Transformation

Does mother really know best?

Heidi brings six mature women onto the runway while suspense reigns among the designers. Heidi declares, "These ladies are an important part of your challenge..." Pause. Next, six younger women appear and fall in place between the mature women. They are mothers and daughters. The daughters are all recent college grads who are transitioning into new lives as young professionals. The designers are to perform a head-to-toe makeover on the daughters, beginning with reconceived fashion and concluding with makeup and hair, for this is the TRESemmé challenge.

Heidi determines which designer designs for which daughter by selecting names from our velvet bag (how the designers loathe seeing that thing!). We adjourn to the workroom where the designers have 30 minutes to meet with their new clients - both daughter and mother. The designers have to manage the input of their clients while maintaining their own vision as a designer. Each designer's point of view must be evident in the final look. After the consultation, the designers go shopping at MOOD with a budget of $100. There are two days for this challenge.

The fabulous Cynthia Rowley is our guest judge. And the winning look will be featured in Elle magazine. Both the designer and the daughter wearing the look will appear. How thrilling is that?

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Jerell WINS! He designed for Caitlin, a printmaker and an artist's assistant. Jerell created a high-waisted skirt in chocolate with a ruffled top. I found the skirt and top to look very "cocktail," rather than professional, but perhaps Caitlin is going to a gallery opening? Thankfully, a long, but slim-fitted cardigan with oversized croc buttons dressed down the look, allowing for an easy transition from day to night. Congratulations, again, Jerell! (By the way, the chapeau that Jerell wore for the judging had been intended for Caitlin. Had she worn it, do you believe that the outcome would have been different?)

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Joe is OUT. Joe designed a most unfathomable look for Laura, a graphic designer by education who is seeking employment. Ho-hum: a navy blazer with an exaggerated rear peplum and brass buttons over a candy cane wrap-top and charcoal chalk-striped skirt. This looks says banker or lawyer, not graphic designer. Joe insisted that this dowdy, humdrum look personified "professional," but what about Laura's field of graphic design? Has Joe never considered fashion as semiotics? That is, the clothes we wear send a message about how we want the world to perceive us. To look at our budding young graphic designer, you'd think that she doesn't have a creative bone in her body. She does! Joe, you're a doll and we'll all miss you!

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Kenley designed for Anna, an accessories buyer. It's no surprise that Kenley's point of view was extremely evident in this look. She made a classic style dress out of a brown/pink/cream cotton print. The design resonated 40's vintage, but that's our Kenley. She designed a menswear-inspired vest, which I thought worked beautifully in counterpoint to the girliness of her dress. But, alas, Kenley insisted that she take the pink snakeskin belt from the dress and put it over the vest, thereby negating the menswear vibe. Still, hers was among the top three looks as determined by the judges. I disagreed. And from my perspective, I couldn't get over how much Anna looked like Kenley's mini-me.

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Korto designed for Megan, who's debating between med or another graduate program and who works in a lab. I was worried sick when I first checked in with Korto, because the green printed dress looked like it was traveling down the dowdy trail. Furthermore, the burlap textured cafe-au-lait textile for the jacket with ¾ sleeves appeared to be an unlikely partner for the print. Thankfully, Korto's tailoring of the jacket and construction of the dress were impeccable, so the judges' deliberation would conclude as a matter of taste, and she was in the judges' top three. Whew!

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Leanne designed for Holly, a teacher. Leanne's clients purported to HATE her first look, a dress with a Leanne-like semi-circular pleated embellishment across the top. Frankly, I thought unhappiness was coming for an over opinionated mother rather than an unhappy daughter. Typical of these bad client/designer relationships, the mother didn't know what she wanted; she just knew what she didn't want. Ever the rallying trooper, Leanne reconceived her look and, thankfully, it was received well by the client (well, the daughter at least: mom didn't get a chance to see it, again, until the runway show). In any case, I stood in support of Leann's final look and disagreed with the judges, who expressed disdain. The aubergine dress with a light gray high waistband and the light gray shrunken jacket with wide charcoal piping were sophisticated, polished, and well-proportioned.

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Suede designed for Avital, a photographer. Suede's design began as a pants look, but when Avital saw the riotous purple/brown/white print draped on Suede's dress form, she loved it so much that she wanted a dress. Really? I found her request to be inconceivable considering the impact of the print; specifically, why would you want to see more of it? And wasn't this really another cocktail dress for which imponderable excuses were being made? The only thing even more imponderable was the jacket-y cardigan (or cardigan-y jacket?) with the trumpet sleeves and odd pocket placement, and piped pockets, no less, so they would pop more. Oy! Suede, had it not been for that '80s business suit of Joe's....

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!