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Laura Bennett Blog
Category: "season 10"
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.