Raw Talent

Who is victorious and who gets slammed.

Heidi announces that the designers are to meet me for a field trip, and we hear audible groans in response. The designers have grown weary of surprises, and what a surprise we have for them. For our field trip, I bring the six remaining designers to the lobby outside of the auditorium at Parsons where we have the runway show and the judging. We can hear shouts and grunts and shrieks emitting from behind the doors. The designers look extremely apprehensive, even a little panicked. What's going on? I open one of the four doors to reveal a regulation wrestling ring in which six Divas of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) are engaged in combat. It's quite a sight -- and sound!

We meet the Divas who introduce themselves and provide a few words to describe their "character." Then, I invite the designers into the ring to select a Diva to be their client. Their challenge: to create an outfit for the Divas to wear in the ring. They have 30 minutes to consult with their clients, after which we go shopping at Spandex House (I didn't make it up; it's a real place) with a budget of $100. The designers have two days to complete the challenge.

We are fortunate to have the perfect guest judges: Richie Rich and Traver Rains, who are Heatherette. If anyone would understand this challenge, they would! raterunway_06_410_220x415.jpg

Chris wins! Chris enthusiastically embraced this challenge from the beginning. He has experience facilitating design challenges that are tongue-in-cheek. His personal challenge throughout the season has been to tame the over-the-top costume designer in him and create designs that can navigate the real world. This challenge involved a different iteration of "real world," and one that was his cup of metaphorical tea. Compared to the other designers, Chris worked stealth-like at Spandex House. I could sense his confidence from that very moment. His client was Maria, a self-described "glam rock" Diva. Chris created a shrunken hoodie in green leopard velour with a dark green glittery lining. The hoodie was over a leopard print bikini top with S&M strapping over a bikini bottom in the dark glittery fabric. And there were matching elbow-high gloves. The effect was jungle disco: Rousseau does Vegas. It was an appropriate look for the challenge, absolutely believable, and Maria looked fabulous. Congratulations, Chris! raterunway_03_410_220x415.jpg

Ricky is out. Had the challenge been to design swimwear for the Caribbean, then Ricky may have won. Alas, not so. His tangerine bikini with gold hardware trim was well done, although derivative, but it wasn't even remotely appropriate for the WWE ring. He thought he could mitigate the look through use of a cover-up, but the cover-up -- a gold lame front and back -- merely looked like he was grasping for something, anything. He was. His client, Layla, wore the outfit like the professional that she is, but even she wasn't believing the look. Ricky, we will all sincerely miss you. raterunway_02_410_220x415.jpg

Christian designed the most high fashion of the looks. Frankly, it was "fierce and fabulous," to borrow two of his pet words. When his client Kristal declared that she loves leather and lace, I knew that we had a match made in heaven. However, initially I was also concerned: Chaps? I feared that this was going to be a silly biker bar costume, but I was wrong. The faux leather chaps with the lace inserts, the sleeveless lace top with the high waistband in faux leather, and the faux leather shrunken jacket were sleek, elegant, and even sophisticated. Kristal looked like she was going to the WWE in Paris. I swooned and thought that Christian's work was a strong contender for the win. raterunway_01_410_220x415.jpg

Jillian was another strong contender for the win, at least in my view. Her client Michelle personifies the "girl next door," and Jillian's design for her exuded an all-American sensibility. She designed a royal blue top with white engineered stripes and matching short shorts with a white waistband. She styled the look with white mid-thigh tights. he look was clean and athletic with a nod to preppy. Excellent, Jillian. raterunway_05_410_220x415.jpg 

Rami was as close to crashing and burning on this challenge as I've ever seen him. The context of this challenge eluded him and took him too far away from his comfort zone. But that's precisely why we presented this challenge in the first place. At Spandex House, he chose a vibrant (that's an understatement) pink fabric that needed to either be fully embraced or rejected. Once it was back in the workroom, it was clear that it needed to be reckoned with. Rami battled with ambivalence. In the end, his client Torrie, another all-American girl, looked dowdy, if that's possible. The top looked voluminous, even accepting Torrie's ample breasts. The bottom, shorts with a removable over-skirt, looked like a diaper. Torrie looked like she was going to the WWE retirement home. Rami was way off his mark. raterunway_04_410_220x415.jpg

Sweet P was almost as debilitated as Rami. Although she certainly understood the challenge, she had difficulty embracing her client's desire for wretched excess. Candice is the current WWE women's champion and she's not called the "sex kitten" for nothing. Her signature is "robe and reveal;" that is, entering the ring looking grand, but demure, then removing the robe with a flourish and revealing a sexy next-to-nothing costume. Sweet P just couldn't find the right path to go there. Furthermore, and now becoming characteristic of her, she was filled with self-doubts. She builds up good momentum, and then she stalls. Candice looked lackluster on the runway in Sweet P's sleeveless robe and very basic modified bikini. Lackluster. Sweet P, I'm just happy that you're still with us!

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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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