In a Project Runway first, Heidi brings me onto the runway to introduce this challenge. I inform the designers that they will be designing for a fashion legend. Furthermore, we're taking a field trip to meet this legend. We head off to the Meatpacking District, a high-end-fashion shopping destination. There we enter the office, studio, and showroom of our legend, and legendary she is: the incomparable Diane von Furstenberg! We watch, rapt, as DVF descends an enormous, suspended four-story(!) staircase to greet us.
Diane presents the designers with their challenge: Design a look inspired by her fall 2008 collection, A Foreign Affair. The collection was inspired by Marlene Dietrich's 1948 film of that same title in which she portrays an actress/singer/spy in Berlin who escapes to Shanghai and then moves on New York. Indeed, it's an uber-inspiring narrative. Diane has provided access to her sample room, too, where the designers have carte blanche to source fabrics. This gives them the potential for their design to seamlessly morph into DVF's collection. And please note that each designer is restricted the 10 yards of fabric, total. Diane is extremely generous and would have put no limits on yardages, but we wanted to ensure that the designers were thoughtful, rather than piggy, in their choices.) The designers also have DVF's fall 2008 lookbook for reference. Diane tops off all of this excitement with another announcement: The winning look will be put into production and sold exclusively to American Express customers. Part of the proceeds will benefit the CFDA Fund. The CFDA is the Council of Fashion Designers of America of which Diane is President.
Diane is our guest judge, naturally. In addition, the fabulous Fern Mallis, Senior Vice President of IMG Fashion, subs for the still ailing Nina Garcia.
The designers have one day for this challenge.
Leanne WINS! This is Leanne's second win in a row! She designed a stunning column of a gown in a gorgeous, deeply saturated cobalt in silk jersey. The top of the dress consists of a low, loose cowl that drapes into a fitted waistband. he back of the dress is low-cut with a sinuous ruffled train that begins at the low of the back. Over this, Leanne places a heather cropped trench (trenches proliferated in this challenge - the "spy" reference) with a wide and sculptural lapel and collar. It was all very fabulous. Congratulations, again, Leanne!
Stella is OUT. This outcome was inevitable, was it not? As was the case with the last challenge (and the challenge before that, and before that ...), there was no semblance of cohesion among the parts. OK Stella, we get it: the wide leg pant and the riff on the biker vest, both in a taupe glen plaid, but what was with that black cape? Incongruous. Incoherent. Furthermore, the construction of the pant and vest was, um, simply appalling. Sometimes, the judges' distance from the clothes on the runway and the runway lighting can be forgiving to construction flaws, but in Stella's case the flaws were egregious. Stella, the workroom is going to be a much quieter place without you!
Blayne created a black trench-like jacket in a pseudo-neoprene with "pleated" seam piping, a harem pant, and used a multi-colored ascot under the trench -- he had to get his signature pink in there somewhere! As Blayne is usually the first to state: "I'm a risk taker." In this case, his risk taking was in the form of the amalgam of pieces: was there was enough harmony in the proportions? Shut up, Tim. The judges' appeared to have no objections.
Jerell designed what I found to be an oddly proportioned jacket in black faux lamb with electric blue selvage piping. Under this were an A-line skirt and a copper and black lace top. Seeing his look at a distance on the runway, I saw it differently than I did in the workroom and I was troubled by the discordant relationship of his textiles. I've known Jerell to be brilliant with the mixing of prints and colors, but this time I was flummoxed. Thankfully, he passed through the judges' scrutiny.
Joe had strong ideas, but when the pieces of his look came together, something when awry. I stood in full support of his Shanghai inspired top in cinnamon with a mandarin college and frog closures. And I also loved his innovative hooded shawl in black with a pink lining to pick up on the wide waistband of the black pencil skirt. The sum of the parts, however, just didn't work. Specifically, the backless shirt didn't make any sense when paired with the shawl and vice versa. Joe, I'm glad that you're still with us!
Kenley struggled with "to layer or not to layer" and opted for the latter, being much truer to who she is as a designer. Using a riotous flora print, she mitigated its impact by the meticulous vertical pleated on the front placket of her simple sheath of a dress. She used four-inch black lace to create a mandarin collar, a waistband, and a hem accent. Frankly, it was gorgeous. And her masterful construction and knowledge of fit betrayed the look's "simplicity." Under someone else's direction, Kenley's look could have been a hot mess. Bravo.
Korto created a floor-length halter gown in a black and white op-art-ish swirling print reminiscent of the British painter Bridget Riley. A slit in the front of the skirt of the dress revealed a flourish of yellow silk. Over the gown was a black faux lamb shrug. When Korto's look was being discussed by the judges, I couldn't tell where was the comments were headed -- Heidi led with some critical remarks, followed by some barely emotive comments from Michael and Fern - and then Diane declared, "I like it very much." End of discussion. I agree with Diane, but I still believe that the peek of yellow running from under the arm to the shoulder looked like a bra strap run amuck.
Suede was rhapsodic about a peculiar fabric; a green/black/cream print with allusions to camouflage. He didn't just flirt with this print, he used it for a full dress, and I do mean "full." He and I discussed the fullness of the skirt, made even fuller by the succession of voluminous pleats, but he was intractable. And the heather herringbone vest with the faux lamb accents around the arm holes gave it an odd proportion and an unneeded heaviness. To be blunt: It wasn't pretty.
Terri was true to Terri and, frankly, I don't understand that carping that the other designers voice about her repeated use of pants. Yes, I believe that she could sleepwalk her way through the design and construction of a perfectly fitted and proportioned pant, but they serve as a mere pedestal for the rest of her look. Here, the slim cut herringbone pant served as counterpoint to her dramatic black trench with "scale" details along the lapel and a ruffled top in an exuberant fireworks print. Stunning. P.S. What you didn't see ... We visited Diane on a Sunday. After sourcing at her sample room, the designers received $25 for notions. The trouble was that we could only find one shop that was open and that shop had no zippers and no interfacings. The designers were grumpy and whiney about this issue, and you can only imagine how many times I invoked "make it work," getting more patience challenged and louder and the day progressed. One of the designers (I won't reveal who) cited this "handicap" on the runway and I audibly groaned, "Don't make excuses." Diane retorted, "Don't think you can win my sympathy. I based my entire career on a dress that doesn't have a zipper!" Thank you, Diane. And let's all stand a salute her iconic wrap dress!