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Nina Garcia Blog
Category: "Carola Hannah Whitfield"
At the moment of this posting I, like the rest of you, do not know who this year’s winner of “Project Runway” Season 6 finale is. In order to preserve the identity of this season’s winner, we bloggers are capturing our impressions, having seen all three collections, but without having seen Heidi make her final pronouncement. However, I must say, no matter what the judges decide, I certainly have a favorite!
. . . And that would have to be Dame Suzy Menkes! What an incredible coup for “Project Runway” to have the head reporter and fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune judging the final episode of the show! Her participation is not only a first, but a significant indication of the influence that “Project Runway” has had on the fashion world. Although we’ve yet to see any “Project Runway” alumnus or alumna covered by style.com or Vogue magazine, if the preeminent voice of fashion journalism shows up to judge this little TV show, it suggests that the work being done here has truly begun to achieve some important recognition.
Given this circumstance, Michael Kors, Nina Garcia and Heidi Klum, in my opinion, would have to be out of their minds if they didn’t award the prize money, fashion spread and Parisian vacation to Irina Shabayeva! This show began as a forum through which we might attempt to identify the next great voices in American fashion design. With this intention in mind, it is hard to believe that anyone in the finale this season even comes close to Irina’s qualifications for this distinction. To begin with, she has a uniquely American story. As an immigrant, she is a living example of what we used to believe was possible in America through focused determination and hard work. These days, even though it seems that “hard work” still requires the added push of national television exposure, Irina stands out as someone who has learned that she must make her own fortune in “the land of opportunity.”
That being said, this is exactly what she delivers to Bryant Park. Unlike the other two designers, Irina explains her point of view at the beginning of her collection. It’s a small distinction that frequently goes unnoticed on “Project Runway.” So often in the finale episodes, the designers come out on the runway, thank their families, talk about the hard work that went into the collection, and then express their hopes that the audience and the judges will like it. Irina, conversely, talks about her point of view. To help us out, she allows the viewers to accompany her in her particular fashion journey, by explaining what she was thinking about and how she imagines the clothes functioning in our lives.
And the best part of it all is that it works. Unlike the other collections, Irina is able to identify one particular central theme, and then present several consecutive manifestations of that theme in evolving variation. We saw her particular brand of “urban protection” played out in numerous ways. There were subtle “Roman legionnaire” references suggested by the felt cloches on the models. There were enormous blanket sweaters designed to luxuriously enfold the wearer and keep any New Yorker warm in the most chilling wind. Yet these sweaters, and all of her outerwear, are simple enough to be the only garments one must discard upon entering a climate-controlled environment. There were enormous bags with chunky metal chains (see photo below) suitable to hold everything a woman might need, in order to be gone from home all day without having the luxury of leaving things in the trunk of a car. And finally, her treatment of the fabrics in her collection evoked the shiny, geometric exoskeletons of insects, but also the shapes of medieval armor. All of these were different approaches to the idea of “protection,” but they were strongly linked through the interlocking use of material, color and construction details.
Finally, Irina deserves to win because her work is current. If you recall, our finalist designers were designing and constructing these clothes in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. Anticipating that these were clothes that would have ideally hit stores right now, in the fall of 2009, Irina somehow managed to capture the severity and gravity of these present times without plunging into a maudlin, Gothic caricature of doom. Through design, she was able to postulate what people might want to buy, right now, given our insatiable thirst for luxury, and the hard financial times that make exhibiting it very unpopular. This, in my opinion, is perhaps the best answer to Nina’s critique of her decision to use an all-black color scheme. A monochromatic color story deflects attention and has got to be the most emphatic endorsement of the idea that “bling is dead.”
So congratulations, Irina! You have done fine work, regardless of whether or not you win the prize. [Editor’s note: Good call, Andrae … Irina won!] There is great satisfaction in knowing that you have set an aesthetic goal for yourself and reached it, and you certainly have. Indeed, if you don’t win (and I think you do), remember that awards are frequently an indication of the fact that you’ve been doing the right thing for a very long time. Keep up the good work!
I 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.
First 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.
It 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.
To 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!”