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Living in the
Monkey House

Living in the
Monkey House


Tim Gunn Saturns his way all over the place to visit the designers and their final collections in the first half of the Project Runway finale.

"Did you know the Emmys are thinking of inventing a 'Best Reality Host' category?" asks my husband/partner/whatever.

"So Dr. Drew could get an Emmy then?" I ask.

"Yes," he says. But really we'd both want it to be Heidi. She should always be dressed in something like what she wore to the Oscars and either giving or receiving some kind of award. At the beginning of this episode she comes out dressed in a gun-metal fabric accordion. It's good. And she's already giving the final four a new challenge. Make a collection for Fashion Week. The specifics: 12 looks, $8,000 budget, five months to put it together. That's way longer than last season when they had only two months to deal. But then the show's air schedule has been all fucked up this year too, so I'm sure that has something to do with it. Anyway, I'm glad it's almost over. Not only has this season been kind of dull, but I am stone-dead beaten down from recapping both this and fucking American Idol during the audition rounds. There is such a thing as too much TV.

Heidi tells Christian and Jillian that they are guaranteed spots at Fashion Week. They clasp hands and Christian makes a little kissy-face at Jillian. Chris and Rami, on the other hand, have to duke it out. Tim Gunn walks out onto the runway to let the designers know that he will be checking in with all of them during the coming months to inspect their work. Heidi tells them all, finally, that it's time to go to the roof of the Gotham Apartments for a toast. "Come, Tim," she flirts and walks off the runway in another direction, tosses her head back to the designers and says, "I'll see you there." As in, "You're all being taken in grimy cabs. I have a town car waiting for me. We were never close."

On the roof of the building, they all sip champagne. Christian says, on interview-cam: "[Long, excited humming noise] I' have won the last challenge. I have a guaranteed 'in' to Fashion Week. How 'bout that? [snapping noise] Don't play games. [head and neck tilt] AnI'm21yerzzold! That's fierce!"

Cut to Jillian, who says she has "her eyes on the prize. All I can see is winning." And that could happen, truthfully. It's really going to be about her or Christian. And she could wind up stealing it from him. Not like it matters all that much. This show's track record for catapulting winners into some kind of glittering fashion after-career is pretty weak so far, not at all commensurate with the ink or ratings or amount of fandom the show's inspired. American Idol, with its failures and weirdnesses, has been more reliable, frankly. Hell's Kitchen has been more reliable.

3 1/2 months later...

It's cold and rainy and slushy and Tim Gunn is nestled in the warmth of a Saturn. He stops at Christian's 25-square-foot apartment, where they double-cheek-kiss each other, papa seeing his long-lost boy for the first time in months.

Then we get to see the tiny room where he sews and sleeps on the floor at night. The mat that is his bed hangs from the door. It's the sort of thing you don't mind so much when you're 21, sleeping on floors. But that shit gets old quickly after around age 25. That kid better have a for-real bed by then.

Next comes a montage of Christian growing up. He had Gay-Face even when he was a baby. Then when he was still in diapers he went to work for a salon. Then he entered first grade and Alexander McQueen called him over to London to work for him. Now, at 9, here he is on Project Runway. So much so fast. Middle school is going to be a drag after all this.

He shows Tim a neck ruffle that's about the size of the room they're both standing in. Tim's response is to tell Christian that he needs to know when he doesn't need something. To edit. Unless it's a NECK RUFFLE MEANT TO COVER AN ENTIRE FACE, OF COURSE, BECAUSE THAT IS AWESOME.

Next? Pants made of feathers.

Then Tim Gunn goes to Jillian's sterile little home. There are Christmas decorations inside. Is she a Jew for Jesus? Did I get her background completely wrong? They have her all made up and in this cutesy little snowflake sweater, like if Marisa Berenson were a suburban mom holding out a plate of warm cookies.

Her collection is all battle-gear for ladies. Apparently she took the museum challenge very much to heart and built her collection around the same theme. I can't say I hate it at all. Tim tells her to rethink her palette but not much else. Then they go to Long Island to meet her family. Here's the previously unseen boyfriend, there's some harsh lighting, there's an overwrought gilt-y mirror frame, and there's some more Christmas decorationing. So I was wrong the whole time, I guess. No Hanukkah for this goyish crew.

What I haven't gotten from Jillian all season -- thanks for nothing, editors -- is this cement-like belief she has in herself. And now, at the last possible moment, we're seeing it. She's got this steely drive that sounds funny coming out of her pretty-pretty-prettiness. Did they think we wouldn't accept it from her? Did they not think it was becoming for a sweet-faced PYT to be as internally arrogant as Christian is allowed to be externally? I mean, yes, his arrogance is more entertaining. But it would have been, I don't know, INTERESTING perhaps, if we'd been allowed to see this in her before now.

Next up, Tim visits Rami in Los Angeles. They show him living in some apartment on Fountain. Or maybe they just show the street sign to throw us off. Anyway, my building is off Fountain, so that's kind of...meaningless, yes I know. "Rami!" says Tim Gunn. "Show Daddy those arms!"

Do I need to tell you that I just invented that dialogue?

Anyway Tim sees the apartment and a couple of friends -- and I'm going to guess that the young handsome male part of that pair is Rami's boyfriend -- and then we see the "How I Grew Up" reel. Jerusalem, etc. His mother was Miss Jordan. She died when he was 5. Father remarried. Rami was shy about expressing his fashion dreams to them. His brother caught him sketching one day, ripped the notebook from him, and ran to show to to the family. This backfired on the brother when everyone decided Rami had talent.

Rami's collection is inspired by Joan of Arc. So here's where all the fighting went this season, into the final collections. Everyone wants to outfit The Woman Warrior. Tim Gunn tells him to "pull back a bit" and soften it up. They hug goodbye and that's it.

And finally it's back to NYC to look at Chris's collection. And who would have ever known what a Bauhaus-listening necromancer this guy was at heart. The shit has human hair all over it. Tim Gunn says, "My gag reflex is kicking in."

Now, the running belief among my circle of Runwaywatchers is that Tim Gunn hasn't had sex since 1973. But that doesn't mean I'm going to get all Queer as Folk on you right now and go for the cheap gag reflex joke. I just wanted you to know why I didn't do it, is all.

Anyway, somebody's been watching a lot of Tim Burton movies in his five months away. Tim Gunn says looking at Chris's clothes is like being in the monkey house in the zoo. "You don't realize how much it stinks because you're in it."

Then Chris takes Tim Gunn to his friend Larry's crazily overdecorated apartment. I live in fear of the day that I too lose my mind and begin gluing little plastic Cleopatra busts all over my ceiling. It's an affliction that seems to strike single gay men who think of themselves as iconoclastic and misunderstood by all the Normals of the world. I think I saw this place in Nest magazine once. Chris's "how I grew up" reel is fairly sketchy on family information and he calls his New York friends his family, instead. So there's something going on there we're never going to know about.

And now it's time to show the three-piece walkoff that will determine who gets to show at Fashion Week, Chris or Rami.

Except there's no suspense because they both showed already. So did Sweet P. It doesn't even matter that they were "decoy" collections. They were still collections. They still got to show. People in the fashion industry still got to see what these folks could really do. And that's why this show needs to go back to its original way of doing things so that the ending coincides with Fashion Week more closely.

Christian and Jillian are...rooming together? Is that it? They call a fake gay truce but Jillian whispers to the camera that while Christian "is fun...but he's never been a really huge fan of mine, so this could turn out nasty."

Well, I hope so.

Enter Rami and Chris and the four of them toast some Bud Lights, except for Chris, who's drinking water. Rami wonders who's going to wind up in the third bed. Oh, OK, I get it now. They're all rooming together.

Models, hair, fitting, shoes from etc. Jillian's wearing a great knit hat with a giant flower on the side. It looks like the giant ear Pee-wee Herman wears in the "What?! WHAT?!" scene in Pee-wee's Big Adventure.

Jillian helps Rami with his stuff. Christian helps Chris. We see model butt on the camera. Not pixeled out. There's a butt. Christian can't stop mocking Chris's collection, so yeah, he's being no help at all.

Runway time...

Heidi comes out in a jacket and big sparkly top over skin-tight black leggings that look like they're made of plastic. Some sky-high blue heels. As usual, she looks incredible.

Rami's three:

1. Big blue coat that's got giant window awning puffy shoulder flaps, pleats down the arm that puff out near the wrist and a belt and a giant collar and I think it inflates too. It's the dumb version of all that overscaled volume that's been going on lately. Black dress underneath.

2. Drapey, tailored cocktail dress.

3. Elaborate black ball gown that has weirdly padded hips.

Chris's three:

1. Jacket of something that appears to be black crushed velvet with human hair trim. Skirt made of black chrome safety pins. It's as if Louise Brooks's corpse suddenly re-animated and popped upright in her mausoleum and started doing the "Thriller" dance.

2. Sheer lacy black and white top and human hair skirt.

3. The full-on Morticia gown. So narrow the model can barely move in it.

Whose collection is more fun: Chris

Whose collection is more fashiony and saleable to anyone who isn't Helena Bonham-Carter or Fairuza Balk: Rami

The judges think Chris's stuff is too dark and wacky but Rami's has proportion problems. They chat. Chris and Rami come back to the runway. Heidi tells them both that their looks were dark and overworked. Then she says that Chris is very creative and Rami is refined.

And it's Rami who goes to Fashion Week. Chris hugs him a little too long. Discomfort. They walk back into the waiting area where Christian and Jillian are waiting on a couch. "So what's up, trannies?" asks Christian.

And there are people who don't dig this kid?

And since we're pretending that it's Fashion Week right now and everyone's wondering who showed and who didn't, I'll leave you with an e-mail my model pal Elyse sent me just for this recap, while Fashion Week was actually going on:

"I got these black silk long-underwear bottoms at REI and have been wearing the hell out of them as leggings. Not Lohan-ish, these are skintight and perfectly sheer with a little ribbed cuff at the bottom to keep it interesting. So that (with cutoff Calvin Kleins and ankle boots) is what's going on below my waist right now. Above? Nude per usual.

And PS the REI leggings are totally warm; despite all the celadon afoot, it's STILL FUCKING FEBRUARY, STORES. WE'RE COLD.

Meanwhile, at the time of this writing, New York Fashion Week starts tomorrow. Tenterhooks! Let us pray for Fall: less mustard, more tartan. No more quilted or gathered-n-elasticized (as on the cuff of a boot) leather. May Marc not be on glue. Oh, and let's not put a bunch of sequins and beads all over shit 'cause it's going to itch if I have to model it."

As usual, she's on the money about everything. Which means that even America's Next Top Model is more reliable than this show.

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Dave White