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Nina Garcia Blog
Category: "Christopher Straub"
We've finally reached the end of the road. This season's final challenge began with a beautiful trip to the Getty Center in Malibu. Truly one of the great architectural treasures of Los Angeles County, it is a befitting location for the last challenge. Within the context of fashion design, the Getty Center is a perfect metaphor, being at once a sparkling triumph of contemporary architecture as well as a temple that houses masterpieces of towering significance in art history. Here, our remaining designers are challenged to do work inspired by this setting, and it reminds us of the delicate balance that great fashion design must maintain between references to the past and explorations of what the future might be.
Scouring the grounds of the Getty to find inspiration for their final presentation, many of the designers chose things from the past. Carol Hannah alighted upon an 18th-century bed. Irina chose a 19th-century painting depicting a fictional scene from classical antiquity. And Gordana decided upon an edition of one of Claude Monet's early Impressionist canvases. Carol Hannah’s bed seemed a logical source of inspiration for a designer who has distinguished herself with her dress designs throughout the competition. Considering the ample fabric draping on this bed, it ensured that there would be little lost in translation when it became a garment. Or so one would think. Her final dress was cast from a pale gold silk satin, which was unexpected, given the overwhelming preponderance of blue in her inspiration source. And although the judges this week praised the construction of this dress, I would go farther than Nina, arguing that this dress had some unsettling proportions. I always believe that the success of these fishtail/mermaid-ish silhouettes pivots upon the way they reference the human body. Here, the band that joins the skirt to the upper half of the dress crosses the body with a rather shallow incline that exaggerates the size of the model’s hips. I’m convinced that if it began at, or slightly above, the high hip and descended at a sharper angle, ending below the knee, it wouldn’t seem so much that the dress was abruptly chopping the model’s body in half. Also, the place where the ropey straps connect to the dress itself seems very abrupt, almost reminiscent of a rowboat tethered to the post of a lake dock.
Gordana chose one of Monet’s images of Rouen Cathedral for her inspiration. True to form, she captured the milky coloration of the original painting, and manipulated long panels of silk organza to mimic Monet’s blurry brushstrokes. Impressionism is a dangerous inspiration choice for a designer, considering the populist appeal of this school of painting. It runs the risk of seeming “uninspired,” since we have become so familiar with Impressionist works, having seen them reproduced on everything from calendars to coffee mugs. Nevertheless, Gordana creates an elegant gown, despite the fact that it still seems a very meek choice for a “finale dress.” This meekness can probably be attributed to the spare, horizontal neckline, and the plain, un-embellished back of the dress.
Irina, on the other hand, takes more of an easy way out, by choosing to create a dress inspired by a painting depicting two women who are also wearing dresses. This outfit has lost some of its brilliance for me since I first viewed this episode, because it recently hit me that all she really had to do was “update” the look that was already in the painting. Even though I think Irina’s version of a Greek stola was inspired, I do wish that she had chosen some inspiration that would have offered a more dramatic translation into fashion. Ever the economist, Irina is an excellent time manager, if she is anything, so she very efficiently executed her “update,” wisely opting out of incorporating what must have been a buckskin pelt.
Finally, we get to Althea and Christopher. Both of these designers found inspiration in the architecture of the Getty Center. Althea chose the bold lines and shapes created by the building, and, like Carol Hannah, chose a golden beige fabric to execute her ensemble. Here, poor Althea flew too close to the sun and, unlike Irina, clearly ran out of time. However, the factor of time will not be an issue when it comes to Bryant Park, so I’m glad that she will have the opportunity to wow us there. Her construction truly suggested a fresh perspective on the idea of tailoring, and she left us wanting to see what more she is capable of.
Christopher Straub — he of the "false confidence," as Irina put it — doesn’t make it to Bryant Park, for the same basic reasons that his work has been in the "bottom three" for the last FIVE challenges. Christopher is a designer who could seriously stand some further fashion education. He is articulate and clearly chooses excellent inspiration. (It’s not everyone who finds beauty in a puddle of water.) However, he spent most of his time this season talking about how much he loved his work, instead of incorporating the criticism he received into the next challenge. And yet this may have been too much to ask of him. He doesn’t seem to have much training in tailoring. It is unfortunate that he has continued to simply gather his necklines over and over again into either jabots or halter tops. It makes me wonder if he knows how to make a facing, and don’t let me get started on the conspicuous absence of set-in sleeves in his work, all season long. Christopher is a rousing endorsement for a good design education if ever there was one, and hopefully a benchmark for the people who cast “Project Runway.” It is certainly possible to learn to sew without being formally trained; however, disasters of “proportion” are only avoided if one has been subjected to the critical rigors that art school entails. Christopher’s tears on the runway are the virgin tears of someone who has never had his work seriously critiqued in terms of design. I think we all learned this season that people with low levels of experience not only do poorly on the show, but they also fail to intrigue us with their work. The moment the work becomes redundant or cliche, the show becomes boring.
So, it’s the “Charlie’s Angels” of fashion next week. [Editor's Note: Funny that both Nick Verreos and Andrae called the final three "Charlie's Angels" in their blogs!] The girls have vanquished everyone else, and next week we’ll get to see what they are able to produce with the luxury of more time. Indeed, may the best woman win!
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."