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'Project Runway' hits the real runway

NEW YORK - Much has happened at this week's fall 2008 collections.

NEW YORK - Much has happened at this week's fall 2008 collections.

Peter Som debuted his well-cut, mega-ruffled collection for Bill Blass. Max Azria hosted three shows: Herve Leger, BCBG and Max Azria. Sean "Diddy" Combs' Sean John line returned to the Bryant Park runways after a five-year hiatus.

But none of these events measured up to yesterday's Project Runway finale. Journalists talked about the collections all week. Would they be in, or out?

That's because Runway is the one fashion show everyday people follow and relate to on an emotional level. Countless armchair fashionistas have spent 13 weeks watching, debating and wondering which of the five designers still on the show - Sweet P, Chris March, Rami Kashou, Jillian Lewis and Christian Siriano - actually made it to New York. It's do or die time.

By 8:45 a.m., the steps leading up to the Bryant Park tents filled with people holding folded e-mails, waiting to find out their assigned seat.

Once inside, we watched the celebs and Runway alums mill around in the front row. Victorya Hong, the Cheltenham native who was kicked off for creating a boring denim trench, chatted up her collection Nabe, which debuted this week. Last-season favorite Michael Knight has been working on an apparel line as well as a line of fragrances. Philadelphia University teacher and Season 1 winner Jay McCarroll was in the house too.

Could that be actress Meryl Streep? It sure was, looking queenly in winter white with a sleek ponytail. She was hanging out with television mogul Harvey Weinstein.

By the time Runway regulars Heidi Klum, Michael Kors, and guest judge Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham appeared, the audience was all screams and whistles. Who will the three finalists be? Will there be four?

Could it possibly be five?

"Hi, everybody," said Klum, looking fabulous in skintight jeans and a fringy gold top. "Welcome to the big finale of Project Runway Season 4. There are lots of hearts beating super fast backstage."

The first shadow passed behind the scrim with the Project Runway logo.

Who was it?

Sweet P.

She thanked the audience nervously before the thumping music started. Out came a lavender metallic jumper, paired with a puffy-sleeve olive shirt. A slightly unusual color combination, but it worked. Halfway through, a sweater dress appeared; I didn't love it, but it wasn't bad. But here is where the collection crashed, as a grouping of boring silk dresses led to a lackluster finish. I predict Sweet P's departure after this episode.

Chris was next. I'm glad he made it because he's so nice. And after Jack Mackenroth left because of a staph infection, and Chris was invited back, he hasn't disappointed.

Chris' collection told the tightest story. The first piece, a navy blue gown with a silk-screen imprint of George Washington on Mount Rushmore, garnered applause. The rest of the looks evoked Russian royalty with a modern goth feel - very striking.

Jillian's collection was soft and the most wearable of the finalists'. The hand-knit pieces were exquisitely done and reminiscent of Wenlan Chia's Twinkle collection. I wasn't feeling the gladiator vibe, though, and many of the pieces, especially a gold pleated dress, looked superhero-ish.

My least favorite collection came from Rami Kashou. And that's a shame, because the designer is talented. But his collection was too much. There is such a thing as too much draping, leading to clothes that were just too busy. The detailed basket-weave on the second dress and the finale gown, though, were phenomenal. I can only imagine how hard it was to pull that off.

That left Christian. The producers staged a pause for extra drama. What if Christian - who consistently created the most innovative outfits during the season - didn't come out? It would be the biggest Runway upset so far.

But no, the tiny designer with the rooster-gelled hair sent models down the runway with so much couture flair, it's unbelievable he's just 22. The collection focused on three colors, black, white and cream.

In some cases, however, Christian went a little too dramatic. One model in a sleek black suit and brimmed hat had so many ruffles along the shirt it covered her face.

"This is the best finale show we've ever had," Klum exclaimed. "It's going to be hard for the judges to pick a winner this afternoon."

I agree. Although here's my call: Christian will win.

No matter the outcome, to be shown on Bravo Feb. 27 and March 5, all of these finalists have a promising career in design.