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!

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Tim Responds To Your Comments!

Thoughts and explanations about this season of Project Runway.

Tim I love you! But I have the same question ... why is Kenley still there?? -Yaz
Oh, Yaz, I know, I know. Although she can be terribly annoying, Kenley is indisputably talented as a designer. Regrettably, for her, she seems incapable of listening to any feedback without assuming that it's an attack on her character. Had she attended a design school (she's self-taught), then the critique process that she would have experienced would have either killed her or cured her.

I want to put in an official question to Tim...Ever since season one, all he's wanted is the best for his designers. He's given them all the help that he can, and I think of him as such a kind, sweet man. I used to be a Kenley fan (every season has its "Attitude" member...Wendy, Santino, Jeffrey, Christian...) but I've never seen anyone be so completely rude to Tim - who does nothing but help her!!! Tim, how did you react to this rudeness? Was it difficult to keep on giving her constructive feedback? - Charlotte Bailey
Charlotte, years of teaching (29 to be specific) have given me resources to draw upon and bucket-loads of patience, but there are some individuals who test even my arsenal of diagnostic measures and metaphorical prescriptions. Kenley is certainly one of them. I feel like you do; That is, I'm only trying to help her. But I have a refrain that's appropriate for these circumstances: I can't want you to succeed more than you do. And in the end, it's important to take the high road and not let these individuals know to what extent they're pushing your buttons. Furthermore, and drawing upon my teaching experiences, again, I know that I hold the power in these circumstances, and there is absolutely no need to abuse it. Ever.

Sometimes I'm shocked by the judges' picks. They have picked a few items that no one I know would ever wear! What do they base their choices on? - Debbie
Oh, Debbie! I wish you could be with me in the literal and metaphorical darkness of the Parsons auditorium as I watch the judges' deliberations! Like you, it's infrequently that I can anticipate the judges' decisions. Who's going home? Who's out? Beats me. When the designers' looks on the runway are well executed, then the decisions become a matter of taste. What are Heidi's, Nina's, and Michael's proclivities on any given judging day? I can't begin to answer that question. Chacun a son gout.

There were comments that there are several options to the traditional jacket/skirt suit for interviews. Anyone have appropriate ideas for more creative business wear? I wish they would have elaborated on that comment! - Melissa
Melissa, you're right; there should have been some examples given. Whenever I talk about a woman's alternative to stuffy menswear tailoring, I cite Donna Karan, who redefined executive dressing for women going back to the mid-'80s. It was Donna who took those basic pieces - jackets, skirts and pants - and made them sophisticated and, yes, sexy. She achieved the latter by showing off the curves that women possess, not by trying to obfuscate them under boxy separates. There is no reason for a woman, under any circumstances, to dress like a man.

What exactly is the point of this 4 designer showdown? I mean, come on, what was the point of last night's show anyway if the judges couldn't make up their minds and boot off the least deserving designer? - Amelia
Um..., uh...it's this flavor of question that gets me in big trouble because I agree with you! I feel that it's unkind and even mean spirited to victimize one of the designers, because the judges were unable to render a verdict at an earlier time. If they can't decide, then they should accept responsibility for their indecision and allow four designers to present at Bryant Park.

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