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But Would a Model Wear It?

By CaitlinBergmann Wed., Sep. 9, 2009 ,4:29 pm EDT

Here we go, kids — Der Ultimaten Heidi Klumische challenge! ”Design something that a model would wear,” and they did it! Most of the designers “showed up to the party,” and thank goodness! I have to say, these folks presented this week some of the better dresses that I’ve seen on the show. Every design that was either safe, or in the top three, delivered the ultimate end that all great clothes promise: a brief encounter with something unattainable that people would love more than anything else to possess for themselves. In my opinion, this is what separates an ordinary garment from true fashion.

Models of the Runway Episode Four But how do you know if the garment has that “unattainable something”? Well, you ask the pantheon what they would wear, and that’s what we had in this week's challenge. Models are essentially ordinary human beings that we have lifted out of obscurity and placed on the acropolis with our culture gods, all because they look so divine. As much as I give her a hard time for always saying it, whether or not Heidi is willing to wear something, or better yet, buy something, does actually indicate how fashionable that design is. This is a woman whose image is broadcast around the world every time she dresses up like an angel. It’s very difficult to see her as anything other than a creature of the supernatural realm. And if you think I’m wrong, don’t take my word for it — ask your husband or boyfriend what he thinks.

When Heidi says “I would never wear that,” it is just as if Juno or Isis, or more aptly, Frigga has just hurled a bolt of lightning from the sky, reducing the dress in question to a pile of cinders. We see her each week as a culture goddess literally sitting in the high seat, deciding which clothes can accurately be deemed the raiments of the gods. That’s why, when Heidi comes down from her throne and reaches up to bestow not one, but two valedictory kisses on the eliminated, it is incredibly poignant. She simultaneously elevates and rejects that week’s designer in one symbolic gesture, all the while promising to “see them again.” Dude. She giveth, AND she taketh away. Kneel, mortals.

Episode Four of Project Designs

Before we get into the ins and outs of this week’s challenge, let’s take a moment to recognize the designers who didn’t even make it to the banks of the river Styx this week. At the top of my list is Ra’mon You-Were-Robbed Lawrence. This was truly a stunning dress, and one that I think would absolutely turn heads at any influential party in Los Angeles. (See design on left in photo.) It has an incredible color and an astonishing focal point that also wraps around the body. Not only does it have a well-defined focus, but this design acknowledges the fact that clothing is sculpture and must function in all three dimensions. Similarly, Shirin Askari’s design gives the viewer something to look at when the model arrives, as well as when she leaves. (See design on right in photo.) Last, but certainly not least, we must recognize Gordana Gehlhausen’s goddess minidress, which adeptly evoked the immortals with its golden hue and her woven suggestion of a breast plate. (See design in middle in photo.) Truly, it is a divine dress. But that is also why all of these designers didn’t find themselves on the pillory this week. They clearly have more to show us, and so the gods have extended their life spans.

In defense of the winner, I’m sure that a lot of you bemoaned Althea Harper's winning with her sportswear ensemble this week. The short answer is that this ensemble received the most “I would wear thats” from the pantheon. Remember, if you can get a majority of the gods to want to wear your clothes, then they qualify as fashion. More significantly, as we narrow down the playing field, we must remember that we are in search of a Great American Designer, and the greatest American designers have always been sportswear designers. Yes, there are famous American gown-makers, like James Galanos and certainly episode four guest judge Marc Bouwer. But they are outnumbered immeasurably by notable American sportswear designers like Calvin Klein, Halston, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan. And that doesn’t even take into account the American designers like Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs and Rick Owens, who are famous for their work in sportswear abroad.

Our ability as Americans to “make things work” comes from our dressing custom of “mixing and matching” and putting together outfits. It is a tradition that breathes life into any wardrobe, and one that ensures that stylists like Jen Rade will be gainfully employed throughout this Great Recession. This is why Althea won this week, and why the winner of the season will most likely be a gifted sportswear designer. Sportswear is what Americans do best, and nobody does it better.

Qristyl Frazier's dress in episode four

Finally, farewell, dear, dear Qristyl Frazier. Boy, was that tough! When I heard guest judge Jen Rade’s biting retort that “thank god” Valerie “is not a designer,” I realized that I had falsely assumed that if the models were willing to wear it, then of course it must be a design worthy of the gods. What an extraordinary reversal it was when Rade’s remark bluntly informed us that the models on this show are “goddesses in training” and don’t yet deserve a place on the acropolis (at least not until they get that big photo spread in Marie Claire). More to the point, what a clear example this simple black dress is of the difference between true fashion and ordinary garments! Unlike the dress that Qristyl had begun in the workroom, this dress was a functional garment that without question made Valerie presentable, but alas, it still fell short in the surprise department. (See photo.)

If only it was able to evoke that effervescent plus-something that Qristyl herself possesses, and that makes her someone I so desperately want to succeed! But, as I have said before, Qristyl always seems to learn from her mistakes, and looking at her most recent collection, I think she’s made some smart advances. Furthermore, as with all veterans of this Wagnerian Cycle, remember that Qristyl is alive, well and plus-searchable on the Internet. Give her a click, and buy something. Show her that you believe that there’s room for plus-sexy in the pantheon.