Season Premiere July 24 at 9/8c
Nina Garcia Blog
Category: "Nicolas Putvinski"
This week, Michael Kors met our remaining seven designers down at his West Coast flagship boutique and gave them a window into his design process. As anyone who is aware of his brand will tell you, Michael Kors evokes the luxurious age of the international jet-setter, so it’s no surprise that he chose seven of his favorite destinations as inspiration for our remaining designers. The challenge for episode ten, for them, is to take these locales and do their own interpretation of these places, “whether real or imaginary,” but to also remember to “have fun.” Among their choices are Aspen, St. Tropez, the Greek islands, Manhattan, Palm Beach, Santa Fe and Hollywood.
Now, understanding that this is a challenge coming from Kors, a proven purveyor of classic American sportswear, there is an unwritten mandate that each designer address this idea in some way, or at least not show up with a red-carpet gown. Given the iconic nature of all these places, it should have been simple for each designer to arrive at something that not only resonates with their own design aesthetic, but that also evokes the local color of these regions. However, I have to agree with Irina when she says that the level of creativity in the room seems to have plateaued. Indeed, what happened to everybody this week? Perhaps they are just exhausted, because everything that came down the runway was pretty lackluster.
When Michael Kors gave us a similar challenge in Season 2 of “Project Runway,” I remember people digging deep to try to find unusual sources of inspiration, as well as inventive sewing techniques, to communicate their ideas. One doesn’t have to be Tim Gunn to know that a great designer should be able to find a way to “make it work.” Wowing the judges should still be possible even if, like Logan, you have the misfortune of having to design yet another “Hollywood-inspired” ensemble. There should still be several design stones that have been left unturned, and one would think this would be a chance for the designers to pull out all the stops.
And yet Irina Shabayeva, who is clearly the front-runner in the competition now, does this by going beige. BEIGE. OK, beige with fur, but it’s still beige! (See photo.) It’s clear now that the grand prize is basically hers to lose. Her ensemble for Aspen wins because it is a complete design statement that’s competently executed, even though it’s not much of a surprise. Michael Kors accurately laments that her ensemble is a little too “on the nose” in its homage to 1980s “jet-set style.” Even with the deep cutout in the back, it seems terribly familiar, and could actually be something from a past Michael Kors collection. And yet I think that’s just how far ahead of the pack Irina is. She can waltz in, give us the Aspen look as seen on “Falcon Crest” during the 1985 fall sweeps and still be better off than everyone else. As she says, after three wins, her only competition is herself.
As far as the rest of them go … I wish them well, with the following reservations:
Congratulations: You wisely also did three pieces of sportswear in the Michael Kors Challenge. Clearly you have the skills that we expect from a new voice in American fashion.
Beware: We’ve seen a lot of jackets with tanks. Hopefully this is just a time-crunch thing, and not a pillar of your aesthetic.
Congratulations: You created a classic dress with a slightly unconventional detail. It’s something familiar, with a twist in the bodice (literally).
Beware: We’ve seen a lot of dresses from you. Make sure you do some separates. Fashion empires rise and fall based on the cut of their jackets and pants.
Congratulations: We love you, and we all cheer you on as you find the confidence of your own voice. You continue to infuse your designs with innovative construction.
Beware: I think you barely saved your neck by making sure that incredible crystal necklace could be treated like sportswear and worn with other clothes. The secret to winning this competition is to create sportswear separates. Make sure you address this later.
Congratulations: You made a really nice pair of jeans. This is not an easy thing to do on this show, particularly since there are no laundering facilities.
Beware: Dude. Sleeves? You will most likely need them in the next challenge. You will definitely need them in Bryant Park.
Congratulations: You survived this one, even though you didn’t go Koo-Koo for Kokopelli enough.
Beware: They are all asking, “Why is he still here?” You will need to wow us with the answer. It’s time to shock us, Shakopee!
Congratulations: You showed us you can certainly create sportswear, and you stuck to your aesthetic guns. (See photo.) We’ll still miss you Nicolas Putvinski!
Beware: White is not always right.
And that should do it.May the best woman win!
We’re winding down now, folks. Tonight’s episode marks number six for the “Project Runway” season, and it reduces the cast to the top 10. With it looking like we’re about to lose two heads next week, get ready for things to get interesting. But wait … that’s next week. This week, the breakout star of “Project Runway” was Zoe Glassner, editor from Marie Claire, for reworking the term “snorefest” so that I imagine it has the potential to be this season’s adoptable catchphrase du jour. Remember how WAY too many of you minced around after Season 4, labeling various fashion indignities “hot tranny messes”? Well, “snoozefest” could be the new “hot tranny mess.” So, avanti!
Oh lemmings, the herd has left for the coast. But seriously, I think this episode was the equivalent of that moment in a horror film where someone starts a conversation about which color to paint the den, right before the walls are splattered with the blood of a severed jugular. But there’s no gore this week — in fact, Horror, as a movie genre, was conspicuously absent, even though the designers got face time with Collier Strong, and a trip to the outside of a soundstage. Curious.
Strangely devoid of that signature “Project Runway” twist, this was a pretty straightforward challenge: Go make a movie costume for an invented female character, from one of the movie genres that we’ve identified on these cards. In the end, the designer who creates the outfit that looks the most hastily constructed goes home.
I really wanted the other shoe to drop on this challenge. I kept waiting for Faye Dunaway to come into the workroom brandishing a wire hanger, or for Meryl Streep to stop by and school them on the origins of “Cerulean Blue.” But there was no other shoe. In fact, there were many things that just didn’t quite add up on this episode. How did Althea escape the chopping block this week? Her Film Noir sportswear ensemble with the bell sleeves had hardly any Lauren Bacall, 1946, and way too much Bebe, Fall ’97. Irina, how do you hear “Film Noir” and think “poly-organza hooded cape!”? And then there’s sweet Christopher Straub, miraculously scoring again, maintaining the longest streak of sleeveless garments in “Project Runway” history. (See designs from episode three and six for evidence.) And this for a Victorian ensemble??!!!
By the way, for the record, I’d like to go down as the first to identify this David’s Bridal “static electricity” tucking technique as fashion’s H1N1 virus for this time period. I swear, in 10 years, we will look back at those wedding pictures and think Why did we ever think that was attractive?. But I digress. If we focus on all of these red herrings, we’re bound to miss the true culprit lurking in the shadows. Wait. I know — let’s split up and look for the killer!
If I pull back and look at the bigger picture, there is a subtle pattern forming that is quite telling when it comes to this episode, and it has to do with sportswear. Yes, classic American sportswear is again the “Keyser Söze” of “Project Runway.” I’ve said it before: What makes American fashion great is our approach to sportswear. There is nothing that we can do about dress design — the French have been doing it for hundreds of years longer than we have — but Americans invented sportswear. We still have the best knack for staying comfortable but looking pulled together, and full of complex, sophisticated textures. None of that is possible in a single garment. It has to be done with layers. It is this simple truth that stands as evidence of our influence upon global fashion, and it’s also what will most likely determine the winner of “Project Runway.”
Knowing this, it all starts to come into focus, doesn’t it? Hmmm. Althea: Underwhelming costume, but she created an outfit with three layered sportswear pieces. Epperson: In the top two, and maybe “robbed,” because his layered, tough-town, homestead woman truly evoked the Western era and told a story. But look closely — it was all done with layers. Even Chris Straub, I suspect, escaped the guillotine this week because he presented a layered ensemble. All the Action-Adventure outfits? Sportswear. Most chilling this week, in terms of sportswear, are the bottom three. C’est dommage, ça, because Louise, Ra’mon and particularly Gordana presented some rather impressive dressmaking skills this week. If you look back on Ra’mon’s offerings in the competition, you’ll see that when in distress, he makes a dress. And I believe this is the real reason that he went home.
Essentially, the judges have seen what he has to say as a designer, and it’s not sportswear. As we get closer to Bryant Park, and closer to nominating a new voice in American design, don’t be surprised if it’s a sportswear designer. To experience any sort of success, the winner of “Project Runway” needs to start a line that isn’t solely aimed at the three confirmed events that American women require gowns for (Prom, Wedding and Coffin). Every successful American designer has found a way to get women to buy their clothes for something other than these three occasions.
That being said, look out, Nicolas Putvinski! It’s clear that you have been given immunity this week so that you can sit back and rattle off bitchilicious sound bites for those confessionals. Right now, sir, you’re walking down a dark hallway, and if you don’t turn around quick and make a jacket or some layered ensemble, you are going to come face to face with a guy holding a chainsaw and wearing a hockey mask. Wake up! Soylent Green is American sportswear! And, in this game, if you “snoozefest,” you lose fast.
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. On 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.
Qristyl 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."