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Safe Garde

By kim_messina Fri., Oct. 5, 2012 ,4:46 am EDT

This tenth season of "Project Runway" can pretty much be defined by one word: safe. Most of the designers have "played it safe" when it comes to their designs and creations. They've been harmless in terms of their "characters" as well; there's been some bitching and hate-talking during their confessionals but the season is so safe that we don't even have a "villain" making the Final Four — which for almost every season, has seemed to be de rigueur. It could also be argued that a couple of the contestants played it so safe, they just got up and left the show altogether because they just didn't want to "Go For It!" So, it comes as no surprise that for this last Avant-Garde Challenge, the designers played it safe. And in my feeling, it was a let down. Let's recap...

Tim, Is That Your New Home?

Five designers left and this is the challenge that decides who gets to go to NY Fashion Week. If you REALLY follow the show and its designers, we know now that the last eight designers actually showed at Mercedes-Benz NY Fashion Week last month when in "TV Time" there were still eight on the show (five were "decoys" and the other 3, actual finalists). But let's just stick to the "script" shall we? Sexy "Spartan Supermodel" Heidi walks in to tell the designers that she is sending them "far, far away" where Tim and a guest will be waiting. I'm thinking, "Yeaay! They get to board a plane and fly to Florence, Italy!" Nope. Not so much. After crossing a bridge and driving for over an hour, they arrive at Oheka Castle, a historic mansion in the Gold Coast of Long Island. This estate was the home of financier and philanthropist Otto Kahn and in fact, the second largest private home in the entire US. Waiting for the designers is Tim Gunn (who looks perfectly at home outside this castle, I might add) and Billy B. Consulting Makeup Artist for L'Oreal Paris.

Electric Avant-Garde

Billy is there to introduce the new L'Oreal Paris makeup line called "Electric Fantasie" based on four "muses/color themes": Enchanting Queen, Seductive Temptress, Wise Mystic and Artsy Muse. Tim announces that this is the "L'Oreal Makeup Challenge" and the designers will have to create an avant-garde Look inspired by this new L'Oreal Paris makeup line. Tim then takes out the dreaded "Button Bag" and each designer is given a muse save for Golden Boy Christopher who gets to choose one himself.

Enchanting, Wise, Seductive and Artsy

Christopher and Fabio are doing "Enchanted Queen," Sonjia gets "Seductive Temptress," Dmitry gets "Wise Mystic" and Melissa's is appropriately, "Artsy Muse." Tim then explains that avant-garde means something new/experimental and tells them that they will have two days and a whopping $400 for fabric/notions. After sketching time at the castle, it's a long drive back to Manhattan, Mood shopping, and finally back to Parsons. Tim walks in to do some early "How are you doing?" Day One check-ins as well as to tell the five designers that they need to be incredibly ambitious and they have to "knock the (judges) socks off!" High aspirations indeed, especially from this group.

It's Seductive Temptress NOT Figure Skating Queen

Day Two and the designers have their requisite L'Oreal Paris Makeup Consultations with Billy B. and then it's back to work on their so-called avant-garde creations. Tim visits and surveys if there's anything "new" or "experimental" in any of their designs. Fabio was working on a coat that the day before, Tim judged as "looking borderline costume." Today, Fabio had an epiphany and decides to turn the coat upside down and voila: avant-garde — or so he thinks. Tim likes it. Tim is worried for Melissa and her time management. He then warns Sonjia that her green moiré with nude illusion creation might be looking too much like a student project. I'm thinking that it looks too much like a Figure Skating Costume gone wrong — so did Michael Kors, we later find out. We Fashion Gays think alike.

Avant-Garde More!

Christopher is doing a black exaggerated hip gown. Tim says it's very 1890s in its silhouette. But does that make it avant-garde? Tim is doubtful. So am I. Same goes for Dmitry. He is doing a very tailored Mugler 90s-like jacket that in Dmitry's eyes, is VERY avant-garde. But Tim rightly questions him saying, "It may be avant-garde for you...but is it avant-garde for the judges?"

What. Is. Avant-Garde?

It's Runway Day and the guest judge is actress Zoe Saldana, who also co-founded MyFDB.com, as fashion's answer to IMDB. Now, remember the Challenge was to create an avant-garde look. When I think avant-garde Fashion, I think of Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, or British designer Gareth Pugh; I think of that incredible Viktor and Rolf nesting doll collection...you get the picture. So, how did these five "Project Runway" designers do? In essence, they all played it SAFE — there was little avant-garde in any of the creations. A common thread with actual avant-garde designs is a very strong concept, a story behind it. None of these kids had that and missed the mark. The "Makeup Muses" could have provided them with a "spring board," but none of the designers really used it to the fullest extent. Heck, even Melissa said she was "designing for herself." Not enough darling.

Nancy Kerrigan at a Banquet

In my eyes, of all the five creations, Fabio's was the most avant-garde. But, his "Enchanted Queen" got mixed reviews from the judges. Everyone agreed that the jacket was fantastic but the rest was a bit of a hodge-podge. It was almost like "forced" avant-garde. But at least, there was some avant-garde. Sonjia's green "Seductive Temptress" was exactly what Kors said: "A costume Nancy Kerrigan would wear to skate through a Banquet Hall." To add insult to injury, Zaldana then likened the green folded pieces to a table napkin and not to be out done, Kors added that it looked like a banquet blew up all over her! Oy vey.

Black Swan, Singer Sergeant Muse or Enchanted Queen?

Christopher's black gown was more "Black Swan" and less "Enchanted Queen." It was a very pretty gown and the model (with her alabaster skin) looked as if she had stepped out of a John Singer Sargent painting. But there was nothing avant-garde about it and the "hairy forearm" feathered gloves didn't help. Dmitry's "Wise Mystic" suit was made impeccably. That boy can cut and sew a garment. While it was made to perfection, I question how avant-garde it was. And finally, Melissa's "Arsty Muse" scored points for using color, which is a departure from her usual all-black aesthetic. She did marvelous work with leather and the print on the skirt looked "artsy" — with hints of a Jackson Pollack painting, but again, was this avant-garde? No. Most of the judges loved her creation except for Heidi. She didn't know which was uglier, Melissa's or Fabio's. How do you say "Oh Dear" in German?

My Judges' Beef

I want to take some time to discuss some of the judges comments here, mainly my dear beautiful Heidi. During the judging, Miss Heidi kept saying, "Oh I would wear that...I wouldn't wear that..." and "I can see that on a red carpet," and so on. Newsflash: THAT'S NOT THE POINT OF AN AVANT-GARDE DESIGN. It's NOT for the Red Carpet. It's NOT something for Heidi Klum to wear. It's for a Vogue Italia shoot that makes fashion bloggers D.I.E. and shake with Couture excitement. It's not supposed to be wearable, unless you're Daphne Guinness. It really works my last nerve when I hear these comments from the judges, especially when it involves an Avant-Garde Challenge. Avant-garde is meant to push the boundaries and as Tim stated create something new and experimental. In many cases it SHOULD make you feel uncomfortable.

Hits Parade

Before we find out who's In or Out, Heidi asks, "Why do you deserve to go to Fashion Week?" and, "Which two other designers should go with you?"In the past this is where the claws have come out but here, we got nothing. No drama, no back-stabbing talk, just safe answers. Subsequently, during the final deliberation, the judges go through a "Hits Parade" from each designer during the entire season — which was really nice to see — and noteworthy, especially since I stated in my blog here last week that I had a feeling the judges weren't looking at individual challenges at hand and rather, taking in the entire season's body of work. They proved me right this week.

A Safe Final Four?

In the end, Dmitry won for his perfect yet not-so avant-garde look and Sonjia was out. Her creation was not avant-garde, it was just figure skating and tablecloth koo-koo. So now, we're onto to Fashion Week and the Top Four. Who. Will. Be. America's. Next. Greatest. Fashion Designer? Whoever it is, I hope they DO NOT play it SAFE. A Fashion Gay can only wish.