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Mila Hermanovski Blog

Five For the Road

By laurareineke Fri., Oct. 4, 2013 ,4:00 pm EDT

I know L'Oreal typically sponsors the avant-garde challenge, but come on! I find this sponsored challenge pattern to be really tired now. I can barely recall an episode this season that hasn't been sponsored. It has become very distracting. I understand that the network makes money from advertising, but it is so in-your-face this season, and all I keep thinking is that if the execs are going to shamelessly "sell out," they could at least make part of the sponsorship package a cash prize for the challenge's winning designer. You know, like some other competition shows do. Contrary to popular belief, we Project Runway designers don't get paid a penny to compete on the show (people are always shocked to hear this; it's a question Iʼve been asked many times), and honestly it never really pays us anything back post-show either, except to hear that we've inspired people (which is nice and all but it doesnʼt pay the bills or help our businesses get off the ground).

This avant-garde challenge for the top 5 designers is meant to determine who goes to New York Fashion Week. It reminds me SO much of the one I had at this point in my season. It's the same exact formula. I recall being less than thrilled to hear that we were assigned to be inspired by the circus, because frankly I don't find the circus to be all that inspiring to my particular aesthetic. "Butterflies" is also quite specific, but perhaps a bit more open to interpretation as there are many types of butterfly, in a variety of colors. Nevertheless, I find it restricting to be told what my inspiration must be as a designer. I think for some designers, it resonates, and for others, it does not. When the inspiration does not resonate for the designer, it is difficult to really "spread your wings" creatively. I can't help but (again) see this "butterfly inspiration" as a direct result of the L'Oreal marketing strategy, to promote the new Butterfly Mascara. So basically the designers become pawns for L'Oreal and don't see a penny!

I guess I'm cranky because I've been so sleep deprived from finishing a new collection. Sorry! :)

Anyway, as if it isn't enough to create a truly "inspired" avant-garde look in two days, after the designers have made it this far (and trust me, they are just as exhausted as I feel right now, if not more so, from the pressure of being in the "bubble"), there has to be another twist: to rework an eliminated look. While I think this particular challenge is interesting, it kind of pissed me off that the producers felt the need to add this twist right now. Honestly it seemed gratuitous and a total plug for Justin. The whole Justin-selecting-his-previously-eliminated-design, after getting the Tim Gunn Save, and now making it this far to Fashion Week? can you say "phoned in?" Not to mention I did not think any of the "make it work" looks were particularly great, because they were literally an afterthought. An add-on.

There was no clear winner of this challenge, in my opinion, and I donʼt agree that all 5 designers should have been able to produce collections and compete for the final spot later. I appreciate the fact that Bradon's avant-garde look was dramatic and creative. But he did admittedly struggle with the inspiration, and it shows. I think he just did whatever he felt like (making hundreds of "noodles"), and the result bordered on costumey. I don't care for the extreme mullet hemline but I quite like the back lace-up detail on the bodice; I just think he went overboard with the "noodles." I thought surely his Make It Work look would be criticized, because all I thought when I saw it was "waitress uniform in a low-budget sci-fi flick." However, the judges were completely wooed by his over-the-top look and awarded him the win.

Dom used the cross-bred butterfly as her inspiration, and cleverly showed her point of view by utilizing a print mix (which translates very well from "cross-bred butterfly"). While I think her print combo was successful, I am not a fan of the overall silhouette. It wasn't particularly avant-garde and I felt the look could have been better had the jumpsuit been a more tailored shape. She did a good job turning Jeremy's look into something less "marmy," but the jacket was too haphazard for my liking.

Alexandria took a black and white butterfly as her inspiration, of course. I know Alexandria hasnʼt been doing well lately but I still think she is talented and I like her POV. Her gown fit well but I think she went overboard on the tatters. It went goth really quickly. I like the draping on the bodice but the rest of the gown felt a bit too Tim Burton for even me! I do think she aced the Make It Work look, though. Talk about going from Talbots to Punk! Trousers are not easy to re-cut (and who knows what there was on the inside to work with), and she made them fit perfectly with the clever addition of leather. I'd have preferred a different hairstyle and to lose the feather mohawk, which felt a bit contrived, but the use of the combat boots sold it. The leather vest was smart, but I wish she had used a different leather.

Justin was inspired by the Albino butterfly, so he opted to make an off-white dress. I was really into his technique of jumbo piping when I saw it developing in the workroom, but I wish he had let that feature really shine and used fewer tiers on the skirt. The black coat was a wonderful idea (as Emmy said, it looked like shedding a cocoon), however I found myself wishing it had been either more cocoon-like, or less lacey, or...something. Perhaps if it had been more dramatic it may have been more successful. Perhaps if he had carried that piping into a coat out of faille or something with more structure, and more Dior. Did anyone else think it was awkward when Justin said he should go to Fashion Week because he's gay and deaf? Umm...so you shouldn't be selected because youʼre a good designer?

Last and certainly least, Helen -- who has butterfly tats and thus was very excited about the inspiration -- designed a gown which a) looked like two or three other gowns she's done before and b) did not push any boundaries to make it avant-garde. It is a super simple silhouette (avant-garde is all about shape) and we've seen the technique already. Furthermore, the color choice was awful. I know she was inspired by the Monarch butterfly, a most ubiquitous variety, and actually she nailed the color of the wings. However, it's not such a great color to make a gown out of; she did not need to be so literal. I was sort of surprised at how many designers abstained from color considering the colorful inspiration. I fully expected the judges to comment on that (they did not). On top of it, it was not so smart to choose what is quite possibly the WORST eliminated look of the season for the Make It Work challenge just because it was your friend's. Then she made basically the same thing as she did last challenge, shorter and sans print. I can't understand why she wasn't eliminated for two mediocre looks, except that the producers can't get enough of her meltdowns...