The dreaded group challenge. "Project Runway" contestants hate them. It is true that having to reach some kind of consensus amongst a group can slow things down, but if everyone just remains calm and acts reasonably, it is totally doable. The truth is in the real world a designer NEVER works alone. There is always someone putting in their two cents, or dollars, and their wants and needs need to be addressed.
Any buyer from Bergdorf to QVC is going to have input into the product they are ultimately going to offer to their customers. They become responsible for what does or doesn’t sell and tend not to be passive about what they accept. Designers go to them with samples or sketches and the design process really just begins. You may not love the changes they are proposing or think they are the most qualified people to be modifying your designs, but they place the orders and authorize the checks so you better damn well listen.
On a smaller scale, private clients are no better. In fact, I think they are more difficult and require an even higher degree of design flexibility. They may say they trust you to design them the perfect garment, but round about the first fitting their quirks about color, fabric care, design details and body issues will come into play and the idea you started out with may take a total 180. (Beware of brides, they are notoriously the worst.)
Are these designers all planning to start off at the top? Most designers, if they are lucky enough to get a job past the reception desk, start off as part of a design staff. This is a collaborative team that works out the details of a given concept then presents it to someone higher up on the design chain for approval. And like I said, even that higher up then goes on to bow to the desires of the buyer. So get over the "I work alone" crap and do your job.
As far as group challenges go on "PR," this one was not that risky. Each designer had the opportunity to make their own complete outfit, and render themselves safe or at risk to be sent home. All each group really needed to do was coordinate fabrics and make sure there was an even distribution of pants, dresses skirts and tops. Team 6 took somewhat of a risk by mixing up the garments, but the judges just held them accountable for the individual pieces instead of the whole look.
It was odd that Team 6 was chosen as the winning team, then a member of that winning team was sent home, but thank God it happened because Raul needed to go. He was the most "I work alone" of all the designers and it bit him in the ass. Speaking of ass, what was with the stiff lobster bib ruffle thing he tried to pass off as work wear? And that other top? It was a badly crafted throw away, the kind of garment a "PR" designer would throw together as a fill in to put under a jacket to walk the runway. Every other designer on the team was able to put together two real pieces, albeit strangely shouldered fabrigami ones, but fully executed garments with a real idea, not just some badly cut, ill fitting, and poorly constructed tank top. Goodbye Raul. Again. (Did someone just call him Eddie Munster? Hilarious.)
Congrats to Melissa, Ven and Dmitry for bringing it. Their garments looked great on the runway, but even more fantastic in the photos. On notice: Elena, Nathan and Gunnar, especially Gunnar because if the judges had followed precedent and sent home a designer from the losing team, you would certainly have been aufed. Heidi gets offended when the girls aren’t properly displayed.
There are two distinct parts to my blog about this week’s episode, the departure drama, and the Michael Kors challenge and the resulting fashion.Departure Drama
As we sit comfortably on our sofas at home, in familiar surroundings, eating our usual food and un-sleep deprived, it’s easy to question why someone who has been given such a great opportunity would just walk away. “Thousands of designers would love to be in your place” is no comfort when you are near physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. I can’t stress enough how hard it is to be a contestant on “Project Runway.” As hard as it looks on TV, trust me when I tell you it is ten times harder. The fact that someone chooses to walk away, either announced (Kooan) or unannounced (Andrea), doesn’t surprise me at all.
You have to remember that what Heidi refers to as “this week's challenge” is really “this day's challenge.” The shooting schedule for the show doesn’t allow days off in between the challenges. The designers are woken early in the morning, sometimes as early as 4:00 am. If you pay close attention to the morning scenes you will notice that it’s still dark outside. They are taken to Parsons or some other location to be given the details of their next challenge. They shop at Mood then begin sewing sometime in the afternoon. If it is a one-day challenge, they stop sewing at midnight, do interviews (the clips you see throughout the show) then get to bed at about 2:00am. The next morning they usually have two hours to finish, fit, and send their models to the L’Oreal hair and makeup room. The actual runway segment of the show starts filming at about noon and lasts to 8:00 pm. It’s long, hot (no air conditioning that would interfere with the sound) and emotionally draining because you never know if you are the one on the chopping block. When the segment is finished being filmed, the designer change their clothes, and meet Heidi back on the runway to get the wacky hint about the next challenge. Then the entire process starts over. No breaks. No down time. No time to recover. It’s hard.
The fact that Andrea left in the middle of the night doesn’t surprise me at all. As a matter of fact, the only thing that kept me going when I was a contestant was the knowledge that I could walk out and go home at any time. (I could literally walk home. I live seven blocks from the Altlas apartments.) She must have been feeling defeated after two bad reviews in a row.
Kooan’s decision to leave raises a question. Eliminated designers don’t go home. They stay sequestered and actually travel around with the active contestants so that if seen in public, no one can tell who has been eliminated and who is still in the competition. I assume Andrea’s middle of the night slip freed her from the producers grasp. There is no way in hell they could have convinced her to come back just to hang out with the eliminated crowd. I wonder if Kooan was allowed to go home, or held captive in designer limbo. That would suck.The Michael Kors Challenge
I thought the two of the top three garment this week were stellar. Sonjia’s gray jersey dress was chic and fabulous and actually reminded me of the designs that put Donna Karan on the map in the eighties. (Should we be surprised that Sonji looks to the eighties for inspiration?) Donna Karan invented clothes for the professional woman on the go. Her work with draped jersey was memorable and Sonji’s interpretation was spot on. She deserved the win.
Christopher also showed up with an amazing outfit that looked stylish but wearable. The little leather jacket was a great contrast to the draped dress. The proportions were perfect. But the most amazing thing about his dress was that I could see it on a woman in her twenties, or a woman in her sixties and every age in between. Kudos to Christopher.
I am a huge fan of Dmitry and have mentioned several times already this season that he was overlooked, but this week I think he should have been overlooked. Perhaps his gray dress was more impressive in person. I just didn’t see all the fuss being made over his construction. It looked like a basic sheath with one small design detail. The woven detail on the front was ok, just ok. It looked a bit added on to me as opposed to integrated into the design of the dress, and the cut out on the back is getting tired. I think he has more to offer.
Infinitely better than the Heidi challenges of seasons past, this challenge had poor Buffi doomed from the start. What Buffi does is just not what Michael and Nina want to see. She may have had a chance with Rachel Roy’s rock and roll esthetic, but she blew it on the construction. Buffi’s sea foam green shimmer eyeliner will be missed.
Because I participated in this episode I was apprehensive to watch it. Seeing myself on TV just reminds me that I have to do something about my horrible posture, which isn’t going to happen, so I usually just don’t watch. Of course I had no choice this week, I had to watch so I could write this article and as it turned out my fears were unwarranted. I only ended up in about 2.8 seconds of edited footage, and even I can stand myself for that short amount of time. What was painful was how differently things seemed in the edited version of the show than they did in real life. Allow me to dish.
In the episode Kenley seemed sweet, gracious, cooperative and thankful. In real life she was anything but. She sucked the oxygen right out of the room and made it impossible for anyone else to breathe. She was loud. She was obnoxious. She was dressed in some naughty schoolgirl stripper costume while claiming that Heidi is the one who is clueless and has no taste. She complained that the breakfast buffet on the set wasn’t good enough. (I asked her what she would have been served for breakfast back at her apartment in Brooklyn.) She barked repeatedly at the hair and makeup people to make her look like a “modern Grace Kelly” in a completely graceless manner. She was hot. She was cold. She was tired of waiting. It was exhausting.
But craziest of all, Kenley took complete credit for the dress that Ven and Fabio designed and made. She demanded the silhouette. She showed them the length. She instructed them to buy Navy blue silk gazar. I haven’t see a lot of Ven’s work, but I’ve seen quite a bit of Kenley’s and I am pretty sure he doesn’t need her help. I’m just going to say that the editing was kind to her. And that if she had been on my season there would have been a murder in the workroom.
There was also a discrepancy between what I saw happening with my own designers and how things appeared in the episode. Elena, having been in the bottom in the previous challenge was a nervous wreck. She was willing to take on the major share of the garment construction in order to make things right. Buffi seemed to flit around the room, taking it easy and complaining to the other designers how uptight Elena was. In the episode, Buffi came of as lighter in spirit and less worried, but willing to do the work that needed to be done. She actually appeared to be a necessary foil to Elena’s panic.
In real life, the white dress that Gunnar and Kooan made for Irena was a hot mess. The fabric was shiny and cheap looking. The construction was horrid. Seams were puckering all over the place and when Irena asked them to be fixed, they only made them worse. The half moon ass seam was a disaster and it was Irena who suggested they add the chiffon train at the last minute to hide the sewing flaws. The dress fit her terribly. It was extremely tight and virtually see-through. The hem was way too short and it was crooked. Those designers are lucky that Irena has a rocking curvy body and would look good in a potato sack because that dress was a disaster. They are also lucky that Heidi likes tight and shiny. When the dress ended up in the top it was like, “What just happened?”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, April looked awesome in the silver silk chiffon dress made by Dmitry and Melissa. It was well tailored and moved beautifully on the runway. The detail on the back was stunning, just the type of dress you could see on an actress doing the over-the-shoulder photo pose. I was surprised it didn’t end up in the top. (April and I wanted to trade dresses! She preferred my goth bridal gown.)
The part of the show that did come off exactly as it happened in real life was how bad Christopher and Andrea’ s and Raul and Alicia’s dresses were. Anya wasn’t happy with the brown gown, but she remained relatively easy going about it. Mila was not a happy camper with the results of her designer’s efforts. She seemed to take the poor outcome of the gown personally. The dress, as simple as the design was, looked like a child with absolutely no sewing experience made it. There were no elements to the design that were difficult to execute. There was no excuse for that mess. I’m not sure how the judges decided to send Raul home over Alicia, because in my opinion, they both needed to go.
The unconventional challenge is a perennial favorite of every "Project Runway" season. It always shows up early in the season and in a kind of baptism by fire it forces the designers to get out of their comfort zone and get creative. Over the years, whether it is hardware or groceries, flowers or garbage, the use of out of the box materials produces spectacular successes and phenomenal failures.
This challenge tends to produce garments that fall into two categories. The first type are the ones where the designer has successfully transformed the materials beyond recognition and created a surprisingly wearable looking garment. They always require a close second look to even figure out what the designer used. Techniques such as weaving, folding, piecing and altering any items used for embellishment achieves this. The main body of these garment is usually made of found materials, unlike the second type, which is essentially a muslin garment completely covered in found objects that is totally dependent on a glue gun.
I prefer the first type, but both types can be successful. Last season, Oliver had type one made of a dog bed, and Anthony Ryan had the second type, a little muslin dress completely covered with a pattern of birdseed. After ten seasons of unconventional challenges, the judges seem to prefer the second type and their bias put some garments in the top that I feel shouldn’t have been there, while some great ones were overlooked.
We can all agree that Ven is one of the designers to watch this season. His dress, a definite type two, was a huge success and deserved the win. The silhouette was flattering and chic, but had great graphic interest. His stained glass idea was clear and flawlessly executed. Crushing the rock candy altered it just enough to render it unrecognizable. The dress was flattering, and the model was able to move, not always an easy feat when pounds of candy and a glue gun are involved. And thanks to his color palette we learned from Nina that pastels are "on trend " for whatever that information is worth.
As right as it was for Ven’s creation to be in the top three, the other two garments in the top just didn’t deserve to be there.
Sonji is adorable. Her personal style, completely entrenched in the eighties right down to the jewelry, is likable. She has great sewing skills and her dress was executed well, but I just didn’t get it. I thought the shape was goofy. I don’t know anyone who wants to wear a jelly bean/gummi shark dress with a butt flap. Admittedly, the color scheme was well thought out and the candy was glued on well, but it was obviously candy, unaltered and completely recognizable. The hat she added was just plain bad judgment.
Gunnar is not adorable. I would say he is one of the most annoying contestants ever to be on any season of "Project Runway." I would take Santino, Kenley and Josh all in place of just Gunnar. This Christopher vs. Gunnar war is not amusing and better fade out fast or I am not going to be a happy viewer. Even if I did like Gunnar, whom I don’t, I don’t believe his garment should have been in the top. The muslin dress was just a sheath with a peplum tacked on at the waist. A Peplum? Really? Who wears that? I was not impressed with his checkerboard Twizzler pattern even if it did match his checkerboard hair. It just looked like exactly what it was, glued on cut Twizzlers. And they were falling off. Did Heidi say she would wear that? Yes, when she isn’t wearing snake print pajamas.
I would easily have replaced Sonji and Gunnar’s entries with Dmitri or Christopher’s. Dmitry’s dress was not made of muslin provided by the producers. The fabric was cut from a Dylan’s Candy Bar t-shirts purchased at the store. You had to look not twice, but four times to see that the "beading" was not done with actual beads, but candy. Christopher’s dress was of the muslin covered in candy school, but the dress was tasteful and the candy was unrecognizable. I’m still not even sure if it is candy.
Buffi skirted by this week but her taste issues are going to get her in trouble down the line. Heidi likes short, tight and shiny, but not tacky. Nina and Michael can’t tolerate tacky. Personally I think Buffi is doomed because she simply doesn’t do what these judges want. I’m not as worried about Elena. Her pasta football player was a disaster, but she does have a very definite aesthetic and she does what she does very well. This week was just a glitch. Lanti was a weak link and had to go. For the second week in a row she couldn’t handle the constraints of competing on "Project Runway." I’ve always said it takes much more than being a good designer to win "PR." Time is short, fatigue is long and the challenges get tougher and tougher. She clearly didn’t have what it takes.
For better or worse, "Project Runway" has come a long way. Back in my day we didn't have cash prizes for winning individual challenges, fancy electronic drawing pads, or big budgets to shop with; we didn't even have reasonable amounts of money for fabric. When one contestant in my season asked for a cup of coffee from Starbucks, we were told name-brand coffee wasn't in the budget. Despite all of these changes, I have enjoyed watching every season and I have never been angry or jealous. Until now.
This season's finalists have been given an advantage that no other season of contestants have seen the likes of — a serious game-changing advantage. They were able to show a portion of their collections to the judges, get feedback, and then were given the chance to actually do something about it! Getting to go to Mood with $500 and given two days to make changes is enormous.
In past seasons, contestants showed portions of their collection when one designer was up for elimination, and feedback was given by the judges, but the non-eliminated designers went straight to the runway with no time, shopping trips or additional money to implement any changes based on the feedback.
When you prepare to present your work to the judges, you have no idea how they will react. You can absolutely love something and feel confident, but find yourself slammed and in the bottom. And vice versa — you can be extremely nervous about work you feel is inferior, and then find yourself winning the challenge. Even Tim doesn't know. For example, his advice to Viktor was the polar opposite of what the judges told him. Tim advised Viktor to pump things up, and the judges told him to tone it down. Getting a clue from the judges about how they feel is huge, especially if you can act on it. Adding or deleting just two garments can fix a problem the judges have with your work and be the difference between $100K and nada.
Keep your HP EliteBook 2760p Tablet PC and your name-brand coffee. This makes me jealous.
As for the final collections, first up was Kimberly. She claims to be filling a void and offering the urban girl a glamorous upgrade, but I don't see where there is no one out there upgrading the urbanite. Isn't that exactly what J.Lo and P Diddy do? And do well? I did love her ivory pants and blouse and her long black sparkling finale gown, but otherwise I find her color palette unwearable and those earrings, whether Tim likes them or not, cheap.
I haven't been a great fan of Joshua, but his collection was better than I expected. I have decided that it isn't his clothes that I dislike; it's his color palette (and his personality). When he designs in more sophisticated colors than lime green and purple, his clothes are fine. I especially liked his pieces of plastic and neoprene. Those pieces did look forward, and part of their success was the muted colors. As for those lime-green laced-up bike shorts with the hip-widening graphic details, I want to see Nina feature those in Marie Claire and then get fired.
I still believe that when it comes to creative silhouette, construction, quality of fabrics, taste and variety, Viktor is my winner. I didn't see his black pieces as missed opportunities, and despite what Heidi thinks, nothing in his collection looked cheap. His prints were beyond fabulous, creatively used and tasteful — and they were created by him, not purchased pre-designed off the shelf. They actually reminded me of Ralph Rucci, my personal fashion god. His tailored pieces were innovative and flawlessly made. I didn't hear Nina say she wanted to wear any of Joshua's or Anya's pieces. Just sayin'.
Last up was our winner, Anya, who, by the way, took the best advantage of the two-day turnaround opportunity. Her collection was a point of view we've seen before on "Project Runway." It was a total repeat of the work that Uli did in Season 3, just not as well made. Even Uli had the sense to only send two flowing dresses out of 12 down the final runway. She surprised the judges with a series of chic, urban leather and suede pieces that had her easy vibe but were wearable after vacation. Yes, Anya's show was pleasant to watch, and "easy" was the first word that came to my mind, but it was expected, one-note and not well crafted — all reasons to be one of the losing collections in past seasons.
The effects of my Viktor Kool-Aid haven't worn off, but I'm fine with Anya's win. I do think she is smart and talented, and she does have a clientele. It is heartwarming the way her entire country was rooting for her, and I can only imagine how much fun it is for the people of Trinidad and Tobago to be getting some attention on the international fashion scene. The only problem with Anya's win is that now I feel obligated to view her "tape." Link, anyone?
I am excited to watch the newest "Project Runway" baby, "Project Accessory." So excited, in fact, that I plan to convert the winning accessory each week into a do-it-yourself project. Visit the Project Accessory Blog for directions, suggestions and resources so you can replicate the look of each week's winner.
It’s the home visit episode. My second favorite episode of the year, topped only by the unconventional challenge. I love to see not only the direction the designers are taking, but I love seeing where they live and I especially love seeing how they react to Tim Gunn on their turf. Babies, boyfriends, trampolines and turtle poop, it is always a blast. You can learn so much about a person when you visit them at home.
On Kimberly’s home visit, we learn that her collection is about transforming the urban Brooklyn girl. She didn’t say what she is transforming this girl into, but I can only guess the transformation is from urban Brooklyn to suburban Maryland, because her collection is full of way suburban bright colors and large gold earrings from the eighties. Kimberly says she lives in Brooklyn, but it looks like Maryland to me.
Next we go to Anya’s, where we learn that her collection, or lack thereof, is inspired by the islands and not a single viewer from New York to Uzbekistan is surprised. She has photos of the ocean, lagoons, the sky, and palm fronds. And that’s about it — some fabric, but no clothes. We also learn that losing her brother has ignited her love of fashion.
At Viktor’s home visit we learn that he was inspired by the death anniversary of his brother at Guadalajara, Mexico. Photographs from the trip became the fabrics for his collection. The fabrics are so awesome that I don’t really care where the inspiration came from. The garments themselves look awesome, too. Viktor doesn’t really need Tim’s critique.
Joshua, on the other hand, needs Tim’s critique like a suburban Maryland girl needs big gold earrings. He is working with a horrid color palette, and some of the most frightening fabrics I have ever seen hanging on one garment rack. One by one, Tim convinces him to drop them, and props to Josh, he responds.
We knew about Kimberly losing her mother, and god knows we know of Josh’s loss, so basically what we have learned from all of these home visits is that you can’t become a contestant on "Project Runway" and possibly expect to make it to the final four unless you have a dead relative.
The designers return to New York and move into their swank hotel penthouse. In a "Long Island Medium" moment, Joshua mistakes a breeze on the terrace for his mother. The designers pack up their garment bags and their assorted spirits and go to the Piperlime workroom to unveil their collections. Tim comes in to announce that they will be showing three pieces to the judges from which they will decide who will move forward, and he begins his final critiques wit the designers.
Viktor is fine; he doesn’t need Tim’s help. Kimberly is bouncing off the walls and can’t be helped. Anya’s critique doesn’t go well. She is broken because she designed what she designs and won’t surprise the judges. Joshua wins most improved. Seriously, those black and gray neoprene pieces are amazing — so cool and modern. That jacket is amazing. Joshua, please, dump the purple, hot pink, lime green, and that awful vintage fabric that Tim told you to lose that I see hanging on your garment rack, and do an entire collection of these black and gray pieces. Please.
It’s on to the runway, where Joshua is moved on to Fashion Week. I’m telling you, it was the black and gray jacket, once the judges see the other stuff their eyeballs may start to bleed. That jacket was so good, it made the judges forgive the schizophrenic ass-baring gown/catsuit. Viktor is in a bit of trouble because he followed Tim’s advice and put wow-pieces under wow-pieces but the judges want simple pieces under wow-pieces. These are luxury problems and he, too, is moved forward to Fashion Week.
Kimberly and Anya are left on the runway. The judges weren’t happy with either of their collections, but what the hell, let's all go forward. The queen is not amused.
So whether you are drinking the Viktor Kool-Aid or the Anya rum punch (I stole that from a commenter!) or what ever they drink in Queens and Brooklyn/Maryland, everyone’s happy. It’s on to Fashion Week.
Finally! A challenge that allows the designers to design! Three garments, two days, 500 dollars and an assistant! It’s so reasonable. No birds, no stilts and no sheepdogs, just a three-piece mini collection based on the inspiration of their choice; a completely appropriate challenge to choose the designers who will “return to New York with collections.” Notice that Heidi didn’t say “return with collections for Fashion Week,” which means we can look forward to an elimination upon their return, but in a season where jacking the designers around has been the name of the game, this challenge seems refreshingly straightforward.
Another big change in this episode is the queen of mean himself, Joshua. Instead of the straight-out aggressive Joshua, we are treated to the passive-aggressive Joshua, who instead of confronting designers to their faces, chooses to talk about them behind their backs — and by “them” I mean Anya. He still has a problem with her sewing skills and the fact that jackets are not in her repertoire, and he’s not afraid to let Viktor know it. Oddly enough, when asked who should join him at Fashion Week, Joshua chose Viktor and Anya. (?!?) The one thing we have learned this season is that Anya has laser focus and she has her eye on the prize. She may be a bit unaccustomed to not being loved by all, but she didn’t let Joshua trip her up, and girlfriend brought her A-game.
I would venture to say that Anya’s mini collection was the only slam-dunk on the runway. All three pieces were modern and effortlessly chic — nothing fussy or overworked. Asymmetry was the thread that held them all together — undoubtedly with some of Bert’s construction skills. There was a lot of talk about how complicated the ivory dress was, and how it needed instructions, but it didn’t come off that way at all. Yes, you had to have beautiful coloring, be six feet tall and be thin as a rail for the dress to work, but her model was all of those and looked fabulous in the dress. The short black dress was flawless, and the rust-colored wrap pants were a clever twist on the two dresses. I haven’t been drinking the Anya Kool-Aid all season, and I have questioned many of her wins, but this week she definitely deserved the first slot in the finals.
Next to move on up was Viktor. (It’s the Viktor Kool-Aid I’ve been drinking this season.) I find his designs to be modern and classic and elegant and sexy, all at the same time — not to mention his superb construction and craftsmanship. I also think his designs appeal to women of varying ages; I can see his pieces being worn by both mothers and daughters. All that said, while there was nothing inherently wrong with his mini collection, there was no wow factor either. It was all certainly done in great taste, and the fabric choice that represented the city skyline was brilliant, but there was no there there. Luckily for Viktor, the other designer didn’t bring it, so his second slot in the finals was secured.
This is where I’m glad I wasn’t sitting in one of those judge’s chairs. The last three designers were completely equal, in my opinion. If I had to choose which two would stay and which one to send home, based solely on the garments on the runway for this challenge only, I would be hard pressed. They each had exactly two duds and one decent piece.
Joshua’s winner was his white dress with the net top. I wasn’t crazy about the plastic netting he chose; the edges didn’t finish well, and on a garment this simple, flawless construction is mandatory. It was nice enough and it was clean-lined, but things went south from there. I’m not sure why Joshua keeps dragging out that circle skirt, because it always comes off as costumey. It could only be worse if black felt poodles were appliquéd on. This week’s version was especially horrendous. The length, the layered netting, and topping it off with the studded striped tank just added insult to injury. Even he admitted that the pieces didn’t work together. Only slightly better was his one-shoulder Lurex gown. I liked the idea of a gown layered over a tank, but not that gown in that fabric with that plastic belt, and not that tank. Despite the fact that he needs to edit (translation: he has bad taste), the judges like the idea that he has ideas, and he moves forward.
Kimberly’s silver cocktail dress was her success. It was a bit heavy-looking, probably due to the fabric, but the diagonal draping was interesting and, I would imagine, flattering on women who are not model-sized, and the proportions were spot-on. Her other two pieces, not so much. The coat didn’t immediately remind me of a Dutch exchange student like it did Heidi, but it did come off as very pedestrian-looking, and the color was unfortunate. The sculpted silver skirt was a valid attempt at a unique silhouette, but it just didn’t get there. For her dress Kimberly earns 1 point, enough for her to make it to the next round.
Laura Kathleen had only her graphic circle gown between her and the auf. I thought the design was strong, and as guest judge Zoe Saldana pointed out, the circles were gracefully placed. I think that this gown was potentially the best piece in all three of the remaining designers’ mini collections. If it had been executed with better craftsmanship, Laura would be in the finals and Kimberly would be packing up her puffy metallic brocade, but the poor fit and the weak construction (the overlay circle fabric didn’t lay properly on the lining) were just too distracting. Laura is sent packing after getting so close. (She may have the last laugh. I hear her decoy collection at Lincoln Center was one of the strongest.)
Next episode, home visits! Who doesn’t love seeing where everyone lives?
1. I torture thee with $20,000.
We never had cash prizes for individual challenges back in my day, so I can't say for sure, but I would venture to bet that the added incentive of instant money would add some stress to an already stressful, exhausting competition. At this point in the game Lincoln Center, $100,000, and an HP technology suite are still far enough off to feel a bit intangible, while cash on the table is a whole different story. Joshua was definitely tortured, and seemed to feel that the prize was based on financial need.
2. I torture thee by placing the designers in pairs.
In this episode's first appearance of the dreaded button bag, Tim announces that the designers will be placed in pairs and randomly draws buttons to form the teams. For these designers, this defines torture. This season has had more team challenges than any I can remember, and the inability for said teams to work together harmoniously has been the source of much distasteful drama. This late in the competition, the thought of being eliminated due to a bad team dynamic is a frustrating and frightening prospect.
3. I torture thee by assigning your teammate.
Not only is participating in another team challenge a major source of stress, but the fact that the designers were not able to choose their teammate just adds insult to injury. In most challenges designers get to choose who they work with. It's true that the all-powerful button determines the order that they get to choose, and some get stuck with the last Bert standing, but there is some degree of hope that your destiny is not completely in the hands of fate. When it comes to the button bag, all hope is lost.
4. I torture thee by pairing Joshua with Bert.
Teaming Joshua together with Bert is nothing short of sending the both of them to Dante's special place in hell. Bad button karma or producer intervention? We viewers will never know. What we do know is that when Tim announced the two names together, it was like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard.
5. I torture thee by assigning inspiration.
The damn button bag makes yet another appearance (by now it must have a cringe-inducing Pavlovian effect on the designers) and the designer pairs are in turn paired with a bird. Designing a garment based on a non-fashion inspiration is not always easy. Normally on "Project Runway," designers get to choose their own inspiration by driving around in a golf cart or traversing the city with a camera. You see something that grabs you and ideas for a translation start flowing. But having an inspiration assigned is doubly difficult, because you didn't choose the starting point and those ideas just may not start flowing. Bert has the clearest problem with his assigned avian, clearly an inspiration he would not have gravitated toward on his own.
6. I torture thee by pitting you against each other.
Oh. Did you think you were working together? No, actually you will be competing against each other. Happy with your partner? Sorry. He/she has just become your worst enemy. Even if the two of you have the best garments on the runway, one of you will be in the bottom and at risk of being sent home.
7. I torture thee by doubling your workload.
Tim enters the workroom (the designers must be wary of the sight of him by now) and announces to the designers that they now are responsible for a second look. Imagine having a certain amount of time to do a designated amount of work. You plan and budget your time accordingly. Suddenly you find out that you are expected to do double the amount of work in the same allotted amount of time. You may be forced to scale back on an ambitious design, or scrap it altogether in order to have time to make two.
8. I torture thee by making you choose which design to scrap.
Tim enters the workroom again to make a special announcement. I'm not sure why the designers don't start hurling scissors at him. I suspect that the only reason they don't is because they think he couldn't possibly be there to deliver yet another twist. They are wrong. With just two hours to go until the runway, he informs the designers that they will only be showing one look, and they now have to decide which to finish and which to scrap. At first thought this may seem like a gift, but it's not. The original designs were potentially compromised to make time for a second one. Which one should they choose? Like children, all designs have positive and negative features. Just because you like one better than the other, it doesn't mean the judges will. It's a difficult decision to make when you are already at the end of your rope.
I get the feeling that the producers worked extra hard to jack around the designers in this episode. A twist here and there is expected, but this amount struck me as just plain mean.
In one case their plan backfired. Every twist seemed to work in Joshua's favor. He was released from working on a team with Bert, he definitely did his best look all season when he was forced to make the orange dress, and God help him, being able to scrap the green and yellow craft project was a gift.
I am going to go completely out on a limb here and say that I think Joshua deserved the win. I was not impressed with Anya's black structured dress. "Not what you usually do" is not good enough for me. The dress appeared puckered and not well made, I hated the bird-beak shoulders, and it was merely a bad version of the dress Viktor made in the Nina Garcia challenge.
Hang in there, "PR" fans! I was in L.A. filming the After Show and I heard from several sources that the fashions in the upcoming "Project Runway All Stars" are fantastic! God knows we could all use a fashion boost right now.
As I was watching the runway portion of this episode, I was thinking, "I don't even want to hear about anyone but Viktor winning this episode." He had it in the bag. Everything was right: the inspiration, the execution and the elusive modernization.
Viktor's inspiration was clearly from the work of Yves Saint Laurent, who in the late sixties marked a revolution in fashion that introduced the androgynous fashions of the seventies. First in 1966 when he showed the tuxedo for women, Le Smoking, then in 1968 with his African-inspired Safari Collection. No other single designer had more influence on the next 10 years in fashion, and Viktor wisely went right to the source. (Bert's reference to Studio 54 was a close second.)
Viktor's execution was, simply stated, impressive. I have a knack for putting a garment together, but even I would have trouble pulling off the construction of a jacket like that in such a short time frame. I loved the authentic safari details of the vented back and pockets. These are time-consuming fine points that were pulled off flawlessly. The fit and cut of both the jacket and the pants were skillful.
Not only were Viktor's references and construction enough to earn him the win, but also the most difficult element of all, the modernization, was spot-on. Emulating the past is easy; taking it to the present requires creativity. From the rough edges on the hem and lapel to the updated color palette (even YSL did his safari jackets in the traditional khaki), nothing about this outfit felt retro. The snakeskin separates were the icing on the cake. They were fresh and modern; I loved the detail of adding the black sleeve to the T-shirt. These small decisions make the difference between "clothes" and "fashion."
True, Viktor may have offended some viewers when he didn't want to help Anya with fabric donations because "this is a competition," but unlike some contestants, who create drama and then don't deliver (can you say J O S H U A?), the delivery of Viktor's garments absolved him of all sins in my mind, an example of good fashion overcoming drama. As I've said before, on "Project Runway" the drama is tolerable when we get our fabulous fashion.
Of course, none of the judges picked up the red phone to the Laura Hotline to get my opinion, and without me they decided to give the win to Anya, apparently impressed by her $11.50 pants and yet another print jumpsuit, which were both too full to be flattering on anyone but a model. Maybe all the Piperlime shoppers are models. Whatever.
Trust me when I tell you that the Anya-over-Viktor win isn't the thing that pissed me off the most about this episode. In what universe really, IN WHAT UNIVERSE were Joshua's optical-illusion ass-widening plaid pants and built-in lobster-bib blouse better than Anthony Ryan's maxi dress? A maxi dress that looked damn similar to Anya's winning maxi dress. Of all the designers ever to be on "PR," only Mondo has successfully been able to pull off pants in such a bold plaid, and you, my friend, are no Mondo. How did Anthony Ryan get sent home when Joshua showed what was nothing more than a clown costume?
This season the judges have been guilty numerous times of making runway decisions based on a designer's entire body of work instead of the garment in front of them at the moment, and this was clearly a glaring example of the practice a practice that is against the premise of "Project Runway." How many times have we heard Heidi utter the now iconic phrase, "In Fashion, one day you're in, and the next day you're out." I understand the tendency to let a talented kid slide for one mistake. When my son, generally a hardworking student, brought home a science quiz with a less than stellar grade, I let it slide and saw it as a bump in the road, but if this is the way "Project Runway" is going to work, Heidi's catch phrase has got to change.
In Fashion, one day you're in, and the next day you're out unless we like you.
The Good News: The Challenge, the Music and the Band Members
I really liked this challenge. I thought it was original, but not in a cheesy for-the-first-time-in-“Project-Runway”-history kind of way. I also thought it was appropriate. Designers, usually working together with stylists, often help create and convey the image of the client they are working with.
The team aspect of this challenge made sense and incurred none of the usual drama. It wasn't really a team challenge; it only required enough cooperation for each team to assign musicians to designers, but it was necessary. They could not have four outfits for one band member and none for another.
The band was great. They seemed to go along with the entire design process willingly and without the tiniest hint of divadom. I even liked their music. I could see them developing into an Allman Brothers kind of band, with their down-home, beer-drinking Southern rock. Most of all, they couldn't have been kinder or more tolerant about wearing bad, bad clothes.
The Bad News: The Designs
Here we go again. I am running out of ways to say these designers are less than impressive. Week after week I sound like a broken record. I get that menswear is not most of these designers' usual thing, but come on, costume design isn't their usual thing either, and they seemed to carry that off quite well.
Across the board the '70s hippie-rock thing was taken literally. No nuance, subtlety or modernization of the theme, with the possible exception of Joshua's tacky exposed crotch zipper, a design move right up there with bubble hems both recent trends that are overdue to be ushered out.
Even Viktor's faux-leather jacket and jeans, clearly the best outfit on the runway, featured no updated elements. Braided fringe and distressed jeans? Color me not surprised. Don't get me wrong he totally deserved the win, but again only because it was acceptable work on a runway filled with crap, and fringed crap at that. I never heard a single one of the musicians utter the word “fringe.” How did we end up with so much? This is actually the third week in a row Viktor deserved to win
And speaking of crap, Laura's tie-dye technique made her musician look like he had been shot by a concertgoer gone postal because the beer line was too long. I can't even believe it was in the top.
I liked Bert's pants, but again, they were completely retro, nothing modern about them at all, and the draped sweater he made to go with them was too feminine. I did like the tie-dye effect on the back, but something similar on the front might have made more sense. Just an idea.
Fan favorite Anya's Hiawatha tunic was hideous. It wasn't even fit for a high school performance of “Hair”; it was suited for a grade school performance. She gets a pass because it is the first all-out hideous thing she has sent out all season. Even worse was Kimberly's version of the tunic. Girlfriend is lucky the judges don't make decisions based on the outfit in front of them this season, but take the designer's entire body of work into account, because though I wasn't crazy about Olivier's foray into print and his WTF choice of toile, Kimberly's buttoned bowling shirt was hideous. It looked like a rejected Dunkin Donuts uniform.
At this point in the competition I am ready to declare that Viktor is my choice for the win, but he still needs to clarify his point of view. Skill and taste can get you far, but without a clear point of view, anyone can sneak up on you and snag the win.
Notable Quotables (because sometimes my commenters say it better than I)
“Who the heck is Malin Akerman…?”
“I'm sure [Laura] will have a long and happy career designing for the Real Housewives of Atlanta.”