Sunday, December 18, 2011

La Vigilia

Welcome to our Feast of the Seven Fishes.  We saved a place for you at the table! 

The end of the year holidays hold so many family traditions.  One of the more interesting ones for me is La Vigilia, or more commonly known as the Italian "Feast of the Seven Fishes."  There's no right or wrong way to do this feast.  Some Italian families do seven fishes, one dish for each fish, each fish made with a different technique.  Other families just do three, some go overboard with twelve.  Some families simply serve a meatless dinner with vegetarian and fish dishes served buffet style.

Last year, the kids made origami fish to hang over the table.

What follows is a combination of traditional foods and some of my favorites.


In the United States, calamari springs to mind when people think of Italian seafood dishes.  It is almost ubiquitous as a side dish at restaurants.

My mother used to serve fried calamari, shrimp cocktail and spaghetti with marinara sauce on Christmas Eve.  I tolerated the calamari, which was always heavily breaded and rubbery.

Funny story....I would always bring boyfriends home for Christmas Eve dinner.  None of them ever ate the calamari.  When I brought my last boyfriend up to meet my parents at Christmas, he ate the calamari and complimented my mother on it.  I thought he was being polite.  He drove us back home after Christmas Eve mass and my mother went into the kitchen for her usual post-midnight snack of cold, fried calamari, right out of the fridge.  There stood my boyfriend, over her shoulder, picking at the calamari with her.  I knew right then he was a keeper.  I married him a few years later.

My grandmother chose to put it in her spaghetti sauce.

You see, the secret to cooking tender calamari is to either cook it quickly (less than 2 minutes) or cook it slowly (30 minutes to an hour.)  The other rule of thumb is to mind the size of your squid.  Over six inches long, not counting the tentacles, is the best sort of stewing or braising calamari.  You have the best chance of harvesting the ink sacs from a larger calamari.  The ink is used as a popular sauce in Spanish cooking.  It is also used to color pasta.  It is a bit on the bitter side.  My grandmother wanted nothing to do with the ink sacs!

There are generally two ways to make fried calamari--the dry method or the wet method.  The key to both is to have the oil hot and ready to go and to pay attention that you don't cook the rings and tentacles longer than two minutes.

I prefer a marinated calamari.  Calamari does not have much of a taste of its own, so it requires a sauce or marinade for flavor.  Clean the calamari.  You'll note a sort of cartilage spine (it looks like clear plastic) running up the side of the body.  Remove that with your hands or tweezers.  Simply cut the small calamari into rings and tentacles and drop in boiling water FOR JUST ONE MINUTE.  Drop into an ice bath to stop the cooking and than place in a marinade of your choice.  A vinaigrette would work perfectly.  Chill for at least an hour or two before serving over a salad or pasta.

Polpo (Octopus)

I discovered the glories of octopus only a few years ago.   Octopus is very easy to cook.  Again, mind the size.  Baby octopus fit in the palm of your hand and can be simmered (not quite a full boil) in minutes.  A medium sized octopus (12-16 oz...about the size of your forearm) can be simmered in 30 minutes to an hour.  Anything larger than that requires more time.  Here's a good site with all the details.

After cooking, reserve the broth!  The octopus itself can either be marinaded in a vinaigrette or added to risotto, or grilled quickly to add a char to the skin.  There are a variety of methods you can use to finish.  You will find that octopus is meatier and tasty than calamari.

Baby octopus cooking quickly in lightly salted water.  Note the color of the broth.  Very rich!
After cooking, I marinade the octopus in olive oil, lemon juice, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, orange zest, fresh chopped fennel, salt, ground fennel seed, oregano, rosemary, and black olives.  I prefer kalamata.  Put in the fridge for an hour or two.
Finish up with clementine slices for a refreshing anti-pasto salad.

Linguini with Clams

Every Italian meal has a pasta course.  That doesn't mean you have to.  If you don't like pasta or can't eat it, either skip that course or substitute polenta with shrimp and tomato sauce (an Italian version of that southern dish, shrimp and grits.)  But we go for the traditional linguini with clams.

I use little neck clams for this one.  You can use bigger clams if you'd like.  My recipe is stolen from Mario Batali who stole it from his grandmother...and as with all good stealable recipes, it couldn't be simpler.  Linguini is long, thin and flat (spaghetti is long and round) and idea for a thin sauce.

1. Cook the pasta in salt water until almost al dente, which means that you'll be able to move it around with a spoon, but if you bite into it, there's still a little bit of crunch.  Drain and set aside.

2. Dump the pasta water from the pot and put in a bit of olive oil, some sliced cloves of garlic (I'm being deliberately vague on how much to put in,) a cup of lemon juice and a cup of white wine.  Put in the clams.  The rule of thumb here is 3-4 clams per person.  This won't be the only dish and we don't want to stuff our guests.  Simmer until they open.

3. When the open, add the pasta and let it finish cooking (30-60 seconds) and add a bit more olive oil, salt, pepper, and a cup and a half of chopped Italian parsley.  If you only have curly parsley, just chop it finer.  Stir together and serve.  You may want bread to sop up the remaining sauce...or just lick the plate. We're not fussy.

Yes, that's an antique fish service.

An aside might be tempted to add cheese to this dish.  Don't.  That would be a crime against nature in this region of Italy.  Alfredo sauce with shrimp?  Never heard of it.


My mother's family is from Le Marche in Italy.  The provence runs from the Apennine Mountains to the Adriatic Sea.  My family is from Venarrota, in the mountains, near the ancient town of Ascoli Piceno.  It was in San Benedetto where my cousins introduced me to Brodetto.  After spending a blustery, rainy October day searching through hillside mausoleums for family ancestors, we drove down to the Adriatic coast.  It was 10 degrees warmer.  You could still taste a bit of summer in the sea air.  We sat down to a lovely dinner that featured the regional dish.

My cousin, Alessandra Capriotti and her adorable husband, Alessandro Marini.  They are life long members of the Brodetto Fan Club!
After tasting this regional variation on a classic fish stew, I realized that this dish alone could solve my Vigilia dilemma!  How do you serve 7 fishes without killing yourself in the kitchen?  Put most or all of them into one, tasty dish!  Oh, and use the delicious broth from the octopus, too.  You'll be glad you did.

Brodetto recipes abound on the Internet.  There are multiple variations up and down the Adriatic coast.   But it's all very simple.  Saute some aromatics: onions, sliced fennel, and celery.  (Note that there is no garlic in this recipe.  This region tends to use either onions or garlic, but rarely both together.  Add two cans (drained) of crushed or whole tomatoes.  The root word of "brodetto" is "brodo," which means "broth." So add about two cups of the broth from the simmered octopus.  If you don't have that, any fish broth or vegetable broth will do.

The brodetto base can simmer while you serve other courses.  We normally like to serve the octopus salad first, then linguini with clam sauce second.  As the diners finish the second plate, I rush into the kitchen to finish off the brodetto.

You can use whatever shellfish and fish combination you'd like, but to avoid overcooking anything, here's what you do:

1. Toss langostines or lobster tail into the broth until cooked through-- about 8 minutes.  Remove and place in a bowl.

Old "black eyes."  Yummy langostine.  All the flavor of lobster without the huge expense and risk of injury.

2. Toss whatever bivalves you are using--clams, mussels, scallops--into the broth for 6-8 min or until they are opened.  As they open, remove and place in the bowl with the other shellfish.

3. Put bite sized pieces of other fish into the broth and cook for about 6-8 minutes.  Try and get them as uniform as you can so that they cook evenly.  Do not stir or you will break them down.  Add the shellfish to the broth, remove from heat and serve right away.

Main Course

Obviously, you can serve anything you'd like for a main course.  I'd like to make a pitch for a fish that few people serve.  Skate.  Skate comes from the wing of a ray fish.  These fish are sustainable and the filet is quite economical.  If you have a reliable fishmonger, I recommend it.  Short of that, any flash frozen, wild caught fish or local fish will do.

Roasted skate wing with sauteed brussels sprouts and chestnuts.
That's it.  Seven fishes in one dish or one, several course meal.  Your choice!  If you want to be absolutely traditional, you will skip dessert until after Midnight Mass.  My mother remembers after Mass, everyone opening their doors to invite people in for meat and desserts--all the things you couldn't eat while fasting during Advent.   The party would last all night long.   But properly paced, this meal can be finished in plenty of time to either get kids to bed early, make it to Christmas Eve services, or in time for a 9:30 pm movie showtime.

If you're feeling ecumenical, this year, Christmas falls in the middle of Chanukah.  Add some of the dishes to your Chanukah celebration, Italiano style!   Whatever you are celebrating, I hope it's merry and full of family, friends and good food.  That is the wish of any Italian for anyone.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween 2011 and Years Past

When you have kids, Halloween is one of the biggest holidays of the year.  Even for adults it can be a big deal.  And if your kids are like mine, they will change their mind over and over again when considering what to wear.

That was the fix I was in years ago when my oldest son was 3 1/2 and I was home with a 5 month old.   I was hoping he'd wear his train conductor outfit.  He had other plans.  Two days before Halloween, he announced that he wanted to be Peter Pan.  So, on my way home from work, still quite sleep deprived, I walked through the aisles at Target, looking for supplies.  The costumes were picked over, so that aisle was no help.  But I soon found green thermal underwear pants, a green long sleeve t-shirt (one size larger).  Good.  Now I know he'll be dressed.  But what to do for shoes and a hat?  I walked around, clueless until I stumbled upon the automotive aisle.  Chamois cloth!  It's like leather.  It paints well.  I managed to make a hat, a belt, a sheath (for a fake knife) and shoe covers.

A few years later, both boys were mesmerized by Egyptians.  I was ready to deck them out, full pharaoh, but they both wanted to be mummies.  This proved to be harder than you'd think because they had to bring the costumes to school and be able to put them on for the parade.  They would also have to be warm enough for two kids to go trick or treating on a late October night.

So I used thermal underwear, again.  I got underwear that was one size larger and cut off the elastic on the legs and arms.  I sewed on strips of muslin and gauze, making sure that I stretched it out a bit because I wanted it to have some give.

You could use fabric glue, but it makes the outfit quite stiff.  I painted on a layer of glow-in-the-dark paint and stored the outfits in a lighted room so that my little mummies could be seen whether the lights were on or off!  I also painted some of the strips with reflective paint.

Some years, I get off easy.  The boys love Super Mario Brothers.  They already had the overalls, so after a quick search for "Mario costume" on eBay, I found the hats, gloves, plungers and mustaches.

I found the lighted bags at the local CVS.  Halfway through the night, they fell apart from all the candy.  We have a big neighborhood.
And other years, things are more challenging.  The boys became big Star Wars fans.  I believe these were my most challenging outfits yet.

My oldest wanted to be Yoda.  He had the mask and garment costume but he wanted a white over robe. I found nice, thick fabric in the remnant pile at the fabric store that did the job.

For my youngest, things were more challenging.  He wanted to be R2D2.  The R2D2 costumes I found on eBay left a lot to be desired.  But searching on Google, I found some pictures of costumes made out of collapsable laundry baskets!  I headed to the store to buy a muslin, collapsable laundry bucket.  I cut out the bottom and holes for his arms and painted the outside.  I fashioned a top out of wire hangers and duct tape.  I had to make it high enough so that his head would fit through. I could have made it so that his head stuck out, but we decided it would be cooler if his head was inside.

After figuring out a bunch of different ways to attach the top to the bottom, I developed a system of bent wires that stuck up from the bottom and sleeves that were fashioned from duct tape and wire that fit over them.  It wasn't perfect, but it got the job done.  And at night, no one could see the less than perfect details. Note that we strung a string of 12, battery-operated Christmas lights to light him up.

Still crazy about Star Wars, last year's outfits were Anekin Skywalker and a Sith.  I have no idea what half these things are, but a quick search of Google informed me that the Sith look like monks with lights for eyes.

The remnant pile of the fabric store had some waffle weave polyester fabric.  It was a nightmare to sew, so I ended up using fabric glue to put the robes together.  I found some "pleather" for Anekin Skywalker's vest and belt.

This year, I'm getting off easy again.  The kids found outfits they liked at the store, so I turned my attention to my oldest son's best friend.  He's an avid "Age of Empires" player and wanted to be Genghis Khan.  There are three types of Genghis Khan outfits pictured online--a kimono-like summer outfit and a  fur-covered winter outfit and a leather battle outfit.  We immediately agreed that the battle outfit was best.

He's a little boy and I was afraid a full battle outfit in leather would be too heavy and hot.  So I made the leather shoulder pads and chest plate out of brown foam.  We needed to reinforce the chest plate so that it  could be attached to him without ripping.  Some gold and silver paint and medallions completed the look.  The boys pitched in to help paint.  His mom found a perfect plastic helmet which his dad trimmed with fleece from a cut-up dog bed. I think it turned out pretty swell.

What are you going as this Halloween?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Project Runway Season 9, Episode 14: AAARRRRGGGHHHH!

Viktor, I mourn with you...
This is the "true story" 

             of twenty designers 

                                  picked to live in the Atlas Apartments
use sewing machines, HP TouchPads and the Piperlime Accessory Wall while washing their hair with Garnier Fructis and concealing the bags under their eyes with L'Oreal Infallible,
                                             have their lives taped 
   to find out what happens 

                                                    when producers manipulate the competition and people stop being polite

                                                                                                and start getting real...


Greetings, Project Runway fans....all seven of you who are still fans of the show.  Before I start my recap, I need to confess that I only stayed with the show and in the Blogging Project Runway chatroom until 10 pm.  I had a Thriller rehearsal to attend and that was my priority.

When I came home at 11:45 pm, I checked the blogs and confirmed my darkest fears:  Project Runway has become a Horatio Alger soap opera.  (I know that last comment is sending some of you to Google.  Builds character.)  Instead of re-watching the show, I turned to Fox to watch the last two innings of the ONE OF THE GREATEST WORLD SERIES GAMES EVER!   Congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals!  

I haven't gotten around to watching the runway critiques.  In fact, I never intend to.  It's my small way of protesting what Project Runway has become.   Yes, Lifetime, I reject your reality and substitute my own!

When last we left the show, the judges producers were quite horrified at the state of the finalists' Anya's collection and decided to let all four compete at Fashion Week.  After a harsh critique from the judges, the producers decided that Anya had way too much work ahead of her.  So they gave everyone AN EXTRA $500 FOR FABRIC AT MOOD.

THIS is a Project Runway first.  Funny, it wasn't hyped as such.  But it was clearly designed as a softball thrown to Anya.

Better example...

St. Louis Cards are up....bottom of the 10th.  Tying run on third base.  AND THE RANGER INFIELD BACKS INTO THE OUTFIELD.  This leaves acres of real estate close in for a base hit to plop right in.  And that's exactly what happened.   Now, this is understandable when the manager has decided that the power hitter can't resist trying to hit for the fences and his pitcher is throwing crap anyway, so why not send everyone back there to catch that inevitable fly that could have been a home run.

What is not understandable is why producers felt compelled to CHANGE THE RULES AGAIN TO CLEARLY FAVOR ONE DESIGNER.  

But completing the analogy, in my opinion, Anya swung for the fences and she hit a nice pop fly to center for the final out.  

So let's see how those final runway shows went!

Kimberly: Revenge of the booty skirt!

Why did you not take the jacket off? !!!
I would have loved to have seen the dress underneath the jacket.  There was a little cut-out thing happening on the right thigh that was awfully cute.  The jacket is darling.  Strong look from Kimberly!

Stunning.  This was one of my favorite looks.  Forget the bunch up in the front of the pants.  They're moving.  Standing still, they fit perfectly.  Very sweet use of sheer for the top.  

And she kept it in, but reworked it.  The front panel was longer.  Good call!

And two inverted pleats in the back solved the problem of the uncontrollable poof.  The pleats also gave it very nice walking away interest.  

Kimberly's collection was much improved.  Her collection had always been broad: dresses, gowns, jackets, separates, but in the end, it was not as innovative as the others.  Still, well done!

Joshua: turning a negative into a positive.

Is it saying something when I like what the designer is wearing more than I like some of the stuff he sends down the runway in competition?

Because you know and I know that Josh designed the top he's wearing in the picture.

And in my reality, this conversation occurred:

"Josh, seriously, lose the lime green shorts and design tops like the one you're wearing in every color of the rainbow."

Humor me a moment while I rework Josh's entire collection for the win.

Burn this!
You need to work on these shorts.  The fabric on the top belongs in a different show.  Pitch this.
Show this vest on a white top so that we can see the cut-out details.  I don't care what you do with the pants as long as you don't use that fabric or use those hideous, lime green shorts.
Gorgeous.  I would have spent my time concentrating less on the hideous fabrics and making another variation or two of this jacket.  This is your greatest creation.

Now take this dress and turn it into a gown with lime green and pink undergarments underneath.  And Katy Perry be calling in 5, 4, 3, 2....
Josh is at his finest when he is playing with positive and negative space.  He uses the shapes of the opaque material to define contours and lets the fabric under the sheer material form the pattern.  It's fresh, very modern and innovative.  

Sell your beadazzlers for rent money, Josh.  You don't need them.  You do need to make some of those tops with the shoulder cut-outs and sell them somewhere where I can buy them.

Viktor was robbed!!!!

The one reason I will not ever watch the runway critique of this last show is that I have no desire to see an editor manipulated, out-of-context, weird stream-of-consciousness claptrap the judges spewed out at Viktor to justify third place.  Let me venture a guess that the terms "commercial" and "safe" were used.

If this is so 'commercial' and 'safe' please point me to where I can buy this top and that skirt.  Because I want them.
This is a hot look right now.  Half the cast of "Glee" would die to wear this.  The skirt is well done.
That mirrored top has 'Nina' written all over it and probably makes Josh wish that he designed it.
Forget the jacket....I want those pants!  The whole outfit looks great.
You can argue about whether he should have scrapped his original gowns for the ones he made.  But I thought that put all together, his looks were fresh and perfectly executed.  Not a sour note in the bunch.  Which is more than I can say for....

Anya: Life's a beach.

In Anya's world, we don't need no stinkin' sleeves!
In Project Runway, showing a range of looks in your final show is important until it isn't.  In Project Runway, innovation is important until it isn't.  But having a strong point of view always is.  If you can find that and limp a collection out that reflects it adequately...and you're young and cute...the win is yours.

There was nothing in this collection that Uli didn't already do several seasons ago.  No silhouettes that hadn't been tackled by designers before.   I'm not saying there isn't room in the Project Runway pantheon for a designer to run a resort collection.  I'm just saying that this wasn't a great one, when compared to the others.  It was much improved, but this isn't a "most improved" competition.

This is a gorgeous dress--perhaps Anya's most stunning.  I'm wondering how much fabric adhesive she needed to keep it on the model, however...
Another, perfect, stunning dress.
Pants!  Good for you.  Very nice.
I regret that I will never know how the judges managed to praise this potato sack dress.  I like the idea of the collar and the skirt, but the middle is so shapeless.
Trim some fabric, drape it over some gold shorts, toss a belt on it and send it down the runway.  Who would wear this?
I'm sure the judges heaped all sorts of praise for the weird, messy portrait collar.
I won't deny that the gowns were gorgeous.  But Rami sent down a collection full of gorgeous gowns and all he got was criticism for lack of range.

I also won't deny that Anya had a strong point of view.  But so did Uli and Korto.  I don't recall either of them winning the competition.

I fail to see how Anya and Josh managed to be the last two finalists and Anya ended up winning this season.  In my world, it would have been Viktor for the win, Josh for second and Kim in third because Anya would have left last week.

I hope Anya makes the most of her opportunity from Project Runway.  Perhaps she can find someone who makes sleeves so that she can design for the rest of us who do not live in resorts.

As for Kimberly, Josh and Viktor are concerned, you clearly have bright futures.  Make the most of your exposure and lots of luck to each of you.

Thanks everyone for reading.  Keep checking in as I post some things on other topics.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Project Runway Season 9, Extra: The Also-Rans

Greetings, Project Runway Fans!  I know, the finale is tomorrow.  And I'm going to miss the ending because I'll be off to a Thriller dance rehearsal.

What?  You don't know how to do the Thriller dance?  You should learn.  It's fun and very good exercise.

This is going to be a short post.  You can see all the Fashion Week collections walk here. You'll have to look close to see which designer is which.  You can also see all nine collections by picture at Blogging Project Runway.

As I alluded to in one of my earlier blog posts, nine designers showed the collections at Fashion Week.  Four of them were finalists, the others, the decoys, had smaller budgets, but still ran ten looks.  Ever since the first season, Project Runway has been running decoy collections at Fashion Week.  Only recently, have they run the majority of the contestants.  If you get past the first four challenges, you're doing a show at Fashion Week, which is not too shabby.

I could get all bitter about the lack of integrity in the competition, but why should I?  We're in the midst of a horrible economic recession--one that has hit the fashion industry as hard as any other.  Kudos to Lifetime, the Weinstein Company and Bunim-Murray for continuing to run a huge show at Fashion Week.  If a runner up or decoy gets some opportunities from this, all the better.

Here's the thing, though.  The sneak peek was saw last week was full of "meh."  Aside from Viktor, I just don't think the best designers are being showcased in the finals this year.  Ever since the first season, Project Runway has been all over the map regarding its finalists and those who should have shown.  I think many of us would have swapped out Santino Rice for Kara Janx, for instance.

Joshua McKinney has been brilliant and disastrous in equal parts.  The jacket in his mini-collection was the single most incredible garment he's run all season.  In fact, it could possibly be my most favorite look from this seaosn.  However, unlike Jeffrey Sebelia, Josh's brilliance involves reining in his ideas, not necessarily letting them loose. 

Kimberly Goldson is a lot like Mychael Knight, both of whom were able to mold their skills to fit each Project Runway challenge.  But during the challenges, neither were ever really able to show their point of view.  When we got to see Mychael Knight's final show, we were all a bit disappointed in the execution.  Kimberly's mini-show had the same level of disappointment.  Her fabric choices were poor.  Her designs were not that well executed and it lacked cohesion.

Which leaves us with Anja.  The fix has been in since Episode 1 and frankly, I'm just not seeing it.  Her limited sewing skills prevent her from sharing the fullness of her design ideas.  Perhaps "Launch My Line" would have been the better show for her.  What we've seen: tucked silhouettes, deep necklines, print juxtopositions...reveals nothing tremendously innovative, design-wise.  Technically, she was a disaster.  A good portion of the cost of a garment, not to mention its usefulness to the wearer, lies in its closures and fastenings.  She practically sewed every garment she ever made onto the model. 
I wanted to isolate two designers who I wish could have been given slots for the final show.  Had the running been between Laura, Bert and Viktor, I think it would have been an excellent show and extremely hard to judge. 

Modern day warrior- Laura Kathleen Planck

This article sums up the struggles Laura went through in pulling a collection together from cloth and disappointment.  Perhaps failure really is the greatest muse because these designs are distinctive, innovating and breathtakingly beautiful. 

She led her collection with this dress.  It featured brass plating that she designed in conjunction with a St. Louis area jeweler. 

Sportswear, featuring more distinctive jewelery.

These are a few of the looks.  The pictures tell part of the story.  Folks who were there tell me that the audience response was very positive. 

  Less is more - Bert Keeter

Bert is an old-hand at the fashion business.  If you have one shot to get someone's attention, make it memorable and don't muck it up with a lot of silliness.  His collection showcased his design skills in a show that let the garments do the talking.

Frankly, you could end the show right there.  This has Bert written all over it.  But it's also smartly designed and very flattering.

But wait...Bert can do chic sportswear, too.  This looks fresh and modern and could have walked on any number of runways at Fashion Week.

Neither Bert nor Laura delivered perfect shows.  Then again, really, many of the designers fell short.  But in terms of design, some of their looks were far more stunning than those of some of the finalists.

I also wanted to mention Anthony Ryan Auld and Olivier Green.  Both presented very ambitious collections that pushed the design envelope.  Both, however, struggled with fit and construction issues.   I think with more experience and guidance, these are also designers to watch.

As Malan Breton, Nick Verreos, Rami Kashou, Austin Scarlett, Mila Hermanovski, Kara Janx and Chris March can tell you... just being on the show is the opportunity of a lifetime.  Make the most of it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Project Runway Season 9, Episode 13: Braggin ah hall nottin ah chamber

Bonjou, Project Runway fans!  We're in the home stretch.  The road to Fashion Week traditionally starts with Tim's visits to each of the four finalists.

I'm dedicating this week's recap to the Trinis who invaded our Blogging Project Runway chatroom this week to cheer on their homegirl, Anya.  Bonjou!

It's that time in every season when Tim visits the designers on their home turf and breaks bread, raises a glass, and looks completely out of his element with the designers family and friends.  In the past, we've seen Tim's pasty, white feet (with Uli), Tim on a bike (with Leanne) and Tim with turtle poo (thanks Laura Bennett!)

We also get a sneak peak at the designers collections before the head off to Fashion Week.  And all that's fine and good, but....

In a season of twists and turns, we didn't need another collective psych-out of a competition for three places at Fashion Week.  In the end (spoiler alert) all four designers are going.

I know, Josh.  I'm pretty disgusted, too.

"Are you?  Are you, really?  I mean, I put real sweat and tears into finding the three outfits that would showcase the best of my collection.  Have you any idea how hard that was?"
I can only imagine that it was hard for everybody, Josh.  Oh, the mighty hands of Bunim-Murray are all over this.

Kimmy from the Block

First up, Tim visits MY homegirl, Kimberly Goldson, who lives in White Plains, MD, which might as well be Bowie, MD.  For those of you from Trinidad, no, Bowie, MD is not pronounced like the Bowie in David Bowie.  It is pronounced 'BOO-ee.'

Kimberly drew her inspirations from growing up in a rough part of New York and then moving to Maryland.  It's a mix of urban sophistication with sunny colors that match her personality.  She also planned to add lots of blingy hoop earrings and an armful of bangle bracelets.  Tim worried a bit about cohesion.  Perhaps he should have warned her about styling.  And maybe he should have turned around to see the pink dress that was behind him the whole time and beg her to run that in the mini show.

This is what it's all about, people.
If there was one running theme through the show this season, it was death.  Every one of the designers who showed at Fashion Week (decoy and non-decoy) suffered some sort of profound, life-altering loss.  For Kim, it was losing her mother at a very young age.  Her mother imprinted on her a strong sense of style.  Considering that her mother probably came of age in the 70's and 80's, those nostalgia challenges were probably pretty bittersweet for Kim.  Kim clearly has the support of her extended family.

So once in New York, it was clear that Tim's critique had not been addressed.  "Show me a mini-collection" is a trap.  And designers trip themselves up all the time.  As a whole, her collection was probably cohesive enough, with each piece referencing some part of at least one other piece.  However, if you pull three pieces out, are they cohesive together?  Maybe not.  So how do you show the judges your range if the cohesion, collection-wide, is subtle?  Perhaps she should have thought of that back at the home office.  But designers often get very caught up in the details of producing all these garments, that they're not as focused on the mini challenge.

But that wasn't the worst of it.

While you could give points to Kim for a little creativity--fastening a skirt with metal rings is pretty edgy and unique--the final shape is not very flattering from the front.

And it's a disaster from the back.

The skirt could be saved, but, alas, it would be very short as a result.  Create a similar, larger panel in the back to mimic the one in the front.  Save the gathers for the sides.  Keep them flat so that they don't add additional bulk and keep them the same length as the panel so that the panel doesn't stick out.  This would be easy to do if she were home with weeks of time.  She's in New York now with less than a few days to go.  I'm not sure she can pull off a major alteration like this.  Her choice is to alter it or scrap it.  We'll see what she does next week.

On a lime...

This expression is Trini for "goofing around" or "having a good time."  Tim certainly had a good time!

Doesn't he look right at home?

Perhaps Anya should have spent her prep time in New York just looking at pictures of Trinidad.  Instead...

"First, I had a big party, then I went to Tobago, then I went scuba diving, and after that, I purchased some really cool batik."'re going to get anything done with this beckoning?

In this house?

I would be spending all my time on the front porch doing stuff like this.

So it was no surprise to me that when Tim visited the studio, all he saw was this.

She didn't even have drawings.  There was nothing for Tim to critique.  So Anya proceeded on her own instincts.  Back at New York, Anya pulled out her collection and there was nary a sleeve in sight.  Every dress was a variation on the pleated, sleeveless dresses she had been producing all season.

Anya's customer goes from the beach in her suit with an impossibly long cover up that would track sand all over the place to a party in a short dress.  Maybe she'll win an award and need the long gown to wear to the gala dinner.

I'm not going to pull punches.  I really think that Anya was confused about her vision for the final show and deeply distracted when she returned home.  As a result, she squandered her time--and she was the one designer who did not have time to squander.  The fabrics she showed Tim were gorgeous.  You couldn't want for better inspiration.   In the end, her inexperience really tripped her up.  It's not a matter of whether she could be a good designer in the future or not.  It is whether she can show her vision effectively now and I think she failed that test.  I do not see the purpose in having the producers keep her in the challenge at this point....unless she wins the final challenge.  If she doesn't, this whole dragging her along, challenge after challenge becomes trifling folderol that drags this season down.   If she does, I predict Project Runway Armageddon.

That said, she, too, has a few days to pull something together.  I'm just unconvinced she is capable of turning her entire collection around.

All the Pretty Colors

Somewhere in Queens, walks a woman named McKenzie McKinley.  Please be kind to her, should you meet her.  Her brother is Joshua McKinley.

"Don't even THINK about making a 'Mount McKinley' joke!"
Josh has had a few hurdles along his way to a fashion career.

"What is with the crazy ponytail?"
That Nina, always a critic....

Out of everyone, Josh got the most benefit out of Tim's critique.

Josh showed Tim his colorful, vintage fabric.
"It's horrendous."
"And this neon green lenticular fabric?"
"It's seizure inducing."

"And this?"
"Please, let us never speak of this again."
That was brutal, but effective.

Somehow, Josh managed to cull together three presentable pieces for his mini-collection.  In fact, not one to let anything go to waste, note that the eye-searing vintage fabric is now shown, under mesh, in the top under the slit jacket of the pants outfit.  Not everything was perfect, however.  Michael Kors obsessed over the "modesty tab" on the black dress and the back of the evening gown/legging outfit...

well, let's just say that could have been better executed.

"Women everywhere are clamoring for a gown with leggings!  Why hasn't someone thought of it before?" 

New York State of Mind...

Viktor stayed in NYC, where his home base is.

"This studio is amazing.  Much bigger than my tiny, New York apartment...."
 Immediately, Tim zeroed in on the most amazing piece

and the most questionable.

Viktor, somehow, felt compelled to present complicated, layered looks in his mini collection in order to show how well rounded his collection was.

Nina loved the white jacket, just as Tim did.

But the gown was lost underneath it.  So too was the dress, which was lost under the zipped leather overskirt.  Nina, Heidi and Michael ended up re-arranging the three looks and possibly, his entire collection.

And so, in the end, after all the twits and turns, after all the drama and the challenges, we have four designers of varying readiness.  And still, after the last garment walks down the runway, we have to wonder if this season was the one where the show failed to present the best final designers.  Each designer has so much pride in his or her work, but when compared to previous seasons, it seems to be a lot of talk with very little to back it up.  Or as my Trini friends would say, "braggin ah hall nottin ah chamber."

I hope to get to the decoy collections this week, which should help me prove my point.

Until next post, be well!