Bright Lights, Big City

Some got it, others missed the point of the challenge!

It was a muggy and rainy night ... and I meet the designers at the Atlas apartment. Yes, we're taking a field trip! It's a city-wide tour on the open deck of a tour bus. We have four stops planned. At each, a group of designers will alight, have an hour to take photos of whatever inspires them, and then return to the Atlas. They will each select one of their photos to serve as the inspiration for a design of their choice for a night out on the town.

This is the first challenge in which the designers have complete control; that is, they shop for whatever they want and they have creative freedom and latitude. They have a budget of $100 and one day to complete the challenge. And since we took our tour at night, that one day would not be eaten up by our tour.

The fabulous Sandra Bernhard is our guest judge. While I certainly associate her with personifying a night out on the town, I did not know that she is a true fashion insider. She is, and her knowledge and perceptions totally WOWed me!

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Kenley WINS! I'm happy for her, but I'm still scratching my head over her design. The judges described her look as "Ungaro meets Lacroix" and they were right, but is that a good thing? The silhouette channeled Ungaro, while the textiles -- a riotous green print and strawberry-to-grape ombred tulle -- evoked Lacroix. I thought it looked very costumey, too costumey, and even Sandra Bernhard stated, "I have difficulties with this look. I don't get it." Admittedly, this look isn't for everyone! Kenley, congratulations on your win and on your immunity for the next challenge.

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Emily is OUT. I was concerned about her look from the moment of my first visit to her workspace. The black sheath was constructed with some problematic darts at the hips, and the multicolored flounces of ruffled fabric were awkwardly placed and looked like a stuck on afterthought. She was confident that her design was strong enough to survive the possibility of a runway pummeling. Regrettably, the design didn't. Bon chance, Emily!

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Blayne designed an exaggerated handkerchief hem dress in black with neon-colored fabric wrapped and draped in billowing layers. The look possessed an elegance and sophistication, whereas it could have gone wacky and costumey. Were there similarities to Emily's design? Indeed, but in Blayne's case, it was impossible to extract the neon fabric without diminishing the integrity of his work. And his design certainly corresponded with his Times Square inspiration.

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Daniel, ever sophisticated, designed a greenish gray (chic color) charmeuse one-shoulder cocktail dress with accordion pleats in the bust and an artfully draped and voluminous faux sash at the waist. He struggled to finish the hem and sewed and sewed and sewed up until my last call of "Time!" Surprisingly, and thankfully for him, the judges didn't mention the hem's state of disrepair and, more specifically, its unevenness. Nina, are you paying attention?

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Jennifer was inspired by a clock and regrettably took her inspiration a little too literally. She created a multi-tiered dress in alternating bands of midnight and white charmeuse and a white empire waistband. Frankly, the silhouette and volume of the dress gave it a dowdiness that would not work in her favor. And her allusion to the clock on the sleeves was a literal minded stretch. Schiaparelli, where are you?

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Jerell was inspired by the fountains at Columbus Circle. He created a moss green strapless dress with an exuberant, multi-tiered "tango" skirt. His look was beautifully-constructed, well-proportioned, and had strong impact on the runway. Accordingly, I was surprised that it wasn't one of the "top three" looks for the judges' deliberation. Joe designed a painfully basic cocktail dress: a simple black skirt and a gold bustier with strips of black, thereby mimicking the windowpane effect of the light fixture that inspired him. He believed that the "surprise" effect of the skirt's black tulle train would save him from humdrum-itis, but the train looked lackluster and arbitrary. Sorry, Joe. Humdrum.

Keith created a collage-like dress that was inspired by a magazine remnant he found on the street. As the judges' remarked, it was true that the volume of the layers and layers of small pieces of fabric obfuscated his model's shape, but this dress was more about being a cocoon than a form-fitting silhouette. Furthermore, since Keith's had to replace his model at the last minute (Runa bailed, so we brought back Allysa from the last challenge), a sleek fit could have derailed him.

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Kelli was inspired by a black fireplug -- go figure. The impact was all in the top: a black novelty fabric for the shoulder and neckline area and a silvery-metallic textile for the multi-tiered bodice that flared to the hip. This was over a basic black quasi-mini. I thought the look was over-designed and entirely too busy, especially given her inspiration.

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Korto designed a black halter jumpsuit with a wide leg. The halter treatment was bold and graphic and very '60s. I thought it was elegant, but I didn't see anything new or innovative in her design. Yes, the construction was good, but so it should be. And where was the association with her inspiration? Huh? I didn't get it.

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Leanne was inspired by a tree grate. These grates proliferate in New York, but are especially graphic and compelling in and around Columbus Circle. She created an elaborately detailed high-waisted skirt consisting of cascading horizontal pleats, offset by a very basic sleeveless blouse. Her look was innovative and stunning and superbly wearable. Thankfully, this design was a significant bounce back from last week and succeeded in redeeming her with the judges.

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Stella was inspired by a horse's blinder, "because it's leatha." Really. She filled the workroom with a mind-splitting pounding as she hammered grommets into her pleather (not leather) pants and vest. She has succeeded is branding herself as a designer on the show, because she's been wearing her same designs over and over and, now, she's recreated them for the runway. It's all too expected. For this challenge, she designed a tight-fitting vest with lacing in the back and tight leather pants that lace in the front. The construction was good, but the fit was a bit too tight in my opinion. Stella, what's new? What's innovative? What?

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Suede was inspired by the lights of moving traffic, so why did he present a steel gray sleeveless A-line shirt dress? The dress had an exaggerated collar and metallic embellishments in the bodice, but it was still so very basic. Coming out of his innovative design and win of the last challenge, I expected more. But in his own words, "Suede thinks it rocks!"

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Terri operated with a self-described "tough and dirty," the grittier side of New York as her inspiration. Her look was, indeed, street: a bold street-inspired fabric for a backless dress over black satin pants. Frankly, I thought that the dress was enough, and the ruffled sleeves made more sense without the pant. Still, her look made a strong impact on the runway and the judges loved it. But would one really wear those items that way. Thus sprach fuddy-duddy!

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.