Season Premiere July 24 at 9/8c
Nina Garcia Blog
Category: "project runway season six"
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!
This week on episode eleven of "Project Runway," each of the six remaining designers was assigned one of their own previously successful garments as inspiration, and challenged to create a new companion ensemble that somehow referenced the first design. This is an excellent challenge, because it has its roots in something that happens in the fashion business all the time. Fashion is essentially “a conversation” between the past and the present, all in the name of discerning what the future might be. This challenge, then, has the potential to be a miniaturized version of what every great successful designer eventually gets to do, which is to revisit, and reinvent, his or her past glories. Because this challenge essentially required the designers to be brilliant a second time, but in a different way, it really illuminated the contestants who have the legitimate “chops” not only to stay in the game, but to sustain creative energy for the length of a career. Even so, it appears that at this point we have three races at play here, and folks, it’s not looking good for the gentlemen.
The biggest question this week wasn’t, but should have been, “DOES ALTHEA COPY?” In the episode where, indeed, you were supposed to be inspired by your own work, why would you want to create a look so close to something that someone else had done the week before? Now, fashion designers are trained to absorb. It is a custom that is literally taught in fashion schools around the country. When I was in school, my department chair repeatedly opined that we could “not design in a vacuum.” The prevailing argument says that since the human body has remained essentially the same for thousands of years, there are a finite number of ideas available to clothe it, so repetition is bound to happen.
However, it is the combination and augmentation of these repetitions that truly separate great designers from the hacks. At the bare minimum, a designer can re-fabricate a design that is already popular in the market. This alone might be enough to make it new. Imagine if Althea had taken this same idea that appears to have been gleaned from Irina, but constructed it out of heavy black satin. She could have still created the shape depicted in her sketch, but it would not have been such a dead ringer for Irina’s sweater. Even so, since we have no footage of Irina’s sketch for this challenge, it is hard to know for sure who copied whom.
To shed some light on this subject, I suggest we look at what the two designers are wearing themselves on runway day, in the Macy’s Challenge. (See photo of them behind stage for reference.) Here, both Althea and Irina chose to wear a thick scarf over a bare-shouldered top, and each finished the look off with leggings. Alone, this isn’t enough evidence for a case of design piracy, but if you take a look at what Althea and Carol Hannah are wearing at the beginning of this week’s episode, a pattern seems to form. When Heidi meets the designers on the runway with their previous looks, Althea is wearing gray jeans, a silver obi-ish belt and a black T-shirt. Carol Hannah is wearing blue jeans, a red obi-ish belt and a black T-shirt. The women almost look like twins from behind. Considering the fact that Althea is the only constant in each of these three scenarios, the circumstances certainly suggest that she “absorbs” ideas, perhaps unintentionally. As a designer, there isn’t really anything wrong with that. In college, I used to return to my table at the dining hall to discover that I’d frequently chosen only foods that matched the outfit I was wearing. So the absorption can happen by accident. However, it is what one does with these impulses that really distinguishes the fashion leaders from the fashion pack. Clearly, Irina is leading, and Althea is a follower, albeit a talented one. (Although I’m not buying this jacket/sweater-over-a-tank-top motif anymore.)
In the battle for the middle, we have Carol Hannah and Gordana. It is rare to hear Tim Gunn not tell someone to push their own limits, but this week it actually happens with Carol Hannah. I think this was a mistake, because Carol Hannah might have had the option of upsetting the apple cart if she had made an evening sportswear ensemble that utilized the same coq feathers that she so elegantly added to her Bob Mackie gown. In the end, I’m assuming that the judges didn’t award her a win for this dress because it was so painfully safe, or at least it looked so on television. It was basically a black dress with, wait for it … POCKETS!!!! Indeed, pockets are important. Women don’t get enough of them, and these days, even at the most elegant affair a woman will leave her lipstick home before she leaves her cell phone. So, yes, designers of the future, conceal pockets in evening gowns. They make women look like they are relaxed and they are absolutely necessary in a text-message world. But this is not news, and I don’t think it’s enough to herald great design. Beyond its color, there isn’t much that actually ties this cocktail dress to the original gown from the previous challenge. It is strange that none of the judges mentioned this. Perhaps they were all so mesmerized by the thought of wearing this dress that they forgot to ask. I’m with Zoe Glassner on this one: “(shrug) It’s wearable.”
Regarding Gordana: I’ve rooted for this lady all the way through the competition because she just seems to be a real straight shooter. That, and I also love her accent. I’d love for her to make it to Bryant Park, because she seems to have a marvelous experimental streak in her sewing and she seems to find smart ways of employing it. But I’m beginning to think that she won’t fare well in the end. Nonetheless, I’m glad that she didn’t go home this week for this ensemble. Remembering that Gordana’s first dress won the “divorcee” challenge, her trouble this week could have been simply “lost in translation.” If the first piece was initially designed for an older customer, it follows that the second look would be for that same customer, so Heidi’s ageist critique is not only unfair, but antithetical to the challenge. I think Gordana’s biggest mistake with this outfit was going with the longer jacket. There is indeed something dated about a long jacket at this point in time. It recalls the late ’90s and all those suits with short skirts that Calista Flockhart used to wear on “Ally McBeal.” Ironically, there seems to be something much more current about a shorter jacket with a peplum, which is, ironically, a silhouette that was popular in the ’40s. Fashion can be capricious at times.
Finally, since the maternity challenge, I’ve suspected that we’d have a situation where the males lose out this season. It just seemed, even back then, with perhaps the exception of Epperson, that none of them had the flexibility to survive the challenges of this competition all the way to the end. On “Project Runway,” it’s not good enough to know how to sew well. You need to know how to sew wisely, and use that skill toward its most economical end. So at this point, both Logan and Christopher are in a competition against each other in trying not to be eliminated. Both of these men have ideas that are, at their best, unremarkable, and their sewing skills unfortunately don’t seem to meet the small demands of their concepts. I’m as shocked as everyone else is that Logan Neitzel got sent home this week, however. Although his dress was poorly constructed (see photo), at least it seems that he attempted a design that fit within the realm of his abilities, notwithstanding the impossibly foolish idea of constructing any design with a series of sequential parallel zipper teeth. Why any designer in his right mind would choose to construct a design that is actually engineered to break sewing needles is beyond me. Oh, maybe because he saw someone else do it, on another challenge (another idea absorber).
Christopher, on the other hand, has repeatedly created these heavy-skirted gowns that seem to collapse under their own weight. Anyone who has lived long enough to have seen “Gone With the Wind” or any other film that takes place during the Civil War knows that there are important undergarments that help designers achieve voluminous proportions. Yet, throughout this competition, Christopher has eschewed the sensible logic of constructing a crinoline, despite his relish for “volume.” His skirts utilize this odd “flounces on the fold” technique relying on ruffles made by doubling up and gathering long strips of fabric. Not only does this cause the fabric to fall in unflattering, crumpled masses, but the double layers of additional material add a literal and visual weight that must make the act of wearing the dress arduous, at the bare minimum. It also has the unfortunate effect of making the dress look like it is sopping wet. This dress is so heavy that it’s no surprise to see Christopher’s model, Katie, literally marching down the runway with a militant stride, both hands on her hips, kicking the dress out of her way. And then, if the heavy skirt wasn’t enough, there is Christopher’s decision to cover the middle third of the dress in metallic-fabric hydrangea petals! This choice has the unenviable effect of making it look as if the dress has encrustations of barnacles or mussels along the hem. However, Christopher still has one thing going for him: These are all his OWN ideas.
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!
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.
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.