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You've Come a Long Way, Baby

By Antonia L. Thu., Sep. 15, 2011 ,5:34 pm EDT

It’s the dreaded “everyday woman” challenge. I cringe every season when this one comes up. It’s always a difficult one for the designers. Designing under the time constraints of “PR” are hard enough; now let’s pile on the demands of a client, a less-than-perfect figure to camouflage, and the emotional baggage of a person who isn’t paid to keep her opinions to herself. And no matter how hard a designer works to make a fabulous dress for his larger client, the thinnest girl in a just-average dress will win. That being said, my sympathy is limited. At some point in every designer’s career, they are going to have to learn to deal with clients — real women wearing real sizes. The world isn’t full of six-foot tall girls with 35-inch hips.

My real sympathy lies with the women. Their traumatic experience usually begins with the playground pick. Just like the best athletes, the thin women get chosen first, as the heavy ones stand there in an ever-thinning crowd. Everyone knows exactly what is going down — Heidi, the designers, the producers, the women — but no one acknowledges how wrong the whole thing is. These poor women didn’t sign up for this. Every season when this challenge comes around, I cringe.

Thankfully, there were some improvements to this year’s version of the challenge. The usual painful playground pick was modified. Because men were standing up on the runway being chosen and their wives or girlfriends came sight unseen, the thin-to-fat picking order was avoided. Maybe the hottest guys were chosen first, but I didn’t see anything offensive. The men certainly didn’t seem uncomfortable; they were just too excited to be standing within five feet of Heidi.

Another great improvement was the relatively homogeneous group of women. Some were a bit older than others, but no one looked bigger than a size 6, or 8 at the most; they were all attractive and stylish, and everyone seemed equally comfortable with their bodies. No one stood out as being painfully self-conscious. All in all, the designers couldn’t have hoped for a lovelier group of women to work with. The only designer who had any trouble with his client at all was Olivier, and that was his fault, not hers. His fear of breasts, and panic at the thought of having to veer away from his color palette or jacket-with-skinny-pant silhouette, are what gave him problems, not his client.

 I’m not sure how much the addition of the men added to the design process, but it was cute to see them interact with the designers on behalf of their other half, and I guess the producers couldn’t just ask them to leave after the runway pick. It was interesting to see which ones seemed involved and which ones just wanted to talk about boobs. My favorite was Anthony Ryan’s guy, who wisely used this opportunity to make things right in the universe and replace a lost dress. Anthony kindly complied, and the results were less than stellar, but his client was thrilled. Bert’s client was also clearly happy with her dress. She was practically glowing, and her pure joy surely kept him safe on the runway. Viktor’s guy was all over it. The similarities between Victor’s outfit and the one his client arrived in were uncanny. That couple would win “The Newlywed Game.”

Despite the improvements to the humiliation factor, the thinnest girl still wins in a just-OK dress. Joshua’s dress for his client won not because it was a great dress, but because it wasn’t tacky. Just as Laura pointed out, it was a circle skirt with a bodice. No different than Bert’s dress, really; it could be found in any department store. I found the lace trim to be inexpensive-looking, but overall it was fine, and it was definitely the least tacky of Joshua’s entries this season. That dress in any other season would have won only if it were made of seaweed and licorice during the unconventional challenge. I have a feeling a lot of Anya fans are going to be angry about this outcome.

 It was time for Bryce to go. Even he knew it. The boy has produced nothing good all season. His client was happy, but she was an adorable girl and there was no reason he couldn’t have made her look great. He vows to go back home and sketch until he comes up with a great collection, but I’m not sure there is enough paper in the world.

Notable Quotables: (things my commenters said last week that made me spit coffee on my keyboard)
“I am so tired of watching that tacky DayGlo narcissist ...”
“If his designs were as arch as his eyebrows ...”
“... Please stop having these ‘I may not know fashion but I know what I like’ actresses as judges.”

I will be on Derek and Romaine of Sirius XM Satellite Radio OutQ 108 on Friday, September 16 at 7 pm EST talking about this season of “Project Runway.” You are welcome to call in and participate by calling 866-305-6887. A free online trial of Sirius is available at www.siriusxm.com