Season Premiere July 24 at 9/8c
Mila Hermanovski Blog
Category: "Episode 12"
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...
So...another cliffhanger ending leaves us on the edge of our seats wondering what sort of "do or die moment" Michelle has been given, since she was about to be eliminated (over Patricia!). So the designers are assembled in the lounge backstage, in awkward silence, waiting for Tim to come in and tell them what the hell is going on (and what they are supposed to do next). The waiting game: you sit back there, wait for Grim Reaper Tim to come in and tell the eliminated designer to "clean up his/her workspace," and then you usually have a quick catered dinner break (which Iʼve affectionately called "nursing home food" because is usually all the same color), change clothes (so it looks like the next day to the viewer) and go down to the runway to get your next clue from Heidi. If youʼve been eliminated, well, the road ends before you can have your last monochromatic meal.
Tim arrives and (shocker!) explains that NO ONE is going home. All five designers go to the runway and Heidi and Tim explain that for the next challenge, each designer and a newly assigned
"sewing assistant" eliminated contestant (!) will be going to a different European city as inspiration for the "luxe look" they are to design...except Michelle, who will have to stay in New York and escape packing, jetlag, overly expensive fabrics and excessive sleep deprivation. Poor thing, she doesnʼt get to be rushed through Paris, half awake.
Talk about getting a second chance: Patricia must be incredibly relieved to have Kate helping her instead of Richard. She also gets one of the most inspirational cities: Paris...and she gravitates towards graffiti, of all things. I understand *why* Patricia, in particular, is so drawn to it, but there is graffiti everywhere in the US, and it is a bit shocking that it trumps all the other amazing and inspiring sights in Paris. Meanwhile, Richard is assigned to Stanley, and the two of them jet off to London. Stanley is intrigued by Big Ben of all things, but romanticizes it with his own sort of back story and wants to channel his inner goth. Daniel is sent to Berlin (jealous!) with Amanda, who is determined to inspire him to inject a more youthful point of view into his design this time. After visiting the Berlin Wall (where he had "never felt happier in his life") and the modern Berlin Hotel, his holy grail ends up being the hypergraphic Bürohaus, a super cool white, futuristic structure, which is not what I would have expected he would gravitate towards. Over in passionate Barcelona, Layana finds inspiration everywhere she looks, in the architecture, tile and patterns, with Samantha as her sidekick.
Last, but not least, and also getting a second chance, Michelle, who is feeling worn down, lonely and defeated, rides around Manhattan with Tu atop a sightseeing bus, and sees New York from a new, yet very real, perspective. I feel for Michelle, because when you think youʼve really done a great job, and youʼve made it that far, itʼs a real punch in the gut to be on the chopping block. Of course we viewers can see how problematic it is that she completely ignored (or perhaps didnʼt fully understand) one of Ninaʼs important rules in the last challenge, but the bottom line is her design was far better and more fashion forward than at least two of her peersʼ...and the judges knew it. Still, Michelle is in the eye of the cyclone and she canʼt see straight and itʼs taken a beating on her.
What is it with everyone wanting to use leather? I like it! The designers in Europe each have their own challenges with limited fabric selections and/or exchange rates. Fortunately, they have a substantial ($1K) budget; nevertheless, there is no place like Mood. Michelle gets to go to town with cashmere and exotic leather with her budget. Whoʼs got the disadvantage here? I know he had his heart set on leather, but it does seem tragic that Moustache went all the way to Berlin and bought white vinyl. Meanwhile, Patricia is like a kid in a candy store and canʼt seem to focus so she buys a little of everything.
Who knew John Legend would be such a thoughtful judge? Who knew there would only be one designer eliminated? Who knew Michelle would pull through? Oh come on, we all saw that coming.
Layana tortured that beautiful lace. I thought she had great promise with her textile selection when I saw it in the fabric store...and then she just overworked it and it became this weird retro coat ensemble, devoid of any sex appeal or passion, which one naturally would equate with both lace AND Barcelona. The sleeves on the blouse further ruined the look, both in color (peach with black?) and style (Austin Powers meets Stevie Nicks). Layana didnʼt see that there was any problem, however, and for that, she gets sent to clean up her workspace.
Michelle wonderfully captured New York in this gritty yet luxe ensemble. This is my favorite look this week, so brava to her for rising from the ashes with her inspiration of soot. It so perfectly reflects manhattan: the contrast of gritty and dirty with sleek luxury (Even seen in the styling, which could be a socialite whoʼs gone on a bender). The lines of the dress are modern and expensive, yet the hard edge of the breastplate and strapping exemplify the tough exterior we all need to get through daily existence in the city. I only wish the wonderful hand painted ombre "soot" had shown up better.
Stanley created a dramatic, gothic look which was well-executed. I love the simplicity of this and I am always a sucker for a cape of any scale. The modest front reveals a sexy back which is a great balance. His styling is spot on and the veil is a nice touch, adding to the mystery and "darkness." I like subtlety, but I do wish he had used those wonderful leather paillettes in a more visible place, like inside the capelet, or lining the skirt as a cutaway from the front rather than the back, which seems like a throwaway. Nonetheless, this was a fine entry from Stanley and hands-down he is the first to be chosen to proceed into the finals and make a collection for NYFW.
Moustache surprises everyone this week with a modern black and white look which has a slightly softer hand than he has shown in the past (thank God). Iʼm not a fan of the jacket, which may have worked better in leather as he originally wanted, and also on TV it doesnʼt show much of the seaming detail he speaks of; however as Zac pointed out, I really could see a German woman (like Heidi!) wearing this complete ensemble. I was scared when I saw the beginnings of stripper-boots in the making in the workroom, but actually they really pull together the look, and so does the asymmetric draped skirt. Hope Daniel sent Amanda some flowers for that one!
Patricia seems to have nine lives. The decoupage-looking structured jacket she made was cool in theory, and I respect her technique in making the textile. However, the pant which accompanied it felt clumsy, heavy, and like an afterthought. Itʼs a shame she didnʼt make a dress out if this textile. Overall it seems that while she is a great artisan, she does not quite have a grasp on pulling together looks as a fashion designer. Iʼm surprised she was not eliminated alongside Layana....but the Kluminator wants to see more. (And there has to be sudden death in the next episode, right?)
Itʼs the final challenge. At last, something which can potentially be compelling and creative. We went from baby clothes (!) to avant-garde. Heidi too, changed back from her "mom-appropriate" outfit to the usual too-short-and-too-tight number, and this time itʼs particularly...questionable. Someone is single (and turning 40 next year) and letting it all hang out!
The designers arrive at the "far, far away" place on Long Island, a stunning estate called Oheka Castle, built as the country home of financier and philanthropist Otto Khan, inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgeraldʼs "The Great Gatsby," and presently a historic hotel. Tim and Billy B, a consulting artist for LʼOreal, deliver the challenge to them: design an avant-garde look inspired by one of the LʼOreal limited edition "Electric Fantasie" makeup palettes, and the surroundings of the estate. They have 2 days and $400.
Tim announces back at the the workroom that the judges want to see two months of work in two daysʼ time. Huh?
Everyone is looking very tired, I must say (except maybe not 24 year old Christopher?). I remember how it was. I also remember being rather tapped out creatively, yet simultaneously energized by the last push to make it to the finals, and relieved that there were so few designers left and I was still in. I also felt quite isolated (not a bad thing necessarily), being the only female left in a group of males who were kind of "clique-ish." We had the circus as our inspiration, which frankly I wasnʼt that into. I was thinking how much Iʼd have preferred a challenge like this with the main inspiration as a color palette, leaving the designers less specific creative parameters and the ability to perhaps showcase their POV better.Melissa
Iʼll bet a lot of you think Iʼd love this itʼs modern and graphic and color-blocked. While I like the outfit, I donʼt think itʼs avant-garde enough. Melissa is very creative and has an edgy style, and I expected more from her. I thought her imagination could have run wilder and she even admitted that she got caught up and blocked by the color palette she was assigned (randomly? I think not...see my "random thoughts" below). Nevertheless, sheʼs always been a favorite of the judges, and I do think sheʼs a good designer. She is through to the finals.Fabio
Thank god Fabio had his "epiphany" to turn the jacket upside down. The wonderful thing about that is that, in itself, is what producing an avant-garde design is about: thinking outside the box and looking at shapes differently. I do wish that the outfit underneath was more modern and less "goth" a more streamline look would have been better. Picture a McQueen-like catsuit or skin tight skirt to exaggerate the shape of the jacket and make more of a scale juxtaposition and statement. Iʼm thrilled that Fabio makes it through, though Iʼm looking forward to his final collection.Dmitry
Dmitry never ceases to impress me with his attention to detail and immaculate construction. Itʼs channeling Thierry Mugler a bit. I love the sleeve shape but agree with Tim that it was not really enough to consider the look "avant garde." It was a fantastic look, yes, but he needed to push it further. Iʼm a fan of Dmitry in general and think that not only does he make great clothes that a lot of women would want to wear (and look fabulous in), but also think his wit and mellow personality are very charming. Glad he made it to the finals my money was on him from early on.Sonjia
Sonjia has had some great moments, and some tacky moments (wait til you see her decoy collection). This look falls into the latter. While she has had some highs, she hasnʼt really shown a distinct POV as a designer. This dress has several issues, the primary one being taste. I cringed when I saw her selecting that green Moiré. Her LʼOreal muse is the "seductive temptress" and there is nothing very seductive about kelly green. Iʼm not sure what she would have done with the gold that went missing, but Iʼd have rather seen it than green! The illusion mesh she chose is too featured (not an illusion in the end, but rather distracting) and gives the dress a dancing or skating costume vibe.Christopher
Avant-garde doesnʼt mean costumey. Christopher went a bit overboard with the details it looks schizophrenic. I actually donʼt think the feathers on the arms are as fugly as Kors said, but I am visualizing them with a simpler dramatic dress (perhaps without the feathers on the gown itself). The sweetheart neckline which is not at all modern is ill-fitting as well. The corset feature on the back of the dress is a lot more interesting and appealing. The makeup and hair are very edgy and cool, which saves it from being kind of a train wreck. And so Christopher is a finalist. Shocker!
Random thoughts for the week:
-What did actually happen to Sonjiaʼs gold fabric? When we select fabric at Mood, we pay for it, the Mood cashier bags it, and then the producers take all our bags away from us and bring them to Parsons, where they are given back to us. Just sayinʼ...
-Whatʼs really on those buttons that Tim and Heidi pull out of the velvet bag? We designers never get close enough to them to actually see if there are names. Just sayinʼ...
-Although it was harrowing at the time I went through it, I found myself yearning this season for more suspense, like a tiebreaker for the third finalist spot. Whatʼs with four? There was no explanation as to why they decided to have four finalists (whereas in the past at least Heidi would say they couldnʼt decide).
-Swatch got a LOT of airtime this week! Maybe he fired his publicist and got a new one.