Episode 9: Sparkle Fatigue
So we’re deep into the competition with episode 9, and as sometimes happens to “gypsies, tramps, and thieves,” now is the time when our designers lose their way. It’s also exactly when we’d expect to see Bob Mackie. It is the quintessential “Project Runway” paradox. The budget for the challenge goes up to $300, the prestige of the visiting dignitaries becomes greater, and we start to see some projects where the designers really are given the arena to wow us. There is, however, one tiny little problem: At this point, they’re all just too sleepy. It’s a difficult conundrum, because even though there are design opportunities galore in this episode, the fact that every designer is so tired lowers their potential output. In the end, we get a slew of dresses that Nina Garcia has “seen before,” and very little of the wow that we’d expect to associate with the “Sultan of Sequins.”
This week, I sympathized a lot with everyone struggling to hold it together. I remember having big dark circles under my eyes, like Gordana. It wasn’t so long ago that I was getting a little bit slap-happy, wearing silly clothes and getting goofy at an ice-skating rink. So it’s understandable that no one is operating at full capacity. Poor Gordana had some terrible trouble with a beaded fabric that unraveled when it was cut. Her final dress would have been headed for the “Auf Wieder-zone,” if it hadn’t been for her immunity status. Particularly puzzling was her decision to put what looked like binder clips on the nipples of her dress. See the photo; it's hard to miss what I'm talking about here.) Either she was severely tired, or maybe she was hoping to appeal to whatever impulse inspired Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” period. I must say, however, the smartest thing I’ve ever seen on this show was when Gordana used her immunity to take a nap!
Speaking of ice skating, both Nicolas and Irina had “Bob Mackie on Ice” moments this week. Irina’s dress was, as always, very well-constructed, but the beading and the length anchored it firmly in that Ice Capades tradition. It was a real double axel. Other than some harsh criticism of the other designers, Irina herself was conspicuously absent this week when it was time for critique. We saw no footage of her conversations with Tim, and she was immediately dispatched to the back room after the runway show, apparently being automatically “qualified to move on to the next round.” Nicolas, on the other hand, created yet another white dress, and true to Tim Gunn’s fears, it does seem that his aesthetic is permanently frozen on the “Ice Queen” setting. This man is absolutely headed for the chopping block if he doesn’t whip out some sportswear by the time Michael Kors comes back.
Althea presented a textbook Bob Mackie dress, covered in sequins, with a long train. She also decided to include a curious bolero made of what seemed to be black Muppet pelts. Apparently, this is what happens when one has the misfortune of missing the “rainbow connection. (See photo.) ” Carol Hannah Whitfield wins this one, and appropriately so, because she provides a significant variety of visual textures for the eye, even though Nina is right again: We’ve also seen this Bob Mackie design before, on “The Carol Burnett Show.” Logan has learned that he does best when he channels his “animal magnetism,” and survives. Although underwhelming on the Bob Mackie Glamour Scale, his dress at least exhibits a new side of his design aesthetic and is, thankfully, not another pair of ambitious pants. Christopher, on the other hand, decides to “go sexy” after speaking with Tim Gunn, and ends up shooting himself in the foot, employing some unfortunate, oversized buttons, and doubling up on an outfit that Christina Aguilera has already worn.
Finally, it’s Shirin who gets voted off, and this dress is a severe disappointment. Tim accurately describes it as “student work,” but unfortunately, he doesn’t explain exactly what that means. One of the biggest student designer transgressions is over-designing. Typically, students are so excited to finally be creating the gowns of their dreams that they tend to put everything, including the kitchen sink, into their dresses. This frequently results in gowns with at least two, if not more, focal points. And that’s what happens to Shirin. In this design, we see the neckline of the dress fighting with the skirt of the dress for our attention. The skirt wins out, but it’s a hollow victory. By the time it captures our eyes, they are drawn to the flounces with frayed edges that immediately transport us back to the realm of the amateur. I lament that Shirin Askari has to leave us for this, because even though Irina hates her guts, I think she is a talented little designer. And furthermore, every great designer should be allowed a mistake or two, because if they are great, they probably have better ideas waiting in the wings. Even a legend like Bob Mackie has a misfire every now and then.