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The 3 Types of "Runway" Designers

By laurareineke Fri., Jul. 19, 2013 ,4:11 am EDT

Hello! Once again I find myself working with "Project Runway." I believe most designers that have been on the show, if they are honest with themselves, have mixed emotions about the program. I know I have. I also know I would never be where I am today without "Project Runway." So, with that feeling in mind, here's my blog for Season 12!

Certainly this season starts off with an appropriate launch pad, a runway. Not a fashion one, but an airport (small as it is). This is symbolic to design beyond the obvious as those of us in the fashion business become well-aquainted with mass transit. Buses, subways, the tube, cabs, planes; it all becomes second nature to a designer. In fact, when I started in design I actually ran so many errands during my internship with Anna Sui I was nicknamed "the queen of mass transit"—lucky me.

We are quickly introduced to the contestants of this season's cast. We are also introduced to the first of the "tweaks" for this year; a previous year's cast member, voted back by fans. This season it is Kate Pankoke, from Season 11. I can't help but think not only were the fans short-sighted, but that this season's contestants are extremely lucky that my season-mate and friend Ra'mon-Lawrence Coleman was not picked. I think he would have been an immediate front runner.

We now progress to hear a bit about the contestants, including their struggles, design aesthetic and background. I was a bit taken aback by the lack of solid design school graduates. I do think I read somewhere that Jeremy Brandrick is a Central Saint Martins grad. Having attended the prestigious school while working in London, I know firsthand the amount of talent and work it takes to graduate there, and I am hoping to see this showcased in his designs.

I know everyone loves the contestant who never attended school but who has vision and talent to be the next big designer. It's sooo romantic. While this can sometimes happen with a great team around you, realistically, no matter how talented you are, you really need that training to not only be versed in the terms and history of design but also to understand how to run a fashion business in the long term (which is not something you learn in business school either). "Project Runway" has been great for the fashion industry, but when I was a contestant on Season 6, Tim Gunn wanted predominantly fashion school grads on the show, and I would have thought this trend would continue. Again, I could be wrong, but I did some research on the contestants. Nothing was defined and they didn't mention anything about it.

We head into the work room, and at this point I have no favorites based on first impression. Sandro Masmanidi, the outspoken Russian, has the right idea: create a story, a theme, for your design (we learn later that what he gains in story he lacks in taste). Bradon McDonald, the self-deprecating dancer from Kentucky, also quickly finds a good trajectory. Sue Waller, a NYC designer "outside the fashion world," seems to struggle (producers?).

In my opinion there are three kinds of contestants on "Project Runway." Type A is the serious fashion student. On my season there was Irina, Nicolas, Ra'mon, Shirin, and actually Malvin. Christian Siriano, the best-known of "PR" alumni, is of this school, as is Jay McCarroll. Another type (B) would be like my fellow "All Stars" contender Joshua McKinley: the camera just follows them. The final (C) would be the self-taught "my big chance" player. Carol-Hannah, my season-mate and housemate, would be the pinnacle of this group. So far in Season 12 I see a lot types B and C. Type A, not so much.

Alas, the designs! Justin LeBlanc, the deaf design teacher, delivers just what you'd think, a well-executed frock, nicely done, if safe. I think he will be around for a while. Alexander Pope (really?) -- named after an English Poet, and looks like the singer of Prodigy—will be rembered for snark, not design. Alexandria von Bromssen looks like a player. Helen Castillo looks more like a caricature to me than a contender, but I could be wrong. I thought Jeremy Brandrick's pants were very cool and had a high difficulty level. With 16 designers, it's hard to keep track. I saw a lot of expected dresses, as you usually do in the beginning: Easiest to make for the most "wow factor."

Here's a shout out to the designer who threw in a jacket. That's the sign of a sleeper. Difficult, time consuming. It points to an overachiever. Bravo. Difficulty in pattern making is rewarded as it should be on "Project Runway."

So in the end Mr. McDonald's dramatic design won. I thought he truly utilized the material the best and while I was not crazy about the roping on the front, the back was stunning. Angela was sent packing. While her design was weak, I thought Miranda should have gone home, if only on principle. I don't think she followed the challenge and I completely did not have the love affair with her garment the judges did. It was nothing new and a little Jane Jetson. I also did not understand the love affair with Sue's dress. The "throw it up in the mannequin and see what happens" thing (that is exactly what it looked like and I was not surprised it was her approach) will only work for so long. Sandro's look was clearly not successful, but he did have a vision (enjoyed the Vargas Girl look when the tasteless "jacket" was removed) and I suppose he's too screen-chewing to drop now.

So, the first challenge is over. The unconventional challenge, straight off. That's a tough one. Also, probably the most fun. I'll wait to pass judgment on the tweaks. Is the debit card just product placement? But, it's Season 12 of "Project Runway." For all its faults, it's still the best.

This will be fun!