Nina Garcia Blog
Category: "Gordana Gehlhausen"
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, we got an example of why "Project Runway" is such amazing television when it succeeds. When this happens, we are reminded of the incredible value of creativity in our society, and also the fact that fashion is not just a commercial and aesthetic construct of class division, but rather a transformative practical art. And why am I so agog this week? Because Gordana Gehlhausen’s talent (see Gordana's design in Rate the Runway) has finally been recognized and rewarded for excellence. But more on that later. This week we had a truly inventive challenge:
"Take the wedding dresses of these women who have recently been divorced, and transform them into something that celebrates the next season of their lives."
As challenges go, I have to say that this was one that I applaud overwhelmingly. I am always just a little dismayed whenever young women say to me, "Oh I loved your work on 'Project Runway,' and when I get married, you are totally designing my dress!" I’m always flattered. Indeed, I know that what they are trying to say is that they want me to design the most important dress of their lives, but I always tell them that they don’t have to wait until they are engaged to have clothes custom-designed for them. Fashion can enhance every significant life event. I always say, "Call me for graduation day, or the day you win an election, or how about in a time when you really just need to feel special again?" When you think of it, isn’t the day you stop being married a more appropriate time for fashion than the day you begin?
So, yes, it was a great challenge, and we witnessed some truly incredible creative problem-solving on the part of the designers. Shirin had an insurmountable task on many levels. Her divorcee requested something reminiscent of Cher's "Half-Breed" dress, complete with peacock feathers, and the wedding dress that came with her not only had very little yardage, but was constructed out of an un-dyeable polyester. Ever a clever thinker, Shirin realized that she could create surface details and change the appearance of the old dress, by sewing geometric patterns of contrasting thread along the front. "The dream team" suffered this week, with Christopher getting bruised for creating a dress that suggested a roll of bubble wrap, and Epperson going home for creating a "Heidi’s Homeland" dirndl. Note to future designers: She left Germany to come live in America. "Tyrolean chic" never flies on this show.
But Gordana! What an amazing job she did this week! Her client was thrilled with the final product, and she won for the first time in this whole competition. I've been very impressed with her this whole season, because she has very strong construction techniques and she seems to apply them in inventive ways. Also, her ideas seem to get incorporated a lot by of the other designers. It was very impressive in the newspaper episode that she succeeded in creating a dress that didn't use a muslin under-structure. After Tim's adulation during his visit, it was clear that her technique of repetitive folding was showing up in many of the other dresses. It’s hard to tell who started the macrame trend in the room, but Gordana certainly is the only designer who might have been around when the technique was popular the first time, in the Seventies. The dress that she created this week is not only well-constructed and tailored to the body of her client, but her choice to sew together frayed strips of acetate reworks a construction trend from the 18th century in a new way, for today.Again you can see that it’s a compelling idea, because Logan adopted it for the ruffles on the vest of his ensemble this week.
Most importantly, Gordana is a really generous person, and winning this challenge couldn't have been more appropriate. Like these other women, yes, she had been married before, but more significantly, like them, she has come to "Project Runway" to launch a new season of her life. Clearly someone familiar with using her skills toward other people's ends, it is exciting to see her get the opportunity to make clothes that come from her own singular vision. As so many women do, Gordana has had to sacrifice her own dreams for the sake of her family, and it's heartbreaking to see her cry this week when she can't get through to her children on the telephone. However, when she wins the challenge, and remarks that at last people see that she is a designer, and not just a dressmaker, it’s very moving. We not only get the chance to see her transform someone else's life through fashion, but we also get to see fashion transform her. It is all work well done, and I think that she’s a serious contender for the final three. So congratulations, Gordana! Enjoy the last of the immunity, and maybe we'll "see you in Bryant Park."