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Inspiration

Project Runway, Season 14, Episode 14: “Finale, Part 2”

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Designer Ashley Nell Tipton with one of her winning looks.

Hooray! Project Runway has a new winner: San Diego resident Ashley Nell Tipton, who was named the show’s top designer at Fashion Week this fall with her plus-size collection inspired by Mexico City in the 1950s.

project runway ashely nell tipton with model

Ashley’s trajectory this season has been a little uneven: She won the very first challenge, shared a win in Week 3 with Candice, and thereafter hovered in the middle or bottom three. Meanwhile, Edmond picked up three wins and a number of top-three spots, while Kelly won four challenges and was lauded for her growth over the course of the 14 episodes. Candice received lots of praise throughout the season for her consistent point of view–something that may serve her as well as or better than the final win–but like Ashley, she won only one individual challenge.

So Ashley wasn’t a shoo-in for the win, despite the judges’ positive response to her mini-collection last week, and Tim’s encouragement during his visit to her home studio. Her biggest competition was Kelly, with her out-there ’70s-inspired collection. Indeed, by the end of the runway show, I really wasn’t sure which of the two the judges would pick, although it seemed clear that Candice and Edmond were out of the running.

project runway kelly dempsey with tim gunn

The ascendancy of Ashley and Kelly became obvious during the final two days of prep time for Fashion Week. While Ashley was busy fixing some construction and fit issues the judges had pointed out during the preview show, Kelly applied 20 pounds of glitter to shoes, sunglasses, and headphones to amp up the sparkle in the styling of her collection. Candice and Edmond, though, were forced to reconsider their collections entirely, making new pieces, retooling existing ones, and generally stressing about the critiques of their mini-collections. Candice approached this task with her usual focus and willingness to take decisive action: She even restyled her giant, hoop-skirted final gown to make it less over-the-top. Edmond, as has been his wont, dithered about what to do with all the ruffles the judges didn’t seem to like.

Last week, it became obvious that the designers with more specific inspiration concepts were having an easier time of editing their collections. The judges’ assessments of the final collections reflected this, too. Both Ashley and Kelly received praise for their cohesive collections, while Edmond (“beauty and glamour”) and Candice (“Asian-infused”) were criticized for showing looks that didn’t represent a clearly defined customer. Future and aspiring Project Runway contestants should keep this in mind as they approach auditions and even Fashion Week, should they earn a place there.

Take a look at the final collections, and let us know what you thought.

The winner: Ashley Nell Tipton

Ashley’s collection offered some lovely looks, as well as some questionable ones. The judges liked the colors, the femininity, and the choice of fabrics. More importantly, they loved her commitment to the plus-size customer, and felt she was gutsy, sophisticated, and attuned to a potentially large market. She demonstrated her conviction that plus-size women can a look pretty, playful, and relaxed, and that showing a little skin isn’t just for size 2 girls. On the other hand, some of her pieces had odd or unflattering proportions, or felt more like cover-ups than garments–which is exactly what plus-size women don’t need more of. I suspect some of this had to do with fitting the models, which can be a bit trickier when you’re working with a curvier figure. With more time to fine-tune the fit, she could likely have gotten those problem looks worked out nicely. I’d love to see Ashley partnering with a major retailer to market her line. In fact, I can’t believe there wasn’t one waiting in the wings to snap her up.

project runway ashely nell tipton with models

The runner-up: Kelly Dempsey

If you’re young, fit, and have an adventurous, witty sense of style, Kelly’s collection is for you. I’m afraid there’s no place in my life for the clothes she designs, but I admire her inventiveness and her skill. For a self-taught designer who freely admits she lacks the technical training the other designers enjoy, she does impressive work. And it may be to her advantage that no one ever told her it might be difficult to create piping from metallic leather, or that wood-grained lycra knit and beige mesh aren’t de rigueur for gowns. Her collection was, to my eye, by far the most original, and I would have been delighted if she had won. The expression on her face as Heidi announced the winner was heartbreaking, but Kelly is nothing if not resiliant–something she’s proven again and again this season. She’s got self-confidence, but even more than that, she has the innate creativity and drive to succeed as a designer. You can see she’s not waiting for someone to tell her how great she is. Watching her growth over the course of this season has been thrilling, and I look forward to seeing what she does next.

project runway kelly dempsey with models

The remaining two

Candice Cuoco

Candice’s collection wasn’t bad, and there were lots of good pieces in it. What was puzzling about it was how the limited palette (red and black with a bit of white), and the repetition of design elements (lace-up features, tight-fitting silhouettes, leather shaped with lots of seaming) translated into such a disjointed collection. After a whole season of this kind of look, I suffered fatigue viewing more black leather dresses with fancy touches here and there. My favorite garment was the first dress, in white with a cherry print–the dress she tossed in at the last minute because she ran out of time to complete a different look. This dress made a chic, sophisticated impression that set it apart from the trying-hard feel of much of the rest of her collection. Candice may not have won Project Runway, but I’ll bet she does just fine as a designer. She’s very skilled at making clothes, and there are loads of women who want exactly the look she delivers.

project runway candice cuoco with models

Edmond Newton

Edmond clearly likes to dress women for glamour and sophistication. He has a way of making them look sexy and refined. However, his final collection lacked cohesion: Some pieces were dull and uninspired, and others were overworked and confusing. He did create a captivating black gown with a draped front (second from left, below) that was quite sophisticated (and would look terrific in a jewel tone, as well). It was his explosion of toilet paper and gigantic ruffles that didn’t quite work. The judges said he had a lot of growing to do, and that seemed accurate to me. He’s capable of a lot more than what we saw at Fashion Week, once he finds his direction.

project runway edmond newton with models

The $64,000 question:

Did you agree with the judges? Reply below, and don’t forget to show your work. (BTW, we don’t actually have $64,000, and also, there’s no right answer!)

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  1. sews4fun | | #1

    I have not been this disgusted since the judges gave Mondo's win to Gretchen Jones! Ashley should have been dead last, she was the least talented of the four and instead, because the show decided to make this season about themselves instead of the designers, 3 people wasted a lot of time working like dogs in a contest that had already decided on the winner long before fashion week. What a score for the show! Oh, look at how special WE are, we are all about the plus sized woman! Really? Then why is it that had Ashley's line been shown on skinny models, she would have been ripped apart by the judges! The comments about an Easter egg exploding all over it would have been never ending along with Zach Posen exclaiming how slutty it all looked and Heidi's constant whining about all the "boobage" that was showing, unless it was on Ashley's models, then, it was just "super sexy".
    As a plus sized woman, I resent the judges finding it A-Okay for ME to wear such gaudy tasteless clothing when it would be considered garbage on a thin woman. Don't like the enormous tent with the plastic flowers glued all over it? How bout we just plop a big bunch of cabbage roses on your head, now, don't YOU look special! I am angry that they see it as fashion forward when plus sized women are portrayed as the clownish jolly fat girl. I want clothing that is flirty, fashion forward and stylish but allows me to maintain some modicum of self respect at the end of the day. Instead, WE are given a line that looks like the Easter bunny has been in the medicine cabinet again.
    I feel so sorry for the other three designers, any one of who should have won over Ashley. I will admit, Kelly really underwhelmed me with her whole 70's vibe, I would wear none of it. Edmond has real talent but just needs a little direction and he will fly. Candace, whom I have never felt a bit sorry for is the TRUE loser. She had some really neat looking things but the judges nipped that in the bud from the get-go. I would MUCH rather have watched an interesting line from her than the snooze fest that was shown. They dissected her down to a nub and her sad line was evidence of that. In the beginning, I was a big supporter of Ashley's but soon saw she wasn't ready for the runway and her construction issues were obvious in nearly everything she made. None of the other 3 designers made such sloppy, poorly constructed garments.
    The last thing I want to vent about was the UNENDING commercials! There were so many to sit through, it bordered on abuse! I don't know about anyone else but I have NO intention of watching P.R. Jr because I got SO SICK of the commercials about it!

  2. sews4fun | | #2

    I meant to say, 3 people wasted a lot of time working like dogs in a contest that looks as though they had already decided on a winner long before fashion week.
    Not to mention that even though my concentration is in knit wear design, I am signing up for sewing classes because clearly the dept store aren't going to be carrying anything I will be wearing. I wont be sews4fun any more!

  3. SewKraZ | | #3

    What is left to say..flower pots on heads,a wardrobe fit for Morticia, cheap looking too short skirts,a person pretending to be a tree and a bleached Big Bird outfit..What is not to love? These people actually went to design school?

  4. User avater
    sewlore | | #4

    I was very disappointed to have Ashley win. There is not one thing in her dated collection that I, a plus sized woman, would wear. Why do people think showing midriff is such a great fashion statement? Yet even with the skin showing the clothes looked so matronly. Ugh!!!!
    I thought the Candace had the strongest design and style sense through out the show. She was always herself until the end when the judges told her to change so much of her collection. I have seen some of the "art" pieces in the collections of the major designers. How was Candace's collection not in that sane vein?
    I also liked Kelly's collection. i thought she would be the winner. So often the judges tell the designers to aim for the young edgy 20 to 30 somethings. Kelly hit that mark. Plus the workmanship in her clothes was amazing.
    I know some decisions are made to create controversy. For the last few weeks I could not understand why Ashley was given a pass to stay on.

  5. debnicksay | | #5

    Wow -- I can see that I'm in the minority because I totally loved Ashley's collection. I will admit that my taste has always been a bit out of mainstream because I wear color -- and often bright color -- all the time. I've never enjoyed lots of black because I find it depressing. I am also a large plus sized woman and I have always made all my clothes because I've never been able to find things I like. I'm also old -- I'm sixty -- so maybe I've turned into a fuddy-duddy -- but I thought I was still kindof cool. Go figure! Anyway, I haven't seen a line of clothes that I have liked as much as Ashley's in forever. And I disagree that her things would look bad on a regular sized person. I feel as if I have seen outfits like this on Katy Perry for example. I agree that the final tent gown with the flowers growing up the skirt was over the top, but I could see it for a fun prom dress for a young girl. I surely would not put it on someone in their thirties for example because they'd look foolish. But I would totally put them in that beautiful plum gown or the pink ensemble with the turquoise bandeau bra. As far as construction goes, we have often been reminded that this is a design competition and not a seamstress or tailoring one. Ashley definitely struggled with not being as meticulous as she should have been. And I thought that her final collection was much better than most things she put down the runway during the weeks of the competition. I don't usually comment here, but I thought the Ashley hate was a little over the top so I thought I'd jump in.

  6. User avater
    eemaw | | #6

    I think the judges made the right decision. All four designers were very talented, but of the four, I think the choice was between Kelly and Ashley. Ashley's collection was inspired by 1950's Mexico. It's not everybody's cup of tea, but it was very pretty and I believe what pushed her into the winner's circle was the uniqueness of being a plus size designer. Every year has been a win for fashion designers of smaller sizes. It's great to see plus size have a voice. I can't wait to see how Ashley does in the fashion design world.

  7. MaggieRN | | #7

    I completely disagreed with the decision of the Judges on this Winner. Between the two designers I saw Kelly's work as the most creative as well as consistently well-fitted and well-made, throughout the season and at the Finale.
    It appeared that this was more of a PC decision-to award it to the only Plus-Size designer. (And we all know that Heidi will never wear one of Ashley's dresses).

  8. fittingwoes | | #8

    Include me in the "didnt like Ashley's collection" group. her fitting skills are horrible.Look at the pix. No one should have all those folds and puckers on a skirt unless it's a design feature (like ruching). Very basic stuff that you learn early as a plus size women. Or too long crotch again creating those folds. As a plus sized woman I spend 75% of my time on fitting - 25% on sewing (hence my name). Who cares how fabulous a garment is if it doesn't fit or just hangs off of you like a bag. I didn't see one thing in her collection I would purchase. She can go on to produce a collection but unless she amps up her styling for something truly different, and addresses the fitting issues we'll probably not see her around for long. Much like these celebrities that capitalize on their current fame and put their name on a collection - like a turtleneck - geez - where can't you get those? Unless she does something different you won't hear from her for long.

  9. User avater
    tomhudsan | | #9

    wow this is really very well. i saw here a lot of dresses with different style and latest fashion.. thanks for this post.

  10. LindaG7 | | #10

    I was generally unimpressed by all the finalists collections this year, but have to admit I was rooting for Ashley from early on.
    Candice dumbed down her collection so much it ended up lacking spark and contrast, something that probably would have come through had she included some of the wilder pieces or mixed up the color combinations a little more. She had difficulty finding a middle ground between an outrageous art show and a creative, marketable show, instead ending up with a one-note show. Her production skills are terrific, but her design self-confidence needs some development.
    Edmond presented a very uneven, disconnected collection, showing he needs more time to refine his view and edit the embellishments consistently. This really does mean he needs to mature as a designer. His "WOW" pieces didn't really relate to each other and his other pieces contradicted his stated vision.
    While I didn't see anything really new or exciting in Kelly's or Ashley's collections, at least they each had some coherence and interest throughout.
    I wouldn't choose Kelly's designs for myself, but I am not her target customer. Her theme was consistent and she was inventive in her fabric choices, even if they weren't always practical. Kelly's pieces are probably the more immediately marketable of the two, but seem to be on the more mass-market end and have a limited audience. If translated into other fabrics, they would have seemed unoriginal in design. Most (but not all) of Kelly's garments would look terribly inappropriate on older or very curvy women. Her production skills are very good, but this competition is about the design.
    Ashley's collection stuck to her inspirational theme and had some pretty details, colors, and textures. Her weaker fitting skills and the difficulties of fitting more curvy bodies were evident, but of the top two, she took the most risks. It was unfortunate she chose inspiration from a culture and time that featured a lot of full skirts and ruffly flower adornment, something many plus-size women want to reject. I agree with the judges' comments that she should have included at least some of her garments using printed textiles. Again, I would choose few, if any of these pieces for myself, but I see potential in several of them for development into marketable pieces, in a full range of sizes and fabric options. We get so used to seeing fashion displayed on stick-like models, it becomes difficult for us to imagine designs shown on larger models trimmed down to those smaller sizes. I can imagine Heidi rocking Ashley's aubergine lace gown, with a smaller, flirty, hair flower and some beautiful jewels.
    I have to add a grievance about the unending, annoying commercials, too. While I recognize commercial sponsorship makes Project Runway possible, there were so many commercials I eventually ignored most of them. This is not what the advertisers intended but is what resulted. A note to producers, follow your own judges' advice: "Less is More."

  11. SEGnesa | | #11

    This is the second time I have felt that the winner was a political choice, not a top designer choice. I agree about the commercials. Constantly breaking the viewer's concentration does not benefit the show at all.

  12. CMOriginals | | #12

    Watch the show - On-Demand and fast forward through the commercials.

    I am a plus size women and I can tell you I would not (nor do I know anyone) that would wear a crop top or colored "panties" under a lace dress or skirt. I personally found that very offensive and still do not see what the judges saw in that. Of course none of them are over weight nor do they design for the plus size ladies.

    This was a very sad ending for what was a pretty good season. I would have had Kelly win based on the collections shown and that the collection should be cohesive but Candice and Edmund have the design skills of many of the top designers that show at Fashion week year after year.

    Candice needs to use other materials besides leather and Edmund needs to make his ruffles smaller. Ruffles do not always need to be giant size even on a big dress.

    Here is hoping some design house sees what we all see and try to pick them up as designers.

    Now let's see how the Junior designers are handled by the judges.

  13. susanna | | #13

    You know, I prefer The Great British Sewing Bee on BBC2 to Project Runway ~ far less contrived, way more focused on sewing expertise instead of the current marketing favorite.
    I really, really wish that both of these programs would show way more closeups and examinations of the sewing techniques so that the viewer could see what makes a well crafted garment and what does not.
    Am I the only one who feels this way, though?

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