Project Runway: Mondo's True Triumph

The Runway Rundown

1. This week brings a surprisingly heady jolt to the torpid Project Runway season. One contestant loses his (impeccable) muse. Another bravely reveals a decade-long secret and immediately helps de-stigmatize an immense societal taboo. We're not even going to mock Michael Kors' tan this week; this episode was sincere.

2. The challenge: to design a signature fabric. This is a throwback to last season, when Emilio won for a graffiti name print that shamelessly ripped off Stephen Sprouse for Louis Vuitton; this season, the designers are presented with childhood photos and urged to draw from deep personal history.

3. Some of the inspirations are intriguing; Valerie bases her navy geometrical lines on her father, a house builder, and the blueprints he used to design their family's house. Gretchen pulls from the Southwest for a Santa Fe scheme. Mondo, fresh of two consecutive wins, draws a reliably bold series of plus signs. He faces the confessional camera and, after visibly steeling himself, reveals the inspiration for his pattern: his HIV+ status, which he has kept a secret for 10 years. It is a remarkably brave moment for reality television, a frustratingly stigmatized disease, and Project Runway itself; Jack, a contestant several seasons ago, left the competition midway because of his complications with the same disease, but it was not handled (by producers, editors, what have you) as candidly as Mondo's steady words to the camera.

4. The contestants are shocked to receive both two days for the textile challenge and unannounced visits from their loved ones; most cry as they hug their mothers, and Michael C. weeps as he embraces his son. Christopher happily embraces his partner. Tim Gunn grandly suspends work for the afternoon and the designers stroll New York with their families; Mondo and Andy both have heart-to-hearts with their parents on the Highline, and Mondo grapples with finally revealing his HIV+ status to his mother, but finally elects not to share it and "ruin the moment."

5. The next morning, as the designers reenter the workroom, many of them are reinvigorated. Andy, a powerhouse competitor, feels completely adrift and apathetic; his design mutates into poor hot pants and a baggy, torso-widening blouse, and his rivals muse, "It just doesn't look like Andy."

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