There's still much work to be done and little time to do it, especially with the surprise 13th look challenge added with little notice. Whitfield is quite ill and at one point breaks into tears and collapses into assistant Christopher Straub's arms, sobbing, "This isn't how it's supposed to go." Even the usually cool Shabayeva is looking frayed around the edges.
As for Harper, there are still echoes of her copycatting Shabayeva when Tim Gunn questions her choice of messy makeup. "That sounds like Irina's," Gunn says as Shabayeva just rolled her eyes.
But the petty battles get quickly lost in the chaotic packing up of garments, shoes and accessories. "If you forget one thing, it can be disastrous," Whitfield said, who has bravely muscled through the last days.
As Gunn says, "This is a 'make it work' moment."
On show day, the alarm goes off at 3 a.m. and designer head out to Fashion Week's Bryant Park for an early morning of getting models ready. But all that advance time didn't help out much in the end, when Gunn loses it when models are not even close to being done at showtime. "They should all be in their looks by now. They should be lining up," he says frantically.
Somehow it all comes together. And the audience is ready, including Heidi Klum, Michael Kors and Nina Garcia sitting front row, of course.
Harper showed first and sent her sci-fi, yet very wearable looks down the runway, blending body-hugging knits, tailored suits and big sweaters with spunk.
Following her, Whitfield came out giggling and was back to her old self, sending out enough draped and ruffled dresses and gowns -- including a stunning teal jersey gown as her 13th look -- to satisfy even the girliest of girls.
Lastly, Shabayeva introduced her collection as survival and comfort gear for the modern New York City woman. The looks were dark, warrior-like and brooding, but with surprising touches like equestrian-style caps and whimsical T-shirts.
The crowd went wild for all three collections. But back in LA for the final word, the judges, including Klum, Garcia, Kors and guest Suzy Menkes, fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, were both congratulatory and cautionary.
Whitfield was praised for her impeccable tailoring and use of color, but chastised for her lack of continuity. Harper won kudos for her streetwise sportswear, but criticized for not telling a tale with her clothing line.
And Shabayeva had the best sense of showmanship and overall feel of a collection, but was taken to task for her been-there, done-that warrior woman looks and too much black. Garcia in particular, was very disapproving. "Black doesn't look good in editorial," she frowned.
It really wasn't clear who the judges would choose, but they went with Shabayeva in the end, who certainly deserved the win for her consistent quality in competition and a collection that had guts and elan.
The cool Shabayeva broke down in tears, as did her father, and everyone, even tough Garcia, was crying at the show's end.
In January, "Project Runway" Season 7 on LIfetime heads back to its New York City roots. Tune in, then catch our post-show recap here.