Grass Is Always Greener

The model's choices really played a big role in this challenge!

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Heidi presents the challenge: Design a cocktail dress with your model as your client. This challenge highlights green textiles; that is, textiles that are environmentally responsible: no synthetics, no poisonous dyes and, when appropriate, organically-grown. I visited MOOD several weeks before this challenge to research the range of textiles available in the category. Admittedly, the range is limited, especially when it comes to color, with many of the textiles being white or ivory. Consequently, many designers dye these textiles, and that gives them infinite custom options. Regrettably, our Project Runway designers would not have time to dye, given that they had one day for this challenge. Making matters a little more complex, the designers' models would do the shopping, and without designer consultations. MOOD tagged all of the green textiles, so they could be easily identified. The models had 30 minutes to shop and a budget of $75. Given that they are not designers, I reminded them that they should purchase closures and color corresponding thread, plus any other notions that they believed would be necessary.

The divine Natalie Portman is our guest judge. Not only is she more than capable of critiquing a cocktail dress, she's an environmental activist with a vegan line of footwear, Té Casan.

Suede WINS! From the perspective of innovation and experimentation, there was no one close to Suede. Astutely, he mitigated the harsh visual impact of the silk/hemp blend textiles by cutting them into bias strips, which he overlapped in seemingly random, but harmonious, patterns. These red and white strips constituted his bodice, while a ballerina skirt in white sat suspended upon an underskirt of tulle. Suede's innovation also embraced high levels of risk-taking; that is, it could have been just as easy for the judges to have lunged and attacked. Instead, they celebrated, as do we. Congratulations, Suede! Wesley is OUT. Wesley, oh, Wesley. I felt so bad for him. Owing to his model's decision-making, he was stuck with a dreary brown silk/hemp blend that does not respond kindly to bold lighting. (It looks best with NO lighting.) But he was not alone by any means. In fact, Leanne and Joe had the exact same fabric. But Wesley tortured the textile while constructing the dress and it showed: uneven seams, an unintentionally sinuous hem and, from my viewpoint, unmatched grain lines in the fabric, which served to exacerbate the inconsistent absorption of light. The look was sloppy and the fit on the model was terrible. Had it not been so egregious, perhaps he could have rallied and defended himself. But rally he didn't. He was like Dorothy in Oz, "I'm Wesley, the meek and innocent." Sadly, Wesley, you're also out.

Blayne lucked out when his model, Polina, arrived from shopping with yards and yards of bubblegum pink, his signature color, fabric. His design -- a one-shoulder mini-dress with a draped sash across the neckline and side panels in black -- looked sexy and youthful and contemporary.

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Daniel designed an adorable mini-dress with capped sleeves and a scooped neckline using a black silk/hemp blend. I found the longer length in the back of the skirt to be a subtle nod to Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina. His design was well-presented and well-executed, but ... it almost didn't happen: Mere minutes before I called time to escort the designers to the runway, he was still sewing, and I mean SEWING!

Emily describes her designs as being "edgy and underground." I don't doubt that, but it has yet to reveal itself. Her design for this challenge was pretty enough -- a navy/midnight pleated mini with a navy and gray woven and ruched bustier -- but I'd love to see her designs demonstrate more risk-taking. Emily, show us that edge! Jennifer created the drapiest (is that a word?) design. I don't know what textile she used to achieve that buoyancy, but it had to have been a jersey of some sort. Her orange and gray palette concerned me, because the colors did not say, "cocktails," nor did the gray apron effect of the front. But perhaps her model Alex was serving cocktails. Then, it would make sense!

Jerell merely flirted with this challenge, at least in my opinion. I know that his designs can have a profound edge, but where was it? He created a halter mini-dress in light blue with a deeper aqua panel insert in the front. The thin side panel of lace eluded me, as did the anemic looking feather trim on the hem. Jerell, please step it up.

Joe designed, uh, um, what? A slip dress? What could be more basic? Did his use of diamante spaghetti straps or the circular insert under the bust assuage me? Hardly. I suppose that the judges were simply relieved that the slip was well constructed and fit his model, Topacia. But considering that he worked with the same textile as Wesley, that may have been enough of an achievement!

Keith designed a halter mini-bubble-dress using the champagne silk/hemp blend textile. You may know that I am not a fan of anything "bubble," but he made it work. His execution of the garment was excellent, the proportions were good, and his model Runa knew how to give it runway appeal. Bravo, Keith! Kelli entered this challenge with immunity from her win of the last challenge, so she knew that she could take risks and be safe. I don't know whether it was risks that she took, other than challenging the boundaries of taste. Her champagne silk skirt was uncontroversial, but that teal top with the champagne ruffles was rather over-the-top in my opinion. Then when all of the asymmetry is folded in, well, you end up with something that's either thought provoking or ... not.

Kenley was among the top three designers in this challenge. The judges responded well to her look: a simple shift in champagne organic silk with a dramatic ruff and a simple black waistband. I feared that the collar was a bit clownish, and I never know which way the judges will lean, so I merely cautioned her to be prepared to defend it. Still, that very basic silhouette needed something! Yes, the dress was basic, but it was also very well-executed.

Korto totally eluded me with her "inside-out dress," as I dubbed it. When I first approached her workspace, I was certain that I was looking at the inside of the dress, replete with darts and seams in process. But, alas, I was wrong. All of that not-very-pretty stuff was on the outside and would remain, intentionally. Egads. I didn't understand. I merely hoped that she could successfully defend her design to the judges.

Leanne overthought and overdesigned. I supported her concept, but when I saw stacks of padded ellipses, I feared that she was going entirely too far. After advising her to step back from her work and consider editing, I let it be. Edit she did not, and I was perplexed to see that all of those ellipses that she applied round and round the mini-dress lay as flat as tissue. The volume that she had aimed to achieve was nowhere in evidence. Stella, and get ready for this, was among the top three designers in this challenge. This is an amazing achievement considering her garbage bag bomb in the last challenge. Amazing! But her design process remained the same: loads of potentially derailing indecision and tons of whining about, "I don't design with stuff like this. I design with leather." Her refined, well-constructed, one-shoulder mini in champagne was an exercise in restraint -- and it worked!

Terri commanded her textile: another silk/hemp blend, but this time in navy. She knew that it was best to keep the design clean: a simple shift. But she opted for exuberance in the neckline and collar where ruffled embellishments made a bold and beautiful statement. Bravo, Terri!

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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.

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