Finale Pt. 2

These are the moments!

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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. tim_01.jpg

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! tim_04.jpg

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! tim_05.jpg

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!

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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!

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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!

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!