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!

What's Next

Words of advice to Leanne, Korto, and Kenley.

Leanne put together something that was interesting and sophisticated and it definitely had a point of view. In a weird way she managed to have a focused collection that still had variety. She took an idea and she stretched it. The clothes were young as well as sophisticated at the same time.

What's next for her? Well, everyone thinks that they have to put on this big runway show and that's not necessarily always the case. I think her clothes are very much about seeing the workmanship, the detailing and all that, so I definitely think she's got the goods to do her own thing. I don't think she should feel obliged to do a big show right away. I think there's something to be said about things growing slowly and organically and that might be better for her. Then people can really see the clothes up close, because when you put the kind of workmanship into something that's understated, things can get lost. She could do a fun presentation, maybe, or a still life on mannequins. I don't think she necessarily has to rush out and put on a whole show. I think her clothes will be appreciated in both Europe and Japan so she should probably think about bringing it over her line to Paris where you're going to find more of the European buyers as well as the Asian buyers. Once again, I think her clothes will do really well in Asia. I think they have an understanding of sophisticated workmanship. You're not going to see her clothes in the local mall. They're not for that. She's got to keep it high-end and sophisticated and keep her focus, which I think she will.As for Korto's collection. I remember the beads well. There was one asymmetrical dress where the beads were built in and I loved that. Everything she wanted her collection to be - ethnic without being costume-y, playful with color - she managed to hit that with certain parts of the collection. But I think the necklaces, when they were just necklaces on their own, looked added.

With Kenley the reality is you have to have a confidence in what you do and you have to believe that you're right. A designer needs a big ego because you really are going around and telling people "You're wrong and I'm right." But I think that there are ways to do it gracefully. It's the kind of industry where you're always going to have good feedback, bad feedback, or sometimes no reaction, whether it's the woman in a store, the buyer, or the press. It's always a public thing, not a private thing. The important thing to remember is as much as it might burn you when someone criticizes you, the real reality is you don't have to take it totally verbatim. I think she takes things totally verbatim. And one can listen and say, "I got what you're saying but I'm ultimately going to do what I want to do, thanks for the input" and maybe you will learn something. You should learn something. When you think you know it all at 25 then your career's going to be really short. The whole point of fashion is that you never know it all. She's gotta learn how to keep her point-of-view and her confidence, but learn how to be a little more of a lady. Granted, being tough never hurt anyone in fashion.She's obviously got a point-of-view. She's got a great hand. The painting on those clothes was just gorgeous. In general, the quality and the craftsmanship of everything she sent out was beautiful. But I think when people are dress designers, which is really what she is, it doesn't make for the most compelling fashion show. It might make a very nice line. I think that in history there have been a lot of designers who are "dress houses," so to speak. They don't do a whole collection and they can have very successful businesses. It's hard to tell a varied story when you are so specifically dress-oriented and especially when your look is so particular. So I think she could put a line together and do very well with it. There's always going to be someone who likes something feminine and flirty and she's another one where I don't necessarily think the runway is always going to be her best friend. I think the greatest thing that has happened from the show in the last five seasons is that it's certainly made people aware that their clothes don't just appear in their closet. It's kind of like knowing the farmer who grows the crop. Suddenly you have an appreciation for the food that's on your table. I think that Runway has really opened people's eyes to know that this is an incredibly difficult endeavor and it takes real tenacity and talent.

I think that's the greatest part of the show for me. I'm a real fashion person so when something turns the corner and I think it's really spectacular that's the greatest moment for me. When Christian's show started and I saw the chicness of this 3-Musketeers silhouettes I thought "Wow." Same thing with Leanne. I look at the whole thing lined up and I think this is what we're here for. I'm happy when it looks great. My other highlight is sometimes just losing it laughing. Whether it's the wrestling challenge or... just losing it laughing in general! As much as I love it all and we are excited about it and spend so much time doing it, at the end of they day, they are just clothes. And sometimes it's good to just laugh about it all.