The Art Of Fashion

The MET helps produce art inspired fashion!

Heidi announces that this is the final challenge of the season and that of the five designers still standing, two will be eliminated. She declares that the designers are taking one last field trip and instructs them to meet me at Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street. Thus ensued lots of "Where are we going?" speculation. Didn't any of them know that this is the address of the Metropolitan Museum of Art? I was absolutely ecstatic about meeting the designers there, because the Met is a major NYC obsession of mine and I was thrilled to share it. The Met is a treasure trove of masterpieces with something for everyone, and that's a massive understatement: 5,000 years of art and artifacts! I'm at the Met all the time; it's my church. Imagine my thrill for all of us when I learned that we would have access to this great institution before opening hours. Wow!

I greet the designers on the front steps of the Met and we enter. Their challenge: Choose a work of art to serve as the inspiration of a look of their choice. They have three destinations: the Greek and Roman Sculpture courtyard, the European Painting wing, and the Temple of Dendur. And we have a mere 45 minutes for all three! Any one of these destinations could consume days! Thankfully, the designers were presented with cameras to record their inspirations. We return to the workroom at Parsons where the designers can print their digital photographs and select one for the inspiration for their design. They have an hour to sketch, followed by 30 minutes at MOOD with a budget of $300. They have two days for this last challenge.

Later in the workroom, I introduce the designers to Collier Strong, consulting makeup artist to L'Oreal Paris, who will advise them how to best enhance their designs through the makeup for their models.

I want to add that this is the first season in the history of the show when most of the designers didn't disappoint me with the last challenge. In prior seasons, the designers performed in a way that said, "I don't care about winning the challenge, I just don't want to be out." The results were lackluster at best. This season, most of the designers were motivated by wanting to WOW the judges, with our special guest judge being Roberto Cavalli. Don't disappoint Mr. Cavalli! raterunway_02_411_220x415.jpg

Christian wins! His look was inspired by a dramatic 17th Century Spanish portrait by Bartolome Esteban Murillo. Christian brilliantly translated the militaristic costume in the portrait into womenswear. Was the outcome a little costume-y? Well, yes, in a way, but it was also dramatic and editorial. And most important from a design standpoint were the silhouette and proportions, which were sublime. His slim, dark jodhpurs offered the perfect counterpoint to the voluminous, billowing shirt in white organza. Over the shirt was a high-collared shrunken vest, and the look was topped with a fedora. Lisa looked ready for a stroll with her petit chien along the Avenue Foch. And Christian, you're ready for an emblazoned tiara! Bryant Park, here you come!Sweet P is out. Her inspiration was a colorful, highly-detailed, and exuberant 17th Century Dutch painting entitled "Peacocks," which was nothing if not a fabulous inspiration. So, what went wrong? For me, it all began to unravel at MOOD: I was confused by her fabric choices, especially the print, because she seemed to want it to serve as faux peacock feathers, rather than layering the fabric in a feather-like way. The result was so disappointing and unambitious: a weird, dowdy house dress that could have been part of Shirley Booth's wardrobe in Come Back Little Sheba. Although the dress was a very basic silhouette, its weirdness derived from these odd side pockets that looked like misplaced godets. Huh? And I was surprised to hear the judges applaud the fit of the dress. What? Lea looked like a waif who was being gobbled up. Sweet P, we love you, and we'll miss you. raterunway_01_411_220x415.jpg

Chris disappointed me. I loved his inspiration: an 18th Century portrait of the Marquise D'Argence by Nattier. What evolved out of that inspiration was, in my opinion, a mere riff on the avant-garde dress of his and Christian's collaboration. Chris used yards and yards of duchesse satin in pearl gray for the body of the floor-length gown and used a darker gray satin for a shoulder-piece-cum-collar. Then, he took a nap. I was annoyed. I was annoyed, because the shoulder piece was so derivative of the earlier dress and the gown wasn't taken far enough. And I was annoyed, because there was plenty of time remaining to fix either or both. No -- he was content. Sigh. Chris, I can't want you to succeed more than you do, and it was evident that I did. raterunway_05_411_220x415.jpg

Jillian was a strong contender for the win, again, as demonstrated by the judges giving her an assured place at Bryant Park. Her inspiration was a 15th Century narrative battle painting entitled, "Master of the Argonauts." Owing to the fact that she was borrowing elements from many aspects of this highly detailed and complex work of art, her outcome was the least literal of the group and I applauded that. Furthermore, it was the most ready-to-wear, too. She created a stunning military-inspired fitted jacket in black with gold piping. The piping served to punctuate the gold lame lining of the jacket and the matching gold lame mini-dress. The effect was sexy and sophisticated and very, very modern. Frankly, we all swooned. Congratulations, Jillian -- you're going to Bryant Park! raterunway_03_411_220x415.jpg

Rami was very close to being eviscerated by the judges for being "too expected" and "too Rami," and I felt sincerely bad for him. He is the only one of the designers who didn't use a work of art from the European Painting wing as inspiration. Had he, I would have been shocked, since the Greek and Roman Sculpture courtyard had "Rami!" written all over it. He chose a 1st Century AD sculpture of Aphrodite for his inspiration, and inspiration it was, indeed. Rami's tactical error was to focus on masterful craft over drama. I truly loved his lavender matte silk crepe dechine toga dress, but I was also cognizant that it was missing a "Wow!" factor. The qualities of his design were in the details. Those details required thoughtful study and how was that going to happen in this context. "Wow!" it was not.

So, the judges were deadlocked. Rami and Chris will both create collections and compete for a spot in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Bryant Park. When they arrive in New York at the beginning of Fashion Week, they will each present to the judges their three strongest looks. The judges will determine which one of them will be the third member of the Final Three. Fasten your seat belts.

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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.

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