Every season, it all comes down to Bryant Park.

Nine months after they marched their 13-look collections down the runway at Fall Fashion Week, Althea Harper, Irena Shabayeva and Carol Hannah Whitfield stood quaking before Heidi Klum & Co., waiting to hear who would be named the winner of Project Runway's much-delayed sixth season.

Of course it looked as if time was going to run out, garments were going to go unfinished and each woman was going to float away on a river of tears (mixed with other fluids, in the virus-stricken Carol Hannah's case).

But wouldn't you know, all three ladies, competing in the second all-girl finale in a row, showed classy, polished and, for the most part, extremely wearable collections at the couture extravaganza in NYC.

And for the spoiler-avoiders among us, it seemed like anyone's game.

But the judges ultimately decided that Irena, despite her aversion to color in her sporty-glam line, had played the game best.

"I can't believe it!" the newest Project Runway winner exclaimed, jumping into Tim Gunn's arms as he walked out to congratulate her.

"I'm definitely proud of myself," she said. "I think this deserves a pat on the back, because I did have some stiff competition."

That she did.

Irina, Project Runway

Kannie Yu LaPack, Lifetime

Althea, who finished in second place, sent a slew of jackets, pants and slim-silhouetted sportswear, including a fab white suit, down the runway. Most of the looks offered an interesting tuck here, an unexpected pleat there, but were overall pretty familiar. Which is great for your average shopper, but perhaps not so great if you're supposed to be designing the look of the future.

And ultimately, the mix-and-match nature of her looks was what did her in up against Irena's more cogent story.

Carol Hannah, as usual, created a few glamtastic gowns and an array of  covetable evening clothes. Heidi singled out a stunning, deep-blue Grecian confection that was actually the South Carolina native's 13th (aka last-minute) look.

Once again, though, it was the lack of cohesion overall that sent Carol Hannah packing first tonight.

And Irena's surprisingly edgy, nearly all-black collection looked like it will keep you warm, albeit poor, on cold winter nights. Extra points for those darling little polo-helmet-style hats. Very high fashion, indeed.

Really impressive all around, but there could only be one winner.

"Everything happens for a reason," Althea lamented later. "Even though I didn't win, I feel really great because I made a lot of good friends, met a lot of great people, got a lot of great advice. So, you know, I'm feeling good...I may not have been the winner, but I'm still a winner."

But Irena's the one with the $100,000, a spread in Marie Claire and a Paris vacation on the horizon.

And congrats to her Models of the Runway counterpart Kalyn Hemphill, who wore Irena's designs all the way to the top.


Speaking of runways, check out Heidi Klum and the other beauties who strutted their stuff at the 2009 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

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