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Episode 8: Pax Gordana

By CaitlinBergmann Fri., Oct. 9, 2009 ,5:56 am EDT

This week, we got an example of why "Project Runway" is such amazing television when it succeeds. When this happens, we are reminded of the incredible value of creativity in our society, and also the fact that fashion is not just a commercial and aesthetic construct of class division, but rather a transformative practical art. And why am I so agog this week? Because Gordana Gehlhausen’s talent (see Gordana's design in Rate the Runway) has finally been recognized and rewarded for excellence. But more on that later. This week we had a truly inventive challenge:

"Take the wedding dresses of these women who have recently been divorced, and transform them into something that celebrates the next season of their lives."

Inset: Shirin's geometric patterns created with thread on her divorcee's design

As challenges go, I have to say that this was one that I applaud overwhelmingly. I am always just a little dismayed whenever young women say to me, "Oh I loved your work on 'Project Runway,' and when I get married, you are totally designing my dress!" I’m always flattered. Indeed, I know that what they are trying to say is that they want me to design the most important dress of their lives, but I always tell them that they don’t have to wait until they are engaged to have clothes custom-designed for them. Fashion can enhance every significant life event. I always say, "Call me for graduation day, or the day you win an election, or how about in a time when you really just need to feel special again?" When you think of it, isn’t the day you stop being married a more appropriate time for fashion than the day you begin?

So, yes, it was a great challenge, and we witnessed some truly incredible creative problem-solving on the part of the designers. Shirin had an insurmountable task on many levels. Her divorcee requested something reminiscent of Cher's "Half-Breed" dress, complete with peacock feathers, and the wedding dress that came with her not only had very little yardage, but was constructed out of an un-dyeable polyester. Ever a clever thinker, Shirin realized that she could create surface details and change the appearance of the old dress, by sewing geometric patterns of contrasting thread along the front. "The dream team" suffered this week, with Christopher getting bruised for creating a dress that suggested a roll of bubble wrap, and Epperson going home for creating a "Heidi’s Homeland" dirndl. Note to future designers: She left Germany to come live in America. "Tyrolean chic" never flies on this show.

But Gordana! What an amazing job she did this week! Her client was thrilled with the final product, and she won for the first time in this whole competition. I've been very impressed with her this whole season, because she has very strong construction techniques and she seems to apply them in inventive ways. Also, her ideas seem to get incorporated a lot by of the other designers. It was very impressive in the newspaper episode that she succeeded in creating a dress that didn't use a muslin under-structure. After Tim's adulation during his visit, it was clear that her technique of repetitive folding was showing up in many of the other dresses. It’s hard to tell who started the macrame trend in the room, but Gordana certainly is the only designer who might have been around when the technique was popular the first time, in the Seventies. The dress that she created this week is not only well-constructed and tailored to the body of her client, but her choice to sew together frayed strips of acetate reworks a construction trend from the 18th century in a new way, for today.Gordana's Episode 7 winning divorcee designAgain you can see that it’s a compelling idea, because Logan adopted it for the ruffles on the vest of his ensemble this week.

Most importantly, Gordana is a really generous person, and winning this challenge couldn't have been more appropriate. Like these other women, yes, she had been married before, but more significantly, like them, she has come to "Project Runway" to launch a new season of her life. Clearly someone familiar with using her skills toward other people's ends, it is exciting to see her get the opportunity to make clothes that come from her own singular vision. As so many women do, Gordana has had to sacrifice her own dreams for the sake of her family, and it's heartbreaking to see her cry this week when she can't get through to her children on the telephone. However, when she wins the challenge, and remarks that at last people see that she is a designer, and not just a dressmaker, it’s very moving. We not only get the chance to see her transform someone else's life through fashion, but we also get to see fashion transform her. It is all work well done, and I think that she’s a serious contender for the final three. So congratulations, Gordana! Enjoy the last of the immunity, and maybe we'll "see you in Bryant Park."