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!

History Repeating Itself

Feeling the pressure and sympathizing with the designers.

I feel like last night's episode was the definition of "pressure" -- my stomach is still in knots! Though I have mixed feelings about the designs that the designers sent down the runway, I should mention that I do think the right designers are still here. I know that some think that Kenley should've gone home last week or that Jerell has had more than his chance (remember the Olympic challenge? Eesh...) but I do think that this group all has their own personal points of view and have done a very good job at bringing that to each challenge. I also think that this challenge in particular, though an extremely high-pressure one considering what's at stake, was perfectly positioned on the competition, as designers at this stage of the game really want to be set loose to flex their creativity. That being said, I do think that none of them hit this one out of the park; no doubt they're extremely exhausted having gone through weeks and weeks of emotional, physical, and creative challenges.

Ahhh, does everyone remember past seasons where the "runway deciding challenge" is always the one with the most misses? Season 1 left them all with problems, Season 2 --though I ended up winning the challenge -- I still regret doing so with an admittedly safe dress for Iman. Season 3 and 4 were no different, with no one really sweeping the win with the best work they could produce. I can only speak from personal experience when saying that at this point, you are really scraping your brain for ideas, after weeks and weeks of essentially solitary confinement, continually trying to produce your best work without a friend's encouragement or the comfort of your own studio, knowing that every word or tear that escapes will be judged on national television, and going without needed stimuli such as a colorful magazine, a captivating movie, or even a relaxing walk in the park. I empathize with the designers who no doubt are thinking that every decision they make will determine their future...which it does.

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Jerell
Jerell's work thus far has been relatively consistent, though I noticed about halfway through the competition a bit more of a confident stride in his work. Even when it went wrong, Jerell never shied away from what he loves: unexpected fabric combinations, embellishment, and glitz. For this challenge I think overall that the dress reflects the inspiration with its organic shape and romantic color story; it embodies the physical elements of his picture, but also the feeling of it (which is much harder to do). I agree with the judges that the finishing brings this look down, and with a little more time he could've really finessed the draping and the bodice fit (which he's had issue with before - Saturn challenge). It also bothered me that the model had to hold the fabric back, both on the runway and in the photo, for the dress to stay open ... a few simple stitches would've solved that. That being said, I do think he did a very good job at designing an evening gown that was both modern, yet romantic, as well as one that embraced his personal point of view. Congratulations Jerell!

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Kenley
I feel like Kenley has the mentality of a caged animal that still has a wild, fighting spirit; good intentions but truly a bad method of expressing them. Put her nasty attitude aside, her dress just didn't do it for me. I feel that the "scales" concept was a decent one, albeit completely off the challenge parameters, and if it had completed in a lighter hand with more interesting design details the judges would have probably overlooked that misstep. When Kenley chose that fabric, I too was excited as it really did reflect her inspiration picture - it had a gorgeous ombre color story, an interesting surface texture, and a nice hand. That being said, imagine if Kenley had completely softened the silhouette and design? What a completely different feel the dress would've had! When the fabric is already tough and sexy on its own there's no need to do a design that is so blatantly so (especially when it's strayed so far from her usual style). The dress as is was just too expected and certainly doesn't make me want to see more. Was it a good dress? Not really in my eyes. The model had a great body, which gave the dress life, but the simple design of the top half, and the overly clunky, almost costume-like petals just gave the design a really flat look -- there was just no life to it.

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Korto
In all honesty, I don't know why Korto got the s**t end of the stick last night; I don't think this dress looks that bad. Yes the color has some bad connotations to the '80s, and the fabrication does nothing to young it up, but overall I do think it reflects her inspiration and has some very interesting design elements to it. The seaming does amazing things to the models body, and unlike other designers out there (both those who are professional, and those who are on Project Runway) Korto doesn't force the natural curves of a women's body, she embraces them. I really admire how she continually makes clothing that is flattering, interesting, and yet, still "Korto." I think the biggest flaw of this design was the fabric choices. I think that if she had done the dress in something more slinky and sexy, like silk jersey, it would've been more fluid and youthful -- both things that this design could've used. Overall though, good job.

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Leanne
It's a good thing Leanne switched models when she did, because this lavender color looks AMAZING against Tia's skin -- she's got that JLo glow! Though there were the obvious fit issues and that random piece of fabric hanging like a dead fish on the back of the dress, my biggest concern is how blatantly placed all of the pleating detailing is. I feel that with more time Leanne could've really made the pleating a bit softer and subdued, making it a bit more gradual of a transition between the hard and the soft elements of the dress. As is, they simply appear to be "stuck on" which I think cheapens the look a bit, but with a little more variety in size and shape, I think the pleating could've segued into the rest of the dress more fluidly. However overall, I think the shape is great, the movement was sexy and eye-catching and her attention to detail was unparalleled with the other designer's work on this challenge.