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The 'Project Runway' Belk Challenge (or, America Thinks We're Hillbillies)

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Thursday night's "Project Runway" had the nine remaining designers -- including Raleigh's Justin LeBlanc (left) -- creating a look for a "modern Southern woman." In other words, it was the Belk challenge.

Belk department stores, headquartered in Charlotte, has been a "Project Runway" sponsor this season, supplying an accessory wall for designers to use during each challenge. This episode really put Belk -- and the South (but more on that later) -- in the spotlight.

The episode even had Belk's executive vice president of private brands John Thomas, who was a guest judge. Thomas let everyone know that the winning look would be sold at Belk and on Belk.com.

Right off the bat, most of the designers admit they're pretty clueless about the South and the people there (a surprising number of designers selected plaid fabrics). But Ken, who is from Birmingham, Ala., went the other way, declaring himself the only remaining contestant who lives in the South -- apparently forgetting that Justin lives in Belk's home state.

In the workroom…

Justin picked some pretty bold colors -- orange and black -- and didn't think about the strong Halloween vibe until Tim Gunn pointed that out to him. Justin had to ditch the black and "make it work" with just two yards of the orange fabric (which looks more coral without the black next to it).

Modern Southern Man Ken was supremely confident throughout the entire design process, which always comes off as a huge red flag.

Braden's madras dress (the fabric was NOT popular with other designers) was an homage to the mullet -- short in the front, long in the back.

Alexander had a cool plaid-like fabric and imagined his "modern Southern woman" going on a picnic in a forest. Because that's what we do. Tim talked him into going chic with his design.

Helen designed a bright yellow -- whatever, I can't stand her -- and imagined the person in the dress at an outdoor dinner party "drinking a glass of champagne -- or whatever they drink in the south."

Are these people for real?!?

This Belk challenge is great if for no other reason than to educate fashion designers -- and apparently most of the world -- that the South isn't actually on another planet. This is what we get for supporting all these redneck reality shows: that is what the nation thinks we are. We are going to pay for this Honey Boo-Boo-ification of our region.

Rant over.

The judges weren't all that impressed -- particularly with the "modern" aspect of the challenge. Even the best dresses weren't very fashion forward. The exception was Braden, whose dress was called a "tablecloth" by some of the designers early on, but the judges -- and Belk VP John Thomas -- loved it. He was the winner.

Personal note: Experiencing massive frustration that Justin hasn't broken through to the Top 3 yet. He has created several designs where I think he deserved it, including tonight's lovely coral dress (right). I think that's beautiful!

The unusual thing about this episode was that the judges gave the bottom three designers (Dom, Ken and Jeremy) one hour in the workroom to "fix" their designs, since they clearly didn't understand their customer -- the modern, Southern woman.

Ken turned his ugly bridesmaids dress into a slightly less ugly dress for clubbing. Jeremy, who started with a dress the judges described as "very madame" (interpretation=old lady), made a really pretty dress with totally different fabric. In an hour. Dom also used a different fabric and came up with a gorgeous look -- it's just amazing what she did in one hour! Dom's dress was so pretty that John Thomas told her that the dress also will be sold at Belk!

Even more disappointing than Justin once again not breaking the Top 3 was that Ken and his attitude are still around (and we'll get more of that temper next week). They sent Jeremy home instead. Boo!!!

Now that that's over, I can go spread a blanket in the woods and drink some moonshine while I ponder what life might be like somewhere with electricity and paved roads.


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What were the judges thinking?

As a modern southern woman from NC who appreciates good clothes, too, this episode one was pretty off and I agree with the author on this one. I was also surprised that Justin wasn't highlighted in this episode considering the roots of Belk and NC is considered the south. Some of the designers that were 'safe' should have been also put at the bottom (Helen's looked hot & heavy, Alexandria's looked like a tablecloth with a belt wrap around the waist).

I don't think the judges knew what they were say that they could see women in Bradon's look. I can't see Heidi, Nina, or Stacy in that look and none of us Southern women would buy it. Whereas I could totally see Dom's dress on the judges and any girl down the street. Her win was the best part of this episode..


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About the blogger

Brooke Cain isn't always proud of the number of hours she logs in front of the TV, but her loss of brain cells can be your gain. From reality shows to sitcoms to the more serious stuff, Brooke keeps her DVR smoking so that she can help keep you in the know. Brooke also tweets for Happiness is a Warm TV (you can follow @WarmTV) and updates the blog's Facebook page.