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.
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.
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.
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.