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Nina Garcia Blog
Category: "Shirin Askari"
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.
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."