticulous at the same time." They are generally unhappy with Korto and Jerell, and for the first time, I think Korto may be cut. (Noooo!)

But they shortly reach a decision, and Jerell is out. The rest of the designers are flooded with relief, and Jerell is quite cool and mature about having to leave. He says he imagines visiting a retrospective of his work at the Met when he's 80 and says he wants "to leave this legacy of beautiful clothes that inspire people."

Next week is the finale, and we're treated to a delicious preview of more Kenley drama. I can't wait!

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