Episode One: We're Off!

One by one, each designers outfit reviewed!

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And we're off! The fifteen season four designers have arrived, settled into their apartments, and are presented with their first challenge. They meet Heidi and me in Bryant Park (home of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week) where Heidi gestures to three tents at the opposite end of the park and declares that they are the source of the designers' materials for this challenge.

The tents are constructed out of $50,000 worth of fabrics donated by our favorite fabric resource, MOOD. The designers have ten minutes to collect as much fabric as they can. Then we will return to the workroom at Parsons where they will have until 1:00AM to design and execute a garment that demonstrates their philosophy and point of view.

So, here goes: 
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Rami WINS! Rami unequivocally showed us who he is as a designer: modern yet classic, romantic yet restrained, and with elegance personified. His silk georgette one-shouldered gown in a rich gray was all about the drape, and his draping is nothing short of magnificent. Lest anyone project that season four will belong to Rami, let me remind loyal viewers that the winner of the first challenge has never won the season - yet. rate_runway_14_401.jpg

Simone is OUT. I do not dispute Simone's talents as a designer: she's excellent. Her undoing was all about inadequate construction. Was I a fan of her garment design? Not entirely, but we can debate its conceptual quality and relevance. We cannot debate the construction; poor workmanship abounded. Furthermore, she didn't have time to set in the dress's zipper(!). Watching her design walk the runway was painful. I merely hoped that her own exit would be quick. It was. rate_runway_09_401.jpg

Carmen was the only designer to use a pant and I applaud her for it, because she gave herself a big challenge and an even bigger risk: fit. Her black pant offered a sleek and minimal counterpoint to the exuberance of the top pieces - a gold shrunken jacket over a floral blouse. It wasn't for everyone, but I found it to be stunning. rate_runway_05_401.jpg

Chris, this season's designer with a costume background, definitely presented fashion. It was a red carpet worthy gown in aubergine silk charmeuse with a large waistband and halter-top in an olive print. His model held the fishtail train on the runway, giving the dress an elegance and distinction that it deserved. Bravo. rate_runway_02_401.jpg

Christian created a bishop sleeve shrunken jacket using a Glen plaid in silk satin. This was paired with a taupe, asymmetrically pleated bubble skirt. I loved certain aspects of the jacket - the silhouette, proportions, and the dynamic chevron created by the matching of the plaid at the back center seam, but I was confounded by the print's mismatch elsewhere. Given the large scale of the plaid, the mismatching was discordant to me and begged the question, "Why match it at all?" since the meeting of the plaid in the back was so precise. Furthermore, the construction of the skirt eluded me. But the judges loved the look, so look out for Christian! rate_runway_13_401.jpg

Elisa is going to be very interesting to watch, but perhaps for reasons other than...we'll see. She designed an azure jersey gown with a gorgeous silhouette, an excellent fit, and superb finishing. That given, why did she believe that a long poorly finished train in a riot of colors and textures would enhance the gown? I didn't understand it. And her model was almost crippled from a series of trips and falls both backstage and on the runway. In spite of Elisa's strong commitment to her work, a dysfunctional design is a dysfunctional design. rate_runway_03_401.jpg

Jack presented a black on white floral print skirt paired with a halter top with an azure waistband and halter-strap accents. It was fresh and youthful and I wish I had more to write about it. Later, Jack. rate_runway_01_401.jpg

Jillian is clearly her own muse: witness the adorable outfit that she designed and wore to her initiation into the New Gotham apartments. For this challenge, she created a halter dress with an exuberant bubble skirt and a sleek fitting top. The slight contrast in the hues of red that she chose for the skirt and the top infused the design with a healthy tension. I surely understand who she is as a designer and am very pleased for her success, but I wonder how her point of view will continue to be demonstrated as the season progresses. That's a roundabout way of saying, "Don't bore Nina!" rate_runway_04_401.jpg

Kevin designed a strapless dress in black chalk-striped wool cut on the bias. He created a visual punch with a band of red satin protruding from under the skirt and above the breast-line. A silver obi was the piece de resistance and an ambitious addition. I'm eager to see what lies ahead. rate_runway_07_401.jpg

Kit is admittedly avant-garde. She is determined to push the metaphorical envelope, and I suspect that it will be a cold day in hell when she sends a classic shift down the runway. Her design for this challenge was anything but, but what was it? A black and white flower print dress (or was it a skirt and a top?) with a red, one-shoulder bustier cum harness. I get it, but I had difficulty with the proportions, not the concept.

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Marion is quick to declare that he's a flower shop owner, which sounds almost self-deprecating given that he's here for fashion. I know that he's educated as a fashion designer (class of season three's Robert Best at Parsons) and worked in the industry. So who is he as a designer? For this challenge, he created a black lace top over an olive skirt. The top was quite elaborate and beautifully constructed. The skirt consisted of large asymmetrical panels and felt very sculptural. I found the amalgam of skirt and top to be discordant, as though they belonged to entirely different customers. Still, I believe in Marion's vision and am eager to see what's next. rate_runway_11_301.jpg

Ricky has an extensive background as a lingerie designer and it shows in his understanding of the importance of workmanship: details and finishing. His design was all about the workmanship. I admired the construction and the flawless manner in which he used a scalloped lace trim to enhance the effect of the black and silver striped dress. The microcosm worked, but from a macro perspective, the dress was very, very basic, and perhaps too basic. Still, his execution won out - for now. rate_runway_08_401.jpg

Steve designed a classic black suit with an edge. The pencil skirt was beautifully proportioned, as was the corresponding jacket with over-scale, fabric covered buttons. The jacket's cut and silhouette brought to mind a modified peplum, which was just enough of a retro nod to give it an element of surprise. Worn with an effortlessly tied red scarf, the look was chic and sophisticated. rate_runway_10_401.jpg

Sweet P is very much about surfaces: textures, patterns, embellishments. That can potentially speak to excess, but she knows how to practice restraint. Her design for this challenge was a dress in a textile consisting of circles of eyelet embroidery over a red underskirt. Wisely, she chose a simple silhouette. I found the wide baby-blue straps of the dress to be an element of surprise. Sweet P will be interesting to watch. rate_runway_12_401.jpg

Victorya was one of the six designers left on the runway for the further deliberation of the judges - "the three best and three worst," as Heidi says. I have to admit to scratching my head about into which category Victorya fell. Her design wasn't bad, but it was so very, very basic, not unlike Ricky's: a black shift with a single and large silver floral embellishment. I'm not opposed to the look, but I'm not swooning, either. So if Ricky is one of the "three worst," then why is Victorya....? Oh, shut up, Tim.

PS Why so many baby doll dresses? (And what happened to the term, "empire waist" for this kind of design? I'm showing my Old-Fogieness.) Why? Because this form of design is a sure thing when it comes to fit. The same is true of halter tops, of which we had a profusion.

Nature Calls

The designers are blossoming in this week's challenge.

This is the designers' final challenge, and it will determine which of them will move forward and present collections at New York Fashion Week. Heidi announces that I'm taking the designers on a field trip. Indeed, I am. In another celebration of New York City, we visit the New York Botanical Garden. There, the designers meet Collier Strong, consulting makeup artist for L'Oreal Paris, who explains that this is the L'Oreal Paris challenge. Collier instructs the designers to use the Garden as the source of their inspiration for an evening gown design (which, coincidentally, is what they declared that they wanted to do when we were in the van driving to the Bronx). They are given cameras and have one hour to explore the garden and take pictures to record their inspiration.

Back in the workroom, they have 30 minutes to choose one photograph to serve as the inspiration for their evening gown. Then, we go shopping at MOOD with a budget of $250. They have two days for this challenge.

Our guest judge is the stunning Georgina Chapman, co-founder of and designer for Marchesa.

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Jerell WINS! And he couldn't have been more Jerell in this design: a fitted bustier and a full, layered skirt with a slight train. The brownish purple duchesse satin body of the dress was gorgeous, and the under-layers of crimson followed by a dark green sequined panel were gorgeous in my opinion. Still, when I called "time," he still had a lot of work to do, including resolving the fit of the skirt in the back. No one is OUT. All four designers move forward to create collections and compete for three spots at New York Fashion Week. In spite of Jerell's win, he will compete, too.

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Kenley used a python print in shades of fuchsia and purple to make a mermaid-like gown with a high neck and a racer back. From the knees down there are multi-tiered layers of gradated "leaves" in the same python fabric, each of which is piped in a different shade of purple or fuchsia charmeuse. The leaves look more like fish scales, ergo the mermaid association of this look. Thankfully, Kenley removed the leaves from the shoulder. But, still, her design looked very costumey in my humble opinion, and her technical treatment of the gradated leaves did not have her usual polish. In the end, the look was very Kenley and she's moving forward.

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Korto was inspired by a dramatic flower in shades ranging from orange to yellow. She chose creamsicle and ochre textiles in charmeuse and created a gown with a deep, plunging neckline and a train with a vent with an inserted panel. A tired-looking ivory lace with beading embellishments was used in two side panels and as trim along the back. Thankfully, she edited the lace down to a more diminutive use, because she had originally intended to cover most of the back with this problematic textile. I had difficulty seeing Korto's point of view in this gown, but she was confident that it was there. Thankfully, she's moving forward!

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Leanne designed a stunning gown in lavender charmeuse, and while she retained her signature details and structural embellishments, this was a "softer" Leanne. The pleating in the one-shoulder top cascaded into a symmetrical flourish that hugged the hips. The judges questioned the efficacy of the darker blue panel in the train of the gown, but isn't that a matter of taste? In fact, with the exception of poor construction, isn't it all a matter of taste?

Chacun a son gout!