Double 0 Fashion

Diane von Furstenberg accepts no excuses.

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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Finale, Part 2

Impressive work by all but alas only one designer can win.

Well, for me, this episode was the Project Runway first among Project Runway firsts! Why? Because I served as a judge for the first time (and, hopefully, the last time) ever. Here's the back story: Bravo and the executive producers approached me before our Bryant Park show to say that there may be a problem with our guest judge and, consequently, how would I feel about filling in. At first, my response was a roll-up-your-sleeves and "make it work!" form of positive thinking, but as I contemplated the reality of it, I pushed back and refused. Consider the following: I still had another visit to the designers that night and there would be a considerable amount of time needed to support them in the morning before the show. How could I be both a mentor and a judge and service their needs appropriately and responsibly? I believed that I couldn't. So, to make a very long story a wee bit shorter, we ended Thursday night's bevy of phone calls in the following way: Bravo and the producers would ardently search for a replacement judge and I would return to my work with the designers assuming that I would not be a judge If I were to be needed in that role, then I wouldn't be informed of that need mere moments before the show. Otherwise, I could be perceived by the designers (and anyone else mind you) as being duplicitous and insincere. That would never do. Furthermore, Kenley and I were engaged in an semi-incendiary relationship, and the worst thing that could happen would be for her to lose and have me perceived as being the reason why. Oy! So, we know what happened: Our guest judge backed out at the last minute, a celebrity replacement couldn't be found on such short notice, and I filled in. With 10 minutes and counting until our show, Heidi came to me and asked, "So, you're ready to do this, no?" I replied, "To be honest, I don't know. I have an altogether different relationship with the designers than you and Nina and Michael have. I don't know." Heidi reared back and asked, "Tim Gunn, are you telling me that with all of your years of teaching you can't put your relationships aside and look at their work impartially? I thought about her wise words and responded, "Of course I can! Let's go!" We hugged and kissed and off we went.

Don't ever wish to be a guest judge on the show! To be blunt, I don't know how the judges do what they do and as well as they do: The collections pass by quickly, you have to wrap your brain around each piece of each collection immediately, and you have to come to terms with some comparative assessment right away. AND, I had the distinct advantage of intimately knowing the designers' work, yet is was still daunting. In any case, it really was very, very difficult. And there was one very important dimension to this process: seeing the clothes walk. Generally speaking, I don't see them walk. Rather, I see everything static on dress forms. Walking is an altogether different experience and it brings everything to life. So, in that sense, my experience with each designer's collection couldn't have been fresher and newer.

Here are my thoughts about the three collections: Leanne WINS, and what a win it was! We saw all of the conceptual content that really is at the core of Leanne's point of view, and we saw it tempered and orchestrated with precision. As I said to her during the home visit: "I always trust that you will present masterful technique, but can you give your work feeling, emotion?" This was her personal challenge. And she did it All of the strong architectural elements that are Leanne were clearly present, but her looks possessed a buoyancy and an ease, an effortlessness that belied each items structure. Furthermore, her collection was the result of superb editing; had she not brought her critical eye and judgment to each looks and its relationship to every other look, then there may have been a different outcome. Kenley presented a strong point of view and excellent execution, neither of which were surprises, and both of which were appropriately lauded.

I loved Kenley's textile choices and her hand-painting, which was a risky endeavor, and the silhouettes couldn't have been more her. But when the looks walked, they possessed a stiffness that I wasn't prepared to experience. Static on a dress forms, her looks beautifully captured the essence of her inspiration: "painting the roses red" from Alice in Wonderland. (When I made my home visit to her, Kenley resisted revealing her inspiration, which confounded me. When she finally relented, she gave me an epiphany. "Now I get it!" I declared.) But when the clothes walked on the runway, they retained much of their static appearance; that is, most of the looks moved like stiff pasteboard. I could see Kenley's collection emanating a major "wow!" factor in an editorial spread in Elle, but I had a hard time imagining how they would or could navigate and function in the real world. Still, I loved the fantasy aspect of the collection and its other-worldliness. Korto fully embraced her African heritage and her Americanism. Furthermore, she was successful embracing that goal, which is no small task, especially since the entire collection could have been a costume festival. Her silhouettes, alone, told her story, and when you add the colors, textures, and jewelry, her entire collection was uplifted. Color is nothing if not subjective, and I applaud her decision to step away from the expected and mix up her largely taupe palette with vibrant greens and blues. And the jewelry? Well, from my perspective it was all inextricable from the larger aspect of her point of view and, more particularly, to the individual looks themselves. I loved it. Is her collection for everyone or anyone? Of course not, but whose is?

Congratulations to all!