When I was approached to participate in this challenge, I thought the concept was pretty clever, so I agreed to do it. Then I started thinking, wait I’ve got to *model* the outfit. I've got to WALK the runway! Oh, pleeeeaase don't give me a bad designer who's going to make a pink ruffled prom dress! Being the "client" as a not only a designer, but one who has already been through the "Project Runway" competition was interesting because on the one hand, I empathized with those designers, having to make an Emmy awards red carpet look in ONE day, but on the other hand, this was so personal in a way — I’m not a model after all! I felt very vulnerable trusting in them to pull it off and design and execute an outfit for me.
When I first met Raul and Alicia, they told me they both had menswear backgrounds. I saw the potential advantage to this: no ruffles and no pink — yay! I told them I like sleek, simple designs, leather, structure and tailoring (note the jacket I was wearing, a tuxedo-inspired black blazer with leather from my Fall collection; I was hoping they would have been inspired by that). When they told me they had to incorporate the color of the Lexus, my response was that although I wear a lot of black, I also love red and it suits me. I was trying not to think about the negative side to this: that they most likely had never made gowns and were probably not familiar with designing “red carpet” looks.
Imagine my shock and horror when I saw the red and black zebra-esque print Raul and Alicia had chosen from Mood. Not only is print a very risky choice for the red carpet, but honestly I thought it was tacky. I would not be caught dead in that, even at a pool party! I could not believe *that* was how Raul had been inspired by my personal style. When Tim and I critiqued them, we both concurred that they needed to step their design up a notch and make something much more formal for the Emmys. However, all they had as a backup fabric was a plain black silk crepe. They had purchased some black and red leathers, and I warned them that if they go with an all black dress, they will be criticized for not using red (the color of the Lexus). Why hadn’t they selected a solid red fabric? The problem was at this point was since it was so late in the day, they had spent all this precious time on a bodice and a design for the red and black print. It was a total redo.
Next were the “model fittings." My designers basically had nothing to fit on me except this red and black printed bodice so they could use it as a pattern. I was really bummed at this point, and concerned that the fit and style would suffer. I also warned them that I’m not exactly a mannequin size and my waist is much longer, so they needed to adjust accordingly. As I looked around the room, there were some interesting things happening for the other designer clients. I thought Elena and Buffi were working on something quite lovely and very suitable for Laura. I was impressed by Melissa and Dmitry’s liquid silver creation for April (although we left the fittings at 9 pm and ran to the nearest Duane Reade in search of some last-minute Spanx!).
With not much time left in their work day, I suspected this train was destined to wreck. However, I tried to be hopeful that at the very least, they would pull off a well-fitting, tastefully executed black gown (with red leather trim) and that perhaps another design would wreck harder and they would be safe. I felt for them, especially knowing they had not made gowns, and most likely not made clothes for a real, “non-model” client.
The next morning, Raul and Alicia tried the bodice and skirt on me. As I stood in front of the mirror, I thought, “Oh no." It was way too big and ill-fitting in the bust. The waist was landing at that awkward, unflattering point, where it wasn’t low enough to be at my real waist and it wasn’t high enough to be empire. The neckline was also neither-here-nor-there, a high V which was ultra-conservative. I dieted for a week before I came on the show and NOW you’re gonna make me look fat?!?? Sad face. I just felt fat and frumpy. I remember thinking at that point how much I would have loved it if they had made me a sexy tuxedo. Or even a tuxedo-inspired gown. It was yet another "Project Runway" lesson: trust your instincts and stay within your wheelhouse! What a missed opportunity they had to create something outside the box.
In hair and makeup, I just wanted to feel prettier! My boy Scott did a beautiful job on the makeup, as always. It was the obvious choice to go with a bold red lip. However the horsetail side pony was a major misstep. I had suggested a sleek chignon in the back or on the side, and Johnny suggested adding an extension and Raul loved the idea. I only wish I had interjected and taken more control over the hair. It was so NOT Mila! I wanted to whack that thing off!
Backstage before the runway, the dress was still droopy and ill-fitting. I happened to have both topstick (double stick tape strips, a stylist and costumer’s staple) and a few safety pins (tanother staple) in my purse. Laura pinned about two inches out of my neither-here-no-there-waistline. I feared for my life as the hem of the gown was done so poorly (unevenly and with loose threads), as with every step I took, my heel was getting caught in the hem! In fact during one run-through walking the runway, I almost fell. So I started taping the hem in a few places.
During the judges’ critique on the runway, I told them how I’d wished for something more tailored. They all concurred, that a woman’s tuxedo would have been so fab. I recalled the Met challenge (which I won) during Season 7, in which every team made a gown except Jonathan and I. Being that I am not a “gown” designer, I went with my strength, and knew I wanted to make a coat, which then evolved into a twist on a tuxedo. The judges loved the fact that we didn’t make a gown.
As far as the other designs go, I felt some of the judging was off. I preferred BOTH Melissa/Dmitry’s and Elena/Buffi’s to the top scorers, Gunnar/Kooan’s (Which was too bridal), and Ven/Fabio’s (Which, while beautifully executed, was too daytime lady-who-lunches or early cocktail for the Emmys, especially in Navy). April looked beautiful in the silvery, old-Hollywood glamour gown, and what was interesting is it was not so on-the-nose "goth" yet it really did suit her. In the end, unfortunately I did feel like the right person was eliminated. Sorry, Raul.
My regrets? Not that I agreed to be a "client," but that I was not more assertive and demanding, like Kenley, who basically told her designers what to do, down to what type of fabric to buy! I should have directed them more, should have taken charge of the hair, and maybe I should have even started sewing that hem! But in the end, it’s their competition and on "Project Runway" every decision is crucial, and one misstep can be fatal.