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Episode 13: The Oracle

Posted By CaitlinBergmann 5:45am GMT

The final three: Althea, Carol Hannah and IrinaI guess it’s been a long time since I’ve watched an entire season of “Project Runway,” because I forgot that we don’t go directly to Fashion Week after the last challenge. First, we visit all of the designers at home, with Tim Gunn, and we get a peek at what they’re planning to show during Fashion Week. It’s a crucial point in the design process, because these designers have no outside feedback from anyone else. In my opinion, it still looks like Irina is going to win this one, unless something goes terribly wrong. So far, she’s the only one with a strong, cohesive theme that runs throughout her collection, complete with recurring shapes and design motifs that flesh out her ideas. Oh, and as if that weren’t enough, she always has perfect hair and makeup. (Irina is invincible.) Since we have no runway show in this episode, let’s focus in on what Tim’s critique of these collections says about the dangers that each designer might encounter on the runway. Like the Oracle of Delphi, his feedback is often cryptic, so I will try to demystify some of the things he says.

Tim Gunn cooks up a Southern meal with Carol HannahFirst up, Tim visits Carol Hannah in a suburb of New York. My favorite moment of this segment was when Tim, with "jazz hands," says “I love a kitchen!” It sounds like “I love to cook,” but I think it’s probably something more akin to “I love picking out a stylish countertop polymer!” Similarly, when he speaks of the clothes, we should be aware of what additional message lies just below the surface. About the collection, Tim says, “You’ve done a lot of pushing. You’ve done a lot of risk-taking.” While there is a positive ring to this comment, there is also a subtle note of caution. I think Tim is responding to the broad number of Carol Hannah’s design motifs here. She’s introduced many different types of appliqués and individual embellishments into the collection, but she has neglected to dig in and develop one or two of them into a statement that unifies the clothes as a group. So when Tim says “a lot of pushing,” he probably wants her to stop trying to wow us with another sewing trick, and to focus those techniques into a statement about her personal view of Fall 2009.

Irina fits her garment onto her model Kalyn HemphillIt would be really nice if Irina won, because I don’t remember anyone on “Project Runway” saying that they had a parent in their family that was unsupportive. Irina actually remarks that it would be nice to earn her father’s approval by winning the competition. How many of us have the courage to admit this? For once, we see the reality of what most American parents believe about their children pursuing creative occupations. And this is a girl who made it to Bryant Park! I wonder if the drive to earn this approval is what has made Irina so prolific. In her collection, she has incredible hand-knits, intricate fur construction and even silkscreened textiles, all inspired by the grim specter of the dilapidated roller coasters at Coney Island. It seems that this drive and relentless work ethic is also where Tim’s comment for Irina is aimed. He says that her collection should “not look ‘forced,’ that it should just look as though it’s an easy, natural flow.” This is basically a caution against over-designing. In fact, the only thing I can foresee getting in Irina’s way is if the statement of her collection is too ham-fisted. As the only designer with a cohesive statement, she should be fine, as long as she doesn’t beat the judges over the head with so many design elements that they get exhausted from looking.

A sketch from Althea Harper's Fashion Week final collectionTo Althea, Tim says “Seeing what you do with knits, it makes me want to see more.” No other comment could be more detrimental to Althea at this moment, because Althea doesn’t know about the incredible knits that Irina has been working on. This advice, if heeded incorrectly, has the potential to produce more of the sweater that Althea was accused of copying from Irina during the show. Irina’s reaction upon seeing Althea’s collection seems to suggest that this is exactly what has happened. What Tim meant, in my opinion, is “I’d like to see more of what you can do with knits, as Althea, and not as Irina.” Indeed, his parting comment to Althea is “Just don’t lose sight of who you are, and edit, edit, edit!” It’s a subtle admonishment for Althea to find the focus for her collection from inside of herself, as opposed to the work of the other contestants or the costume designers of science-fiction films. And that’s it.

Tune in next week when the Oracle says, “THIS IS CRAZY!” Indeed, we get to finally see how it all pans out, and I think we’re in for a doozy. Apparently, it looks like all hell breaks loose, complete with more sobbing and vomiting, the ubiquitous 13th looks, a bit of makeup plagiarism and some very frightened interns from Parsons. But of course, that isn’t what’s intriguing me. Personally, I’m tuning in just trying to figure out what Tim really means when he says, “I am about to lose it!”