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Project Runway: The Neanderthal Challenge
Posted Oct 7,2008


In October’s cover story, we introduced you to the first life-size, scientifically accurate reconstruction of a Neanderthal woman that's based on fossil anatomy and ancient DNA. She is five feet tall. She is heavily muscled. And you've surely noticed that she’s not wearing any clothes. Anthropologists believe that in summer, Neanderthals probably went naked.

Although the cover headline reads “Neanderthals Revealed,” we thought Wilma, as magazine staffers affectionately call her, might have occasionally craved a cover-up. So we asked some of the Project Runway designers to sketch an outfit for her, featuring materials that would have been available in Neanderthal times: animal skins (aka “leathuh”), fur, bones, and ocher body paint. Two National Geographic magazine designers also took on the challenge of answering the question: "What Would Wilma Wear?" Here are the fashion-forward ensembles they came up with.

Since there are no official judges for this challenge, we ask you, our readers, to share your opinions. Vote for your favorite. The winner will get immunity in the upcoming Cro-Magnon challenge!

-Winona Dimeo-Ediger


Blayne Walsh, Season 5

Known for his colorful, urban designs on Project Runway, Blayne segues
into very vintage women's wear with light-colored leather, fur, feathers, and
bone detailing. Watch for that fashion-forward fur boot, complete with
claws (fierce!) to spring up on couture runways in future seasons. Blayne
plans to launch a menswear collection.
Johnathan Kayne Gillaspie, Season 3

Johnathan envisioned Wilma in a chic, midriff-baring outfit made of animal
hide, with the sides "sewn together with sinew from captured prey."
The shoulders are covered to protect Wilma's light skin from the sun, but
are cut to allow air under the top. Johnathan usually works with fabrics
like tulle and satin to create prom and evening gowns at his
Oklahoma-based studio. 

Joe Faris, Season 5

Joe used ocher-dyed leather thread, leaves, and fur to create a figure-flattering
wrap dress for Wilma, and topped it off with a classic dinosaur tooth closure.
Body art completes the look. And as all women know, a spear is always the
ultimate accessory. In addition to heading his own label, RedFly, Joe is
senior designer for outerwear company Schott NYC.

Terri Stevens, Season 5

Terri thought Wilma should strut her stuff in a tight bustier, leather jodhpurs, and
knee-high boots constructed of fine strips of bear. A bone necklace dangles
from Wilma's formidable neck. The look is topped off with a show-stopping
yak coat. Terri has her own (yak-free) clothing line, Funkin' Beautiful.

Mollie Bates, National Geographic magazine

Wilma sports a luxurious fur wrap dress (designed to show off her body art)
and a lavender-grey feather capelet to warm her shoulders and
accentuate her fiery red hair. Wooden platforms painstakingly carved with
rudimentary tools form the base of her t-strap bone sandals, and Wilma
accessorizes her wrists with bangles made from the teeth of her neighbors
(whom she cannibalized). When she's not dreaming up outfits for cannibals,
Mollie is a designer for National Geographic magazine. Not that we're biased,
but we think she deserves  extra credit for designing to fit Wilma's true

Ruben Rodriguez, National Geographic magazine

Ruben put Wilma in a trendy mammoth tusk mini with leafy accents and an 
eye-catching red carnation top. He included a lichen-covered beach
umbrella--perfect  for twirling daintily on a hot day, or scaring away sabertooth
cats. Ruben usually puts his imagination to work as an art and design
coordinator for National Geographic.


Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (27)
Filed Under: Television


Devin Dimeo-Ediger
Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

Faris' is by far the best. Actually something I would wear today.

Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

I gotta go with Ruben - love the tusk mini!

Frank Patz
Oct 7, 2008 11AM #


Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

blayne's is the best

Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

All are very creative but Blayne gets my vote. Perfect example of good layering techniques. Also as far as plus size women go it has only been in the last 50 years that the desireable has been skinny as opposed to Rubinesque.

Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

Mollie and Joe are my favorites.

Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

Oh, Blayne has stolen my heart time and time again, and this lovely getup for dear Wilma is just utter fantastic. It's cave-chic, if you will! But then again, it could have helped to have given his lovely model maybe some disheveled hair...or more meat on her bones. :)

Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

Mollie's wins. she's the only one who used the true size - if a designer can't do that, I'm not interested. the bone skirt seems painful to try to sit in.

Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

best article :D

i think i'm voting for... blayne!

Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

Just because I'm feeling totally frivolous I'm voting for Ruben. I want one of those umbrellas!

Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

But availability of materials wasn't unlimited.
A patchwork reuse of older clothes, almost the way orientals reused pieces of silk, would happen.
(If you had to chew your fabric until it got soft, you'd cut more carefully and sew more frugally.)

Kathy Street
Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

Mollie wins because while keeping her outfit fashionable and utilizing the accessory wall, Wilma can actually perform her daily functions in it.

Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

Surprisingly, I think Blayne's is the best, though not the most practical. And although it's draw as a skinny model, I actually do think it would translate well to a plus size...if it had more of a back, of course.

Phil and Kelly
Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

This is a very chic look and the materials would have been readily available at that time. Love it!

Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

None of the above. The rail-thin ensembles wouldn't have suited Wilma's body at all, and the designs for Wilma's body type are not only as historically improbable as they other others, they are even (excuse me) uglier. Wilma probably wore a string skirt and probably wore a stylish fur wrap in winter accessorized with s a drilled bone and claw necklace, a fur or leather shoulder bag, and fur-lined, tie-on boots padded inside with crumbled dry leaves for insulation. And of course, tattoos.

Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

Although overall amazing sketches, I have to go with Mollie's dress. I agree with Amy in that she does know how to dress the real Wilma. She would have rocked it at the clubs, driving all the male Neanderthals wild. Don't underestimate her though, she will make her next dress with your teeth.

Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

Typical Project Runway designers... designing for the rail thin model who wouldn't have survived the cold, rather than the real Neanderthal woman. Hello! Think the MOM challenge for goodness sake. Mollie wins.

Avery Comarow
Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

Mollie wins on so many levels besides keeping the client firmly in mind. A special Most Toothsome Accessory award for the bangles. I'm certain Wilma's neighbors would be pleased that she thought had value beyond mere calories.

Staci DeShazer
Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

My favorite is Joe's wrap dress, as far as aesthetic appeal. I don't know how practical those long sleeves would be for Wilma, though...

Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

Blayne's design appears to be made from materials that would have been readily available in that era.. Leather, fur, feathers and bones. Fabulous look for "Wilma". Very stylish and the other women would be Jealous!
To KP regarding Wilma's hair, all she would have to do is use some fish bones or animal rib bones to comb it down, add some animal fat to control the friz, pull it back and tie it with a piece of leather for Blayne's look. Teri's look, well, it's just all ratty, frizzy and wild like she would most likely wear it. Nothing hard about that look.

Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

Um, hello, how is Wilma gonna get her hair to do what Blayne and Terri want it to?

Plus, when it comes to designing for a client who is a)'heavily musculed' and b)not concerned about nudity (why an uncomfortable bra top/tusks but nothing actually warm?) the prize has to go to Mollie and Joe.

Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

ach! i love faris' idea, if only he hadn't pulled out the dinosaur claw...

Timothy Hardy
Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

LOl, what a great idea!
funny post too.

Rolf Bates
Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

Being a fan of Runway and NGM I am shocked that the designers did not design for the client.
Wilma is obviously a plus size woman and her need for fashion must fit the design of her features.
Therefore, I vote for Mollie Bates as best Neanderthal Designer.

PS> Yes, she is my daughter.....and her actual grandmother was named Wilma.

Joyce Bates
Oct 7, 2008 11AM #

Mollie should win this challenge. She designed something that Wilma would actually wear,using readily available materials. Love the shoes!!!!

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