For a fashion designer, there is nothing that can rival presenting your collection at the centerpiece of New York Fashion Week -- Bryant Park -- and in the largest venue no less. For Jillian, Rami, and Christian, this experience was like an unachievable dream, but it was real and their day had arrived. Please be aware that Chris and Sweet P showed their collections, too. Why? Because the show that eliminates Sweet P had yet to air. Ditto Chris -- it would be almost three weeks before his showdown with Rami would be seen. Therefore, all five designers showed in order to keep from spoiling the eventual outcomes for the enormous audience.
We all arrived at Bryant Park at 5 a.m. on a bitter February Friday on the last day of New York Fashion Week. We were the show of the week with a capacity crowd expected and seating placement politics that were daunting to say the least. And imagine the frenzy and hubbub of backstage, my post in attendance to the designers: 59 models (one for each look, with Sweet P and Christian sharing Lea), scores of hair and makeup artists, two dozen student dressers, half-a-dozen fashion show producers, half-a-dozen Project Runway producers, a dozen camera and audio crewmen, and assorted stagehands. It was chaotic, but organized chaos. I stood vigilantly at the entry/exit to the runway and in view of a video monitor, so that the designers and I could watch the show. And I share, parenthetically, that, owing to the fact that I wasn't seated in the audience, there were press who reported, "Tim Gunn Glaringly Absent from Runway Show." Don't they know that I'm backstage? Haven't they seen at least one of the three previous finales? I couldn't possibly leave the designers to fend for themselves. And were I to do so, there's no way that I could enjoy the show. They're stuck with me!
I have to assert that any one of the Final Three could have won the season. Each designer's point of view was strong and palpable, the execution of each item in the collections was impeccable, and the styling on the runway -- hair, makeup, accessories -- was professional and superb. The winner was going to be a matter of taste, plain and simple. And with Victoria Beckham as our guest judge (talk about a WOW! moment), we were all assured that her contributions to the deliberation would be strong and potent, and they were!
Christian is the winner of Project Runway Season Four and becomes Project Runway royalty. His collection was a show-stopper. It was all about the counterpoint between exuberant volume and minimalist restraint, such as blouson tops with cigarette pants. His palette was largely black with some merlot accent pieces, except for the eveningwear, which was ivory and brown. Christian's two final looks were the ne plus ultra of his show. His second-to-last look was a belted cocktail length dress in hundreds and hundreds of vertical layers of chiffon with the color arranged from light to dark and the overall effect being like an uber sophisticated ombre. And his finale was jaw-droppingly stunning: a full length gown of feathers. In spite of his exceptional showing, I was worried that Christian's relative youth and inexperience would be obstacles for the judges. I was worried until Michael Kors languorously stated, "You know, I began my label with I was 21 ...." OK -- the set-up for his win was established. Look out haute couture! Here comes Christian Siriano!
Jillian presented a gorgeous and innovative collection. It represented a continuation of her Metropolitan Museum of Art inspiration, "The Master of the Argonauts." As I previously wrote regarding my visit in December to check in on her progress, I was concerned about cohesion. Nina nailed it when she declared during the finale deliberation, "I see too many ideas." However, on that fateful February day, while I continued to see a lot of ideas, I did see cohesion, big time. I voiced to Jillian my one big concern earlier that week: the black and white knitted top with the undulating cap sleeves. For me, it looked like it belonged to a different customer. It was a little Seuss-like, versus the serious sophistication, albeit with some whimsy, of the rest of the collection. And I was inordinately impressed with her resolution to the last look: nix the full-length skirt and create a wide-legged pant. Presto! It's Jillian! What sets Jillian apart as a designer is her extraordinary attention to detail. To see her collection on a runway is one matter, but to be able to inspect it close-up is another. You would SWOON at the leitmotif of details and the surgical precision of the construction. Jillian has a fabulous future ahead! Congratulations!
Rami almost completely transformed his collection since my visit to his studio in December. Gone were the hammered and nailed tailored pieces and in their place were softer and more refined silhouettes. In a manner similar to Christian, Rami played with volume counterpoint: voluminous draped tops over a fitted pant and skirt and a high-waisted jodhpur. But he's more about dresses, especially evening, than he is about separates. He presented innovative construction in these dresses, but some of his textile choices eluded me; they were visually heavy and literally heavy. I believed that he was forcing these incongruous materials on himself with his rationale being that the season is fall, but that's a wrong-minded rationale. Furthermore, I found his color story to be dour and a little lackluster. As much as I loved his 1930s vintage lace for one of the gowns, it looked rather stale and old. But I'm splitting hairs. Overall, Rami's collection was beautiful, with the crème de la crème being his finale look: a black gown with countless tiers of accordion-pleated layers -- staggering! Congratulations, Rami! We know that we'll see a lot more from you!