Thursday, August 11, 2011

1.3: The Apotheosis of Wendy Pepper

Laurie: The Episode 3 challenge was to design a holiday party dress (or some-such thing. The "party" part I'm not sure about, but the "holiday" part will turn out to be key.) for Banana Republic. The winning design would be featured in that year's catalog - a great honor for the designer.  The designers are given a brief explanation of the BR line concepts for the year, one of which was "Art Deco", the other neither Paul or I can remember. They were then pretty much turned loose in the Banana Republic design area to choose from what looked like hundreds of already approved fabrics, all coordinated to suit the appropriate schemes.
Paul: Our favorite in-house moment in the Banana Republic episode was when the lady on the television screen who represented Banana Republic seemed to suggest that Banana Republic was and had always been a high end clothing store exclusively focusing on the elegant and simple.  Laurie and I groaned at the Stalinist revisionism.  Gina said, "What?  What are you guys groaning about?" We then explained how the Banana Republic we remember from our respective childhoods was like a safari costume store with a fake, snake wrapped jeep in the foyer and hooting monkey sounds. [Laurie: Fake palm trees! I loved that store!! Ah, the great Safari Renaissance of the 80's! Crocodile Dundee, Romancing the Stone, Indiana Jones, Out of Africa, Toto's Africa, Duran Duran's Hungry like the Wolf....a lovely khaki and white jungle!]

Paul: Yes, it (wisely) reinvented itself, but those were the humble beginnings of the company: a vision to dress the world like novelty musician Professor Elemental.


Wendy Pepper started this series as the matronly figure.  In the first episode she was featured taking charge of her house-mates, offering comfort, direction, and great heaping helpings of scolding and guilt (this show is like a fun-fair for my internal psychoanalyst.)

Laurie: Yes, Wendy. From her very first moments on the very first episode she went about her "mothering" in every group situation she was placed in. She gave every impression of being the "grown-up" in the group, the glue that would keep their sanity in tact.  Mommy will take care of you.  Mommy will take care of everything.  Behind the scenes, however, when pulled away from the group to confide her  feelings for the camera/viewer, her true colors flared. Her mommy routine was a farce, some kind of Survivor-eque ploy which made sense somehow to her. She seemed to imagine herself outsmarting everyone.  The idea of outsmarting a team of fashion designers, well, it rang a little silly in our living room. And her tactics smacked of scenes from the kind of high school drama class that I would be allowed to participate in - poorly conceived, poorly timed, and poorly acted.

Paul: She would be featured in the kind of scenes where my eyes tend to glaze over and I wake up with a splitting headache: those scenes in which cast members are employing strategy against their teammates.  There is one such exchange between Wendy and Vanessa (who also is not going to win.)  They are in the laundry room and Wendy tells Vanessa that she shouldn't be mean to her or something. [Laurie: which she wasn't being, so the look on Vanessa's face was as confused as ours] Paul:  I really hope nothing that will be important later happened in that scene. In my brain, I think that scene was about 10 hours long.

Laurie:  It wasn't 10 hours long, but it was 10 hours worth of stupid, crammed into about 30 seconds.

Paul: My brain unzipped the file.  Wendy, our own tin-horn Richard III, appears absurd in that there is no profit whatsoever to manipulating her interpersonal relationships with the other designers.  The show is structured in such a way that the other designers have no bearing on the judging aside from the quality of their work.

Laurie: This is one of the things I've liked about the show thus far.  Scheming and conniving don't seem to profit anyone. I can only hope it continues on like this.

Paul: There are two key points made by Wendy Pepper in this episode.  First of all, one of the other designers gives her a mini-makeover.  A quick montage of the past two voting sessions confirms our memories of Ms. Pepper looking on the bad side of frumpy.  She is not dressing for the job that she wants.  Not like Austin.

Laurie: Yes, I'm really surprised this has never occurred to her, and that her love of fashion stops short of her own person. Although not sloppy, she is also not fashionable. It would seem that a designer with an opportunity to be seen on national television for what will be a limited number of episodes would at the very least wear her own designs on camera as often as possible. I, for one, would not have packed a single outfit that was not among my very best and/or favorites.

Paul: She decides to scuttle the strategies and focus on making good clothing.  In short, Wendy Pepper's common sense seems to have caught up with her in this episode.  I smiled slightly at watching the joy of someone discovering that they can have integrity for the first time, but in my heart I'm waiting for her to twirl a Snidely Whiplash mustache again.  I'm noticing how they are framing shots and background music.  There are cues, I tell you!  Clues of her future Fisher Price scheming to further pad the duration of the season!

Laurie: I think it caught up with her after the judges' comments during Episode Two, when they told her her "envy" dress didn't look finished.  She admitted then that she had been wasting valuable time and creative energy on scheming that could have been used to actually craft professional looking products.  I, too, hope she will stick to her work from now on.

Paul:  A lesser show probably would have made much of the fact that one of the most awful human experiences is captured on it.  The designers are called upon to choose their model from the models made available for the show.  There are as many models as there are designers.  Ah, those with basic math comprehension are probably way ahead of me now, right?  Every time a designer leaves, so must a model.  The models are weeded out by the voting process.

There was a striking moment when the designers get to the end of the models and realize that the last designer will have to eliminate one by their choice.  [Laurie: Truly, judging by the looks on their faces, so wrapped up were the designers in their own contest, that this was the first time it had ever occurred to any of them that they held a model's fate in their hands.] Paul:  A strong reaction came from the designer who picked Morgan because she walks the runway so well.  Morgan, as you well remember, was 3 hours late to a fitting, and I guess as her character is fleshing out in the series, that is not inconsistent with her normal behavior.  I thought it was a foolish choice because models in New York are like the hydra.  You cut one off and two grow in their place.

Laurie: Yes, in real life, but not in this competition. They were stuck with the hand that was dealt them. Wisdom should have dictated that a model who shows up is more valuable than one with a faintly less dynamic walk.

Paul: And that kind of dehumanizing is exactly what we, the audience, and they, the designers, are suddenly made aware that we have been doing to the models.  The designers seem to have a naked lunch moment of realization that they have been looking at the models, at least in the voting portion as living racks for their designs, but if you cut them they bleed, and if you vote them off they weep.  A lot.  We, the audience, realize that we have been doing the same.  Granted, the show sets us up for it by giving bare minimum non-runway screen time to the models, but the point is well made. 

There is also the inherent wickedness of the "voting into teams" process.  I am sure you will join me in remembering it from physical education classes in public school.  If you're anything like me, you probably also well remember the feeling of being the last one picked.  I recall trying very hard for a time in PE, trying my hardest and doing my best, and still being picked last.  Then I stopped trying at all and was still picked last.  What an appalling lesson to teach a young person!  What a perfect way to undermine a society by planting crippling insecurities into the merely nonathletic or less than optimumly physically attractive!

Laurie: That story makes me so sad! I had similar experiences. I was always skinny and scrawny looking. I was also very capable of throwing a softball in the exact opposite direction from where I was aiming. Not good. Anyway, the model choosing process (except for the dirty musical chairs bit, of course) did not bother me so much because the designers seemed to be looking for something different each time and chose in different orders each time.

Austin Scarlett's "Holiday" dress
Paul: On to the contest:  I liked Austin's dress although I had the feeling that he misunderstood the project in the same what that I did.  They said they were looking for a "Holiday dress."  What I had in mind (and I suspect Austin may have) is the sort of dress a lady would wear when she's on holiday.  What they actually meant by holiday was the word people on television use instead of "Christmas."

So Austin comes up with what he calls "a winter floral."  I love it, but then we had all pretty much decided on Austin as the winner the moment he stepped out of the cab at the beginning of Episode 1.  Laurie makes the astute observation that he could have fixed the whole outfit by simply throwing a white fir over the model's shoulders.

Laurie: Unfortunately, I don't think he realized the flub until the actual judging. Otherwise I think he would have done just that and pulled it off. I loved the dress!

Paul: Several of the other designers make dresses of the "I've never heard of Banana Republic" variety.

Laurie:  Foremost - meaning worst - among them, in my opinion was Starr's "Jester Dress".  Mind you, she did not call it this; one of the judges did, at just about the same moment I said from my sofa, "It reminds me of a jester!"  What was saddest about this was that at the beginning of the challenge, Starr - the lawyer/creator of the "envy is a cancer" dress - announced that she was an avid Banana Republic customer. If there was any style she understood it was theirs!

(By the way, I seem to be detecting a pattern among those being eliminated. The designers who remain locked in their own world, their own aesthetic, do not last. They need to be able to understand what is being asked of them and think outside their own aesthetic....And in another by the way, Starr dressed very cutely in unique outfits I suspect were of her own design. Her personal look was charming.)

Paul:  The other winner in my estimation was Jay.  Jay comes at the project with complete and vocal bewilderment.  He has a very fixed and set vision of his style at this point in our journey.  But then he notices a photograph of the Chrysler Building on the wall (why the Parsons' design room has a picture of the Chrysler Building on the wall is a topic I shall open to lively debate in the comments.)  Using it as his Art Deco template, he crafts what I thought was the best dress of the show.  This is a major point in Jay's character arch.  This is the moment where I think he transcends good designer to gently kiss the lips of greatness.

Laurie: The limitations of this challenge forced Jay out of his safe zone and release the true artist that had been pent up there. Jay's dress was a silver satin art deco work of art with an intricately pieced bodice influenced, as Paul noted, by the Art Deco architecture of the Chrysler building. Absolutely inspired. I thought this dress should have been the winner. (I've tried like a madwoman to find a picture of this dress to post here, but no dice.)
Paul: But he doesn't win because Wendy Pepper knows what a Banana Republic dress looks like.  She even did her homework enough to know that they are featuring capes in that year's Winter line and chooses to include one in her design.  And chooses to point this fact out to the judges, virtually nudging them with her elbow in the ribs as she does so.

Laurie:  Her's was a lovely and simply elegant design, and, I might add after her slap-dash efforts, professionally finished. Her new focus paid off.

Paul:  I have absolutely no memory of any of the other dresses except for loser Starr.  Hers is a cautionary tale.  What if your fifteen minutes of fame is simply a televising of you crying over your dead hopes and dreams?

Laurie:  It was a really tragic moment for her. Of all the female contestants she, the practicing lawyer, seemed the most fragile. (Her delicate Audrey Hepburn looks didn't help matters either.) It was as if she'd put her heart on the line with this contest, and that with this loss her heart would finally shatter.


  1. I was shocked that Austin didn't make it to the final 3. I LOVED nearly everything Austin did! His "winter floral" dress was something I would wear! I was shocked that Jay won for the season. I thought all his stuff was HIDEOUS! Seems like the judges always pick the one that I think all the clothes are hideous. I don't get that! I want WEARABLE clothes that are APPEALING! Not some off the wall thing that no one would want to wear! I LOVED Wendy's line! Her hot pink gown was to die for! I could see everything except for the "peekaboo boobies" outfit being totally wearable(maybe a lining would have fixed that)! So many designers out there make stuff and supposedly their stuff is "in" and I think WHO would wear that?? NOT ME! That was my exact thought about Jay winning. You wouldn't catch me dead in his stuff! I agreed with Michael Koors though that his stuff was too matchy. And I had issues with Kara's stuff too. Really all that leather and fur? Who wears that on a regular basis? I really think Wendy had the most wearable stuff. I "get" the not cohesive of a theme the judges are saying, but who wants to have a wardrobe where everything looks similar anyway? I liked Wendy's stuff the best! I wish Austin could have made it to the finals though instead of Jay. I would have LOVED to see all his stuff!