Sunday, January 27, 2013

Project Runway Season 11: Episode 1: Team Work Makes the Dream Work!

Greetings Project Runway Fans!  Did you get the memo?  Project Runway is now a continuous show.  We just finished up with All-Stars and are jumping right into the regular Project Runway.

"We're back!"
Except that it isn't the regular show we've come to know.  It took a long summer of negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but finally, a grand bargain was reached.

"Mitch, we need to shake this franchise up.  Why don't we just have the designers form teams."
"Teams.  Well, Harry, that's a damn sight better idea than raising taxes!"
"Mitch, I never said anything about taxes.  I was talking about tuxes."
"Tuxes?  Harry, you know menswear challenges never work on Project Runway!"
I'm unconvinced that making every challenge a team challenge enhances the show.  In the first challenge, the teams weren't asked to produce a cohesive show, so there wasn't any real pressure to work together.  There are two big differences:

  • When Tim came to critique each look, the entire team participated.  This might help some designers needing some outside input.  Unfortunately, those who seem to need it the most pay attention to it the least.   
  • The winner must come from the winning team and the loser must come from the losing team.  So each week, there is the possibility that the best outfit won't win and the worst outfit won't lose.  In previous seasons we could chalk that up to obvious producer manipulation...or judges on crack.

In the first challenge, each designer was to take their inspiration from New York City.

Unlike previous inspiration challenges, there was no specific picture for reference, so in some cases, it was very hard to imagine what actually inspired them.

Of course, the teams picked very lame names.  The Dream Team seemed more like a nightmare, having the weakest designers overall.  There were no shortage of worst looks on that team.  While Team "Keeping it Real" couldn't come up with a more tired cliche, their designers were stronger.  If this keeps up, the Dream Team will be just a Daydream Team in the span of two or three challenges.

Zach Posen replaces Michael Kors and while we'll miss Michael's witicisms, Zach adds some class and style to the panel. This week, he sports a smashing brown suit and rust colored tie.  
Dream Team

Here's the worst of the worst.

Cindy Marlett
Cindy found some fugly leopard print fabric and thought it would be oh, so New York-y to team it up with a red and white checkerboard waistband.  It's as if a tablecloth in Little Italy snuck into a cheesy boutique in Brooklyn.  In the team evaluation with Tim, she fought for a shorter dress.  The team, however, thought it would be a stronger visual to present the full length.  Was Cindy being punked?  If they give her more bad advice next week, we'll know!  Here, as she steams the wrinkles out, we get some idea of the shorter dress she wanted to make.  While the shorter length wouldn't have improved it, the longer length just made it worse.

At least it was well fitted.

James Martinez
This was so unremarkable, I'm surprised the judges noticed it enough to give it a low score.   They focused on the top, which featured some sort of stitching treatment at the neckline that looked sloppy and tortured.  I think the two-toned skirt was atrocious.  Even in this small picture you can see the puckering along the stitch line between the two colors.  It was design with no purpose or goal.

But the real loser this week, one we saw coming not 20 minutes into the episode, was this one.

Emily Pollard
You need to see this close up to get a full appreciation of how bad this outfit is.   The neckline is bunched up like a crumpled paper bag.  The draping across the shoulders has no rhyme or reason.  the back is a barely stitched-up mess.   The skirt is a plain tube.  The top underneath is not the least bit interesting.

Drama-wise, she wanted to make a challenging, three-piece look.  The team tried to talk her out of it, given how little time they had for production.  She ignored them, then proceeded to struggle through most of the production day trying to figure out how to construct the jacket.  In the end, with minutes to go before runway, several members of the team had to produce the top and skirt for her while she struggled with her jacket.  She was a waste of everyone's time and effort and the perfect candidate for this week's auf.

There were a few other outfits worth noting.

Samantha Black
That top was very beautifully constructed.

Michelle Lesniak-Franklin
The dress gorgeous, however, the purse contraption, while clever as hell, belonged on a much simpler dress.  The purse contraption is very New York, if you think about how practical New Yorkers must be.  Over a sheath dress or pants, this would have been inspired street chic.  The fact that this was a good design on the team that failed meant that she didn't get the criticism she needed to improve in the next challenge.

Tu Suthiwat Nakchat

Tu's design was most certainly one of the winning looks in either collection.  That top was architectural without being origami-ed to death.  Perhaps the skirt was a bit too simple, however.  I think it would have served him well to make it a bit longer to contrast the cropped top.  In any case, the black/white combination was very clever and eye catching.

Team Keepin' it Real

Stanley Hudson
Stan managed to find the shiniest fabric at Mood.  If he's always attracted to shiny things, I think we can expect a lecture about "taste level" in his future.  This outfit walked better than it stood.  Standing, it reveals every wrinkle and pucker.  With better fabric, we may see those construction skills that make him such a great costume designer.  You have to wonder if Stan's comfort zone is in the costume world.

Kate Pankoke
The dress was well constructed with clever detailing and a flattering length.

Patricia Michaels
Patricia used painted fabric panels on top of a dress base constructed out of blue chiffon.  When the dress walked, you saw peeks of blue underneath, but it wasn't enough for me to declare this dress a genius work of art.  Yes, I can see the architectural nature of it.  Yes, it flows when she walks.  But it still looks like a spray painted dress and the shape is a bit tent-like as well.  I'm just not completely understanding the praise that was heaped on this outfit this week.  Perhaps I'll see it in future challenges.

Richard Hallmarq
The starlets just dig the "frankendress": mash-ups of two different styles in the same dress.  One sleeve short enough to show off the lower arm tattoo you just got, an asymmetrical hem, it all communicates that you're  that "edgy."  Maybe you'll be edgy enough to star in that independent film that will finally break you out of your rom-com typecasting.   This is a dress full of "now."

Unfortunately, Project Runway has nothing to do with now, so it didn't win.

Daniel Esquivel
The peplum and shoulders won this challenge.  The cropped pants on the bottom made the whole look quite fresh, as did the 3/4 length sleeves.  The fit was flawless.  Daniel's got incredible skills, no doubt.  He's also got years of experience over most of the designers.  He'll be hard to beat.  Should this look have won over Richard's?

Considering who this week's guest judge was...of course!
The producers are promising us some exciting challenges.  They've got some extra budget to blow, so they're sending designers to different cities around the world.  We've got Chippendale dancers and team shake-ups ahead of us.  But in the end, Project Runway is all about the individual designer, no matter how they try to shuffle the decks.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Project Runway All-Stars, Season Deux, Episode 12: Zero Dark Runway

Greetings, Project Runway All-Stars fans!  Hope you sobered up from an evening of drowning your sorrows after watching the stunning conclusion of this season?

Since Lifetime didn't bother leaving the outcome for the end, I won't either.  Anthony Ryan Auld won the season.

"Just click your heels three times and repeat after me...'There's no show like Project Runway...There's no place like Project Runway...'"
We already know why he won: because no one could figure out why someone who couldn't make sleeves managed to win Project Runway in Season 9 and All-Stars' only purpose is to rectify a wrong.

What you don't know is how this whole state of affairs came about.

Of all the starlets Project Runway All-Stars paraded before you this season, one was missing....the hottest one of all.

Jessica Chastain
So what?  Well, here's what....remember the challenge where they all made feather dresses for some reason?  No, neither do I, but during that challenge, we saw Anthony Ryan on Skype with his mysterious boyfriend.

Did we see the boyfriend in the last show?  No.  Do we even know this "boyfriend" is real?  No.  Well, the Tirare le Fila Laboratories pulled the curtain back on Project Runway All-Stars and we've uncovered this:

Anthony Ryan is really talking to Jessica Chastain and the Project Runway producers....but why?  WHY?   Some further digging uncovered the answer.

Let's go back to the Spring of 2011.  The filming of Season 9 of Project Runway is well underway.  Olivia Palermo gets a mysterious call.

Olivia: "Hello?"
Jessica: "Hello.  This is Jessica Chastain.  We've never met, but in a year or so, I'm going to star in a big movie about a big event in American military history.  What you need to know is that when you're guest judging on Project Runway, whatever you do, make sure Anthony Ryan Auld is voted off that week."
Olivia: "What?  You're asking me to throw the competition?"
Jessica: "Listen, Sweets, our nation's security is at stake!"
One by one, each guest judge got a mysterious phone call instructing them which designer had to be bumped off that week...until the final contestants remained....and then....

Heidi: "Ja..."
Jessica: "Hello.  I'm Jessica Chastain."
Heidi: "We've been trying to get you on the show as a judge!"
Jessica: "No, this is not about that. Have you been reading your top secret dossiers from the BND?"
Heidi: "How do you know that I get top secret files from the BND?"
Jessica: "We know everything."
Heidi: " this all about..."
Jessica: "Yes it is."
Heidi: "I know he's a big Project Runway fan...I've seen the pictures..."

Jessica: "Well, what you don't know is that we've been sending him raw footage of this upcoming season.  We set up a fake fan favorite phone vote account.  Apparently, Anya Ayoung-Chee is his favorite."
Heidi: "But she doesn't even know how to sew!"
Jessica: "Fraulein, that's your problem.  My problem is keeping Mr. Bin Laden interested in Project Runway long enough for us to confirm his whereabouts."
Now, you're sitting there thinking, boy, that blogger is so clever to link the Auf Weidersehn of Osama Bin Laden with Anya Ayoung-Chee's win on Project Runway...but you're unconvinced.  Consider this, my fan friends.... American forces overran Bin Laden's compound on May 2, 2011.   Project Runway Season 9 aired on July 28, 2011.  Coincidence?

So what the heck does this have to do with Anthony Ryan?  Well, that mystery was found on the cutting room floor of Bravo's short-lived series, the Fashion Show.

Isaac: "Listen, Jessica, I don't know what kind of stuff you're smoking, but after this show, I can assure you, I will NEVER be connected with Project Runway."
Jessica: "Isaac, there is something you should know.  Project Runway is not about fashion.  It's been a whole ruse to get the al Qaeda leadership to watch TV so that we can determine their whereabouts.  Everyone thought we were using cell-phones...not so.  They're wild about fashion, as it turns out.  We rigged this past season so that Osama's favorite would win."
Isaac: "But he's dead now."
Jessica: "That's true, but we just found out that his successor thought that Anthony Ryan Auld was robbed in the 70's challenge."
Isaac: "Well, I never thought I would ever agree with someone in al Qaeda..."
Jessica: "So, you'll help us?"

Sound implausible?  Why don't you come up with a better explanation for this entire season....and season 9, while you're at it.

So for the finale, our three finalists had $3,000 and four days to create a mini runway show.  Each had a wildly different vision, which made things interesting and hard to judge....well...if you were taking the judging seriously, that is!  I've had a few days to think about the three collections, and I understand the outcome a little better than I did they night the show aired...but not much.

Four things can sink a finalist in the Michael/Nina/Heidi world:
    - Not enough range and versatility in the collection;
    - Sloppy construction;
    - Lack of drama; and
    - Fuzzy or inconsistent point-of-view.

We can take those last two off and focus on the first two, which means, in the area of vision and showmanship, Uli, Emilio and Anthony Ryan really matured since their seasons.  Uli and Emilio had more time to mature, of course, so you would expect improvement from their seasons.  Emilio has become light-years better at telling a story through a garment.  Uli traveled to another solar system and come back to give us a glimpse of the future.

In a way, the biggest surprise was Anthony Ryan, not second-guessing himself so much that he lost sight of the theme of his show.  He definitely was the most cohesive.

Before we proceed, I have some things to say about the judges this week.

You'll recognize Liv Tyler, model, actress and daughter of Stephen Tyler.  She's quite familiar with the fashion world, but she spent quite a bit of time projecting whether she would wear something or not into her critiques.  It's a real pet peeve of mine.  Still, her tastes are quite sophisticated, so she advocated outfits I probably wouldn't give a second glance.

The woman next to Isaac is Margherita Missoni, the daughter of Angela Missoni, whose brother, Vittorio, was recently lost in a plane crash into the Atlantic off the coast of Venezuela.   Missoni is one of those unbelievable, sprawling family businesses that seem to going extinct everywhere else.  She designs accessories and is a model herself.  She was very insightful, with strong thoughts about what is currently in fashion.   With the news of Vittorio happening just a few weeks ago, her appearance was quite poignant.

Now, let's explore the final designs.


I know know how much of it is mental....knowing in your gut that you probably won't win--the cards are stacked.  Still, you reach down deep inside to pull out a collection that is personal and political anyway.  After all, there's a whole world out there to whom you can make a strong impression.

The theme was "Urban Plantation" and the focus was on working African-American women through history.

This was his opening look.  The judges criticized it as "too junior."  I think the dress is too tight around the belly and hips, thus making it a bit too casual.  The theme as well as his chances were completely lost when this first look walked.

It's a shame, because stronger looks came down.  I'm not a fan of the bustier over blouse look, but this was well executed.  The next look, with the wild print, was reminiscent of the earlier graffiti challenge. At this point in the show, the narrative is flying all over the place, through time and space.  There was no clear, chronological progression.  The only indication you had sometimes that these were supposed to be "working women" was the headband and the lunchbox.

The jumpsuit fit perfectly and captured everyone's attention.  Cute sleeves aside, it did harken back to Rosie the Riveter, although the judges didn't see it.

This was another impeccably constructed outfit, reflective of the rural worker.  As casual separates, this outfit would be so flattering to many body types.  Well done!

These last two looks show off Emilio's facility with a jacket.  I can dress it up, dress it down, make it conservative or pull out all the stops.  He's a hell of a tailor.   The first look here is just too dressy and fussy to fit the narrative, but the second look is completely urban chic.  Teaming this up with the pant suit shown earlier, bring his collection and his theme into the modern day where women of color reach the highest echelons of the working world, still managing to wear their personality and history.

With a few months of planning and experimentation, this show could have been flawless and devastatingly provocative.  With just four days, it was a credit to Emilio's talent that he was able to communicate enough of his vision for you to see the potential.

Emilio has a bright future designing for working women who want something that sets them apart from the crowd.  I hope he gets that opportunity.


Since her season on Bravo's Project Runway, Uli has turned into an oracle of the future.  This collection was visionary, sculptural, and evocative of her "Vinter Vonderland" journey on which she took us.

I found the dark hose and shoes incredibly distracting.  The dress is very simply constructed, showcasing the pattern of the material over any innovative silhouette.

This was my least favorite look.  The shawl, to me, has no real design purpose.  The top is letting all fabric do all the work and the bottom is an unattractive afterthought.   But it worked together to pull the viewer deeper into her theme.

The next two looks were light and dark contrasts, featuring perfectly tailored skinny pants, that are so popular today.  There's only a narrow range of women who can wear them, but this is not a collection for the everywoman as much as it is for a visionary.

The feather jacket is real statement piece....not practical for any purpose at all than to get attention.

This was a rather throw-away dress for me.  The feathers on the shoulder are nice, but you would forget this as soon as it walked by.  The fabric was bunchy in the front as it walked, although it draped nicely when the model stood still.

This outfit, however, was my favorite of her collection, maybe out of everything she's ever done, and easily from this entire show.  This is the answer to the question of what to wear to the stuffy cocktail party thrown by your pretentious, intellectual friends.  This is what you wear to independent film award show that's held two weeks before the Oscars with half the attendees in jeans and the other half in Gucci.  This is what you wear to the evening reception for the winner of the prestigious award for being awesome.

I could see Carla Bruni, Kate Middleton, and Michele Obama arm wrestling over this outfit.  Of course, Michele would win and that's how she would pay off her bet to Barack for losing her NCAA brackets--loser has to wear feathers.

Anthony Ryan

Anthony Ryan's show was about dark and light/positive and negative...or something...I wasn't paying attention and it wasn't very important because he clubbed us over the head with an uber cohesive squares.

Strong open with an element of surprise in the back.  I'm not fond of the collar, given that not a single piece in the rest of the collection features one.  The combination of the shoulders and collar make the model's neck completely disappear, which, for me, is not attractive.  The back, however, is perfect for the woman who wants to display some skin without being vulgar.

The peplum is hot right now and he managed not not make this look like a bee.

Evocative of those Swiss drindl dresses with the suspenders.

This was my favorite.  The back cut-out is perfectly placed and the blocking is very attractive.  Even if yellow is not your color, there's enough grey that you could probably get away with it.  I'm sure it was Jessica Chastain's favorite too!

This one was just a little bunchy, which was unfortunate, because the idea was so strong.

I have no idea what Isaac was trying to say about the skirt lengths on Anthony Ryan's dresses.  If he meant to say that some of the dresses should have been way longer and some way shorter instead of flirting with 1-5 inches above the knee,  this is the dress he was talking about.  This dress would have made a stronger statement with a length below the knee.  The back is gorgeous.

And now, the needle scratch.

Ack!  The slit is all wrong. This dress almost belongs in a different show.  He should have had another flowing dress if he was going to send out this gown.  The cheesy superhero shield on the top is not flattering at all.  What a clunker all around.  Georgina and Liv took turns picking this dress completely apart.  If it wasn't for the first dress, this could have sunk Anthony Ryan.

Should he have won?  To me, even after a few days, I'm still at my original conclusion, no.  There is no versatility in this collection.   This collection lives in a narrow world of cocktail parties and red carpet openings.  There are a few construction mis-steps that stem from poor design in the first place.    And only one dress stands out, flawlessly executed, as far as I'm concerned.  However, the visual theme never wavered and was easy to understand in terms of what regular women would wear.

It was a triumph of wearability over fashion....once again.

I would have given the win to Uli this week, but then again,  two years ago, I would have given the win to Viktor Luna and we now know how disastrous that would have been.

Next season on Project Runway features teams.  I'm still not sure if I'm going to blog every episode.  Stay tuned.  I have some other subjects on tap as well.

Until then, it's been fun reviewing All-Stars Deux with you and you and you.

Bye for now!