Eye Candy

Field trips + untraditional materials= stress!

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I love our field trips, and I love it when we use untraditional materials, but I'll confess that both always give me an exacerbated level of stress. Heidi introduces this challenge by merely informing the designers that they will have an early start. Indeed, they do. I arrive at their apartments before the crack of dawn. Rousing them, I declare that they are to get dressed and meet me in the lobby. We're going on a field trip!

The ten designers and I pile into the Project Runway van and head northeast towards Times Square. We park a block from our destination, which is unknown to them, and take a little walk. Eventually, we land at the Hershey's Time's Square emporium, a literal Hershey's lovers dream come true. The designers are clearly excited, but it's apparent and they're equally daunted by the speculative prospect for this challenge. tim_406_02_320x240.jpg

We meet Hershey's Michelle Gloeckler who tells them that anything and everything in the store is available to them. Furthermore, there's no budget for this challenge. Rather, the designers are given two shopping bags each and five minutes to amass their materials. To their relief, the design challenge is open: create an outfit of your choice. Whew.

There is no additional shopping, even for notions. Glue, glue guns, staplers, other adhesives, and needles and thread are being provided, so the additional resources are an even playing field. They will have until midnight to finish their look, because there will be almost no time available to them the following morning.

The always thoughtful, always insightful, and always dead-on Zac Posen is our guest judge. Hurray! rate_runway_10_406.jpg

Rami wins! And he is the first designer this season to win two challenges. Using York Peppermint Patty paper* for a pleated skirt and vinyl Twizzler pillow cases for an innovatively constructed top, he created a look that was simultaneously edgy, fashion forward, and wearable (i.e. believable). His look was superbly constructed and the fit on his model Sam was perfection. What more is there to say? Congratulations, Rami! rate_runway_09_406.jpg

Elisa is OUT. To me, this outcome was inevitable. Elisa listens to two inner voices (at least two...) that operate from opposing positions: that is, one tells her to be fantastically innovative and avant-garde while the other deludes her into thinking that she successfully attains that goal. When I engage with her, I listen seriously and respectfully, but I find that the words she speaks and the work that I'm looking at don't jibe.

For this challenge, she used her daughter as her muse and sought to achieve an outfit suitable for Gretel of "Hansel and Gretel." She said that she wanted a "fashion confection of fairytale fantasy." Okay, but what does a stale brown velvet dress have to do with that? I won't even comment on those ludicrous faux sleeves made out of the Hershey's Kiss pillows. Ho-hum. If Elisa's design had been as interesting as her words portrayed, then she'd have been the winner. rate_runway_08_406.jpg

Chris knew only too well that this challenge would either make him or break him. As a costume designer extraordinaire, Chris is more than adept at using untraditional materials, such as food. But were he to go the way of the food circus, then he would have delivered a parade float to the judges, and we know where that would have led. In his own apt words, this design was "Stephen Sprouse meets Andy Warhol." I loved his strapless mini-dress with "Hershey's" emblazoned and repeated vertically from the bust-line to the hip: very Warholesque, indeed. The look was clean, beautifully fitted, and his model Marcia looked sublime. Furthermore, it was a strong contender for the win. Chris, I'm proud of you! rate_runway_01_406.jpg

Christian, I suspect, will have a polarizing effect on our viewers. I write this largely out of projection, because I alternate between wanting to give him a big hug and wanting to give him a sobering slap. In a manner that evoked the discovery of penicillin, he believed that the material he chose (hundreds of Reese's Peanut Butter Cup wrappers), coupled with his design (a mini-dress with a halter and choker), would ensure his win.

Furthermore, he was "finished" hours before the deadline. When I found him in the workroom gloating over his achievement and offering spare-time critiques to his fellow designers, I pulled him aside to suggest that he consider giving his design some more time and thought. "I certainly don't think that you're going home (and he won the last challenge, so he had immunity), but I'm not as confident as you are that this design is the winner." If looks could really kill, I would have been a goner. rate_runway_05_406.jpg

Jillian was the only designer to construct an entire garment out of edible materials. I supported her intentions from the onset, but I was also bluntly concerned about time; that is, her design was extremely ambitious to execute. I, too, found the Twizzler's to be an inspirational material: substantive, pliable, and a rich color.

But merely handling the Twizzler's was a challenge, because the heat from her hands caused the dense pillars of candy to turn squishy. Oh dear. The consequence was that gluing would not be an option. Instead, each individual piece would have to be sewn onto an infrastructure. Time. I know that Jillian was writing her own epitaph, but in the end she made it work. Her flapperish mini and Valkyrian bustier were stunning, and all the more so for being made of candy. For me, this would have ensured her win. But for our judges, it was a matter of taste - forgive the pun. rate_runway_04_406.jpg

Kevin's design was nothing if not wearable. He created a cropped bolero jacket out of the chocolate velvet of the Hershey's pillows and used ROLOs for buttons. A corset-shaped halter top in silver (from Kiss pillows) was over a chocolate pencil skirt. His use of a silver ruffle under the hem of the skirt struck me as being a bit contrived and trying to hard, but it passed successfully through the judges' review in the first round. Go Kevin! rate_runway_02_406.jpg

Kit took advantage of the opportunity to spin her name and used Kit Kat wrappers to make a corset with oversized chocolate-colored lacing in the back. This was paired with a flared and pleated skirt made out of the wrappers from extra-large Hershey's bars. The impact was powerful, but a bit busy, if not cacophonous. Furthermore, styling the look with knee-high boots on the runway cancelled out any hope that the look would be buoyant or joyful. Instead, it was heavy-handed. Kit, edit! rate_runway_03_406.jpg

Ricky nailed this challenge and, remarkably, with little to no consternation. His look was adorable: a bubble skirt (I know, I know, but it was fun in this case) fashioned out of "Hershey's" fabric paired with a silver bustier-shaped top with spaghetti straps. The judges responded well, too, by virtue of the fact that Ricky was "IN" in the first round. I believe that this may be the first challenge in which Ricky wasn't left hanging on the runway. Congratulations! rate_runway_07_406.jpg

Sweet P was almost completely derailed by this challenge. Was it a consequence of over thinking her design and being too innovative with the materials? Perhaps, but the earlier stage of her work presented an impossible mess. I was in complete agreement that she abort and begin anew. The trouble was that she had made such a mess of so much of her material resources that they couldn't be recycled into phase II, so there were severe limitations ahead.

This was a classic "make it work" moment. I was proud - and relieved - that she was able to create a garment that looked believable and could walk the runway. Yes, it was a basic look - a silver bodice and pleated miniskirt made out of Hershey's Kiss paper* -- but at least she had a look! Michael and Nina were especially critical of her look's banality, but if they could walk a mile in our shoes! rate_runway_06_406.jpg

Victorya created a look that can be best described as a homely costume. Not unlike Elisa, Victorya can listen to inner voices that delude and, consequently, derail her. Her decision to use the fabric of York Peppermint Patty pillows for her design was compelling, because the shiny silver textile and the bold graphic print had a certain "wow!" factor. So why did she decide to use the flat, lifeless reverse of the textile for most of the garment? This begged the question: then why use it at all? And the design?

Victorya's work is characterized by a sleek minimalism, so what accounted for the ruffled top and multi-tiered girly skirt? To make matters even more incongruous, Victorya called the look "Ice Princess" and instructed her model Jacqueline to walk like Venus Rising. This was a puzzling head-scratcher. Victorya, as far as I'm concerned, you're lucky to still be IN.

* The Hershey's Kiss and York Peppermint Patty papers were rolls of stock from the Time's Square store that had been intended for display purposes. Hershey's kindly offered them to us, and the papers were a godsend to many of the designers.

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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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