Saturday, March 31, 2012

Project Runway All-Stars Finale: Guess it's over, call it a day....

I had this song in my head all last week just thinking about the last episodes of Project Runway All-Stars.

What will I miss the most?

Will it be Joanna Coles' expressive face?

Perhaps it will be the ever acerbic, Isaac Mizrahi.

Or, perhaps the cool, calm, and collected Georgina Chapman.

Whatever I end up missing, it probably won't be the host, Angela Lindvall.

Oh, she tried...but in the end, she never could pronounce "embroider" correctly and I suspect she helped keep a couple of lackluster designers in the game way past the their time to be there.

In any case, for the FIRST TIME IN PROJECT RUNWAY HISTORY we had an all-male final group.    And the results were quite impressive, given that each had just four days to prepare six looks for the runway.  One of them had to use left over material from previous challenges.  That's the extent of a twist for this challenge.

Because of the time crunch, the designers had help.

Austin teamed up with Anthony.  He knows comedy gold when he see it.  First, teaming up with Santino and now, Anthony.   If fashion design doesn't work out, I think they should just form a gay, fashion version of Monty Python.   I'd watch.

Anthony straight-away, began critiquing Austin's designs.  "This looks like an old lady dress."  It really was a brilliant pairing for Austin.

Michael chose April.  April has solid sewing skills and is quite speedy, which helped Michael quite a bit.  She also likes to edit.  Michael needed her editing and focus for this challenge.  She was a good choice for him as well.

Dream Team
I didn't quite make it into the Blogging Project Runway chatroom in time to chat about this pick, but as I was logging in and watching the show, I was saying, "Pick Mila, pick Mila, pick Mila...."  First of all, their aesthetics are compatible.  Second, Mila is all business, no drama.  That's good for Mondo, since he's a drama factory.  Third, Mila's skills are off the charts.  Oh, they could have clashed over competing visions, but that goes back to #2: Mila is focused on the task, not on being the center of attention.  Perhaps the next All-stars should be a team competition with teams the whole way through.  That would be an interesting twist.

Mila and Mondo worked very well together...which is a good thing, because Mondo brought the drama.

"I am suffering for my art."
I don't know if Mondo's meltdown was important enough to dominate an entire episode, but Bunim-Murray milked it for all they could.  It was the inspiration for his final collection, "Therapy."  His brooding for an entire day meant the for him, the final challenge was a three-day challenge.  And, it provided the backdrop for the BEST DESIGNER PEPTALK IN PROJECT RUNWAY HISTORY.

Michael: "Nobody thinks I'm a good designer.  I have to prove myself."
Georgina: "How do you think I feel?  Everyone thinks I'm in this business because my husband bankrolled my line.  You just have to ignore the haters and go for it.
"Austin:  "Everything I'm making right now looks ugly to me.
"Georgina: "That happens to me all the time.  I get a good night's sleep and come back in the morning.  Sometimes, the next day, things can look amazing.  If they don't, I call in a good seamstress.  Let's hope you don't have that problem!
"Mondo:  "I'm borderline suicidal.
"Georgina:  "So am I!  It sure makes life interesting for my husband and my staff.  But keep this in mind, I designed some of my best clothes with a noose around my neck!"
There, there, isn't that comforting?

The guest judges were Ken Dowling, buyer from Neimann-Marcus,

and Tommy Hilfiger, fashion mogul.

Now, you'd think that two fashion power brokers could deliver some pointed and hard hitting critiques, but you'd be wrong.   Perhaps the panel was so impressed at how well the designers pulled a show together in just four days that they overlooked a lot of faults.

Oh well...

At least Georgina wore her yeti outfit.

Let's see how our designers did.

Austin Scarlett

Austin's theme was...I don't know...let's say "pink fablulousness."  I can't remember him saying what it was.  The collection didn't seem that cohesive to me.  He did do the one thing the other designers didn't do: he stepped out of his comfort varying degrees of success.

He opened up with a very edgy take on panniers matched up with a a black, sequined top.  The end result was a mash-up of folds and pleats that went every which way and didn't seem to have a focus.  I had less of a problem with the pannier itself.  It's a strong, attention getting look.  However, when you think about it, a designer should probably just exaggerate one body part at a time.  Austin's pants were just big in all directions.  Also, the hem and some of the stitching were wonky.

This outfit gave the impression that this would be an edgy, very un-Austin collection.  However, neither of the individual parts were that earth-shattering.....well, save one....

Here comes Peter Cotton tail...hopping down the bunny trail...
Is something stuck to her skirt or is a tulle puffball trying to make a break for the exits?

The dress was made out of some sort of lacquered lace.  The flounce in the front looked like some sort of docking station.  It flopped about rather awkwardly.  I don't think it added anything to the dress that improved it in any way.  If he meant it to transition from edgy to glamorous, he shouldn't have followed up with this...

Tell me about it, stud....
At this point, I'm wondering who is up there pretending to be Austin.  All the while. they cut to shots of Austin standing there with Joanna saying, "This is really me. "  Really? we're talking....although this had a weird topiary effect as it walked down the runway.

Again with the weird folds and ruffles that add nothing but volume.

Then, Austin went for the completely expected.

That is a stunning dress, from all angles...although I could have done without the origami in the bodice.  I think he was trying to be cohesive by styling the dress with black gloves, belt and veil, but try as he might, it still looked like a dress from another collection altogether.

This left Tommy Hilfiger in a very confused state.  I counted at least five times that he uttered, "he was trying to show a rock and roll look..."  In the end, I appreciate that Austin stepped out of his comfort zone and took a small stroll on the wild side.

Michael Costello

I'm clearly going in the order I think the win should have been.  Mind you, I did not see the clothes up close, as the judges did.  And I did not have the benefit of Tommy Hilfiger and Ken Dowling endlessly debating the concept of "saleability."  But to me, Michael  Costello wasn't just the most improved of the lot, he really presented a compelling, cohesive collection.

His theme was "safari" and he clothes transported the wearer and the viewer.

He mentioned that this looked like a jumpsuit but was really separates.  The pants walked well, but I think he would have been better served with material that had a bit more body.  I could have done without all the sloppy necklaces hanging from the model's neck.  They reminded me of ID tags.

This look model totally pissed me off.  I wanted to see the jacket, but we got only a brief glimpse.  She never put it back on!  Maybe it didn't fit well.  The dress was constructed beautifully, but the print got in the way of all the detailed seaming.  In any case, I think showcasing the jacket would have given him a better edge.

Are you allergic to silver jackets?
If the judges mentioned the jacket at all, it was edited out.  We'll never know how they felt....but you know how I feel!

This was a more subtle print with the same theme.  Wearable and commercial.  I'm sure Ken Dowling was salivating.

Look at those pants!  Another beautiful outfit.

And here's the outfit done with the leftovers, which was a challenge twist, this being All-Stars and all...

I could have done without the of the judges, I can't remember who, actually loved the vest. Also, I think the necklace is much to casual for the look.

So I know what you're thinking.  Can Joanna Coles wear a "brar" with this gown?

Well, maybe one of those specialty "brars" that Macy's doesn't carry anymore.  Thanks for styling the models' hair so we can't see the detailing on the dress, dude.

Mondo Guerra

Mondo played it completely safe and stayed in his comfort zone.  His theme was "Therapy."  He styled the models as if they were mental patients and somehow, we are to believe that each outfit represents some sort of treatment option.  By staying in the zone, however, he was able to showcase his very strong design aesthetic.

This was Mondo's first look and at once, you get the whole story in one picture: Mondo's signature mismatched prints, a strong graphic focus, and strategic pops of color.

I don't know what treatment this is supposed to be.  Perhaps there's a sort of herringbone therapy I'm unaware of.   Tommy Hilfiger couldn't get past the huge "cartoon pockets" and gigantic, satellite dish buttons.  But I like those features.  That's pure Mondo.  It's a young, fresh, cheeky look.

So right off the bat, two looks walk out that are very spare silhouettes.  This is a big change from the flouncy, pleaty stuff Mondo sent down the runway in his season of Project Runway.  This collection had the look of a more mature designer--even though he had but a fraction of the time.

Another mix of prints.  I tried to get a shot of the side detailing in the leggings.  A very nice serve-up to Mila, who I'm sure helped him out with this look.  It's got a lot of her influence blended in.

A suit!  Mondo is an excellent tailor, so this is not a huge stretch of his abilities.  It bothered Tommy that the pants were too slim on the top and flared out at the hip.  He wanted a fuller cut from the top of the hip, not the bottom.  I think the pants flared out too much, but that's just me.

And the pockets really bothered Mr. Hilfiger.   Still, the pants fit beautifully and even my mom, who would have never gotten caught wearing two different tweed patterns, would have liked this outfit.

If I'm not mistaken, a Rorschach test is a diagnostic tool, not a treatment.  Regardless, the dress is very well fitted and styled.  The print is stunning.

Everyone says that gowns aren't Mondo's strong suit.  But I love the way the overlay flows over the dress and catches the light.  It was a nice formal interpretation of his design aesthetic.

So there you have it.  Mondo wins.  He's vindicated from his season and all is right with the world, yes?

Well, I'm not so sure.  In the land of Project Runway, under the reign of Bunim-Murray, fashion is beginning to take a back seat.  There were a couple of inspired challenges this season--the business of fashion and the light show spring to mind--but the drama and impossible time crunches took front and center.

I find it interesting to note that "televised fashion contests" are now all over the map.

NBC's Fashion Star, produced by Project Runway's original producers, Magic Elves, is a hot mess of weird dance numbers, nebulous instructions, mysteriously produced designs, a strange relationship between mentors and buyers, and an unknown final prize.  It gives me an ice-cream headache.

Lifetime's 24 Hour Catwalk, much like Bravo's The Fashion Show before it (RIP), features designers working with professional sewers.  And while the sewers bring a lot to the table (I adore Just Raymona...and I was quite fond of Merle...) I think it's kind of hard to follow that sort of team work.  An excellent, experienced sewer an salvage a bad design, to a point, which is what I suspect is happening an awful lot with some of these celebrity design lines.   But the wrong production shop could also scuttle a good designer's vision, too.  It goes both ways.

So, we're left with Project Runway, the original design contest.   I have a bit of a theory.  Starting with either the third or fourth season, Project Runway has been nominated for an Emmy.  It would really be cool to win an Emmy, but they have almost always lost out to "The Amazing Race."  It's hard to compete with a show that offers human drama, an impossible contest, and breathtaking scenery.

Ever since those Emmy nominations, whoever was at the helm of PR has tried to play around with the editing of the sewing and the runway show to make it look more exciting.  What we've lost is a sense of the creative process itself and a full accounting of the result.   The producers also have amped up the drama-- last minute twists, impossible time challenges, etc... that destroy any chance a designer might have had to complete the challenge in an innovative way.

To illustrate what happens, let's compare the finale of 24 Hour Catwalk, which featured lights incorporated into the designs to the penultimate, pre-finale challenge on Project Runway All-Stars, which also featured lights.  The Catwalk folks had three sewers each, save one who was fired.  But they also had less than 24 hours, working all night, to produce three designs each.   The All-Stars only had to produce one each with about 24 hours over two days. Perhaps the Catwalk folks had a better budget than the All-Stars.  Who knows?  All I know is that the 24 Hour Catwalk runway designs were more innovative and clever than the All Stars'.  That really caused me to take pause.  How could three Project Runway All-Stars not surpass two designers who have never been in a design challenge before?

I certainly do not have all the answers, but if I were the folks at Bunim-Murray, I would take a long look at what Project Runway has become.  They are casting now for a new season.  Perhaps it's time to re-think the nature of the challenges, the clarity of the rules and the time and resources given to each designer so that the design process again becomes the star and not just the drama.

Perhaps, it's also time to go back to not manipulating the outcome to fit a story line and let the chips fall where they may.

I look forward to the next season, this summer, with a wary eye.  Until then, I've got some sewing of my own to do!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Project Runway All-Stars Episode 10: No, No, Nanette!*

Greetings Project Runway Fans!

This week, we found out that Nanette Lepore is a real person, learned why designer clothes cost so much, and we confirmed that Bunim-Murray editors are hell-bent on making everyone on this show look like a mental patient.

Let's take each in order.

There she is: Nanette Lepore!
Nanette Lepore designs dresses and separates in a very classic style.  Here's one of the dresses from her summer collection, retail $488.

Why does it cost so much?

Well, for one thing, all of Nanette's clothes are made in New York City, where people are paid enough money so that they can live in a postage stamp-sized apartment in Queens, buy food and pay for their commute on the subway.  Second, the fabrics have some natural fiber content to them.  The cost of silk, cotton, linen and wool have been skyrocketing, due to all sorts of factors.  Polyester and rayon are still pretty inexpensive, comparatively.  And third, you pay for the design.  However, most people aren't willing to pay that much for the design, so it behooves you to waste as little of the fabric and the labor as possible.

Enter the challenge:

Make a dress that fits in with the Nanette Lepore summer portfolio.  She will appraise the value of the design, calculate how much labor it will take and how much material you will need.  Then, you have a budget left over to purchase the material.  The dress will sell on the website and proceeds will go to Save the Garment Center, an organization dedicated to promoting and educating consumers about clothing made in America.  According to them, if Americans spent just 1% more on goods made in America, they would create 200,000 jobs.

So the next time you see expensive designer duds, check the label to see if you're buying something made in the USA.

All the calculations about labor and fabric came in the person of Kelly the Koster.

 She's kind of like Rosie the Riveter, only Kelly's got a pencil and a calculator and she's not afraid to use them.
She is the operator of her pocket calculator...
I hung on her every word.  Big sleeves eat up labor and fabric.  Skirts just one seam eat up fabric and leave lots of waste.  A little trim work goes a long way to making a desirable garment.  Fifteen minutes with Kelly "the Koster" Keough was like a semester at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

The designers also got to use Nanette's fabrics.  Each designer had issues and quirks that tripped them up.  Let's see how they did.

Austin Scarlett

Austin decided to do a coat.  

After picking out a taffeta, he had enough budget to use 4 yards of fabric ($16.24/yard by my calculations.)  Unfortunately, he picked taffeta.  I just got through cutting and piecing a gown in silk taffeta and if I never see taffeta again, it will be too soon.  The stuff is thin.  It bunches up easily when you sew it--there is no leeway with needle size or thread tension at all when sewing taffeta.  And you better get that seam right the first time.  Ripping seams in taffeta is the fastest way to shred it up.  It's heartbreak from stem to stern.  But the worst part about it is that it is wrinkly.  You have to press out every piece and every seam as you go.  Of course you should do that with all your sewing, but with taffeta, you cannot short cut that process.  You also have to let it hang out to get the right drape.

But this isn't Austin's first rodeo with taffeta.

Still, that hem is is a hot mess.

It wasn't as bad when the model (cheer up, darlin'!) untied the belt and swung it around.  The judges were a bit confused about it until he explained that the garment was a coat.  Oh, then, they could forgive the wonky hem and all the wrinkles.  Well, Nanette couldn't, but the rest of them did.

Michael Costello

Michael just pissed me off this week.  First off, he designed another caftan.  Like the world needs another caftan.  Second, all the drama about his fabric ($16/yard.)  He thought it was 60" wide and it turned out to be only 47" wide.

"Oh crap.  Why didn't I pay attention when they were cutting the fabric to see how wide it was?"
Joanna brought Nanette into the workroom with her for her consultation rounds and I suspect he managed to piss them off, too.

Joanna: "Once again, Michael.  How are women supposed to wear a brar with this oufit."
Nanette: "That's right. All my clients wear  We'll need hook and eye closures"
"Kelly wouldn't let me have any extra money for notions.  I'll have to put my hand here to show you where you could put a hook and eye."

So out came the caftan.  Nice way to cover up the plunging neckline with a necklace.  And the back?

Just sweep all the hair to the back to cover that up...

Aha!  Isaac wants to see the back!'re so busted....

Yikes!  Strap across the top...plunging back.  I thought he was off for sure.  Not in the history of the Nanette Lepore line have they ever run a caftan.  We all knew this was never going to win, but for some reason, the magical draping and gathering lulled everyone into keeping him in the competition.  My booted foot was ready to give him the heave ho...but the heave and ho were saved for...

Kenley Collins

She started off right on track to make a dress that Nanette herself could have designed.

How cute is that keyhole detail?  And the piping down the front and on the sleeves....I was getting my checkbook ready to buy that dress...and then....

"I must have that print....that $20/yard print...."
The first blow came from Kelly the Koster, who informed her that she only had enough budget left to get 1/2 yard of the piping fabric.  The second blow came as she laid out the fabric, only to discover that her keyhole would have been about the same size as one of the peacock feather "eyes."  Too busy.

The third blow came when Joanne and Nanette walked in.

Joanna: "Now that's a dress you can wear a 'brar' with."
Nanette: "But I was expecting a sheath dress with a keyhole front, not a poorly gathered, drapey dress!"
Kenley: "But it's made with your beautiful print.  You'll love it."
Nanette: "Keyhole!"

So why not sweep the models' hair over the dress and maybe Nanette will forget all about that keyhole.  No, no, Nanette can't forget a detail like that!

In fact, she's going to notice every flaw, like the mis-matched seams and wonky hem.  And Georgina Chapman will pile on and the producers will come out with torches and pitchforks and show you the door.  Right before the final show.  I think Kenley's arrogance got the best of her.  Again, I disagree with the outcome here.  For me, the path of lazy, least resistance should trump arrogance, but I'm not on the Bunim-Murray staff.

So buh-bye, Kenley.  We'll miss you!

Mondo Guerra

Mondo managed to piss me off, too, this week.  You see, even though he can't draw, I can understand what he was trying to communicate.  The editing this week, made him seem like he was a on the verge of a bi-polar crash.  They strung together every "woe is me" comment and complaint to the point where it made it hard to believe Mondo could sew two pieces of fabric together at all.

Let's take a look at his drawing for a minute.

Yes, my 8-year old can draw a whole lot better...but what's this we see here?  Third row down, very clearly, MONDO DREW A DRAWSTRING THROUGH A FABRIC PANEL.

Mondo's design was a dream for Kelly the Koster.  Strips of fabric?  Aw hell, buy the cheapest ones.  In fact, we'll give you all the bolt ends from the back room.  Here's the remnant pile.  The fabric total came to $15.77.   They'd make a fortune off this outfit....however....

Where's the drawstring
in the middle?
The dress was shapeless.  Still, the idea of it and the print combination, was masterful.  The gathering at the bottom with the vertical stripes made it look like fringe.  Clever.

Mondo was the winner here.  Was there ever any doubt?  However, why didn't Nanette pay closer attention to his drawing.  They re-worked the outfit for sale and...

There's a waist...

Perhaps it allows for a smooth front finish, whereas the draw string would have gathered everything up...but I think a self-fabric belt would have been a little less abrupt.

Still, for $298, you can help raise some money for a good cause....and keep a lot of American sewers in business.

So our final runway collection will be delivered by Austin, Michael and Mondo.  No girls.

See you next week for the finals!

*You youngsters are  probably wondering where the title came from.  No, No, Nanette was a Broadway musical from the 1920's that featured "Tea For Two" and "I Want to Be Happy."