Runway rundown: Mondo is on fire!

It doesn't get much more intense than it got this week on Project Runway for Mondo Guerra. He won the competition two weeks ago, he won again last week and this week, he pulled out a hat trick with yet another win -- with six designers left in the running and none with a scorecard nearly as impressive as Mondo's at this point (except for Gretchen, who dominated the contest in the beginning but has since fallen off some -- his lead is still generous), Denver's own is shaping up to be a real golden boy. But it wasn't just the winning that made it intense; this week also saw Mondo reveal something startling and intensely personal.

The challenge this week was manifold, with designers building their own textiles from scratch and incorporating them into their pieces. For those textiles, designers took inspiration from stories of their own lives -- the show brought in old baby photos for the designers to look at (and they're, you know, designers, so that was enough to get most of them all teary-eyed), and then, in a surprise move, brought in the designers' parents. Weeping ensued.

Host and mentor Tim Gunn pulled no punches: "Your textile design must be deeply personal," he said.

Seeing the parents was an ordeal for everybody -- the day they got off to spend time with them, along with the emotions of seeing the family, seemed to be fairly universally workflow-killing -- but it's certain that there was nobody for whom it was more emotional than it was for Mondo.

His textile, a pattern of black crosses outlined in yellow over a rich purple, went all the way: As requested, it represented something deeply personal for Mondo -- which he kept to himself for most of the episode. It wasn't until the end that he finally came out with it, with a little help from the judges' prodding (Nina said "I wish I knew what the story was," after he demurred). "It had a deeper meaning," he'd said earlier on in the episode. "And I wasn't ready to reveal that."

Not even to his parents.

The symbolism, he finally admitted, was that the crosses in the fabric represented plus-signs -- he's been, he said, HIV-positive for the last 10 years -- a fact that he'd been keeping from his mother, who visited during the episode, the whole time. "Growing up in a religious, Catholic family," he explained, "it would have been an issue of morals and respect."

But if it was an agonizing affair for him, Mondo managed to harness that for his design, turning out a truly beautiful ensemble that was signature Mondo-quirky, but simultaneously polished and even, perhaps, practical. The judges called it "Smart, sleek and beautifully put-together."

It was, and with four episodes to go and Mondo on a roll like he is, it would be downright surprising at this point if he didn't take it all the way.

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte