Outfits from (left to right) Daniel Vosovic, Chloe Dao, and Santino Rice; photographs by Jennifer Snow

2006_03_andraetimrl.jpgGothamist loves you, Project Runway, for making sure Tim Gunn and Andrae made it to Red Lobster - even if the visit (to only the outside of the restaurant?) didn't make it on air. Forget Lobsterfest, that's the best advertising you've ever gotten. Anyway, let's talk about last night's finale.

The show picked up from last week when designers were 40 hours from Olympus Fashion Week, with Santino, Daniel, and Chloe are in various stages of mental breakdown, needing to design a 13th look for the show. And their assistants, Andrae, Nick and Diana, did seem to help them ably, though Daniel was the only one to acknowledge Nick's efforts. Andrae came up with a pretty cranberry-colored jersey and lace dress while Nick made a dreamy sleeveless shift dress in cream mohair, using the folding in Daniel's other outfits. And Diana worked on a golden babydoll dress - with pockets (Tim Gunn was shocked that they were bothering to make pockets, with the lack of time, but Diana said it would look cute with pockets... Tim allowed this but you could tell he wasn't very convinced). The designers had to leave to see Collier Strong about the make-up design (Daniel goes for wind-blown, Chloe goes for pale/white, and Santino has smokey-sexy), and Santino hilariously says that Collier doesn't need to show him the look on Tarah's two eyes - one's enough because he has work to do. Oh, and Santino does do his Tim Gunn impressions for everyone, so that's cute.

The designers are too tired to bicker about each other, so everyone seems pretty friendly. Tim draws their buttons out of the sack to determine the order of the runway show, and it's Daniel, Chloe then Santino. They seemed satisfied enough and go back to the trenches, as they get to work until 4AM, with a 5:30 call time at the tents. While it's great to see them put the finishing touches on their collections, it's a little boring until they head to the tents, all nervous and anxious. (Santino beckons Chloe by Tim-Gunning, "What happened to Chloe?")

At the Bryant Park tents, it's chaos: Daniel's missing a bag of his fugly purses (Tim gleefully says everything happens for a reason... but then Daniel finds them), Chloe's model's makeup and hair is all wrong, Daniel makes everyone so because he has so much left to finish, and Santino is excited that his mother flew to NYC to see him. The audience is made up of not just Season 2 Project Runway designers, but Season 1 designers as well as some of the Queer Eye guys. So, the runway shows (gotta love the cutaways to Nina Garcia and Michael Kors, who wore sunglasses):

2006_03_prdaodress.jpg- After a shout-out to his parents, Daniel kicks things off, and his collection is very nice, but very boring (see Daniel's finale runway here). It looks like stuff that we've already seen at Banaa Republic. We love the white coat and shift dress that Nick designed, but it's all very safe. The horrible thing is that his model Rebecca practically wipes out in his dress, but she doesn't. Ack! This is like when Leticia Birheuer tripped on Kara's dress last season!
- Chloe's family and Chloe's boyfriend are in the audience (he's to the left to Kara Saun in this picture) and she talks about how she really does have passion for design. Her dresses are very dramatic (see her runway) - shiny fabrics beautifully constructed as well as prints (which we weren't crazy about) - it's love it or hate it stuff and Gothamist happens to mostly love it (it's sorta Rolande Mouret). But her tops look too small for the models, like in the babydoll dress (and the model does look cute with the pockets). Her model Grace looks amazing in the blue evening gown with cut-out back. The collection was not perfect, but it had a very strong impact.
- Finally, Santino pays tribute to his mom, saying that she is the sh1t, and the music accompanying the show is something he's written (and he does spoken word over it!). It works, though. His collection is very pretty (see his runway) - prettier than you'd think Santino could be, but if you remember the initial muslin challenge, he can do pretty. While the collection is beautiful, the colors are so muted it doesn't seem that thrilling, the way, oh, models dressed as little fawns in crazy lingerie would. One word, for some reason, that came to mind was "mushy" when we saw this outfit. But the pleated gown Tim Gunn saw in L.A. looked amazing on Tarah.

After the shows, Heidi Klum, Michael Kors, Nina Garcia, and guest judge Debra Messing interrogate the designers. But they mainly criticize. The judges say that Daniel's collection was too safe, that there was no trace of Japan or military in his clothes, and that the 13th look dress was beautiful (thanks, Nick!). They don't really criticize Chloe's collection but do imply that it's weird her collection is all evening gowns - to which she explains that it's her fantasy collection. When they get to Santino, they think it's a much more mature collection and are surprised; Michael Kors and Nina think the dresses don't fit well, but that it was a nice collection. Then they ask the designers what they each have that the others don't. Santino says he has his personality, Chloe says she's a businesswoman and she'll make a line actually happen, and Daniel says he brings his creativity.

Huh, who knows who they'll pick. When the judges deliberate, it becomes clear that Debra loves Chloe, and the judges rule out Santino for the collection being underwhelming, which is surprising - we thought it would have been a contender. Michael Kors does say that Santino is very talented. Then they think about Daniel and Chloe - and as Michael and Heidi make up their mind, Nina is at a loss.

Designers back to the runway, and Heidi tells Santino auf wiedersehn first - and he feels bad. But he knows he's a winner, even if he's a loser. Then Chloe and Daniel hug each other as they await to hear the news. Heidi tells Chloe she's the winner! She looks totally shocked The judges tell Daniel he did a great job (a wonderful level of taste, etc) and Michael even offers him a job. Then Chloe's family comes out and her mom is crying - it's all very sweet. It's totally the American Dream - leave a refugee camp, become a successful small business owner, win a reality show. We're happy Chloe won, but it does seem a little boring. In a last move, Tim gives her keys to a Saturn, which we hope she happily zips throughout Houston in.

Gothamist debated Chloe's win with a friend, who thought Santino should win. We think Chloe won because her collection was well-made and all worked together, whereas both Santino and Daniel had individual elements that seemed a little more random. But that's our guess. And check out Tim Gunn's blog - it's awesome, of course:

On Chloe: Furthermore, I was surprised that she departed from her more minimal, streamlined designs and opted for ones that have ruffles and volume and... umm..., err..., stuff attached.

On Daniel: I'm staring and speechless, literally, because I'm trying to wrap my brain around how to talk to him about how I'm feeling. Lo-and-behold, he shakes me from my thoughts to show me two accessories about which he's exceedingly proud: handbags with over-scale wooden handles. What the f%*@!!

On Santino:So, fast forward to Fashion Week. Santino's collection is, in a word, magnificent. I could easily see it at Bergdorf Goodman or Saks Fifth Avenue. Was it the winning collection? Gasp, I hoped not. Huh? Why? Because, were Santino Rice to be declared the winner of Project Runway, then the season three auditions would be subtitled, "Project Freak Show." Step right up ladies and gentlemen. In this tent we have Jay McCarroll and over here we have Santino Rice. I love and respect Santino, but please don't let him win!

The NYC casting call for Season 3 of Project Runway is on March 25, 26, 27. And Houstonist on the win - Chloe is going to expand her store!

Photograph of Grace in the blue Chloe Dao dress by Jennifer Snow