Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Season 1 Finale: Where Do The Sims Go When They Die?

Paul:  There was an extra-sode before the finale in which the entire cast was brought back together in some strange, end of Lost place outside of space-time.  I think we finally decided that it was filmed after the post office episode, but before the Fashion Week runway show.  All of the cast reunites for drinks and we are happiest at the return of Austin even though he was in the previous episode.

Laurie:  Clearly months had passed since the Post Office episode when we lost Austin.  Ms. Pepper had shed some pounds and colored her hair. Enough time had elapsed  for our designers to either soften with age or harden into bitterness, and we saw both.

Source: http://www.tomandlorenzo.com

One of the first pieces of business once all of Season One's contestants had been reunited - yes, all of them, even the very first ones voted off, who clearly had a lot few shared "moments" with the rest - was to pay a tribute to fourth-place finisher, Austin Scarlett.  I have little doubt that this little montage was not only response to some pretty immense viewer popularity, but also as a nod of respect from the Project Runway powers themselves.  Austin had made himself a true celebrity in the course of just a few episodes.

Paul:  There are two things I would like to address from this episode (which in some ways was even more notable than the finale.)  One is the mystery of who drew a mustache on the photograph of Wendy Pepper's daughter.  In the postal episode there is a scene in which it was discovered that someone had penned a mustache onto a photograph of Wendy Pepper's daughter which she kept on her work table.  It was quite permanent and, taking place in those days before the ubiquity of digital, it was the only copy of the photograph.  It was a terrible moment and Wendy was devastated.

Throughout the show we have seen hints of Wendy Pepper in spite of the edited "how Wendy reacted under the circumstances of Project Runway" character that we are being shown.  In the finale, Tim Gunn visits Wendy in her studio at home.  Wendy is a mother and lives in a nice home in a New England town.  One gets the impression that she is a good neighbor and the daughter loves her very much .  Her yard is well kept and her house freshly painted.  She is probably well regarded in her community.  Her studio seems like it would lend its elegance to the surrounding property values.

Under the extreme pressures of and under the material released from the editors, Project Runway's Wendy Pepper is harsh, manipulative, unfair, mean, and projects her conniving behavior onto everyone else.  That is what is shown on our television screen in spite of the hints that suggest otherwise.  We don't know these people and probably never will.  I would go so far as to speculate that in Wendy Pepper's personal life, the 99% of her life, she is the loving mother with a well kept house.  In fact, there is a picture that Laurie found for our post on the Banana Republic episode of Wendy Pepper talking to a girl who I am pretty sure is not her daughter.  When I saw the picture, I thought of our hypothetical daughter (Temperance is the name we've decided on) and how I would like for my hypothetical daughter to meet intelligent women who have succeeded in the world in hopes that they would inspire her.  I would like to say "Temperance, go up and talk to Wendy Pepper" and then have the child be inspired by an experience she will remember for the rest of her life.  I very much like that photograph.

That would be Wendy Pepper's legacy but for this less than half a year of her life we are watching in which posterity, viewed through our culture's Slave Morality lens as well as the infusion of misogyny in western civilization which demands a woman to act powerless, will preserve her as villain.  Granted, Wendy does lash out, and that is a trait I would discourage in anyone.  But I feel that we are very clearly being emotionally manipulated to think ill of Wendy Pepper.  Is this right?  What is this show teaching us? Are we being led to think that if we are mundane, not successful, plugging away in our proletarian jobs, we can console ourselves by saying "Well, at least I'm not like Wendy Pepper!"  Is this just another tool of our culture for keeping us in line?  Of the two older women on the show, one is presented as a shrew, the other is a case study in arrested adolescence.  Regardless of if they were or not, what does this say about youth, age, women, and power in our culture?

I am taking some pains here to absolve Wendy Pepper because I don't believe it.  I believe her feet were to the flame when the cameras were on her.  I believe if I were filmed in my times of highest stress, my legacy would be that of a raving, unconfined nut.  In other words, if I were asked "Do you think Wendy Pepper was a villain?"  I would reply, "Well, aren't we all at times?"

Laurie:   While I agree with much of what you've said above, I really feel the need to draw integrity back into the discussion.  How you are in difficult circumstances is not an aberration. It is how you really are. It is how I really am.  I, too, have behaved badly when backed into corners. This is the manner in which hardships serve us. They are the boiling water that sets everything bubbling up to the top, where we can get a look.  If we see rat float up to the top, the next step should be to grab the tongs and fish it out, (Yes, I know this metaphor has some huge weaknesses. Bear with me.) not to turn down the heat and pretend you never saw the rat.  Now I'm not calling Wendy P. a rat. I, too, thought she seemed like a nice respectable lady and mom.  I'm merely saying that what came up came up.  The show did not create that part of her; it was there.  Turning up the heat brought it to the surface. One can only hope that the experience will be one she uses to develop character.

Paul:  "That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse."  We must be oh so careful what we do and say each day.  One never knows who is watching.  One must be vigilant over the picture they are painting.  I know how dark and depressive I can be and I become hyper-aware at times that if I continue to be like that every day of my life, that is the person I will end up having been.  Really I would like to be an encouraging and helping person.  In a sense, all of this existence is going on tape (albeit unedited.)  

Albert Einstein gave the eulogy at the funeral of his long time friend Michele Besso and he famously said, "Now Besso has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."

The best and the worst are all in existence, peoples.  Be kind. 

Then the show violates the first rule of mystery.  We never find out who drew the mustache.  They talk about it in such a way that we all expected one of the hosts to say "Well, we had cameras in the design room.  Roll tape."  And even if it were someone completely ridiculous, like the caterer, we would all heave a sigh of relief.  Our subconscious would say, "Good show!  Another mystery solved, eh what?"  But instead we are going to die not knowing who drew the mustache.  Project Runway hath murdered sleep.  So, why did they bring it up again if they didn't have anything to contribute to the conversation?  

Laurie:  I think they were aiming for an Angela Lansbury moment, where in the end the culprit is compelled to confess by being convinced of having been already found out.  Unfortunately for us all, it didn't work. I was left wondering, "What was that all about?" and "Why was Kevin's nose so red? Was he about to confess?"  - and feeling inexpertly manipulated, another LOST moment.

Paul:  The other thing I will mention in passing is Vanessa's sour grapes.
Source: http://nickverrreos.blogspot.com

Laurie:  Yes, here enters proof that time does not heal all wounds.

Paul:  She gave an interview somewhere before the taping of this episode in which she slams the show and the other designers.  Jay confronts her with it.  I shall go into greater detail on this in our next post (in the tradition of surprise twists handed down from our material, we do have an additional post for Season One even though this is the final episode.)  The thrust of the article was Vanessa seeming to reject the concept that the show has done anything positive for her and furthermore rejecting the concept that she was on a show with other talented artists.  Which is nonsense.  Kara, Austin, Jay, and Wendy in their contexts are absolutely wonderful designers.  I was struck by how Jay handles his relationship with Project Runway in the career that has followed.  More on that next time.

Prior to this pre-finale episode, the final three had been sent home to design their line over five months.  Tim Gunn visited each of them in their studios.  Jay's is charming.  He lives in small town Pennsylvania and his studio is stacked with hoards of color coded fabrics.

Laurie: He was shockingly small town America. I couldn't help but wonder what his family and neighbors really thought of Jay, his flamboyant personality, and all the cameras he was attracting.  I was struck yet again with how much Jay reminds me of you, Paul, this time in that his family reminded me a bit of your family.  Then it occurred to me that your grandmother hails from Pennsylvania country too.   This got me distracted for a moment wondering if perhaps you were distant cousins.

Paul:  My goodness, you have high hopes for me.  Here I was contented just to bump him onto my shortlist of "if you could have dinner with any living celebrity."  1) Stephen Fry 2) Paul F. Tompkins 3) Jay McCarroll.  Ain't no party like a Paul Mathers Dinner Party because a Paul Mathers Dinner Party don't stop.  It just kind of blends into breakfast and then second breakfast, lunch, tea, cocktails, and so forth.

So, returning to the portion of this post where I'm expected to make sense, our heroes return to New York for Fashion Week.

Wendy has burned her bridges to the ground.  Jay attempts to be civil.  Kara does not.

Laurie:  Well, Kara opted to deal with the presence of Wendy by not dealing with the presence of Wendy.  She basically pretended she wasn't there.  And, since the Project Runway gods had housed all three of our finalists in the same room for the course of Fashion Week, this eventually added up to rudeness.  Jay, being in the middle, in more ways than one, felt the tension keenly and finally determined to apply some heat and draw the whole festering situation to a head. 

Paul:  At one point, when tempers are flaring, Jay confronts Wendy on how she is always strategizing and Wendy says, "What about you saying that I'm always strategizing?  Isn't that just a strategy?"  And we all stare dumbfounded for a moment in the realization that we are talking to someone who thinks everyone thinks exactly like she does.

I know we are talking an awful lot about Wendy again, but I think that would be scanned.  The exchange between Wendy and Jay in the preceding paragraph, given the context of the television program we are watching, would lead us to interpret the "strategizing" as Wendy's Machiavellian moments in her interpersonal relations between her and people she's only known for a couple of days.  But I am going to posit a "what if" here, not saying that this is what I believe, but simply to slop the thought-trough as it were.  What if she is talking about the Utilitarianism of Personality in this context?  The three remaining contestants are all fine designers.  Wendy might not be as consistently great as I found Austin's designs, but she has shown a good deal of elegant work for, I would say, an older demographic than the one the show is shooting for.  Jay and Kara are also wonderful designers.  In fact, Kara is one of the best designers on the show, but notice how rarely we've talked about her.  Wendy is flamboyantly manipulative and behaves like a wounded badger while Jay is flamboyantly flamboyant.  All three are great designers.  Kara keeps her head down and does her work well.

They get in the limousine which transports them to the show and there is an absolutely beautiful moment captured on film.  POV looking back from the front seat at the three.  Jay makes some weird little noise, but otherwise all are silent.  Behind their eyes is the knowledge that they are on a car ride after which their lives will be very different from the lives they had before that car ride.

All three collections are very nice, but Jay's is beyond the pale the best.  He wins.  Wendy's line is a series of very lovely dresses without cohesion.  They are individually wonderful dresses, but it is not so much a collection as a series of very good dresses.

Laurie:   I had the feeling from Wendy's collection, and from the visit paid to her studio previously, that she made a few new dresses and then pulled some that she had laying around.  I could be wrong, of course, but whether or not that is the case, that was definitely the feel that I got from her presentation.

Paul:  Kara Saun's is also really very nice and flows nicely in spite of her shoe problems.  Jay blows everyone out of the water.  His collection is bold, beautiful, and brilliant.  The colors are exciting and the design is that of a fantastic imagination coupled with master craftsmanship.

Laurie:  You floated right past that.  Kara's "shoe problems" were huge, and almost karmic in the "be sure your sins will find you out" kind of way. As you've said, Kara keeps her head down, does what she does, does it consistently, and does it well.  As a result, over the course of her career up until the time of her Project Runway appearance, she has gained a great deal of respect in her own circles and has also apparently developed some solid personal and professional relationships.  In the developing of her collection she did not forget the footwear (as did Wendy, who arrived without any thought of shoes and had to purchase from some bargain basement and root through some donated from Michael Kors' collection).  Kara had custom designed and manufactured her own with "the help of a friend".  As it turns out, the Project Runway participants' terms and conditions contract specifically forbade accepting any "favors".  If she was bringing shoes she had to have proof that she paid for them, and that she had not overspent her budget (I don't recall any discussion before or after as to what their actual budget for this Fashion Week show was).  Kara responded to this by having her shoe man send her a bill for a price so ridiculously low that it failed to move the hearts of our judges.

The result of all this was that the judges would not be allowed to consider the footwear in the final judging.  The karmic result was that her specially designed shoes caught on the metallic dress which was the anchor of her collection and nearly made her world-famous model do a nose-dive on the runway.

As for Jay, I agree.  He stole the show.  His use of color and texture was bold, and his craftsmanship excellent.  

Paul:  I also found the theme compelling.  He had a vision of models in headphones and a motif of the images formed by the entertainment we choose to identify with.  I think a large part of his success on the runway was his coherence in communicating his message.   It reminds me of a conversation you and I had about writing, specifically figuring out what exactly you are writing about and then only writing about that.  I think that message of the transcendence of the austere vision of the artist translates to all other mediums and I personally feel that Jay has a strong grasp on the concept. 

Source: http://sticksonaplane.wordpress.com

Laurie:  I loved how he coached his models.  He didn't want any hamming, strutting, or posing.  He wanted the nonchalant, confident, nearly-bored attitude of someone in her/his own world.  Which was exactly what his signature headphones were incorporated into the collection to signify.

Paul:  So Jay won.

I know I'm inspired.  I hope you are too.

Laurie:  Here's a link to some highlights of the final collections. Let it run and it will take you to clip after clip introducing each of the contestants and other scenes from Season One.  I wish I'd found this at the beginning of the season! (My apologies. Blogger would not let me embed this.)

Project Runway Season 1 - Kara Saun's Collection at Fashion Week - Video - Bravo TV Official Site
Paul:  Next time we'll get into what I found to be the most interesting and illuminating part.  Although it took taking in the entire season to grasp it, I found the aftermath to be the best part of this project thus far.

Friday, August 26, 2011

1.9: Sturm und Drang

Jenger, Hüttenbrenner, and Schubert

Paul:  Anselm Hüttenbrenner.  You may not have ever heard the name before, but this early 19th century Austrian is very important to what we're going to talk about this week.

Franz Schubert lived in the shadow of Beethoven and his own creeping sense of inadequacy.  The woman he loved turned down his proposal and married a baker instead.  In fact, in all of Schubert's love life there was very little that appears to have been requited.  The only major performance of his work in his lifetime was upstaged by Paganini happening to come to town that same evening.  Everyone went to see Paganini instead.  Schubert's friends nicknamed him "Schwämmerl" which would be like calling your friend "little fatty."  He felt that he would be a great opera composer, but his genius in that genre seems to have been for picking the worst of librettos.  He was also one of the greatest composers ever.  He was utterly born to genius.

One of his best known works is his 8th symphony, known as his "Unfinished" symphony, perhaps one of the most debated works in musical history.  The speculations on the enigma of the unfinished status vary greatly.  Some believe that he did finish it and that it is rather a finished half-of-a-symphony.  Some believe that he was growing so increasingly discontent with the form and so increasingly syphilitic that he was only writing fragments by that point in his life.  But there is another theory.

Anselm Hüttenbrenner was a close friend of Franz Schubert, so close that, before he died, Schubert sent the manuscript for his 8th Symphony to Hüttenbrenner.  Hüttenbrenner, after Schubert died, sat on the manuscript for decades for reasons that are unclear.  Finally a conductor bribed the piece away from Hüttenbrenner by promising to perform one of his works in concert.  There is a theory, straight out of La bohème, that some cold, bleak, and lonely night, Hüttenbrenner tossed a stack of papers on the fire to keep warm, included in which was the Finished.

Maybe he hated Schubert's fame.  Maybe the cook or his mother came by and threw the papers on the fire or used them to wrap a haddock totally unaware of what they were eradicating.  Maybe he kept the Unfinished to himself for decades out of fear that he would be remembered as the loser who accidentally destroyed one of the finest works in musical history. One of the great lessons I have gleaned from this show is to take great care of what your legacy to The Grand Narrative shall be.  Some claims to fame are fates far worse than obscurity.

I tell you all of this because I am a firm believer in the concept of lost masterpieces.  I wholeheartedly believe that for every masterpiece in recorded history there are hundreds if not thousands of lost ones.  I believe this largely because I am a poet and a writer.  A lot of my friends are also poets and writers.  I do not wish to be grandiose, but I am a fairly intelligent man and I feel that I have very good taste in art and literature.  Some of the best contemporary poets I know of have not been published.  Some have died unpublished.  I believe that all over the world, all through history, there have been loners dying in small apartments filled with stacks of their writing of stunning brilliance that they silently typed in loneliness over decades instead of making social connections to ensure any future life for their work.  I believe that some of the greatest works in human history currently reside in landfills.

Laurie:  This puts me in mind of photographer Vivian Maier, who lived and died in obscurity only to have her work discovered at an auction in Chicago.  Her talent bordered on the miraculous.

Paul: Yes!  Precisely! 

Enter Nancy O'Dell.  Nancy O'Dell hosted a popular television entertainment news program at the time of the filming of this episode (she hosts a different one now.)  This challenge was for designers to create a dress for Ms. O'Dell to wear to the Grammy Awards.  I think she was going to be interviewing celebrities on the red carpet in the dress for her television program, but I really wasn't paying much attention.  Ms. O'Dell is given the Nero-like thumb to decide who shall be the final three contestants based solely upon which outfit she likes best.  Almost.

Source: http://modernfabulousity.blogspot.com
Austin's design

We'll cut right to the chase and let you know that Austin was out this week while Wendy Pepper remains.  This happened because Ms. O'Dell chose Wendy's dress (kind of. See Fig. 1.  We're supposed to pretend that it's the same dress), however she also stated that she would have chosen Austin's as an Oscars dress.  The Oscars are for some reason viewed as more dramatic than the Grammys. (Given the nature of popular contemporary music, I'm not sure I understand why.)  In fact, she even went so far as to ask Austin to design her Oscars dress, which sounds a lot like winning second place in this challenge to me.  I will reveal the rest of the story.  To date, seven years later, Nancy O'Dell has not worn an Austin Scarlett dress to the Oscars.

Laurie:   I must admit that bothers me.  She offered him that honor on national television, and he was clearly touched.  I feel she owed him that dress. Hopefully there was a good reason for her not following through.

Paul:  The cynical part of me wonders if this judgment wasn't orchestrated to preserve the tension that would come from Wendy being in the final three.  I am haunted by the existential questions posed by tonight's episode.  Did they just bring Nancy O'Dell on to distract us from the judges making what was a highly unpopular decision by shifting some of the blame onto a celebrity who no one operating in the consensus world of sanity has any business getting too upset about?  Austin clearly did not deserve to be out, but then when was this world we live on ever a world of "deserve?"

Jay's design
Laurie:  Somehow I doubt it was a conspiracy. The judges couldn't have predicted that Wendy would actually come up with a non-frumpy Grammy dress.  I think if they were scheming, it was actually to get rid of Wendy. This is exactly the kind of challenge I would not have expected her to win. And as for Ms. O'Dell, she offered clear reasons for her choice.   She seemed underwhelmed by her choices and didn't really care for any of them.  I think her choice really was the most appropriate for the Grammy's, well either that or Jay's design, but she stated at the beginning she hated hot pink (or was it fuschia?) and that is exactly what Jay gave her. The skirt was amazing. I think if he's pulled a different color from it for the top she would have chosen it.

Paul:  Now, I'm not crazy.  I do understand that Austin Scarlett is doing just fine right now.  He has a career, mainly designing for things that I am interested in like opera and ballet, also creating wedding dresses.  I don't think anyone on the show will end in the lonely apartment full of stacks of their writings, dying when one topples over onto them.  Even the greatest losers will all go on to live much more artistically fulfilling careers than any of us can hope for.

I hope you'll forgive the shade of Palahniuk that I am about to introduce.  One of the fuels of our society is the great Horatio Alger lie which states that you too can rise up to greatness.  You can't.  The game is rigged.  You have the wrong pigment, the wrong gender orientation, or simply the wrong last name to ever be allowed into the rich and famous club.  The celebrities that you idolize are the exceptions that prove the rule.  Your life is like digging a hole in the ground in the wilderness and screaming into it, then filling it back in.

Laurie:  Wow, I don't know whether to feel depressed or relieved.  I mean, if I don't have the anvil of potential failed greatness hanging over my head I might actually be able to get something great accomplished. On the other hand....well, perhaps I just need to reevaluate what I think true greatness really is. Vivian Maier's work was great, whether anyone ever knew it or not.

Paul:  We know it now and it's unclear if she knew or even cared at about becoming one of the great photographers posthumously.  I think there's a lesson there in plugging away although there is something to be said about appreciation in one's lifetime.  I guess.  I hear tell of such things anyway.

I am suddenly reminded of why I don't watch television.  This is what it does to me.  I've got like an allergy or something.

And so, three months after the end of the world, as we begin the ending of Season One, we return to the topic of Envy.  In 100 years we'll all be dead and there will be a new set of chimps holding and withholding essentials from one another, killing others for looking funny or standing in the wrong place, and only allowing a handful in front of cameras.  We'll bumble and strive and lose masterpieces and have occasional moments of glimmering beauty.

Let's take Jay for example.

Source: http://www.buddytv.com
Jay is in my own age range.  I think he's wrapping up the second half of his 30s as I am currently wrapping up the first half of mine.  Not to get ahead of our narrative, but he is doing fairly well.  You haven't heard of The House of McCarroll, but he is supporting himself on his designing career in one of the most expensive cities in the world.  Jay is currently doing better than I probably ever will.  I would dare to extrapolate that both Jay and I are leading lives that are nothing like what we imagined they would be back in 2004.  But we both continue to make art, me in obscurity and he in modest fame.  It is impossible to know what Franz Schubert thought would become of his 8th Symphony after he died.  I like to think he would be delighted and full of wonder to know that in 2011, anyone could listen to it anywhere in the world at any time.

One important point about everything I've written in this post, which I would like to put an even finer point on, is that I have spoken only to the external life, of wealth and fame or want and obscurity.  I have not mentioned the internal world, that of thought, appreciation, devotion, and love.  The external appearance of the glorious speaks nothing to the splendor of the internal life and vice versa.  I am put in mind of Wilde's oft quoted line from Lady Windermere's Fan, "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."  

But we are talking about fashion after all.

Laurie:   Sometimes when I look at a beautiful garment I feel like I'm in my gutter looking at a star, only on a really miniscule scale of course.  I've visited and seen pictures of homes that were really in bad shape,  either from neglect, or poverty, or both.  And in these homes there is almost always an item that seems totally out of place by virtue of its beauty, something clearly kept there for the sole purpose of giving those who live in it something beautiful to rest their eyes on.  These images have usually left me feeling depressed. But now that I think about it what they really are is cause for hope.  Even in abject squalor, people love beauty and clutch what they can of it to their hearts.

Paul:  I have noticed the illustration of human's capricious capacity to dole out inhumanity or generosity to other humans in the behavior of the judges on this show.  Their moods seem to be at the mercy of the elements.  Perhaps they are holding a mirror up to us all, to show the reflection of the divine image or at least the machinations of the universe that we perpetuate on one another: a universe where one day you're in, the next day you're out.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

1.8: Ben Franklin Never Did This

Paul:  There wasn't a whole lot to the Post Office episode that I was instantly compelled to write about.  I enjoyed it to be sure.  Then it hit me that the underlying theme of this episode may very well be one of the most important topics in the subject of fashion.  It was a challenge to unite form with function.

Laurie:   Oh how I adore form meets function!! It's one of the funnest of all life's little challenges.  I always say, if you're going to make something, you might as well make it pretty. After all God didn't just create a world that works and adapts.  He made it gorgeous!

Paul:  I love it too.  I get such delight from an object that is elegant, beautiful, and useful. As a child of the 1980s who grew up 30 miles outside of Los Angeles, I remember all of those Modern Architecture buildings from my youth.  The 1980s as I remember it was full of functionalist buildings and there is a beauty to that.  Those lovely, minimal Mies van der Rohe/Le Corbusier/Gropius inspired pieces that Tom Wolfe made so much money from sneering at.  The utilitarian school of design trickled down to the public schools, strip malls, and condominium collage that was my Orange County childhood, but it started on a grander scale.  Of course, I am also noted for my fondness for the baroque, but I think you know I have a strong modern streak running down my spine.

Laurie:  So far as I can tell you love it all.

Paul: On the recent trip we made to Los Angeles, I was struck by the few remaining skyscrapers that were made in that style and how dated (and almost Soviet) they look in this post-post-modern age.  We now are mainly surrounded by artifacts of the decades of prevailing whimsy and unfettered frivolity that brought us to our current state of crisis.  Strange how the practicality of those old modern structures seem refreshing given the advantage of retrospect.

More local and contemporary, Laurie and I both can fall into ecstasies over silicone cookware.  I remember being appalled at the thought of having a cat tree in our house and demanding an elegant cat tree (which doesn't exist.)  I think this accounts for a great deal of the popularity of Apple products whether the purchaser realizes it or not.  Just on externals alone, I would rather look at a turned off iPad than a turned off Kindle or Nook.

I've said it before, but I am of the firm belief that one ought to fill their senses with beauty and greatness in hopes that beauty and greatness is what will come spilling back out.  I am also of the belief that the world is whatever we make it.  This was a challenge in which both of these worldviews of mine come into play.

As for clothing, there is nothing so utilitarian and almost nothing so often neglected in the department of loveliness than the uniform.

Laurie:  Well, actually, I beg to slightly differ. Several branches of the military have men's uniforms that I think are gorgeous.   Military and the occasional law enforcement agency aside, though, I tend to agree with you.

Paul:  The challenge was to spend a day as a mail carrier and then design a new outfit for mail carriers.  Our designers (mostly) sought to bring out beauty in the selected form, sometimes to a fault.  I do not think that the designs caught on, but it was a pleasant diversion of an experiment.

Laurie:  The designers were the recipients of special deliveries of brown paper packages tied up with string not to be opened until the following morning, at which time they found themselves in the possession of U.S. Postal Service uniforms, complete with black velcro-closure sneakers. They got dressed and showed up for "work" where they were broken into little groups and sent out to shadow real live postal workers.  They walked, carried equipment and sweated for what appeared to be several hours to get a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of the current uniforms. The Postal Service representative who briefed them would also, as it turned out, be one of the judges, which led us to hope the winning design might actually be incorporated.  But, yeah, I'm pretty sure I've never seen a mail carrier wearing anything remotely like our winning design.

Austin's Design*
Austin's design without cape*
Paul:  Michael Kors says that Austin's design is too cutesy, like a costume for a film where Doris Day plays a postal worker.  I think Austin and I had the same reaction to that statement.  Why can't we live in a world where postal workers can look like Doris Day playing a postal worker?  Why is that assumed to be a bad thing?

Laurie:  Well, Paul, there are the male mail carriers to consider here. 

Paul:  I understand what you're saying, but one of the designers (I really can't remember which) says at one point that everyone likes to look good.  Even if you're a 46" waist, people feel best in clothes that make them look good and I am of the belief that clothes do make the person.  If you are dressed well, you feel and behave well.  If you are dressed like a transient, you are more likely to feel bad about yourself on a level which you may or may not realize.  People may not instantly go with me on this one, but try this experiment: On your weekend, dress in your best clothes as if you're going to a job interview as you do your grocery shopping or walk in the park.  Notice how it feels.  Next week, do the same activities in sweatpants and your rattiest t-shirt.  Or, for our unattached readers, notice your courage levels in talking to someone you are attracted to in light of how well you are dressed.

I would also add that this works externally.  This is why people in positions of financial security generally do not take that fact as an opportunity to dress slovenly.  People believe what they see.  Now, I am not saying that if we lived in a world where letter carriers dressed like a Doris Day film we would then live in a more Doris Day film world.  What I am saying is that this was the challenge in the series so far which I have liked best.

Laurie:  I can't help but do the chicken v. egg thing here wondering about how the rapid decline in public manners seemed to begin at about the same time women (and men) stopped donning hats and gloves before stepping out in public. My mother's generation did not leave the house un-groomed. I never saw her wear a pair of blue jeans (and we were not wealthy people). Casual dress leads to casual behavior...or is it the other way around? This is not to say that well-dressed people never behave badly in public, just that it would definitely be more unexpected. People tend to put on their better behavior along with their better clothes. I've also noticed a correlation between work ethic and dress in the workplace.

Anyway, I say all that to say that I think there is something to what you say.  Clothing reflects a frame of mind, and possibly vice versa.

Paul:  One of the high points of the whole season is one of necessity giving birth to invention.  Jay's model for this challenge does not show up at all.  There are a few moments of panic before the moment of inspiration.  Austin is of a similar body type to Jay's model.  It, too, was a lovely outfit.  Granted, again (and with the glaring exception of the monstrosity of butch and dowd hoisted onto Melissa by Wendy Pepper), the designs did tend toward the decidedly feminine.

Austin modeling Jay's design

Laurie:  Yes, they did, although I think Kara Saun's creation could have easily been adapted to a male version. I really liked hers, and thought it deserved the winning vote - which it got.  My only critique was that it seemed a bit, I don't know, casual?  Okay, I've got it. It was not crisp, particularly the pant, which reminded me vaguely of hospital scrubs. Again, though, a minor criticism.

But back to Jay. I really liked his design as well, and Austin made a great model! That was one of the funnest moments of the show so far, seeing him come out with his serious model face on.  Austin is nothing short of lovable, and he is one of those rare humans who appears to really be cut from whole cloth.

Robert Plotkin's entry
Paul:  Robert's design looked more as if the challenge was to have a fifth grader assemble a new postal uniform by using only materials from the discount rack at Old Navy and put together the night before the project was due.  I felt (as did the judges) that the release of his design onto our national postal employees would be a major blow to western civilization.

Laurie:  Well,  you may be over-stating it just a bit, but the whole look was very casual and he provided only two pieces with no layering. 

Paul:  I never overstate.  I hate hyperbole like the Devil and all of his workings.

Laurie:  Beyond that, as you alluded to, the fabric appeared flimsy and I can't imagine any female postal worker being handed the key to a delivery van wearing that sweater with no bra.  Robert is perhaps a bit too enamored of the female form. Everything he makes seems to scream "This is what I want to see my girlfriend wearing right before I...." well,you get the idea. And as this does seem to reflect his personality, I suppose he's just cut from a whole different cloth.  I must say that I prefer Austin's respectfully-feminine style any day.

Wendy Pepper's creation
And I guess it wouldn't hurt to comment on Wendy's design.  Mr. Gunn had to talk her out of actually using the aforementioned standard issue black sneaker with her design.  She ended up trying to jazz up her lackluster design with her own red sneakers, which truly were the jazziest thing about it.  I would describe her design as "the current uniform with darts added, pockets moved, and pants made to look even more uncomfortable...or where they shorts?" 

And, in case you flew past my brief mention, Kara Saun was the winner of this challenge.

*Source: www.fanpop.com

Saturday, August 20, 2011

1.7: A Single Adversary

Paul: Public education in America has devolved so much since I was a boy and I didn't even grow up in anything remotely resembling a golden age.  I start here to state that I have no idea if what I'm about to describe is a shared experience by the younger crowd.  One of the most detestable phrases I would hear from the mouth of a teacher in school was "Let's split up into groups."  This was the portion of the class when the worst students would be given the power to drag everyone else down to their level.  It was a valuable life lesson and in my adult life I can see that many have taken it to heart.

The teacher would split us up into groups and assign a group project.  I, actually being engaged with the world around me and enjoying learning, would be excited by the project concept.  The other three students would instantly smell this on me and decide that I would do all of the work.  At this point I had one of two options to choose from.  Either I could climb a mountain with a dead human centipede shackled to my ankle or I could move the game-play to a stalemate, refuse to do all of the work, and thereby scuttle the whole thing dooming us all to failure.  I'm afraid the frequency and predictability of these projects eventually lead me to more often choose the latter.  Again, the early fire of passion for learning duly quenched by the public education system.

In the public education system, attendance was pretty much the only necessity and often the only contribution by many of my peers.  This is a side effect of a society so focused on the accumulation of goods or money that anything that doesn't immediately scratch that itch is viewed as worthless.  In the context of the contest that Laurie and I watching here, of course, the incentive is the promise of gaining the work-life of your dreams.  This week, we are given a study (in the manner of the Stanford Prison Experiment) in teamwork and leadership.

Of course, leadership is necessary.  We can't all be lone wolves.  Sometimes we have to be pack wolves to be able to take down mastodons, distracting the swinging tusks by biting the hind legs while the more intrepid wolves go for the jugular, feeding the pack off the blood of the innocents for many days.  There is a behavioral chart that's been floating around in psychological circles for many decades now which looks similar to this (actually it is usually more of a graph on which one can plot points, but our Open Office software can't make one of those.  This will serve for the purpose of illustration):

Yes, I made a pie chart for our Project Runway blog.  In the top left is the Dominant Aggressive type (Klingons, Caligula, drill sergeants.)  Upper right is Dominant Passive (type "Earth Mother" into Google image search.)  Lower right is Submissive Passive (Eeyore.)  Lower left is Submissive Aggressive (Jerry in accounting who corners you for like half an hour every day to complain about other people that you have work with.  Or, ad rem our project, the character of Wendy Pepper as portrayed by this highly edited television show. [Laurie:  Thankfully for all involved, Wendy was never placed in a position of leadership. I think, however, had she would have taken the blue pie.])  Paul:  Most of us do a little of all of these in the course of our daily lives, but most of us also have a default in which we usually live.  A "game" you can play is to observe yourself in your daily interactions (with your boss, your mother, clerks and waiters, clergy, etc.) and see with which of these behaviors you are reacting to the external stimuli.  You may even get to the point where you can change it at will and improve your life.

I haven't.  But you may.

As for leadership styles, probably not surprisingly, I tend toward the emerging communal types that indicate that your boss goes to Burning Man.  I like the Ben and Jerry's corporate structure.  Jim Henson and Julian Beck are my leadership role models.  I am a firm believer in democracy and a firm distruster of hierarchies.  I try not to visit the left side of the chart very often.

Laurie:   Hmmm, not sure how I would categorize my own self.  I have no desire to be "dominant." (I hate that word. It makes me think of the very same pack animals that you just mentioned).  I'm happy to let someone else take the lead in many if not most situations, but when I sense a need for leadership that is not being filled, I find myself instinctively filling it.  I must admit that the orderliness and efficiency of hierarchies naturally appeal to me. I am by nature a very pragmatic person inclined to be willing to throw  a lot of higher values to that wolf named Expediency.  (There is no more efficient form of government, after all, than a dictatorship, and none less efficient than a democracy.) My Christian beliefs, however, will not permit me to feed that brute.  And so, even when leading others, I seek to defer to them as well, so that every move forward is a move taken together.

Paul:  I, being a Quaker down in my bones, have a strong "all are created equal" streak and a strong "doff thy hat to no one" streak.  I've found myself in leadership roles often in life and I find that my style is collaborative.  Back when I worked as a stage manager and occasionally as an assistant director I had a policy of not making my actors or my crew do anything I wasn't willing to do myself.  This involved overcoming my fear of heights by swinging off the catwalk to change lights, shaving my head in one production, growing a full beard in another, those sort of things.

I think everyone on our television program knew when it was revealed that a leader would be picked this week that the best two options would have been Jay or Kara.  They function well, have a clear vision, and people respect them.  The two worst would have been Kevin or Wendy.  Kevin was chosen.  The reason Kevin would be bad is because he seems to live in the lower right.  According to the highly edited images presented to us on the television (a long preface that I increasingly feel compelled to add at the beginning of any statement I make about these people), he's nice, but he's like a nice employee.  He could stand to take a few organizational leadership courses at the community college before he does a contest like this again.  Wendy would have been bad because everyone hates and distrusts her.  That is the worst type of boss (and also a common type.)  When Kevin is chosen as the leader, they cut quickly to reaction shots. A lesser show may have employed the sound effect of a needle being ripped off a record.

This acts to return the tension that was released by Morgan being voted off at the beginning of this episode.

The project is to design a collection on the theme of fashion of the year 2055 (is this a motif in the show or is Jay just so much ahead of the curve that the show is stealing his ideas?  Readers will remember in episode 1.4 Jay said that his design was French Prostitute from the year 2050.)

Laurie:  Together they must come up with a unifying concept. The whole team is given time to brainstorm and pencil it out, color scheme, etc. They are then given a lump sum and sent to a huge vintage clothing store where they are to purchase everything they might need. (This really seemed to force them to assume a post-apocalyptic picture for the future.)  Each designer must contribute one outfit to the collection.

Paul:  I liked the pod idea.  They had this concept of a protective, sheer fabric womb which would cover the outfits they make because the future will be a harsh and unforgiving one (thanks, us!)

Big Fig Newton
Laurie:  I was not a fan. Wendy came up with this idea that in the future the environment would be really messed up, due to the kind of vague factors you might expect a group of clothing designers to imagine, and full of vague things that clothing would be needed to protect folks from.  So, as a unifying theme, beyond the color scheme, she suggested that each outfit be covered by a "pod" - a sort of fig-shaped protective outer garment which would be split open to reveal the creation beneath.  I thought the whole thing was ugly, and didn't look like something that would actually be very protective. First of all, a pear/fig silhouette is flattering to no one, and the with legs hanging out the bottom and all, there would be contaminated legs, and, well all I could think of was this.

Source: www.fanpop.com
Paul: Robert does not understand the concept.  His main feature is to create a coat with small black patches on the shoulders which he claims are solar panels to give the wearer energy.  Yep.  It's like that.  I'm convinced that Robert's portion of this episode exists to show why Lady Gaga had to happen.

Laurie:   I was not a fan of Robert's design either, but the judges seemed to really like it. Go figure.

Paul:  Which reminds me of the subtle change in the world I'm noticing between this show and today.  First, it is clearly a pre-Gaga era and, in spite of my love for Lady Gaga (I don't think a day goes by without her music being played in our house), even I'm surprised by the difference.  Probably more to the point, this is before Alexander McQueen really hit.  It is my firm belief that Alexander McQueen changed the world.  As the chemist James Lovelock said, any geophysical event is started by a single organism and, in the case of McQueen, Lady Gaga is simply the index case in a shift in global consciousness.  Once the influence of McQueen hit Kate Middleton, the pandemic had latched its talons into all of our double helixes.  Fashion changes consciousness.  People believe what they see.  I'm not sure people realize how much they are influenced by these (oftentimes unseen) tides, but the influence is in the very air that they breathe.  But I think that somewhere all of the designers realize the possible extent of their influence.  Truly, ideas are like viruses and they change the world. 

The major problem with the runway show is that the outfits are of a similar color scheme, but the unity kind of ends there.  That is because Kevin's leadership seems to be to make an outfit and leave all of the others to make their own.  They have similar ideas but the end result reminds me of a music project I did once where I made cover songs of songs I'd never heard before but had only had described to me.  Instead of a collection, it is a show of several different designer's concepts on a theme.

He also does nothing toward time management and so the pods never end up happening.
Source: www.fanpop.com
Source: www.fanpop.com

Laurie:  That, I believe was the main contribution to the loss of a sense of cohesiveness to the collection. They'd hung all their "unifying" eggs in the pod basket.  Without the pods it was just a lot of vintage fabrics in a matching color scheme patched together eclectically into a variety of outfits.

Source: www.fanpop.com
Paul:  Kara Saun ends up stepping into the place as the leader in the absence of one. [Laurie: which is exactly what I would have done.] Paul: Late in the night when the doom starts to settle on the group like a fog, Kara calls a meeting on how they are going to sell what they've done.  In doing so, she tries to tack on to the end what should have happened in the conception process, which is to make a narrative.  In the beginning it would have been a through-line.  Placed here after the clothes are fashioned and time has run out, it is more akin to card table skills of misleading with confidence.

It doesn't work.  Kevin seemed like he was probably nice.  It is probably necessary to note for future posts that Wendy is once again called upon to drag the knife across the throat of the hanging pig and she does so without a moment's hesitation.  The difference in this case is that she presents a fairly accurate description of Kevin's leadership abilities.

Laurie:  And thus we bid Kevin adieu.  I suppose a person in the running to win a prize of $100,000 to start a design company would best have some leadership skills, and so this challenge was probably appropriate. Still, though, Kevin was a pleasant fellow, kind of gentle. I was sad to see him go. (By the way, I liked his design for this challenge.)

Source: www.fanpop.com

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

1.6: You're Soaking In It.

Paul: And now on to the subject of reducing our fellow human beings in our minds to mere objects or tools.  This week was the swimwear edition.

Laurie: The design challenge for this episode was to create, in five hours, a swimsuit which could double for evening wear suitable for the pool party at an upper-crusty hotel which both designers and models would be attending that very evening.  The winning designer would be the one who could engage a certain newspaper fashion writer at the party and make a profound enough impression with design, demonstration, and demeanor to garner a mention in his column in the next morning's paper.

Paul:  When I think of swimwear, I think of something to wear in the water which will not bunch or inhibit my progress in swimming, but will also not reveal my Falstaffian folds to the offended world.  I used to actually own and wear an Edwardian era reproduction of a man's one piece bathing suit.  It was black.

I understand that everyone in this episode has an almost polar opposite ideal in swimwear from me.  I am just trying to be forthright in what I am bringing to the table.  It seems to me that the key element in modern feminine swimwear is to inspire the prurient spirit in men and, strangely, defensive self-loathing in women. [Laurie:  I'd say the real intention is: to inspire said prurience in men and envy in other women and that the self-loathing is an unintended by-product of the fact that only a tiny percentage of women actually look enviable in a swimsuit.]  Paul:  I should imagine that swimwear that is marketed in this manner would never sell because everyone who looks at a magazine image of a model in swimwear must think "I don't look anything like that."  Including the model herself.  Which is an awful lot of angst to pile onto the simple act of not bathing nude in public.  I don't know, maybe I'm just speaking to my own naturally inclination to reject anything that makes me feel that someone is trying to exploit me.

I've never understood this form of advertising, which I think speaks to very different expectations and paths available to females in our culture.  If I see an image of what our culture deems an extremely physically attractive man in a certain swimsuit, I think, "Boy oh boy, I am way too fond of the taste of hops to ever look like that!"  Then the chances of me purchasing that swimsuit are about the same as the chances of me winning the lottery without buying a ticket (which, if I understand statistics correctly, is almost exactly the same as my chances of winning the lottery if I do buy a ticket.)  I am unclear on how the swimwear industry stays alive (every fiber of my trained-seal being dictated that I say "afloat" but I fought it and won!)

Laurie:  Alas, Paul, as I have often said, you are no ordinary man!  I can't tell you the number of men I've seen and known whose bathrooms must come equipped with time-travel mirrors.  These men take one  look at themselves, suck in an inch or two, pat their 24-pack and say, "Yep, I still got it. Today I'm going with the Speedo!"

Most women, on the other hand, and I include myself in this group, are not in the least bit comfortable with the way they look in swimsuits. They dread shopping for them, and dread wearing them. The only thing worse would be going out naked, and there's only a tiny bit of fabric's difference really. This episode would show us that even our runway models, of necessity not the most modest bunch, seem to have limits to how much they are comfortable exposing.

Paul:  When the challenge is first explained to the group, Austin immediately thinks of Esther Williams, complete with a cut to a quick video montage, which is a holographic encapsulation on why Austin should not only win on this show, but in life as well.  When they talk about a model in swimwear, Robert thinks of the front cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.  Austin immediately thinks of this:

Source: dis-ndat.blogspot.com
Laurie:  Austin's completed design is at right.

Paul: The designers make their swimsuits and then are to take them to the party where one Robert Johnson shall be in attendance. The party takes place at an exclusive New York spot which I will probably die without even ever having walked past.  Mr. Johnson writes the "Page 6" gossip column in that titan of class and standard for decency in journalism The New York Post.  Mr. Johnson's portion of the party is edited in such a way that it seems as if he is leering at a 16 year old the entire night.  Mr. Johnson is probably not quite old enough to be her grandfather, but let's just say that one could imagine him thinking of music from the year she was born as "new."

Laurie:   Yes, he even joked to the effect that he ought not be leering after learning that Austin's model was underage. Occasionally he appeared to make an effort at averting his eyes, which, in some fairness was a little difficult as he was rather cornered by this 16 year old who seemed...how can I put this delicately?...quite intent on being noticed.

Paul:  Don't get me wrong, I'm not condemning sexual attraction wholesale here.  None of us would be here if it didn't exist.  But the whole scene seemed to me like something Nixon would have done to an opposing candidate.  [Laurie: Exactly!]  Paul:  Johnson himself reacts to the information that the girl is 16 years old by spending the rest of the night not ogling her out of herculean will power.  Never before has a fashion contest been so Kafka-esque.  It is a pubescent nightmare with all of the clunky moral overtones of a 1980s slasher film (where it's utterly baffling as to why morality is being preached at all in that context.)  It may be important to remind our readers of two things here: the model's sole purpose is to get noticed, so she is parading and flirting, but also important is that this is the Esther Williams outfit we're talking about.  We are not talking about the one swimsuit made from two shoestrings.

Laurie:  And let us not forget, she was not the only model hoping to be noticed.  When the rest saw Esther Williams getting so cozy with Mr. Johnson they, one by one, made their way back until by the end he was not only cornered but absolutely surrounded by scantily clad models at varying degrees of tipsy doing whatever they could to attract and maintain his attention.  It was a pathetic and rather disgusting scene.

Paul:  And let me add that reducing fashion to the merely prurient is as a hyperion to a satyr.  The goal of fashion is the elevation of human beauty and reflects some of the highest aspirations of humankind.  I hate to always be the one to bring a six-pack of bleak to the party, but to me when I see fashion used in this manner it reminds me of poor Philo Farnsworth who did so much hard work on that tool of the future, that great invention which would accelerate the education and evolution of human civilization, the television.  Poor Philo who was so discouraged by the emergent vast wasteland produced by the rip-tides of advertising that he wouldn't let his own children watch television.  I've stated the equation of my own devising before, but I'll say it again: The level of crap is in direct proportion to the level of attention to the profit margin.  That is Mathers' Law.

So, back to the party, Jay dresses up as Jay-sus again.  Near the end, he comments on how he was a little put off by what he described as the "whoredom" of the event.  [Laurie: And this from the fellow who walked out on the porn industry because it was dirty!] Paul: I know, right?  Suddenly Jay is our moral compass on the show.  There is also a tense exchange between Robert Johnson and Jay later when Johnson confronts Jay on his flamboyant personality.  He says that he has a hard time imagining Jay at a business dinner at The Four Seasons.  Jay tells Johnson that he could see himself there if they gave him a high-chair or booster seat.  We literally burst into applause.

Laurie: NosireeBob, Jay's having none of it!

Paul:  As a strange aside, Laurie turns to me at one point in the episode and tells me that Jay reminds her of me.
Source: dis-ndat.blogspot.com

Laurie:  I'm not sure I can explain, but I'll give it a go.  Much of it is the "I don't care how hard you're selling, I'm not buying" attitude that just won't conform for the sheer sake of conforming. Part of it is the flamboyant personality and style. Part of it is a slightly non-conformist sense of humor, and a tendency to form sudden and deep bonds with the most unexpected people. Part of it is body-type.

Paul:  Fair enough.  I'm okay with being similar to Jay.

Laurie:   As for his contribution, he says it wasn't exactly what he'd hoped it would be, but it turned out pretty well just the same. I agree, though I must add, the front view was much more flattering than the rear.

Source: realitynewsonline.com
Paul:  Kevin picked Morgan as his model.  Lord, what fools these mortals be!  As soon as he announces his pick of Morgan, Laurie said, "You can't take her to an exclusive party!"  About 15 minutes later, we see exactly what Laurie was talking about playing out before our very eyes.  It was like watching a snuff film.  After the Project Runway event, Morgan insists on leaving in Kevin's outfit to go visit other of the Big Apple's nightclub offerings.  Kevin lacks the intestinal fortitude to physically tackle Morgan and, predictably, she shows up the next morning with the outfit in tatters.  Outside of the improvements, the judges don't notice.

Laurie:  Poor Morgan, I get the feeling her episodes are numbered.  For our designers, there's something of the train wreck about her which makes her as nearly irresistible as she is disastrous and prevents them from voting her off. I think, though, that they are reaching their limits. The other designers who found out that Kevin had entrusted his design with her for the evening were just short of taking bets on whether it would come back in one piece or whether it would come back at all.

Source: dibblyfresh1.blogspot.com
Paul: Robert says something disgusting about women being like vintage sports cars.  One of the judges actually calls him out on this. 

Laurie:  I've heard men say this before, and they always think it is a compliment. It was clear that Robert had no idea what he'd said wrong until he was asked to explain himself, and appeared to suddenly realize what the implications were of what he'd just said.  The symbolism is troubling.  A car is an object to be driven, to be controlled, to give a man a sense of power and a sense of status.  A woman is a human being created in the image of God.  Big difference. Robert ended up muttering something only vaguely coherent about men naming cars after women. Considering the angry tone of the judge, (who says you can't argue against the objectification of woman while judging a swimsuit and runway model competition?) and the unimaginative design of the suit, I suspected this might be the last we see of Robert.

Source: www.tomandlorenzo.com
As it turns out, however, he squeaked by yet again. This time thanks to a few key flubs on the part of Alexandra Vidal.  Her name hasn't come up much here because, like Kara Saun, she creates no drama. She is a lovely young woman in her early 20's.  She always looks calm and well put-together. Episode after episode she accepts her challenge, keeps her pretty head down, and ends the show with a respectable finish.  She creates consistently complete, tasteful, and likeable designs, but generally nothing too imaginative. This is the week her lack of originality, and a few errors of judgment, caught up with her.  Her first mishap became apparent when the model showed up to try on the suit. The suit was quite lovely, very elegant, but it was much too small in every way. The model was clearly uncomfortable with showing so much unintended skin, but went along with it like a sport. It was the second mishap, though, which would prove her undoing. She admitted to the judges that she had been inspired by suits she'd seen by a couple of other designers, who she named.  So, the moral is, keep your inspiration to yourself.  Be as derivative as you like, but whatever you do, don't admit it. No hypocrisy there.  One thing that is becoming abundantly clear as these judgments begin to pile up, is that people are decidedly oblivious to their own inconsistencies and the sliding scale -or as you would say, Paul, "the movable feast" - that is their own moral compass.

That said, during the course of this season, Alexandra has made a very favorable impression on me. I have little doubt that she has a bright design future ahead of her.  (Since we are nearly eight seasons behind I felt justified in checking up on her via a little Google search. It would appear that, as I suspected, she's doing quite well for herself.)

Source: dis-ndat.blogspot.com
So, I was really rather disappointed to see the talented Miss Vidal go while Robert and Wendy squeezed their way through yet again.  Wendy stood in real jeopardy this round too.  Her bird of paradise inspired swim "suit" ended up being a swimsuit top.  The bottom she made was unwearable, so the model had to wear her own thong under it.  Fortunately the top half was quite lovely, like the bird of paradise that inspired it, and long enough to cover the exposed parts.  Even though she was forced to admit her flub to the judges, and even though it was really a dress and not a functional swimsuit, she still got away with it. It was really pretty though. I would definitely wear a swimsuit like this one - assuming it came with a full coverage bottom half that is!

Paul: At the end of the episode, Jay and Austin are on the runway as the two potential winners.  In order to find out who won, they must wait until the next morning's Post to see which of them was mentioned by name on Page Six.  The next morning, Jay and Austin walk into a liquor store, which feels a bit like taking a giraffe into the DMV.  They find that Austin has won.  Jay is encouraging and graceful in his reception of the news until they cut to a "bit" in which Jay attacks Austin later and we realize that we would devoutly watch a show of just these two goofing off every week.

Monday, August 15, 2011

1.5: Vanitas

Paul & Laurie
Paul: There is little left in the daily lives of the people in modern day Western Civilization with as much symbolism (and superstition) as the wedding.  While we didn't have a church wedding, I found when it was time to get married, I wanted a fairly traditional wedding because I wanted to feel as if I'd had a wedding.  It's probably the Classicist in me that wanted the altar, the best man and maid of honor, the first dance, and the very classic wedding cake which we fed to one another gingerly, without succumbing to the crass (but very strong) impulse to smash it into one another's face.

Laurie:  As this was not my first marriage, and having not had a traditional wedding before, I felt that a more traditional ceremony would carry with it the weight, the gravitas that seemed be lacking in my former experience.

Marriage ought not be an institution one enters into lightly. The breakdown of the institution of marriage and the countless broken vows, abandoned trusts, and abuses it represents, is at the heart of the disintegration of our society. It is one of the deep roots of our rampant sense of hopelessness and cynicism.  Marriage is one of the greatest investments a person can make in humanity.  It stands as a last bastion of optimism, saying to the world: "There is such a thing as love, trust, and commitment.  Let me show you by loving this person with all my heart for the rest of my life!" When these most precious of vows are no longer expected to be kept - what then can be counted on?  When those most treasured words, "I do", really mean "I do, until I don't", what hope do we have for all the lesser promises?

A  person who cannot be trusted with the most important things in life certainly cannot be trusted with the least. If a man will betray the trust of his wife, who will he not betray?  Then the question broadens:  who really can be trusted and is anyone trustworthy? Such are the beginnings of cynicism.  And so, when I walked through our municipal park on Saturday afternoon and happened upon a wedding party smiling for the photographer, a dark voice in my head wondered, "How long do you suppose that will last?"  My delight in their moment of joy and my hope for the future silenced it and forbade my lips to utter the thought aloud.

Paul:  Wow!  Let's see if I can make this any heavier.

We are but a vapor.  Given enough time, even the most permanent of structures on this planet will fall.  The pyramids will fall eventually.  We are all future dust.  We have the opportunity of this moment in time and every moment is a tick toward oblivion.  I feel this keenly as we watch Project Runway, and I feel that it is an important lesson.  First of all, every moment I am watching Project Runway is a moment that I am not reading Proust (which is why the writing project is so important.  Every episode gets Laurie and I one click closer to Gladwell's 10,000 hours of writing.)  But also, everyone on the show, the beautiful models, the life-filled designers with their careers stretched before them, from sainted Austin to lugubrious Wendy and every Jay in between, the established and slightly jaded hosts, even the sage Tim Gunn, and we the audience are all future corpses.  Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come; make her laugh at that.

I wonder, Laurie, if you could talk a bit about the wedding dress, what it means and varieties thereof.

Laurie:   Well, I'll assume you are asking me for a woman's perspective on its significance, and in short I'd say that what it means, as this episode somewhat illustrates, depends upon the woman wearing it. In my grandmother's generation a woman would often wear her best dress, or else choose a new dress in her favorite color. She had good reason to expect she would be married until she died, for better or for worse, and so a wedding was serious, but hopefully happy, business.  White is the current traditional color for a wedding dress, especially for a first wedding. Though white for a time symbolized the virginity of the bride, it didn't always, and it seldom does now.

Perhaps it's that cynic in me that calls to my attention that the more lightly the institution of marriage is regarded in our culture, the more heavily the emphasis is placed on the wedding.  A whole section of the magazine rack at Barnes & Noble is dedicated to publications for brides. I'm not sure I've ever seen a magazine devoted solely to marriage (which is not to say there is not such a thing). Little girls, and big girls dream of their wedding day, envisioning in elaborate detail the dress, the flowers, the place, the music, maybe even the groom.  For many women, a wedding is seen as the crowning moment of all childhood fantasies, the pinnacle, really, of her life. This is her day. It must be perfect. And, so, to get back to our focus here, the dress must be perfect.

Having lived a few years myself, and having been to lots of weddings, I've noticed that the dress and the fuss, or lack thereof, over the wedding is often a pretty good reflection of the personality and character of the bride.   Brides who like to keep things simple and elegant will likely choose just such a wedding and dress.  A woman who is demanding and perfectionist in day-to-day life cannot be expected to be less so when it comes to the most important day of her life.  And so it goes. (As I've been known to say, you can't expect a bridezilla not to become a wifezilla.) 

As to the varieties....let's just say there are as many varieties as there are brides.

Paul: The models seem to be an endless wealth of disturbing revelations on this show and for that I salute them.  I think the first startling realization this week was that the models are children.  We realize this because the challenge is to make a wedding dress for the models, who become the designers' clients for the week.  The models come to the designers with their ideas for their perfect wedding dress and they are the ideas that little girls would have for a wedding dress.  We suddenly notice their ages next to their names in the interview clips (I'm pretty sure they were there all along) and these are 16, 17, and 18 year olds.  Jay comments on how they all want to look like Disney princesses.

It's much like Kurt Vonnegut's revelation from Slaughterhouse Five (and, in other ways, Thomas Mann's Death in Venice.)  We are talking about children.  We fetishize them and we treat them like they are immortal in our own mortal insecurities.  Youth is handled too strangely by those who have passed it; you'd think they were never young themselves.  We elevate the young to the level of gods and thereby reveal our low opinion of wisdom, the effects of which we may be currently reaping in our economy and international relations.  We shall talk a bit more about this in the next episode.

Speaking of which, this episode also illustrates the corruption that even a little bit of power brings.  Some of the models behave abominably being given the little scrap of power of the course of their design.  Tim Gunn gives Jay the advice to tell his model "You know, there's a reason why you're a model and I'm a designer."

I was reminded of Thomas Gainsborough, the English painter who was so brilliant at portraiture, but who would much rather have been painting landscapes.  But Gainsborough gots to get paid, son.  And so the designers get a harsh lesson in the realities of working life.  Mr. Gunn's advice speaks to the uphill battle of not giving an inch lest one loses a mile, which is sound.

Laurie: Except, that is, when the compromise prevents the losing of a mile in the sacrifice of an inch, which, I assure you, in real life is often the case, and the only way such things as democracies are able to function at all.  But I think, Paul, you are just overstating your point for the sake of making it.  In the case of our designers, it came to a matter of degrees of compromise that made the difference in the end. In this contest heel-digging would have been just as disastrous as complete giving in, since the first question asked in the judging was whether or not the "bride" got the dress she had dreamed of.  The trick for the designer was to listen to her dream and convince her that the dress he made was that dream dress while also creating something real and tasteful.

Paul: Well, I would say I was almost overstating, but I think that part of a designer's job is to take the information supplied by the client, mutate it into a hybrid with their own style, and possibly show the client something they didn't even know that the desperately wanted.

Laurie: Well put.

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Paul: It probably did not help that Jay picked Morgan as his model.  "First thought, best thought" as the Beats were fond of saying, Jay.  If you're worried about someone's professionalism due to their past behavior, you may want to listen to that.  You don't keep going back to a restaurant you hated the first time in hopes that the chef will pull it together one of these days.  Morgan has poor impulse control and gives no indication that she is working on this aspect of her character.  And so Jay comes up with a gorgeous, column-like dress, which Morgan stumbles over on the runway.

Laurie: After, that is, he has tried unsuccessfully to convince her it needed to be shortened, a fact he dare not mention at the judging lest he be caught out as a designer who compromised what is more important in design (wearability) to what is less (client whim). And, by the way, the dress was pure elegance, in spite of what Morgan had in mind. When she saw it, she thought it was her idea. (I should mention, the photo at right and Morgan's posture in it do not begin to do justice to the beauty of the dress. It also does not show the sheer gold fabric peeking out about her feet. When upright, this dress presents a stunning column.)

Paul:  There is a dumb-show in the middle of the episode which fleshes out (as it were) this theme.  The designers decide to go out for an evening of carousing.  Gripped by a voluntary drowning from the hands of Bacchus, Robert's behavior indicates certain animal instincts toward Alexandra.  This manifests, on the streets of New York, in an attempt at showing off by way of gymnastics on scaffolding.  His activity quickly turns into a trip to the emergency room.  While I'm fascinated by how much literal bloodshed has already gone on this season, it is an abject reminder of the absurdity of existence.  Robert has staples in the back of his head and has anointed the city streets with his vital juices.  Fallen heroes are not exactly going to sing epic songs about this at Yggdrasil.  The show is filled with moments where I keep thinking "Wow.  What if that was the peak moment of my life?  What would it be like for that to be my fifteen minutes of fame?  What would my grandchildren think of me on my deathbed?"

Because I always bring things back to death, you see.

Laurie:  Life, I've noticed, has that uncanny habit as well.  I'm little better. Somehow I've managed to turn the wedding dress episode into a dirge.

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Paul:  Olga hates Kevin's wedding dress because it is itchy, but she looks fabulous.  Again, what if you had wedding photos from your dream wedding with a beautiful designer dress, but every time you passed the photo, some part of your brain recalled how uncomfortable it was to wear?  The desires and responses for these dresses speak to a type.  I might not go so far as to say reveal a lot about the young ladies because I don't know them, but we are responding to the images presented us.  Olga, for example, wants a dress covered in diamonds and jewels but then demands to be let out of an outfit that is uncomfortable for a few moments.

The wedding dress, as I understand it, is a visual representation of person contained within and the promise of the life to come with her.  Again, I'm only relying on the information provided me, but Olga seems like one whose wedding dress story arch belies a lady who requires full provision of comfort.

Laurie:   Yes, Olga. The poor girl seemed to have lost track of the fact she was really a model and not a bride, and that this was not her real wedding or her real wedding dress. She looked nothing short of stunning, but wandered around eyes welling with tears and through pouting lips pleading pathetically  "It itches. Take it off of me. Take it off of me."  Her fantasy had taken over.  She forgot she was a model and that this was only a contest that didn't allow enough time to sew a lining into the dress for her comfort. Her wedding day was ruined. Fortunately for Kevin, he had immunity from this episode's judging due to having been the winner of the last challenge. Unless I'm forgetting something, Olga never did get an opportunity to complain to the judges.

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Paul: Julia is Austin's model.  Julia wants something wild and unconventional, something fun.  In explaining the rules of the contest, the designers are told that even a red mini-skirt is okay provided they 1) make their client happy and 2) don't scuttle their own artistic vision in order to effect that outcome.  So, with Austin. it looks like we're aces for a slam dunk (and many other mixed metaphors as well.  Oh well.  I've buttered my bread and now I must lay in it.)  The end result is unconventional, wild, fun, and looks nothing like one's preconception of a wedding dress in modern Western civilization.  The judges say, "I couldn't imagine anyone actually wearing that as their wedding dress!"

Judges, meet Julia.  Julia would.  Julia loves it.  And I suddenly became aware that the standards are movable on this program.  The judges are capricious which seems at once appropriate and glaringly unfair, much like fashion and much like life.

Laurie:  Yes, that little exchange really bothered me. I, for one, really disliked the dress, but the judges had explicitly stated it could even be a "red miniskirt" when they set out the challenge. Then, when Austin presents a turquoise mini-dress with colorful train, the judges changed their rules to "it has to look like someone's idea of a wedding dress". To Austin's credit, he didn't argue with them. I, on the other hand had no problem announcing from the love seat in my living room that he had been betrayed.  He followed their instructions, and he satisfied both his "client" and his own flamboyant artistic tendencies, and was penalized for it.

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Luckily for Austin, though, Nora's dress had problems of its own.  You might remember Nora as the very young girl that we felt really ought to have been voted off in the last episode. This time, she behaved herself, stating she wasn't going to mess up like that again. But in her overplayed attempts to get along, this time she sacrificed her artistic vision.  She forgot Tim Gunn's warning not to let the "brides" squash their artistry.  She completely caved to her "client" and gave her the rose covered cupcake dress she wanted.  The result was a run-of-the-mill wedding gown resembling a hundred gowns that could be purchased off the rack or from a catalog.  It was Nora's time to go home.  She handled her loss like a professional, evidence that she had learned at least one important lesson from her experience on Project Runway. I wish her well.

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It occurs to me it might be nice to show the winning design by Kara Saun, who, prefers creating gold to creating drama, and so does not give us a lot to discuss.  She does, however give us much to admire.  Here is the winning wedding gown.  All simplicity, glamor, and elegance - quite like the "bride" herself.