Monday, October 10, 2011

2.8: O for a Muse of fire!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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