The Return Of Runway!

Unusual and unexpected was the key to winning!

I can't believe we're back here already - it seems like only yesterday we were loving/hating Christian and the puffy, feather-filled concoctions he glamorously produced! Well, I'm back to dissect the runway looks from the newest batch of PR designers. (One of my qualms about the PR format is that there is no design discussion for designers who are "safe" and thus we really don't get a sense of what they were thinking).

With the first challenge, it's important to remember that the designers were asked to work with "unexpected materials." It's undeniable that any designer can create a pretty dress, but to do so in an unusual way is what the challenge was all about. It was meant to really test one's ability to be innovative. So, with the help of a DVR, Bravotv.com, and a little guessing, let's get started! Kenley
I LOVE the color story on this outfit. The multi-directional shiny stripes are paired well with the deep orange matte/texture of the top. Overall, it looks well constructed, which should ALWAYS be a given on this show - let's remind ourselves of that. The styling matches the garment: fun, flirty and colorful. Though I'd have to take away points for the lack of "innovative materials."

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Terri
When Terri started braiding her top together, I really thought she was going to end up with something spectacular. Unfortunately, the final design feels a bit lackluster to me. I don't find the final design that flattering, or that innovative. Perhaps if the top had been made into a dress it would have made more of an impact. And though I did like the color of the skirt, it kind of comes off as a filler piece, not a stand-alone. Overall, I think she had a good idea with the braiding/crochet, I just think she could've taken the design even further.

Suede
Hmmmm....It's not the fabric of the dress that gets me, it's the design. The combination of the slit, the halter, the choker necklace, and the high ponytail made the styling feel a bit dated. I haven't seen a modern woman wear that style since the early 90's. That being said, I do think that the material choice was extremely safe, considering what he had to work with. The colors are phenomenal, the electric blue really pops against the models skin, but overall, I think the design lacks depth.

Emily
Again, I find myself trying to figure out what the design focus was on her garment. It looks like Tim started scaring everyone by commenting on the lack of innovation, and noted how everyone and their mother seemed to be using tablecloths for their design, and so Emily stuck on a produce collar of sorts and called it a day. The fit is pretty bad as well, which isn't helping. Overall, I think it looks a bit haphazard and not well thought out. Leanne
Now here is an example of how last-minute changes can actually enhance the garment. The addition of the chocolates not only made sense color/texture wise, but also on the garment as a whole, which was a combination of sweet and sexy. I also enjoy how the skirt of the dress mimics the shape of the chocolates (like the shape of a Hershey's kiss), with gentle folds and a round, organic feel. I'm not sure what those white frothy bits coming out of the pleats are. But even though they make the dress a bit heavier looking, I do think that the inclusion of white helps keep the design interesting, with lots of detail to see!

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Jennifer
This design is nice, with a flattering shape, and I'm sure it's filled with many small details that we unfortunately can't really see. Overall though, I find it a bit boring, ESPECIALLY when considering the challenge and materials available. I also think the styling could have been pumped up, because the dress itself is a bit quiet, but perhaps Jennifer saw some of the other outrageous pieces and thought subtle was better. A safe bet this time, but she should take note that if Nina gets bored - heads roll!!! Jerell
Okay, if this is Jennifer's alternative to making a white dress more "interesting," than I'd suggest keeping it simple. I like that Jerell used a lot of different materials, but the whole design lacked initial direction, and the finishing is kinda killing me. The longer bits hanging off the hem, the off-balanced princess lines (especially with that fabric) and the circular disks just seem like they were stuck on willy-nilly. I think if Jerell had taken some of the various fabrics and brought them throughout the design, the overall effect would be more cohesive and less jarring. I do kind of love the hat though... very SJP/Sex & the City London premiere!

Keith
Adorable dress: fun, sexy and well made. It's just not right for this challenge. There's only so far a designer can go on this show. Playing it safe works, but eventually they must step up to the plate and risk a negative critique. Let's hope that Keith keeps making great clothing, but also clothing that fits the challenge and is a bit more risky.

Wesley
Wesley is one of two designers that I knew previously, both from my FIT college days. He is a sweetheart, and though he's a bit of an introvert, he's a very talented guy. I really like this dress, but I think he played it a bit safe, though not as save as Keith. I enjoyed how he snipped apart the plastic spatulas to create the texture on the dress. Like many designers this challenge, let's hope he takes a deep breath and dives in! Joe
Props to Bravo/Magical Elves for FINALLY finding an unchartered demographic: straight males with families. I already love Joe, because he just seems like a no-nonsense sort of guy. He's just so refreshing, especially in comparison to some of the queens exclaiming that they're the best every five minutes. I place him in the "Kevin Christiana" category: not the biggest risk-taker or the most fashion-forward, but someone who knows his strengths, and sticks to them. At first, I thought this design was a bit contrived and art-project-like. But looking at it from afar, I must admit that I kind of like it. The chevron pattern of the contrasting pasta, the fit of the oven mitt top, and the pair of shoes that not only match color-wise, but also style-wise with the rest of the look... not bad for a straight guy, not bad at all. ;) Korto
One word: DIVA. Not Korto, but this look. It reminds me of something Michael Knight would have sent down the runway, though less sexy of course. The garment was full of potent color, the styling was just right, and she designed a completely pulled together look. Fabulous my dear, fabulous. Attention people, I think I have an early favorite and her name is Korto... live it, love it! Daniel
Daniel was the other designer who I knew previously (ahhh, the hours spent toiling away in the workroom...memories...) Anyway, I digress. Coming from someone who knows his style, I must tell you that the design is stereotypical Daniel. It's sexy, it's tight and it's full of seaming and details. His style is reminiscent of the Tom Ford Gucci era, so keep an eye out for explicit cuts and loads of detailing. Bravo Daniel, for taking such a risk with the material. How the heck you were able to give the model a waist with plastic cups is beyond me!

Blayne
Oh, Blayne. We have to wait and see if Blayne is one of those designers who talks a lot of talk and knows what he's actually saying, or if he just talks a lot. Overall, I don't mind the shape of the garment itself, with the booty shorts and the fullness on top. But I'm sorry, I just don't get the rest of it. I think my biggest issue is with the white panel, which looks randomly stuck to the garment. Why not carry the material through to make the design more cohesive?

Jerry
Okay, I'm going to admit it - I didn't think Jerry's garment was that bad. I think the styling is the thing that killed it for him. I applaud him for making two garments in a short amount of time, and for coming up with a "theme" of sorts, which is more than some of the other designers accomplished. I can totally see where he was going and I appreciated the look's quirky vibe. Most everyone else gave us cocktail dresses that fit into the "sweet/cute/flirty" category - Jerry's garment was drastically different and I applaud him for taking a risk. On a side note, I am a HUGE fan of FORM (his line) and if you haven't heard of it, get yourself to the new store down in SOHO. You'll find architectural dresses paired with intense draping, gorgeous clothing. Jerry, I'm sorry that the judges didn't understand your concept. Perhaps if the dress underneath was a bit more fun, the gloves were lost, and the cape was brought in, the whimsy of the design wouldn't have been overpowered by the "creepy" aspect that the judges felt. Congratulations on making it this far and best of luck to you! Kelli
I think Kelli's design was one of my favorite designs for this challenge - I just love the way that she incorporated so many different elements, yet kept the look cohesive and didn't let one element overpower another. I also give her bonus points for manipulating her materials. On Project Runway, like with most challenges of this nature, it's imperative to alter your materials in a way that makes them unrecognizable and unexpected, and Kelli has done just that. That being said, I do think she could have spent a bit more time on the coffee-filter boob covers, but alas, the model is a petite size so it works.

Stella
Stella would have been the one out, in my eyes. The design looks completely thrown together, and aside from the stitching, it blatantly looks like trash bag thrown around her neck and waist! I hope Stella can handle traditional fabrics better, because if her garment was any indication of her design level, I think she should be worried.

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!