Runway rundown: Mondo still riding high

After pulling out a hat trick on the last few episodes with three consecutive wins, Mondo landed in the top three on this week's episode of Project Runway -- but if he didn't come out on top this week, it's perhaps understandable. From the beginning, the odds came out stacked against him, when the first curveball came in the form of model-switching. In the series so far, designers have worked with the same models; this week, they switched up, with one model going home. In a devious move, Gretchen, probably Mondo's biggest competition, given the opportunity to send Mondo's model home, went ahead and did it. There's no question it was calculated.

Happily, one of the other models had a family crisis later in the show and opted out, so Mondo's model returned -- but that wasn't his only uphill battle.

This week, the designers' challenge was to design three pieces for host Heidi Klum's active-wear line -- the tough part for Mondo was that the fabrics selected for the challenge were muted, neutral: mostly whites and grays. If you're familiar at all with Mondo's design sensibility, you will know that "muted" is just not how Mondo rolls.

In all fairness, it was a tough challenge for everybody -- maybe the toughest challenge yet. The design conceit and the fabrics were boring, and all the designers, just like Mondo, had to set aside their own design proclivities and, essentially, work for someone else. More than any other challenge this season, designers had to suck it up.

In addition to all that, the show brought in everyone who got kicked off the show to pair up with the remaining designers and help them with the challenge -- and that had the potential to get really weird. In some cases it did (Micheal Costello, the perpetual sad-face underdog, endured one accusation from a former contestant of cheating). Remarkably, though, and in spite of his constant winning, Mondo has managed to engender from his fellow contestants almost no ill will -- the guy knows what he's doing, and his competitors respect him.

He did, however, get into it with Klum early on in the show, giving her some serious sass when she told him he needed to scrap his early designs and start over again. So it spoke to his level of respect from the judges as well that Klum herself said she was "relieved" when Mondo came correct with an excellent design at the end.

In spite of the limited possibilities of the challenge, Mondo's designs were sleek and dynamic, retaining Mondo's signature contrasting shapes and incorporating cute headbands to tie it together. Judge Michael Kors put it well: "This muted palette wasn't intrinsically you, but they [the designs] still have some whimsy, which is intrinsically you."

It also spoke to Mondo's prowess that, even though he didn't win, Klum still picked up his designs for her line -- actually, all top three designers got picked up, but still. She hadn't been planning on that.

And Mondo still has far and away the best-looking scorecard so far. With Gretchen in the worst three this week and looking less and less viable, Mondo will need to look out for April, who's coming into her own in the last few weeks with two consecutive weeks in the best three. But with that hat trick under his belt and an obvious special place in the judges' hearts, he's still sitting pretty.

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte