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.

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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!

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