Project Runway Finally blooms a winner — and a design thief?

Wednesday’s long-awaited finale of Project Runway‘s fifth season fostered, along with a botanical bonanza, a minor yet unsettling plagiarism scandal.

Artistic floral philosophies imbued each of the Top Three’s collections: Leanne Marshall created supremely sculpted floriform frocks; Korto Momolu, boldly bohemian naturalist gowns; and Kenley Collins, hand-painted teacup dresses. In the end, Leanne emerged as the rightful victor, but a crucial question persisted for many viewers: Were second-runner up Kenley’s alleged knock-offs really only a (not so) “happy accident”?

Collins, a brassy Brooklyn-based freelancer known for her love of rockabilly kitsch, is no stranger to charges of derivative design. Throughout the season, Tim Gunn, Nina Garcia, and Michael Kors all at various points questioned her originality, at times suggesting she had lifted motifs from designers’ annals ranging from the berserk (Viktor & Rolf) to the dreamily exquisite (Alexander McQueen). In each case, she vehemently denied consciously channeling anyone’s direction but her own. Yet, traces of British and European masters’ trademarks, subliminal or otherwise, were evident in her output, and cast shadows of doubt upon Kenley’s veracity.

This “umbrella of suspicion” hung over Collins well into the finale. The more incriminating of two questionable dresses she presented was a splashy, painterly floral dress with an armor-like silhouette. It was lovely, but, conceptually, it smacked heavily of last Spring’s Balenciaga. Also dubious was Kenley’s feathery frock, once considered the “standout” of her collection, as it bore an uncomfortable similarity to one featured only eight months ago on the runways of the aforementioned Alexander McQueen. His dress, incidentally, has been featured prominently in recent editorials and lauded in fashion essays as the vital crownpiece of Fall 2008.

Could Kenley, who claims to be oblivious to fashion media, really not have noticed?

Even so, doesn’t she – as Michael Kors has repeatedly stressed – owe it to herself and the public to stay informed?

Is Kenley is an intentional rip-off artist or is she truly innocent and misunderstood? And if her originality hadn’t been called into question, do you believe she could have won Project Runway?


  • d says:

    If had been either/or I would have given her the benefit of the doubt, but both are too similar and far too recent for her not to have copied.

  • ashley says:

    NO, kenley would not have won.
    Did you see that stuff? It was fucking tacky.
    It looked like 9 year old girls designed it.

  • Sue says:

    Yeah, and Leanne’s stuff looks nooooothing like Japanese design. Her wedding dress is very similar to a Yohji Yamamoto gown from 2007. Fashion is repetitive, there is very little that is original. Japanese designers have been doing amazing structural things with pleating for ages – look up Junya Watanabe for example.

    Fashion is derivative by nature.

  • Teri says:

    Kenley would never of won my vote just on her shitty attitude alone. I thought she was constantly RUDE to everyone and could not take one criticism from the people who have been in fashion for years. I thought she admitted that she had not worked in any kind of fashion industry before the show? So how did she become this expert that was way too good to be criticized or commented on? She made me sick at times, it was hard to watch, especially when she would be a total dick to Tim Gunn (the sweetest person ever). And then to find out about the knock-offs!! Oh please girl!!! Get over yourself! We probably won’t hear from her again, EVER.

  • daniel says:

    i think the gown that have kenley di is better than the previous desgner because it more feminine ,beautiful n sleek.i dont think kenley want to copy the this design because it also create the same style gown at project ruway.i think you all are jeolus for him because him can achieve until finale.him can make the fashion stuff will be changed with a human of have a beautifull work rhan korto n leanne.leanne have a beautifull work b\ut it so safe and korto just play with colour not with a new style..

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