Thursday, November 3, 2011

Season 2 Finale: Blessed candles of the night.

Paul:  I come not to praise Season 2, but to bury it.  Here at the end, I get the sense that it was a season of growing pains for the series.  It was cute and awkward, like a cartoon deer learning to walk.  Now it is over and I feel like we've crossed a bridge from Season 1 over which we shall never return.

The only moment I took note of in the reunion special was when Guadalupe Vidal spoke.

Laurie:  Wow! I had totally forgotten about that.  Yes, the non-final-three designers had been treated to drinks prior to this little sit-down, but even so, this was a disturbing moment.  Do you ever get that feeling when watching someone else come unhinged that maybe it's not them, but you?  I'm not a fan of such moments.

Paul:  Nor am I.  Nor, apparently, is Tim Gunn.

Although from Guadalupe's POV, I think the moment speaks to a shared human experience: that of finding yourself midway through answering a question which you are in no way prepared to answer.  There is kind of a nightmare in the moment.  I like to think of myself as an articulate person, but I also know that if cameras followed me for a few months, they would find moments of deranged drivel spewing out of my mouth at some point or another.  A few clips in the editing booth and there's my fifteen minutes of fame.  I would add that this is the only thing I remember about Guadalupe Vidal from the entire season.

Laurie:  That's funny, Paul.  I agree.  The idea of being followed around by cameras makes me shudder.  It seems to me there was a moment, maybe in one of the outtakes in the bonus section of the CD, when someone in the group audibly passed gas.  Those are the kinds of moments, among other things, that ruin my How Fun It Would Be to Be on a Reality Series fantasy.

Now, back to reality.  I really enjoy the part of the finale when Tim Gunn does the home visits.

Paul:  Oh, I agree.  They are some of the best moments of each season.  Tim Gunn, who sort of stands for all that is good in the world of Project Runway - he is the guardian of splendor - visits the contestants at home and confirms for us what we rather suspected in spite of what the television was telling us: that these are fellow human beings.  They share our insecurities, our small triumphs and quotidian tasks, are fellow future corpses, no better or worse than the rest of us.  They also walk in beauty like the rest of us.  The home visits are a moment of redemption in each season where even the harshest contestant gives us a peek behind the curtain.  Those moments are a splash of reality on television.  

Laurie:  Somehow, too, they manage to be uniformly touching.  Even last season's Wendy Pepper ended with more compassion points after a visit to her hometown.  This season was no different.  I really like that this show doesn't intentionally (so far as I can tell anyway) focus on the designers' back-stories.  Occasionally one or the other individual contestant will try to do the harping-on-hardship thing, but seldom gets far with it. It is not until we get to the Fashion Week finalists that we learned more than just hints of what their extra-Project Runway life looks like.

Santino Rice, we learn, hails most recently from Venice, CA and was at one time homeless until a couple who knew him took him in.  He took Tim Gunn to meet his patron couple, and their small children, and they sat down to a meal together.  It was a warm, and very touching scene, really, with little ones hanging adoringly all over their grown-up friend Santino.

Paul:  This may very well have been my favorite moment in Season 2.  Santino's friends dearly love him and they take Tim Gunn into that urban haute bohemian world, sitting around makeshift tables in a little apartment on the edge of America.

Laurie:  Daniel Vosovik, originally from Michigan, was, as it happens, living right there in New York City.  After showing Tim the beginnings of his Fashion Week collection he invited him to come shopping with him for an outfit for himself for the big show. There was something irresistibly sweet to me about this.

The final home visit was to Chloe Dao's home in Houston, TX.  We learned that Chloe was a Laotian refugee, one of... I don't know...a gazillion daughters in her family.  She had worked her way up in the world of fashion to the place of owning her own up-scale boutique in Houston.  We saw her shop and then met her family - her mother was so very reserved it was hard to tell what she thought of the whole thing.  Again, there was something beautiful about the moment.

By the end of these visits I was rooting for all three, but was most concerned for Chloe, as she did not have a theme or complete concept, and no sketches. (She says she doesn't work from sketches.)

Paul: I was also rooting for all three and can't say I really had a preference.  I would have been happy with each winner and a little disappointed over the other two not winning.  So, hasten we to Bryant Park!

The designers show up with their lines and are met with a surprise curve-ball.  They are to make one more outfit.

Laurie:   With only two days left until the show, this out-of-the-blue challenge came like a slap to the face.  Chloe'd no sooner uttered words to the effect of "I'm so exhausted I never want to design another thing so long as I live," than this was sprung on them.  They got $250, 30 minutes to conceptualize, and one more surprise: one of their former competitors to help them execute it.  Chloe was about in tears as they ushered in the previously eliminated designers for our three finalists to choose from.

Paul:  I totally forgot that this was a thing that had registered on my retinas at one point in my life.

Chloe's 13th Challenge
Daniel's 13th Challenge
Laurie:  Yes, it really happened, and I have the notes in my spiral binder to prove it.  It was an awkward moment, as I recall, with the finalists too stressed to be happy to see any of their old pals, and with all but three of the old pals in the position of not being selected to participate in the challenge. 

Now to the hounds. Daniel chose Nick; Santino chose Andrae; Chloe chose Diane; and they all relied heavily on their choices.  As it happened, Diane was at least as responsible for what would prove to be the cornerstone and most commented-upon piece of Chloe's collection - a little gold baby-doll dress, with pockets hidden in its folds.

Daniel kept it simple and elegant, which really is his thing anyway, but worked well for the sake of the time crunch. 

Paul:  I remember Tim Gunn saying to Daniel "There's an element of risk in this that I want you to have."  
Laurie:  Santino was fresh out of ideas, so Andrae gave him a nice little Andrae dress.

Andrae's Santino's 13th Challenge

And finally came the big event.  The collections were all quite good, but the biggest surprise, I think, was Santino.  We expected to have our socks knocked off, for good or bad, by his collection.  But our feet remained snug. He made a few truly beautiful garments, but the collection lacked cohesiveness.  And most of all, the collection lacked Santino.  It was as if every memo the judges sent him through the whole season recommending that he ratchet it back a notch finally landed on his desk in one big stack and he finally took notice - just when we were hoping to see what he would produce once he was finally free of constraints.

Paul: I think above all we all wanted to see as much of Santino as we possibly could.  We got what we wanted and then someone else won.  Balance is restored across the great chain of diamonds and the palpable change in tone begins to give me hope for the next 7 seasons ahead of us.

Laurie:  I was torn between Daniel and Chloe.  I really like Daniel's style in general - and I like Daniel as a personality.  Chloe's collection was  much bolder and sewn to perfection, but a few of the pieces had a 1980's taffeta prom dress feeling that I just couldn't quite get past.  I am not a fan of poof, especially in sleeves.  But for all my concern about Chloe going into this without a plan, her collection looked like a collection.  Very cohesive.  She's a smart gal.  Her expertise and skill sent her home with the prize.

Unfortunately the only video we were able to locate of Santino's collection did not include the music that he created specifically for the show (and that was not followed inexplicably by Wendy Pepper's collection from Season One). 

Paul:  And so we have reached the end of another season.  Our work on season 3 will commence shortly.  I think it will prove enlightening for all.

Friday, October 28, 2011

2.11 Chasing the Dragon

Laurie:  Last night, while the rest of the Project Runwayverse was watching the season finale of Season Nine, we were curled up cheering the Fashion Week runway presentations of the Season Three top picks. Clearly we are running out of steam!  Our big mistake, I think, has been to allow ourselves to begin viewing Season Three before we've finished blogging Season Two.  Such is the crack-like addictive quality of Project Runway. Who knew this fun little project would require so much self-control?

Remember cassette tapes?  Sure you do.  Well, anyway, that's a bit like how my memory has been behaving ever since we began getting ahead of ourselves.  My brain has taped Season Three over the top of Season Two, and I'm having trouble even remembering who's who, let alone who did what and why.  Even my notes have left me scratching my head. But plow ahead we must, and from this entry forth we will exercise more restraint.

Paul:  I am in full agreement with everything you just said.  I am absolutely consumed with wanting to write about Season Three and am really struggling to think of anything I want to say about the end of Season Two.  Which seems unfair. Season Two was a fine season.

Laurie:  And we really are still in Season Two (a lovely little season, right? Let's do try to get back in the spirit of the thing.) and are finally down to the final four.  This is the challenge that decides which three go home to design a line for Fashion Week, and which one just goes home.

Our designers' final challenge was to design an evening gown to represent the line they are hoping to present at Fashion Week. It is then announced that the winner of the challenge will be honored by having their winning gown worn to a red-carpet event by none other than super-model Iman.  This announcement was met with shock and awe.

The designers were given one hour to sketch and $300 to spend.  But first they were taken on a field trip to meet Fern Mallis, then organizer of Fashion Week and Vice President of IMG.  They were given the opportunity to ask her for Fashion Week advice.  The key word of wisdom, which seemed to come with an imperceptible wink in Santino's direction, was "BE NICE".  Essentially no one benefits when people treat one another unkindly (my words, not hers, but that was the gist of it).

Paul:  There is a party.  Austin and Jay from Season 1 are there.  [Laurie: and so were Kara Saun, Heidi Klum, and Michael Kors. It was a surprise party, as you might have forgotten to remember.  I know it's true because I wrote it in my notes!]

Paul:  We are treated to snips of conversation in which Jay relates to the exact point in the competition in which the contestants find themselves.  We are reminded that there will be life outside of this contest and we wonder if Jay is currently filming Eleven Minutes yet.

Again, we suspect that Santino may not be winning on the merit of the outfits he is creating within the challenges, but rather on the promise of what he will be capable of producing for fashion week.

Santino's creation, image via
Laurie:  Yes, I've had the distinct impression that Santino has coasted through more than once on his unique blend of dashing and devilish, and all the excitement that might result were he turned loose on Fashion Week.  (One thing the yet-fledgling Project Runway cannot afford at this point in its run is to bore its audience, or the world of fashion design.  It is clear this production means to be taken seriously in the industry and so must walk the lines all successful designers must walk between edgy and tasteful, between elegant and boring.)

And yet, unfortunately, a ho-hum is what the designers got from the judges on this, the penultimate runway presentation.  I thought the gowns were all lovely and tasteful, with the exception of Santino's, which more than tiptoed over the line into gaudy.  As has so often been the case with Santino, underneath the gaud was the potential for an amazing dress.  The rest of the crew played it "safe",  that curse-word the Project Runway gods reserve for what simple folk like me call lovely, tasteful, and timeless elegance....but to be fair, they may have had a point.  It is the exotic beauty Iman we are dressing after all. 

 Paul:  Oh that's right!  I knew there was a reason I kept humming Abdulmajid.

Chloe's design, image via
Kara's gown, image via
Laurie:  Chloe's dress, at least from the front, was especially beautiful, if not exactly right for Iman. I seem to recall the rear-view having an odd shape, though.  Daniel's dress was the simplest of all, and in navy. Kara's was rather similar to Daniel's, but in black.

In the end it was Daniel's gown that Iman preferred.  He won the challenge, and Iman wore his dress.
Is it just me, or does this dress fit the Project Runway model worlds better than the legendary Iman?  Hmmm, upon closer look the neckline has been entirely redrawn in Iman's version. Still lovely though.

Daniel V's Challenge-winning gown, image via
Iman wearing Daniel's dress via
And we said farewell to Kara Janx.  (Click here to see what she's been up to since.) 

Next up: Fashion Week!

Paul:  And after a respite, Season Three.  Respite for us.  We're going to throw some movies in our Netflix queue for a bit while we catch up on this blog, so there should be no detectable intermission on your end.  We are committed to this project, and we will make it work.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

2.10: "O Lord make my enemies ridiculous."

Paul:  First and foremost, any "Where's Andrae?" jokes hereafter are officially bad form.

Laurie:  Agreed. It is no longer funny now that he is really gone.

Paul:  The design challenge was for the designers to design for other designers.  Wait, let's back that up and try to explain it in a way that will avoid utter confusion.  Each designer is to design an outfit for one of the other designers in their own design style.  Is this making sense?  The other designer will then wear the outfit on the runway.

Laurie: In fewer words, the design challenge was for each of the designers to design for one of their fellow designers. This surprise seemed to delight everyone, us included.  As I recall, names were drawn to determine who would design for who.

This is officially referred to as the "Makeover" episode. And so it was.  The whole gang was taken out for a few hours to be pampered with manicures and pedicures. (It's always fun to see our normally tense contestants get opportunities to laugh and play a little.)  When it came time to dress for the runway they would be styled by the professionals, just like their models would normally be.

Paul:  It also makes me feel like a bit of a ghoul realizing I've been entertaining myself with extraordinarily tense people in their struggles.

We are down to Nick, Kara, Santino, Daniel V. (not his fault, we need the extra initial for clarity. Such is the capriciousness of fate), and Chloe.

I didn't write a lot of notes for this episode for some reason, but I did write about them not knowing men's wear.  For the life of me, I can't remember who said that, but someone in particular made that shocking admission of non-versatility. 

Laurie:  Nick was apparently the only one with menswear experience, and he cranked out a suit for the beloved Daniel V. in no time flat. 

Paul:  Right.  You know, there's something strange to me about the movable feast aspect of the show.  We've seen it before and, since we're actually ahead of what we're writing about, I know we'll see it again.  Some people get slammed for things that other people are praised for.  You'll have the judges say "This is too much like everything you've ever made on this show" and the next challenge the designer will think way outside of their box and the judges will say "This looks nothing like your work."

So, you pack your samples, your porfolio, your models, and head off to Capitol City to audition for Project Runway in full  knowledge that you have absolutely no clue how to make clothing for roughly 1/2 of the world's population.  Which is a lot of why this blog project is meant to be more about slightly larger ideas suggested by the material rather than the material itself.  The material itself is mad north by northwest, but when the wind is southerly knows a hawk from a handsaw.

Chloe's winning design
The outfit that Nick wore, designed by Chloe, is the best of the lot and the judges agree.

Laurie:   Chloe's accomplishment in this challenge was even more impressive considering she had absolutely zero experience with menswear. (She's the one you couldn't remember.) This was her first-ever suit for a man, and it was perfect.

Paul:  In a cruel twist of fate, Nick is also ousted this week as his design for Daniel V. is the losing design.  Oh, but wait!  Have you seen Nick's design placed side by side with Santino's design for Kara?

Laurie:  Yes. Nick was sacrificed on the altar of Santino.   Clear, albeit sometimes misguided, talent aside, Santino has turned out to be the single greatest character (and I mean that in the theatrical sense) of the season.  Santino's design was not only hideous and ill-fitting; it was also poorly sewn.  The left sleeve was separating at the shoulder, and when the judges called him on it he blamed it on Karas enthusiastic movements.  To her credit, she did not correct him. Inexplicably, the guest judge liked it....Perhaps this is what accounts for Santino's survival to the next round. (I'm trying these days not to allow myself to get too cynical over the capricious behavior of the Project Runway gods.)

To be fair, however, Nick's apparent over-confidence in his experience with menswear led him to under-work or under-think - or something - his design for Daniel.  On first glance, and in the photo below, it looks really lovely, but the judges were rather unanimous in their criticism.  They might not have objected so much to the soft, possibly feminine, color if the cut had not been so much like woman's wear.  The pants had no pockets.  An omission that, being a woman, I did not pick up on.

Paul:  Being a man, I did immediately.

Laurie:  Apparently it is a cardinal sin to expect men to wear pants without pockets.

Paul:  We don't make the rules.  It's just for the best.

Laurie:  Add to that the fact that the jacket had no pockets either, and no closure, and the soft fabric showed faint bunching along every seam, Nick's design was fatally flawed.  This was a big disappointment in Casa Mathers, since we really enjoyed Nick's talent as well as his gregarious personality.
Image via
Images via

images via

 Daniel had immunity for this challenge due to his having one the last one.  He expressed a firm desire to win in spite of that, but as it turned out it was only his immunity that saved him.  The judges hated the outfit he made for Chloe, saying it aged her.  Also, the hem was fraying and looked sloppy.  I admit to really disliking that vest thing. I just don't get it.  Daniel managed the judges harsh criticism as he seems to do everything else, politely and without argument. His reply was a classy and respectful, "Guess you can't be right all the time."  I like this kid.

And finally we have our winner. Kara's remake of Santino was a huge hit with judges and Mathers alike.  I think I recall one of the judges referring to the look as "Santino on holiday".  The madras pants were perfect and  Kara even recovered the hat with some of the same fabric which lined the collared shirt. It was great to seen our season's biggest ego clean shaven.  He looked shades brighter and less brooding, delightful really, and he clearly felt it too. A well-deserved win for Kara.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

2.9: Breaking Flowers

Paul:  At the time of writing this post, we are out of garden party season.  The convention of the garden party is a lovely one.  People get well-dressed and gather in a garden or park.  Refreshments are served.  Outdoor games like croquet are played.  If I could, I would throw a summer garden party with paper lanterns, fireworks, chilled sparkling rosé, a Punch and Judy show and a banjo orchestra, and gold and silver crowns for everyone. I would buy myself a new white linen suit for the occasion.

Laurie:  Ah, I would love to throw a party like that too!  But in order to make this possible, mucho mega yard-work must first be done!

Paul:  I would like to make an aside about this sort of party and my feelings about such things.  I have a "cannot be happy if anyone anywhere in the world is suffering" streak.  This is not meant to be self-congratulatory, but rather expressing what a wet blanket I can be if I don't check such attitudes.  I have the capacity to crash into absolute joylessness at the drop of a hat.  For some reason I kept thinking about Truman Capote during this episode.

Capote is, in my opinion, without a doubt in the top-five list of greatest authors that America has produced. He had an early success with Breakfast at Tiffany's, but for some reason then chose to write a non-fiction novel, a journalistic experiment following the crime, capture, and aftermath of a family that was murdered in Kansas.  By many accounts, the long and harrowing experience of essentially becoming part of that story destroyed Capote or, at least, severely twisted him permanently.

Very soon after the executions of the murderers and publication of his book, Capote threw a massive and expensive masqued ball at New York's Plaza Hotel.  The guest list could work as a who's who of the period.  It very well may have been the definitive elite party of that era, perhaps even that century.  There was great criticism at the time (even inside the party by the ungracious Norman Mailer) about throwing such a lavish event while the nation was in smack dab in the quagmire of Vietnam.

I've always thought that Capote was trying to recapture some of that pre-In Cold Blood energy, now that he enjoyed the position of fame where he could, as it were, come inside Tiffany's for breakfast.  It almost seems to me as if he spent the rest of his life both trying to recapture something along those lines and subsequently reacting when the pink unicorn proves to be invisible.  He cultivated a life amidst the jet-set and then smashed it to bits when he began publishing thinly-fictionalized stories about the people he had surrounded himself with.  He worked his way into the Warhol and Studio 54 world, then spiraled into a nose-dive of very public substance abuse.

I felt a twinge of this as our designers, filmed six years ago, were dashing about the floral district while right now the serfs are revolting in that same city.  I can see the ghost of my friend New York Rob admiring the lilies.  As I am internally designing my own "Masque of the Red Death" ball, I become acutely aware that I, like Capote, sort of live in that danger of being the guy who gets tossed out of the bar for weeping in despair during happy hour.

Laurie:  Though not bent quite as sharply as you in that same direction, I can testify from my own experience that grief and Mardi Gras can stir into a pathetic mix. I well remember attending an annual summer pool party that was held in spite of the fact that two of the individuals who would normally have attended had been murdered just days before.  The idea was, at first, to cancel it, but then someone got the idea that it should be held anyway, in honor of the victims.  I don't know how the rest felt, but it turned into a disaster of embarrassment for me.  The combination of sadness, horror at the idea of partying at such a time, and my own alcohol consumption left me publicly maudlin. To this day it is one of my most humiliating memories.

Paul:  But we were talking about the Garden Party challenge.

Laurie:  Yes we were, and somehow you've managed to turn this into some kind of meta-narrative.

Paul:  That's been my intention since starting this blog.

Laurie:  Well, I'm having a hard time pulling my head out of the dark place you've stuck it; I keep wondering what our designers would have come up with if their challenge required them to produce funeral garb.  After all, gardens and cemeteries tend to be different by only one significant measure, and the same goes for funerals and parties. Death certainly does have a way of sucking the life out of things.

As the saying goes, "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."  Is it possible for wisdom, fashion, and garden parties to co-exist, or to enjoy them must we remain fools?

Paul:  That is an excellent question phrased in such a way that it seems as if you almost expect me to be able to answer it.  Certainly there is a time to every purpose and whatnot.  Personally, the house of mourning makes a lot more sense to me with existence as I've experienced it.  On the other hand, here I am watching a television show about fashion every few nights.  I may have a few suggestions of a middle path culled from secular sources.  The poet Keats wrote "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,- that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need know."

If you were to ask an Aristotelian about living a meaningful life, they would respond that the only life worth living is the life of virtue, a cue taken from Socrates.  They would say that happiness is a constituent of virtue, in fact even so far as the only constituent of virtue.  Along with the Socratic "cardinal virtues" (prudence, temperance, justice, and courage) they would emphasize the indivisibility of beauty and good (while Socrates was much more focused on "wisdom" as the best window to virtue.)  In this way, and really only in this way, I can begin to delight in things like fashion and garden parties.

Laurie:  That's all well and good, but do our own scriptures not provide any direction in this regard?

Paul:  Certainly, as I said, there is a time to every purpose and we are instructed to rejoice with those who are rejoicing.  I find that scripture advocates temperance and wisdom and proscribes unbridled mirth and jocularity.  It is also my belief that scripture would back up the Aristotelian view of appreciating beauty expressed above, although I can tell you from personal reading experience that someone like Augustine would take great and turgid 25 page long pains to insure that all glory is given back to the creator of such beauty.  And rightly so, I think.

Carrying on:

The challenge was to create an actual outfit out of garden.  They were taken to the flower district to purchase materials for their dresses.  As usual, I intend to spend as little time as possible talking about the actual challenge.

As a major parenthetical and can of worms, Daniel Vosovic is shown in one of the endless loops of fabricating in the windowless Parsons dungeon (I was half expecting one of the designers to buy ammonium nitrate at a gardening store and blow one of the walls off so that they could all run to freedom!)  Daniel makes mention of the elephant that follows almost all of the men around the rooms on Project Runway.  Daniel recounts "coming out" to his decidedly Christian parents.

Laurie:   I gathered from what he said, and from what I know having seen the full season by now, that they behaved themselves as Christians in response.  They kept right on loving him.  The kind of people his parents seem to be, I think, explains a lot about Daniel's demeanor on the show.  From what we've been shown of him, he is even-tempered, honest, respectful, and gentle. I'd say his parents raised him well.  He is a superb young man.

Paul:  Agreed. 
Daniel V's winner, image via
Laurie:  And, here's the segue: his superb design was the winner of our garden party challenge.

The judges for this challenge expressed uniform disappointment at the overall lack of flowers in the finished dresses.  For those of us watching, their decisions made practical sense.  This was a two-day design challenge.  Cut flowers have a very short shelf life.  Individual petals even shorter.  Our models are women, not Rose Parade floats and can't be sent down the runway covered with water-soaked florist's sponge.

Daniel, however, did manage to float a bright wash of purple over the bodice of his dress, letting a few blossoms spill lightly down to the waist and hip.

Paul:  Michael Kors says to Santino that it is as if he doesn't care about dressing people.  He cares about making wearable art.

Santino's dress, image via

Laurie: Kors makes a good point.

Paul:  Kors always makes a good point.  The man speaks nothing but gold.

Laurie:  I think that in photographs Santino's dress is stunning, even more so than Daniel's, but it was so stiff and heavily lacquered that it left the model moving as though in a body cast.
Kara's design, image via
 And then we have the rest of the pack.  It is clear that we've gotten down to the meat of the talent in this competition. None of the presentations were real duds, in my opinion anyway.  You can see Kara's at left.  She also managed to bring in some color albeit with a bit less pizzazz than Daniel.

Nick's is lovely too. I like the touch of yellow in the model's hair and the flip little floral fringe along the hem.  His dress ran into a bit of the same trouble that Santino's did, though. It photographs quite nicely, but in motion it was stiff.
Nick's dress, image via

 I've shown Chloe's dress in a larger frame to show the detail.  She covered her entire sub-garment painstakingly with individual leaves. The finished look was simple but lovely.  I think the skull cap, however, was over the top (so to speak) and just plain ugly.

And finally we bid adieu Andrae. The judges thought his moss-covered dress looked like a door mat. While I see their point, I think he made something rather sweet in its simplicity. We have really enjoyed getting to know quirky and sensitive Andrae, but someone had to go, and at this point I agree that it was probably his turn.

Andrae and his design, image via

Monday, October 10, 2011

2.8: O for a Muse of fire!

Paul:  Our designers are taken before Michael Kors, our benevolent monarch who bestows his largesse of digital cameras back in the day before their ubiquity.  The designers are allowed out of the cage with golden bars that is Parsons to roam the streets of Gotham and engage in one of my favorite activities: street photography.  When they return, they are given strange printing devices to print up their photographs.  They are to pick one to use as their inspiration for this week's design.

In concept, this has been my favorite design challenge so far.  That is to say I find the concept to be the most interesting, but in application I can barely remember a single outfit.  I take that back.  I remember a single outfit.  There was one that I thought was exquisite.  More on that later.

I understand the practicalities of the dictates of the actual industry and the attempts to reflect same in the design challenges.  I understand why they are dressing socialites and children's dolls and ice dancers and uniformed workers and so forth.  This challenge takes a step back into the abstract world of the creative impulse.  The designers are called upon to cull inspiration from the world around them and translate it into whatever sort of dress they choose.  The possibilities are infinite.

And yet, Tim Gunn shows up halfway through the show and gathers the designers in a huddle.  He tells them that what he is seeing from them is "lackluster" and that they need to "wake up."  As usual, Gunn proves to be the fount from which all wisdom flows on the program.  Gunn also pulls Santino aside and makes sure to mention that there is a fine line between being funny and being witty in design.  This may well have been one of the pivotal moments in the entire season, but it is quickly brushed past in the editing docks.

Laurie:  As you will recall, Zulema was the winner of the last challenge, which earned her the privilege of choosing to keep her previous model or choose another.  Up until this time the designers have been developing attachments to their models and the winners have pretty routinely chosen to remain loyal to the gals that have gotten them this far.  Zulema, on the other hand, who from the very beginning has been playing the "I'm not here to make friends" card, decided it was time to dump her model.  She created quite a stir by requesting a "walk-off" between three of the other models and topped it off by choosing Nick's model.   He was distraught at the loss of the lovely lady who had become his muse. As a result he found himself uninspired by the challenge.  He took few photographs and made murmurings that led me to believe he might be about to throw in the towel, intentionally or via an apathetic performance.  While the other designers became mad shutterbugs he drifted about with disinterest.  (I know this feeling.)

Paul:  Nick started to scare me in this episode.  I think we both really liked Nick's character and also felt that he was one of the more steady designers of this season.  When he starts talking about walking away, you want to grab him by the collar and yell at him to get back in there and design.  That reaction is precisely what they want!  They are trying to kill your soul!

I really can't work up any care about the drama with the models.  I liked Nick, but as soon as they start squabbling and walking off and mugging for the camera, I start looking at my watch and wondering when I'm going to get to see creativity again.  However, yes, I think we can all agree that Zulema came off a bit boorish in this episode.  Although, again, I would add how disturbing I find my reaction to the models based on the manner in which the material is presented to me.  I cannot, and I hazard to guess shan't, remember a single model from this season.  These are human beings with hopes and dreams and who are also, in fact, engaged in the manifestation of the visual creative arts.

However, in fairness to this show, there are many modeling television shows readily available.  I wonder if they flip it for those shows.  I wonder if Tyra marches on a line of designers in front of the models and makes the model pick a designer without allowing the designer to speak.

Laurie:  Now that's an amusing idea! I've never seen any of the shows you refer to, but that scenario seems unlikely.  On the other hand, in the desperate world of coming-up-with-new-ideas-for-reality-TV-shows, even that might not be out of the realm of possibility.  I really have no interest in the modeling aspect of the program either. I have to admit, I don't care for it when the models become the focus of attention.  If they do their job right, they should be barely noticed until they show up on the runway, and then it is their responsibility to work the design, not draw attention to themselves.  It takes an ironic level of humility (if that's the right word) and professionalism, I think, to be a good model.  I've been surprised at the number of times models have kept our designers biting their nails and wondering if they are going to show up, or whining once they do.  Sometimes I've wondered if the Project Runway gods set it up this way to add stress. It's just so hard for me to believe these gals would actually be so irresponsible. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I have anything against models or modeling. They are obviously essential to the fashion industry, and a great model is a great asset for a designer or a brand. It's just that the main thing that keeps me watching Project Runway is observing the creative process and  watching these very colorful and imaginative characters at work, anything that distracts from that distracts from the best part of the show.

Daniel V's orchid design
Paul:  But I would like to come back to what Tim Gunn was telling our designers.  I want to return to the subject of crippling choices in the artistic process.  In this challenge, they were permitted to literally make anything.  Their choices, given infinite freedom, were shaping up to be lackluster enough for Tim Gunn to employ the word credibly.  We encounter the panic of tabula rasa.  I would venture a guess that this is a nearly universal shared experience in the arts.  This is part of why forms exist.  We need our fences.

Laurie:  Haven't we talked about that before - about how boundaries can be freeing? 

Well, anyway, on to our designs.  Daniel Vosovic didn't really need his camera tour through Gotham.  His inspiration came from an orchid in Michael Kors' own studio.  As ever, his design bore my three favorite adjectives: tasteful, lovely, and restrained.  Okay, I have other favorites, but I love Daniel's style, and his personality in general.  He's the kind of young man I'd be happy to see my daughter dating (never mind about the him-being-gay part).  He's respectful, gentle, and soft-spoken in his demeanor, but also funny and quietly confident.  His artistic style  reflects his personality well. And so did his winning design.

(By golly, Daniel's model has my exact elbows. Is it possible we're related?)

Andrae's oily puddle gown
Next to the top in the estimation of our judges was Andrae's beautiful gown inspired by a puddle of oily water. The judges appeared as awed by his rendering as I was.   It artfully reflected its inspiration, and was elegant and dramatic. I'm not exactly sure why his wasn't the winner.

Paul:  This was beyond the pale the most creative and artistically successful dress of this challenge, however, as we've seen before and doubtlessly shall see again, that does not equal a win on Project Runway.  The dress was beautiful while communicating a greasy gutter puddle!

Laurie:  Then there was poor Nick, who, as we mentioned earlier, was nearly too heartbroken over the loss of his model to design a thing.  His inspiration finally ended up coming from some a photo of some printed fabric in a shop window that vaguely resembled henna tattoo art. He pulled the colors from the print into his design, and made a skirt and blouse that seemed rather like Nick had fallen into his default style - which, lucky for him, is not half bad.  If this result is what he gets from being uninspired, well, I'm still impressed.  The judges passed him on to the next round.

As for Santino, he left us bored this time. His inspiration, a bit of graffiti art, was judged passe by the judges.  His interpretation did nothing to soften that opinion, nor did his use of what may have been the identical fabric Austin Scarlett used for last season's Grammy dress challenge.  Beyond that the dress looked unfinished, and not artfully so.  Not bad enough, however to send the colorful and ever-entertaining Santino home. 

Santino's dress and inspirational photograph
At left is Chloe's architecturally inspired dress along with the photo that inspired her. Chloe, a fashion professional and owner of her own clothing store in Texas, at the time this show was broadcast, can be counted on to produce well-constructed and nicely finished clothing. She took a bit of insulting from Santino at one point for being a "pattern-maker", his implication being that she is merely a fabricator, not an artist. I think the last time we mentioned Chloe was early in the season when she found herself the object of the unmerited kindness of Daniel Franco.  That experience seems to have changed Chloe's tone. She has more or less kept her head down and drama-free and shown herself to be more than a pattern-maker.
We end with the end of Zulema's Season Two run.  Her red dress was inspired by a photo of a large African-American woman wearing.... a red dress.  Beyond the fact that it was no great leap of fancy, the dress was ill fitting, an ongoing problem for Zulema, and poorly finished. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

2.7: Explaining the Baron

Paul:  What a difference half a decade makes!  It was an awkward moment of "catch-up with the past" for Laurie and I when Tim Gunn announced that the design challenge was to design an outfit for Sasha Cohen.  We did not immediately think of the figure skater.

We were then, however, treated to the funnest episode thus far.  The designers are delivered unspeakably gauche ice skating outfits (by Robert Plotkin in a postal uniform, giving the illusion that reality is breaking down and Atlas is located in a thin area in space-time where strange beings, both archaic and mythological, can pass freely) and told that they must put them on.  Andrae and Santino moan a bit, but then are gripped by the hilarious realization that prim and sartorially classic Emmett will also be wearing a similar outfit.  They are not disappointed when Emmett walks into frame in a pink leotard with a sparkling "E" on the breast.

Laurie: Yes, Emmett was treated with the most outlandish and tacky costume of all. I have little doubt the Project Runway gods also snickered as they schemed to see the ever dignified and self-controlled Emmett debased.  To Emmett's credit and integrity, he took it all in apparent good humor.

Paul:  Tim Gunn arrives and makes them go outdoors in those outfits. [Laurie: insert female gasp of horror!] Paul:  Tim Gunn is dressed like Tim Gunn.  They, in fact, all go to an ice skating rink.

Let me take a moment here to assure you that this is exactly the episode I observed.  I know this is sounding like "the episode Paul made up" but I assure you we have not got to that one yet.

Laurie:  I loved this whole scene. I love when they make these tense participants play, and I'm convinced that the ice skating freed every one of them for just a span of time from the angst of competition.   For just a few moments, these image conscious souls were children again, free and hilarious. Delightful!

Paul:  Tim Gunn reveals that he too cannot ice skate.

No one is injured. Sasha Cohen arrives.

Laurie:  Yes, our designers, creators and celebrators of beauty, have been reduced to awkward, giggling bumbling, and Sasha glides in all grace, expertise, beauty and confidence.  I like to believe there is great freedom and joy in humility. Unfortunately, our designers being mere humans, will not be able to hold on to that feeling for long.

Paul:  We almost wish it would end there.  I would watch a show that was just what I've described up to this point.  But there is still a competition.  They are to make an ice dancing outfit for Sasha Cohen to wear while ice dancing.

Santino's design image via
Faced with all of this jocularity, I wondered what I would write about aside from what I've just written.  As usual, the creative genius of Santino serves as our guide.  In this episode, we begin to see Santino's musical talent (he makes up songs throughout the season while working as we've already seen with "Daniel Franco, Where Did You Go?"), which has me thinking about diversity of ability in art, as well as the process of creation.

I am not necessarily calling Santino Rice a polymath simply by virtue of the fact that he starts singing while crafting a dress, but I would like to introduce the concept to our discussion.  A polymath is one who gains expertise in many diverse fields.  Aristotle was one, as was Ben Franklin, Blaise Pascal, Jean Cocteau.  Some contemporaries who have been called polymaths include Rowan Williams and Stephen Fry.  The term is a synonym of possibly the more popular, but excruciatingly gender-specific "Renaissance man."  [Laurie: the blue-collar and equally gender-specific term being "Jack-of-all-trades", although it is also said that he is a master of none, an ambiguous expression if you ask me, one that could be meant as a compliment or a slight ] Paul: I feel that a polymath is a fine thing toward which to aspire.  More to the point, I think that people would do well to engage with the world around them as much as possible.

I also feel that everyone should make all kinds of art all the time.  I feel that plumbers and cab drivers should compose operas, and insane preachers should paint, and scrap metal collectors should write poem cycles about groups of storytelling travelers.  I feel that art and the desire for fame or renumeration are two distinctly different spheres.  Sure, it would be the cat's pajamas to get Allen Ginsberg level fees for my poetry, but I have to create art for art's sake because that is the only option available to me.  I am of that age where one realizes that one is not going to become a full-time poet, which in a way is a freeing realization.  I have to create my art for the ages because I cannot create it for the wages.

Wow.  I rooted out the corny rhyme like the pig does the truffle.

I recall a time when I was stage managing a production of a medieval creation story play that I had a very intense conversation with the assistant stage manager (ASM) over the tea situation.  A small portion of our production budget went to the local tea house, specifically to a blend of mint and tarragon tea that we would all have at the beginning of rehearsals, sort of cleansing ourselves and the space in which we were rehearsing.  One day, we ran out of the tea and I told the ASM to go get some more.  She did not, choosing instead to focus on actual production details.  I remember sitting her down and trying to express to her just how important the tea was by virtue of the fact that it was not important on any quantifiable level.

I feel largely the same way about art.  So much of what we do in life is about the "how" of living.  So much of what we do in art is about the "why."  Santino's songs were such little throw-away moments, but I can already tell you that they will be some of my most distinct memories of this season, possibly more than a great deal of the design.  I also feel as if this is something so often lost in a world where we have so many bare survival hoops to jump through, totally unnecessary hoops, in my humble opinion, in this age of miraculous technology.  Why do we eat steak and eggs instead of just taking protein pills in the morning?

Laurie:  Indeed, we dishonor life, creation, and our fellow-man by neglecting to appreciate the beauty inherent in them. This, I believe is one of the great values of seeking to be, as you call it, a polymath.  It is in dipping and tasting, in trying on, or exploring the great variety this world of people, things, and ideas has to offer that we learn to understand, and respect one another's points of view.  We may not like or agree with all we see or hear, but our understanding will be informed and we will have done others the honor of having done our best to look at things through their eyes.

Chloe's lovely offering via
Zulema's winning design
Now back to our scheduled programming.  By the rules of this challenge, the winning design was to be chosen by Miss Cohen herself, and so was not a matter left to the judges but to her own taste and artistic/athletic needs.  Perhaps this explains why Chloe's beautiful design was not the winner. I can only imagine how beautifully it would have rippled like waves on the ice.

Instead Sasha chose Zulema's design. It was a nice design, but had a frumpy fit on the model, and was cut so dangerously close to revealing the nipple that I found myself too busy being nervous for the model to enjoy the design. (This isn't the first time one of Zulema's outfits borders on the too-revealing.) I imagine that when they actually fit it to Sasha that problem will be remedied.

Image via
Paul:  I would have been inversely more upset at the loss of Emmett in this episode in relation to how fun this episode was.

Laurie:   It really was a fun episode! I was sorry to see Emmett go for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the dignity and traditionalism he brought with him to the competition.  It would appear that Project Runway has only limited tolerance for these traits.  It is understandable, I suppose, since he added no novelty or drama.  Be that as it may, the real truth is that if all of us carried our ways through this world as Emmett did through this program this planet would be a much pleasanter place.  He was a throwback to a not-so-distant time when people were actually expected to behave themselves in public.  In addition, the style he brought was quiet and dignified, traits also under-appreciated in our day.  Perhaps I'm showing my age, which is about the same as Emmett's, in that I thought his design was stately, traditional, and elegant. Perhaps I am revealing my own fashion obsolescence in really liking the very design that was judged boring and sent home. I along with you, Paul, expressed a sigh of disappointment upon seeing him leave the runway for the final time.

Monday, October 3, 2011

2.6: The Medium is the Message

Paul: I had very little to say about this Banana Republic challenge.  One of my few notes reads "Nobody on the show knows what Banana Republic looks like!"  Which I think would be a much more interesting challenge.  Make the designers design a look they've never heard of and see how close they come through suppositions.

Laurie:  Wow, good idea! That really would be a fun one!

Paul: We are in teams again because that seems to be an emerging guaranteed pot stirrer.  But, I think the real point of interest in this week's challenge was the window dressing part.  The designers are called upon to create a window display in Banana Republic in New York City in which the live model will display their design.  The design challenge is "day to evening wear," meaning an outfit which can transition seamlessly, as it were.

Laurie: These are teams of two at this point, and the judging gimmick for this episode is that the passers-by will be called upon to vote for their favorite display. The winner of the public vote is the winner of the challenge.  The non-winning teams will be judged on the runway. The losing team goes home. Which means we say good-bye to two designers today. For some reason I find this more merciful somehow. They don't die alone. 

Paul: And so we approach the concept of sales and advertising as well as several questions associated with that aspect of human existence.  What is one doing when one is advertising?  Can advertising become a form of art unto itself?

Laurie:   I believe it most certainly can.  I really appreciate lovely advertising. Though it might not affect my choice in product, I appreciate it just the same.  Packaging, on the other hand, though I don't at first think of it as advertising, is the most effective for me.  Print ads do next to nothing to influence me, but attractive packaging is hard to resist.  All else being equal, I would be inclined to pay a tiny bit more for a product in a lovely package than for one in an ugly container.

Paul:  Right!  Because you're bringing that thing you're buying into your house.  Product designers would do well to remember that an elegant package is the difference between dish soap on my counter or dish soap in the cabinet under the sink.

Laurie:  A store window is a lot like an attractive package. I am not much of a shopper, but I am far more likely to enter a shop if I like its window display, whether or not I would consider buying the actual outfits displayed there.  The window gets me in the door.

Paul:  I feel that this challenge is a very good encapsulation of advertising.  The designers are being called upon to "sell" an object of their own creation with the incentive of the massive noteriety of having their design sold by Banana Republic.  Bravo (at this point in the Project Runway story), Project Runway, certainly Banana Republic, and to a certain extent Elle Magazine have a great deal to profit from this venture.  They are a providing a venue for the designers to work and subsequently expect a portion of reward for their labor.

Laurie:  Why, oh why could I not find a single picture of a single one of their window displays?!

Image via
Daniel V. and Andrae were the winners of this challenge. I think the dress is cute, but I wouldn't be caught dead in that little jacket. Yikes! The poofs on the sleeves. Do you know what those are called Paul?

Paul: Injudicious.

Laurie:  Anyway, their design went to market as promised:

Image via Constant Chatter

We said good-bye to Diana & Marla. While I liked their blouse, the rest of the suit appeared rumpled and a bit dowdy.  The other big news was Nick's ability to tone down Santino and a fair amount of interpersonal drama between Kara and Zulema, which, thankfully I only vaguely remember.  These two were not meant to work together.

And that's all I've got for Episode 6.  It looks like you and I both came away from this one with a bit of a "ho hum".

Paul:  True, but I hasten to add that the next one was my favorite.