Episode Five: What's The Skinny?

Unable to defend that hot mess.

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For this challenge, Heidi brings in the models: twelve women, each of whom has undergone a significant weight loss. They are wearing the outfit that they loved most when they were at their heaviest, so on the runway they look like deflated balloons. Heidi announces that for this challenge, the designers will create a beautiful new look for these women using the clothes they're wearing as the raw material for that look. She then assigns each model/client to a designer by selecting names from our velvet bag.

The designers are given 30 minutes to meet with their new clients in the workroom. That accomplished, I take them shopping for extra fabric and/or notions with a budget of $10 (yes, ten dollars). They have until midnight of that day, with a possible hour or two in the morning, to complete their work for the challenge. tim_guest_405_320x240.jpg

Oh, I almost forgot, these new looks are for each woman's daily life -- think about that when you bring your own evaluations to the outcomes. Patrick Robinson, head designer for The GAP, is our guest judge. jack_01_405_320x240.jpg

Finally, I'm terribly sorry to say that we lose Jack in this challenge. He was seized by a repeat episode of an extremely serious staph infection, one that would require a week in the hospital with an IV drip. Morally, ethically, and medically, it was impossible to keep him on the show. Chris March was the last designer to be out, so we brought him back to replace Jack. Owing to the fact that Chris began the challenge very late, we allowed him to work through the night. rate_runway_05_405.jpg

Christian wins, and in his own words, "Finally!" Our resident wunderkind really deserved this win, too. He created a look that embraced his spirit of innovation, but it was grounded enough to navigate the real world, too. And that, readers, was the challenge. His client, Kerry, looked "fabulous" in the reinvention of her heaviest weight outfit: a fitted and cropped jean with a shrunken jacket (a metaphor?) over a nude top. I was crazy about the horizontal pleats in the placket of the jacket. Furthermore, the silhouette and proportions of the entire look was "fierce." Go, Christian! rate_runway_10_405.jpg

Steve is OUT. I felt sick for Steve from the moment he received Laura as his client, because of -- omigod -- that wedding dress. To be blunt, the prospect of working with a full-length gown of white polyester/acetate with prefabricated adornments of cheap-and-cheerful lace, pearls, and beading was daunting even to me. And Steve's decision to create a black dress and use remnants of the wedding dress for a collar and cuffs was risky. A black-and-white design scenario, especially with a collar and cuffs, is rife with cliches, and how to mitigate that trap added another dimension to the challenge. Had the dress been flawlessly executed, Steve would have had a hard enough time on the judging runway. But given that it was an oversized jumble of disparate parts, he was unable to defend the hot mess. Steve, we will sincerely miss you! rate_runway_04_405.jpg

Chris returned to replace Jack, who had only barely begun to work with his client, Sylvia, when the impact of his infection became too serious for him to remain. So as happy as we are to have our dear Chris back in the workroom, what-oh-what was he thinking when he created Sylvia's new look? Considering his background as a costume designer, I have been pleased that he has avoided that potential trap -- until now. If one were to remove the red sash from the skirt, then you'd be left with a baby-blue top with a scooped neckline and a navy pencil skirt. But even the skirt's red kick-pleat was a costume nod. So was Sylvia's runway styling: another slash of red in the form of a scarf that was tied around her neck. I didn't get it. Was she boarding the HMS Pinafore or was she engaging in a French apache dance? Perhaps both! rate_runway_07_405.jpg

Elisa's design point of view was simply too dominant in this challenge. Tracy, her client, had lost 102 lbs., so Elisa had volumes of fabric with which to work. Frankly, those excesses contributed to her derailment, at least in my opinion. The look she created had too many layers, too much asymmetry, and was just, well, too much. This was to be an outfit for Tracy's everyday life. I wasn't a believer, unless Tracy is a ringmaster for Barnum & Bailey. Elisa, please tone down the clown clothes! rate_runway_02_405.jpg

Jillian stunned me with her bold decision to barely use any of her client Erika's wardrobe. Frankly, I was prepared for the possibility of a "disqualification" ruling from the judges. Jillian told me that she replicated the red of Erika's shirt in the fabric that she bought (and I'm not at all certain how she obtained all of that fabric for a mere $10), and she cut up Erika's pants for strips for piping I have to say that her design was strong: a red dress with a halter cum racer back. And her use of the piping to create the illusion of a longer and leaner silhouette was outstanding. I'm merely happy that the judges subscribed to the package, whereas I would have balked. rate_runway_09_405.jpg

Kevin created a strapless, modified bustier top that flared from the waist and fell to mid-thigh. This was paired with black leggings. The top was in canary yellow with graphic accents in black: large buttons and piping. I found the look to be sleek and modern, and it looked adorable on his client Elise who walked it on the runway with extraordinary confidence. I saw Kevin as a strong contender for the win, except for the limitations of where Elise could really wear this look: everyday? I don't think so. rate_runway_08_405.jpg

Kit's design was ambitious. Her client Alicia had lost 160 lbs, which was even more ambitious an achievement! Kit had a difficult shade of pink with which to work, plus a non-cohesive black and white print. To her credit, she made it work: a short and "girly" (her words) trapeze dress in the difficult pink with an underskirt and waistband in the print. It was a pretty dress, but was it fashion? rate_runway_11_405.jpg

Rami created a tailored, high-waisted skirt paired with an organic, draped top. The skirt was sleek and beautifully fitted on his client, Lisa, and it offered an excellent counterpoint to the superbly draped top of twists and pleats, his Greco-Roman signature. Frankly, I was surprised that he didn't remain on the runway as one of the three strongest designers for this challenge. Was his work too basic in the eyes of the judges? We'll never know. rate_runway_03_405.jpg

Ricky designed a baby-doll top and cropped jean for his client Penny. The top was in a nude fabric with a jeweled neckline. He gave the silhouette additional dimension by using a sash at the waist. Penny looked great on the runway, but regarding the top, I had to ask myself at how many stores on Madison Avenue could one buy an almost identical look? rate_runway_01_405.jpg

Sweet P's client Chris lost 100 lbs, thereby leaving Sweet P with ample fabric with which to work. She took the olive gray poly-blend and created a halter dress that evolved from basic to stunning with the use of white piping along the seams. Heidi asked for "beautiful" and Sweet P delivered it! rate_runway_06_405.jpg

Victorya's model Ory had lost 139 lbs. When Heidi made the initial introduction, Ory was wearing a dark green velvet floor-length dress. That meant that Victorya had plenty of material with which to work. What eluded me was how little innovation and invention Victorya brought to this challenge. Basically, she shortened the dress and fitted it very well to Ory's newfound figure. Victorya even described it as a "cocktail dress." How was it that so many of the designers lost sight of the premise of the challenge: to create an everyday look? To repeat: it eluded me.

Finale, Part 2

Impressive work by all but alas only one designer can win.

Well, for me, this episode was the Project Runway first among Project Runway firsts! Why? Because I served as a judge for the first time (and, hopefully, the last time) ever. Here's the back story: Bravo and the executive producers approached me before our Bryant Park show to say that there may be a problem with our guest judge and, consequently, how would I feel about filling in. At first, my response was a roll-up-your-sleeves and "make it work!" form of positive thinking, but as I contemplated the reality of it, I pushed back and refused. Consider the following: I still had another visit to the designers that night and there would be a considerable amount of time needed to support them in the morning before the show. How could I be both a mentor and a judge and service their needs appropriately and responsibly? I believed that I couldn't. So, to make a very long story a wee bit shorter, we ended Thursday night's bevy of phone calls in the following way: Bravo and the producers would ardently search for a replacement judge and I would return to my work with the designers assuming that I would not be a judge If I were to be needed in that role, then I wouldn't be informed of that need mere moments before the show. Otherwise, I could be perceived by the designers (and anyone else mind you) as being duplicitous and insincere. That would never do. Furthermore, Kenley and I were engaged in an semi-incendiary relationship, and the worst thing that could happen would be for her to lose and have me perceived as being the reason why. Oy! So, we know what happened: Our guest judge backed out at the last minute, a celebrity replacement couldn't be found on such short notice, and I filled in. With 10 minutes and counting until our show, Heidi came to me and asked, "So, you're ready to do this, no?" I replied, "To be honest, I don't know. I have an altogether different relationship with the designers than you and Nina and Michael have. I don't know." Heidi reared back and asked, "Tim Gunn, are you telling me that with all of your years of teaching you can't put your relationships aside and look at their work impartially? I thought about her wise words and responded, "Of course I can! Let's go!" We hugged and kissed and off we went.

Don't ever wish to be a guest judge on the show! To be blunt, I don't know how the judges do what they do and as well as they do: The collections pass by quickly, you have to wrap your brain around each piece of each collection immediately, and you have to come to terms with some comparative assessment right away. AND, I had the distinct advantage of intimately knowing the designers' work, yet is was still daunting. In any case, it really was very, very difficult. And there was one very important dimension to this process: seeing the clothes walk. Generally speaking, I don't see them walk. Rather, I see everything static on dress forms. Walking is an altogether different experience and it brings everything to life. So, in that sense, my experience with each designer's collection couldn't have been fresher and newer.

Here are my thoughts about the three collections: Leanne WINS, and what a win it was! We saw all of the conceptual content that really is at the core of Leanne's point of view, and we saw it tempered and orchestrated with precision. As I said to her during the home visit: "I always trust that you will present masterful technique, but can you give your work feeling, emotion?" This was her personal challenge. And she did it All of the strong architectural elements that are Leanne were clearly present, but her looks possessed a buoyancy and an ease, an effortlessness that belied each items structure. Furthermore, her collection was the result of superb editing; had she not brought her critical eye and judgment to each looks and its relationship to every other look, then there may have been a different outcome. Kenley presented a strong point of view and excellent execution, neither of which were surprises, and both of which were appropriately lauded.

I loved Kenley's textile choices and her hand-painting, which was a risky endeavor, and the silhouettes couldn't have been more her. But when the looks walked, they possessed a stiffness that I wasn't prepared to experience. Static on a dress forms, her looks beautifully captured the essence of her inspiration: "painting the roses red" from Alice in Wonderland. (When I made my home visit to her, Kenley resisted revealing her inspiration, which confounded me. When she finally relented, she gave me an epiphany. "Now I get it!" I declared.) But when the clothes walked on the runway, they retained much of their static appearance; that is, most of the looks moved like stiff pasteboard. I could see Kenley's collection emanating a major "wow!" factor in an editorial spread in Elle, but I had a hard time imagining how they would or could navigate and function in the real world. Still, I loved the fantasy aspect of the collection and its other-worldliness. Korto fully embraced her African heritage and her Americanism. Furthermore, she was successful embracing that goal, which is no small task, especially since the entire collection could have been a costume festival. Her silhouettes, alone, told her story, and when you add the colors, textures, and jewelry, her entire collection was uplifted. Color is nothing if not subjective, and I applaud her decision to step away from the expected and mix up her largely taupe palette with vibrant greens and blues. And the jewelry? Well, from my perspective it was all inextricable from the larger aspect of her point of view and, more particularly, to the individual looks themselves. I loved it. Is her collection for everyone or anyone? Of course not, but whose is?

Congratulations to all!