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Collaborate, Communicate, Eliminate

By kim_messina Fri., Jan. 25, 2013 ,4:25 am EST

It’s a new year, a new "Project Runway" season—and a new judge to boot! We’re onto Season 11 if you can believe it, and immediately, the familiar faces of Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn pop up on the screen to announce that this is going to be a "different" type of season, one with a "little twist": TEAMS! Every challenge for this new season is a Team Challenge, they declare. Klum and Gunn say that this will be a chance for the designers to work together, collaborate and communicate (yeah right!). Oh, and they forget to say CAUSE FABULOUS REALITY TV DRAMA. I have two words for it all: Oh Dear! Also, Thank GOODNESS I didn’t wait until Season 11 to be on the show. Amen.

Casting Gold
The new batch of designers has no idea of this "little twist" as they make their way to Manhattan and Parsons. We are introduced to our Season 11 cast of characters, which includes everything from a cute Latina (Layana Aguilar), African-Americans, Whites, a Native American (Patricia Michaels), a funeral home director (Cindy Marlatt), the gays (naturally), straight boys (?), foreigners (Australian Benjamin Mach), a mustachioed guy who can somehow afford a $4,350 "Bird of Paradise"-printed Givenchy Men’s Spring/Summer 2012 jacket (Daniel Esquivel), a girl who looks like everyone’s fun hairstylist (Michelle Lesniak Franklin), a guy whose last name is Hallmarq-yes, like the Birthday Card—but with a Q!—and a cute girl straight out of the HBO series "Girls" (Emily Pollard). This last girl instantly declares that she’s going to win it all and all the other designers should begin packing and go home. My sixth sense tells me she'll be regretting every word she said.

I Remember…
I had the pleasure of being one of the casting judges last year for Season 10, but little did I know that we were also choosing the designers who might also make it to Season 11 (slaying two birds with one casting stone, as it were). I remember seeing Benjamin (Australian), Cindy (funeral director), as well as several of the others and saying "yes or maybe" to them all. I was happy to see that they actually made it on the show, even if it was a season later.

Oh HAILLLL No!
After all 16 designers are assembled, Heidi and Tim enter the room to much hootin', hollerin' and OMG's; it was very "America’s Next Top Model" when the models meet Tyra. Their faces quickly turned from wide happy smiles to "Oh HAILLL No!" when the Fab Duo tells the cast that this season is "Project Runway Teams!" Before they could run out the door and catch the next AirTrain to JFK, Heidi separated them into two teams and informs them of their first challenge: to create a garment that shows who they are as designers within a "team" setting. Their inspiration: New York City. The teams separate and go on their merry way. Team "Keeping It Real" gets to see NYC "from afar" (on a boat trip) and "Dream Team" gets to view the Manhattan skyline "from above" (from The Atlas Apartments rooftop).

Why Aren’t They at Parsons?
After their champagne and canapé-filled day trips, both teams meet up at their new workrooms at 1407 Broadway. Side note: I wonder if they were filming Season 10 at the same time as this season and therefore the Season 11 designers weren’t able to be at the "regular" "Project Runway" workroom at Parsons. Moving on...Tim Gunn enters and tells the designers that they will again use the fabulous HP Tablets, Brother Sewing Room as well as have access to the Lord & Taylor Wall and L’Oreal Paris Makeup Room. After caucusing, sketching and collaborating, they all head to Mood where they have $1,200 (which averages out to $150 per designer) to buy fabric and trims.

Analyze Me Not
Back in the workroom, they begin their draping, pattern making and fabric cutting. "Native American Patricia" is hand painting fabric to mimic the NY window cityscape she witnessed on her boat ride; "Funeral Home Cindy" is mixing prints and "Mustache Daniel" is schooling many in his team, showing them proper draping/cutting techniques. Tim walks in for his critiques. Here’s where it gets interesting. Not only does Tim give his "two cents," but so do their corresponding team members. To be frank, as someone who has been designing for over 20 years, owns a decade-old design company, I’m not sure if I would’ve had the patience to have been appraised by a "young-ums" who just got out of design school and barely began post-school work. Most of the designers seemed OK with it—for now. But I venture to guess, their claws will come out and, as Heidi and some of the judges later suspect, things might get sketchy and ugly between designers during these "critiquing times."

Ban The Glue Gun
Day of the runway and the designers are putting their final touches on their creations, except for "HBO’s 'Girls' Emily." She barely has anything done. She proclaims that the only thing on her mind is "to finish something." Ya Think? She ends up gluing most of her mess of a top (Can we PLEASE BAN the hot glue gun once and for all?!) and "Funeral Home Cindy" even makes a skirt for her since otherwise, her model would have been walking bottom-less down the runway.

The Part of Michael Kors Will Be Played By…
Finally it’s show time. Heidi walks in, announcing a change in the "Project Runway" Judging Program: Michael Kors is "Out" (for now) and designer Zac Posen is "In." Running a billion dollar Fashion Empire can be daunting so Kors probably wanted some "Project Runway"-free time, on some fabulous island. Nina Garcia is there (Gracias a Dios—I thought my Colombian Diva would have been with Kors on a Seychelles Holiday too!). Guest judge is Christian Siriano, Season 4 Winner. The designs come down the runway with Team Keeping It Real first, followed by Dream Team. According to Heidi, there would be one winning team—with the winning designer—and one losing team with the worst design.

Dior Couture Redux
It was pretty obvious who had the best: Mustache Daniel, Native American Patricia, and painted tunic was sleek and gallery owner-esque and Richard created a very "NYC girl" gray and black asymmetrical jersey number that screamed Heidi K. while walking with her kids through the East Village. Daniel’s was the most finished and chic, by far. He created a black exaggerated peplum jacket with cropped skinny trousers that looked very Paris. In fact Zac Posen hinted at it. I won’t hint here, I’ll call it out: it was VERY Raf Simons for Dior Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2012. I’m surprised Nina didn’t say how referential it was. But…it was still superb, well made and therefore got a rightly-deserved win.

Dream Team-The Good and the Not-So-Muchey
The Dream Team therefore was the worst. It was kind of sad since a couple of my favorite looks of the entire night (as well as Heidi's) came from designers on that team including Benjamin’s airy chiffon dress (modern and beautiful) and Tu Suthiwhat Nakchat’s two-piece outfit (so directional and very Thierry Mugler/Claude Montana—for 2013). James, Cindy and Emily brought the entire team down with their tacky-licious and uninspired creations. Posen called James' skirt and top "pedestrian" (Ouch!). She looked like a girl going out for a Jr. Assistant job…in 1998. Cindy’s printed dress with a checkered waistband was more Mom on a Carnival Cruise to Aruba than NYC (their supposed inspiration).

Go Pack Your Bags Emily
But it was Emily—and that mess of a top—that was the obvious worst. She glued half of it and didn't even sew a closure. Oh, yes, and Cindy made her skirt. This was a situation when someone made it onto "Project Runway" that just wasn't ready. From the editing, it almost seemed as if they would keep Emily as the judges were making excuses for her. I was prepared to throw something at the TV, if in fact they decided to keep her. But alas, they did not. With all the "built in" drama being directed at the designers for this 11th season, they will have to heed Heidi’s words and communicate, collaborate in order not to be eliminated. Good luck designers!