Native Hawaiian Kini Zamora was without a doubt the favorite going into the two-episode finale of Project Runway season 13—but an uncharacteristic stumble in part 1 killed his momentum. After the final four designers presented their collections at New York Fashion Week, Kini came out in third place.
Kini made the final group on a surge, having won three out of the last four challenges. After a trip to Rome, Italy, for inspiration, he returned to Hawaii and the garage that serves as his workshop, and set to work on creating his 10-piece collection. Tim Gunn, who plays the role of “mentor” to the designers on the show, visited Kini and raved about what he was coming up with, outfits that incorporated denim (Kini’s favorite fabric) and pleats as a repeated element. Tim stayed to meet Kini’s family and took in a luau complete with Hawaiian cuisine and dancing.
Tim Gunn visits Kini Zamora's family in Hawaii
Kini arrived in New York with a completed collection, and he even remarked that he was bored, hanging out at the studio with nothing to do as the other contestants scrambled to finish their looks. Then the judges asked for a three-outfit preview of each collection.
The preview did not go well for Kini. Judges Heidi Klum, Zac Posen and Nina Garcia ripped his outfits as un-sexy and old-ladyish. Suddenly, the favorite was reeling. Kini needed to majorly revamp his entire collection, and had less than two days to do it.
Kini Zamora with models wearing the collection he presented at New York Fashion Week
Kini had established himself as the fastest worker and one of the best technicians of all the contestants, and he made significant changes to his collection while maintaining the high quality of work he always delivered. The clothes he sent out on the New York Fashion Week runway were well made, and much more fun than his initial offerings. But in the end, it wasn’t enough to wow the judges. Sean Kelly was picked as the winner for dazzling outfits dripping with orange fringe, and Amanda Valentine’s bohemian couture earned her the runner-up spot.
Kini was, understandably, disappointed. He had dedicated his collection to his supportive family, and that support system was there for him after he was dismissed from the catwalk. Viewers were treated to the unforgettable image of Kini’s aunt comforting him with a hug and a traditional Hawaiian song.
The showdown between Kini and Sean had been brewing for a few episodes; ever since the “Rainway” contest, for which they were named co-winners. But going into the finale, Kini had not only the better track record (Sean barely survived episode 11, which Kini won), he also had the audience’s support. A poll that flashed up on the screen during the finale showed that Kini was still the viewers’ favorite even as his collection was facing criticism from the judges.
Kini Zamora introduces his collection on the runway at New York Fashion Week
Was Kini robbed? Well, that depends on your definition of “robbed”—he wasn’t robbed in the sense that his final collection deserved to win; it didn’t. What Sean showed at New York Fashion Week certainly had a wow factor that Kini’s lacked. But it’s not difficult to make the case that Kini was the best designer over the course of the show. If there’s a lingering controversy, it’s this: Why, when he came to Hawaii, couldn’t Tim Gunn see that Kini’s designs would bomb so badly? Tim’s advice to Kini was, in a nutshell, “Looks great, keep doing what you’re doing.” Contrast that with Tim’s visit to Sean’s studio. After looking at Sean’s progress, Tim told him that half of his collection was boring and he should throw it out, which Sean did. If Tim had shown that sort of instinct with Kini’s designs—well, who knows.
Nonetheless, Kini emerges from the show having made a statement, with his talent amply proven and integrity intact. And he won the charisma prize by a mile—viewers just loved Kini, and loved rooting for him. It is very possible that the end of the show is merely the beginning of a grand career—fitting for a man who told ICTMN about the “aloha spirit” of Hawaii. In its modern usage, the word means both goodbye and hello.
In his exit interview, Kini was gracious and even happy, congratulating Sean and expressing relief that the competition was over: