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But Would a Model Wear It?

Posted By CaitlinBergmann 4:29pm GMT

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.


Episode Three: There’s an ‘I’ in “Design Team”

Posted By CaitlinBergmann 11:20pm GMT

Group shot on the beach of episode three of Project Runway

Ah, the “team challenge.” It is certainly the most mesmerizing of all the competition formulas on reality television. This is where “Project Runway” always gets completely “Wild Kingdom” and you see Darwinian evolution in action right before your very eyes. On this show, the team challenge has been refined to an efficient plot and character exposition device that allows the viewers to really see what makes these designers tick. For most of the teams, it’s a chance to share the workload and to get to know better the people that they’ve already grown to appreciate. However, for the teams that have members who can’t leave their egos outside the workroom, it makes for loads of the necessary drama that guarantees shows like “PR” have irreparably replaced show like “The Waltons” on TV for a very long time.

Having been in two of these team challenges myself, I’ve noticed how individual egos create an environment that dangerously multiplies the reasons for elimination, given the mutable criteria of the judges. Because it is a team challenge, it is impossible to know whether the judges will eliminate a team leader for a bad design, or whether a particular team member will be eliminated for poorly executing that design. Similarly, the team leader could be eliminated for “bad leadership skills” or the team member for “not following directions.” Then there is also the issue of sharing the workload. Any member of the team can be eliminated for “not working hard enough.” And you should never forget the damning distinction of having created something that “Heidi would never wear.”

Since the team challenge multiplies these elimination criteria, negotiating a path to success then becomes next to impossible. Certainly the best plan of attack is to work together to come up with a creative solution to the design problem, and to allow the “team leader” to have the final say in any dispute. We see this happen in varying degrees with all the teams, except for Mitchell’s team and Qristyl’s.

Nicolas Putvinski's design on episode three of Project Runway

Gordana dutifully forges ahead, helping to execute both of Nicolas’ crotch-centric designs without opposition. (See photo.) She’s “in for a penny, in for a pound,” to the point of complimenting his freehand pleating technique for silk organza while they are on the chopping block. Logan and Christopher are even able to come up with outfits that blend their individual aesthetics together. The girls who can sew already get along.

So what goes wrong with the others? Basically, you have two situations where people have decided to put the “I” from “design” into “team.” At first glance, I thought we had the same situation between Mitchell and Ra’mon as we have between Qristyl and Epperson: essentially, a leader with weaker sewing skills being usurped by a stronger sewer, afraid for his reputation.

But there is a fundamental difference between the two teams. Poor Mitchell was treading water in the deep end of the swimming pool from the beginning of the competition. We learn that as team leader, his strategy from the get-go is to find a sewing star to hitch his wagon to, hence his choice of Ra’mon. Since he has cast Ra’mon as “savior” of the team from the start, the hierarchy is understood from the beginning, and they should have been successful. But then they added that other avant-garde look to the challenge, and all hell broke loose. If Mitchell had the sewing skills to be able to sew without Ra’mon in the room, he might have lasted another episode, but this was not the case. Ra’mon picks up the gauntlet, saves the day and gets rewarded for doing so. Ironically, I think that if Mitchell was a trifle more clever, he would have chosen Epperson, and not only survived the challenge but learned a few things about construction, considering the “teacher and student” dynamic that Epperson seems to fall into naturally.

Qristyl, on the other hand, is not looking for a “savior,” and she “ain’t no damn student,” either. She demands to be treated like an equal, and rightly so. Soon we start to see that she has plus-limits, and I’m not talking about her plus-sewing skills, but rather, her plus-patience. She has chosen Epperson out of her respect for his sewing virtuosity, expecting to glean the benefit of a more technically savvy partner to help her execute her vision. Sadly, it seems like she never gets to articulate this vision, and Epperson’s ego hijacks the creative process of the team, beginning with his control of the research conversation with the surfer girl. Their relationship devolves as he vetoes her fabric choices at Mood and treats her with general condescension for most of the rest of the episode.

Now, I myself have to admit that my own taste doesn’t agree with most of Qristyl’s choices in fabric and color. She does seem prone to emphatic fashion statements when it comes to prints and color, and if she has an Achilles’ heel, it would be that her work lacks subtlety. However, with such a pleasant nature, she seems reasonable, and I think that dissent, when expressed respectfully, is taken into plus-serious consideration. You can see this in her casting video, where she thoughtfully accepts critiques from Tim and the audition panel with grace and deference.

Epperson, on the other hand, appears very outwardly motivated in this episode. It almost seems like he believes that if he follows Qristyl’s lead or surrenders to her taste, he’ll come under fire. Perhaps he never saw the episode of Season 2 where they send Daniel Franco home for his faulty vision, and allow his team members to stay for their hard work. I was also reminded of something else from Epperson’s pre-“Runway” Closet Tour. Both he and Qristyl were the only designers who referenced the labels of the clothes and shoes in their closets.

Qristyl's Frazier's design on episode three of Project Runway

With Qristyl, it seems like the brand names help her to distinguish the garments of quality from the others. Conversely, Epperson appears to rattle off the names on the labels as a big old endorsement of his own taste. (BTW, for the record, it’s pronounced “CHEH-zah-ray-pah-CHIO-ty.”) By the end of the episode three, we see this team’s entire relationship unravel into total anarchy, and it appears as though they “divorce” creatively.

Epperson reworks the surf look, while poor Qristyl quickly fashions an avant-garde overdress to layer over the bodysuit that we see Epperson sketching earlier in the show. (See photo.) Nina says, it was “a recipe for disaster,” and thank goodness neither of them is punished for their faulty judgment. I do hope, though, that these two designers find a way to apologize and patch things up during the season, because this is certainly not the only team challenge we are going to see.


Ladies' Night

Posted By CaitlinBergmann 9:20pm GMT

After five seasons of "Project Runway," and all of those Klum/Seal pregnancies, we are finally getting the maternity challenge! This week, our designers set out to create a pregnancy ensemble for "sophisticated mama" Rebecca Romijn, who is pregnant with twins! They are given the charge to design for an occasion of their choice, but they still have to achieve a look that is chic, and that flatters Romijn’s "new shape."

As is often the case, these designs fall into the age-old fashion debate between the dressmakers and the tailors.

Shirin Askari in the Project Runway pregnancy challenge To add some intrigue, Shirin, Epperson and Gordana successfully raise the stakes of this battle, combining both traditions by embracing sportswear separates for their creations. In the end, it becomes a "Ladies’ Night," and "the feelin’s right" as Heidi, Nina, Rebecca and guest judge Monique Lhuillier identify Shirin, Louise and Althea as the front-runners. Ra’mon, Mitchell and Malvin come in at the bottom. Shirin Askari wins the challenge for her innovative use of lattice smocking (see photo) and her design’s general wearability, while Malvin Vien goes to the guillotine for a concept that is "too bizarre." Oh, what a night!

Now, if you are not watching (or setting your TiVo to catch) "Models of the Runway" right after "Project Runway," you need to start doing so, because the models are all watching the show just like we are, and it’s very satisfying to see them articulate all the questions that you are probably yelling at the screen, like, "How can they send Malvin home? Mitchell can’t sew!" And it’s true — considering all of the shirring he’s done so far, I wonder if his tailoring skills are not as strong as the other designers in the cast, or if he’s never sewn on an industrial machine before. We do know that he is returning to fashion after a two-year hiatus in retail, so I wonder if it’s been that long since he has done any concentrated sewing. The "Project Runway" judges have always had a low tolerance for poor construction, and this season is no different than any of the others. Heidi says, "Just because we sit [all the way over] here, it doesn’t mean we don’t have a good eye."

Also, this year I think it’s possible that we could have three women in the final show at Bryant Park. Of the weaker sewers, it appears that at least five of them are males. Shirin, Louise, Gordana, Irina, Carol and Althea all possess rather strong technical skills, and if they can avoid boring the judges, they all have a likely chance of carrying the day.

Ramon Lawrence Colemen in the pregnancy challenge on Project RunwayFinally, if Mitchell’s outfit was just sewn poorly, what is it exactly about Ra’mon’s outfit that put him in the bottom three? Frankly, both Malvin and Ra’mon committed an unpardonable design sin of the maternity market, because both of these designers created garments that exaggerated the size of their model’s belly.

Basic color theory reminds us that warmer colors advance toward the viewers, while cooler colors recede away from them, into the distance. This is why it seemed to Nina during judging that Ra’mon’s dress had arrows pointing out at the viewers to tell them where the baby was. (See photo.) Similarly, if Malvin had perhaps considered suggesting a white silk organza chicken, sitting atop his egg, his creme sling might not have protruded from the body with such vehemence, making it look like the baby had already been delivered.


"Project Runway" 6 ... Once More, But This Time, With Feeling

Posted By CaitlinBergmann 12:48pm GMT

Tim Gunn hugs Johnny Sakalis

So now we’ve seen it, Episode 1 of “Project Runway” Season 6, and I think that I might just like where the show is heading. I wondered whether Lifetime’s programmers wanted to make the network more “Sassybitchilicious,” or if “Project Runway” would be tempering reality TV’s standard practice of schadenfreude with an infusion of pathos. To my surprise, it looks like the latter might be true for this show, and its new spin-off, “Models of the Runway.” It seems like Lifetime has decided to focus on the inspiring stories of people triumphing over adversity through the power of their creativity, instead of a hackneyed parade of gender caricatures bludgeoning us with dated catchphrases. What a relief!

In this first episode, we meet the cast and we hit the ground running, with the story of Johnny Sakalis leading the way. Upon being introduced to him, we learn that Johnny has made it onto “Project Runway” only after auditioning for three of the show’s previous seasons. On this, his fourth try, we learn that the final obstacle that he has had to overcome, in order to truly be ready for the show, was winning a battle with an addiction to crystal meth. And he is not alone. When it comes to struggles for this cast, well, every child has “got his own.”

I highly recommend watching the audition and casting clips on myLifetime.com. You get to see the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the cast in context, and many of them this year, like Johnny, have either tried out for the show before, or have some personal struggle that has prevented them from pursuing their dreams of being a professional designer. Some of the most compelling stories come from the Eastern Bloc contingent in this year’s class. Nicolas Putvinski speaks of how his scientist parents were exceedingly unhappy to have a child who wanted to be “creative.” Could that also be a euphemism for “gay”? Gordana Gehlhausen’s mother apparently burned her clothes on several occasions because she happened to fancy outfits that were antithetical to such harrowing Soviet institutions as “Marxism Class.”

And the list of obstacles doesn’t stop there. Christopher Straub couldn’t afford to go to fashion school, and traded away the opportunity because of a death in the family. One of them is red/green color-blind, and another had to move back home with their parents after school. Several members of the cast want to turn their struggles into victories for the minorities that they represent, whether it be their race, sexual identity or body size. Indeed, Qristyl Frazier is an unstoppable force of positive energy, to the point of insisting that “plus” is not a size, but rather a qualifying adjective for sex appeal. Mitchell Hall with his modelOn top of that, if you think that the ones with perfect L’Oreal Paris Skin Genesis complexions haven’t suffered enough (and they are a contingent too), remember that they’ve probably spent the last year getting stern reminder letters that they signed a nondisclosure agreement in order to be on the show. Not only have most of them put all their eggs into one basket, but they’ve packed that basket in a wagon that was hitched to a star, that for several months, threatened to become a black hole.

But in Episode 1, we see the resilient human spirit distinguish itself more than anything else. Even though Johnny breaks down in a crippling crisis of self-doubt, Tim Gunn talks him back from the brink, asking, “But are you being too hard on you?” He ascends from the ashes, dubbing Tim “a god” and creating a dress with an unusual silhouette, but nevertheless, one that Heidi Klum would wear “in black.” Mitchell Hall, after creating a dress that doesn’t fit because it is smocked (without an elastic bobbin thread!!!???) finds a way to redesign his entire ensemble on the day of the runway show. (See photo on right.) By the way, now that we get to hear them speak on “Models of the Runway,” Yosuzi, Mitchell’s model, has the most incredible smoky voice. What a pity it is to hear her depart!

The winner of this challenge is as much a surprise as the loser. The judges eschew awarding Ra’mon’s red-carpet gown the prize, finding it too “safe,” and Christopher, despite the obstacle of not knowing what a godet or smocking is, manages to create a dress, again, that Heidi Klum would wear, but that also charms guest judge Lindsay Lohan. She aptly notes that it would be improved by subtracting one row of ruffles.

Ari Fish does a handstandQristyl creates a dress with two focal points and is chastened by Michael Kors for Frankensteining two different dresses together. Talk about human spirit! I don’t think this is the only time that Qristyl’s positive energy will serve her well in the competition; plus, I think she is a very quick study.

Michael Kors lobs one of his signature similes at Ari’s dress, likening it to a “disco soccer ball.” (I heard that he’s in the beta group that’s testing the new “iPhone laugh-meter app.”) Nina praises Ari’s conceptual point of view, but then wisely falls in line with what Heidi would wear. There is some suspense while we wonder if the judges will find Mitchell’s nudity, or Ari’s Bai-Ling factor worthy of “auf-Wiedersehening,” but in the end, the first lamb sent to the slaughter is our cockeyed optimist from Kansas City, Mo., Ari Fish. I’m sad that we won’t get to see how her “Buckminster Fuller” approach to fashion plays out on the show. Nevertheless, as with every cast member from “PR,” you can always find us on the internet. Sure enough, Ari Fish is alive and well (and probably still doing some fantastic handstands), and living in Berlin, and I’m certain that she’d be the first to remind us that “life is a cabaret."


The Answer To: "Where Is Andraé?"!

Posted By CaitlinBergmann 5:31pm GMT

Wow! So, it's "that time of year, when the world falls in love," and every song I hear seems to say, "Where's Andraé?" or, at least my Facebook Inbox does. Thanks to the clever antics of my fellow "Project Runway" designer Mr. Santino Rice, I've been deluged with this contemplation, annually, every time "Project Runway" begins to air. Although this will be the first time in a couple of seasons that I will have diligently watched the entire show (and apparently, I'm not alone), this year I am happy to write that I'll be traveling in print, alongside the rest of you on myLifetime.com.

Great Scott! How the world has changed since Season 5 of this show! Can you believe the cataclysm of world events that have befallen us since that adorable Leanne Marshall delicately gavotted to victory over a year ago? Huge bastions of American finance and auto manufacturing have imploded or otherwise been brought to their knees. We have skyrocketing unemployment numbers. There is also a new sheriff in the Whitehouse. But the big development for all you "Project Runway" fans is that we are finally getting to see this mysterious "lost" season of the show.

Indeed, what an incredible treat this is going to be! Many people thought that this season might never air. And even though we've already seen images of the finale collections online, that inner voyeur in all of us remains unsatisfied. It's as infuriating as that trip to Disneyland that Paris, Prince Michael I and Prince Michael II took in 2006 — we were allowed to see the clothes, but we just couldn't see their faces.

However, now we'll finally get the chance to piece all the juicy details together, and hurl stones at these people from the anonymous comfort of our Internet keyboards. How much fun it will be to finally see their foibles up close and personal, speculate on who is sleeping with whom, and denigrate the value of their work, despite the obstacles of harsh time constraints, sleep deprivation and foreign materials.

Or maybe not . . . this is Lifetime. Perhaps there is something good in all of us. Perhaps there is such a thing as the triumph of the human spirit. Perhaps, just maybe, there comes a day when every Connie Sellecca finally gets her John Tesh. I don't know about you, but I'm ready for that day,"and this song of mine, in three-quarter time, wishes you and yours the same thing too."