Welcome To The Jungle

The best collaboration starts with listening!

Heidi announces that for this challenge the twelve remaining designers will be designing for a high powered and glamorous professional woman. She tells them to meet me in the workroom where I will introduce them to their new client. The designers are wild with surprise and enthusiasm when Brooke Shields enters! She explains that they will be creating a day-to-evening outfit for her character on Lipstick Jungle, Wendy Healy. Wendy is an executive, a mother or two, and she's married to a musician. So, how does her wardrobe transition from the board room to a jazz club?

The designers have 30 minutes to sketch. Then, they will each pitch their concepts to Brooke who will choose six designers to serve as team leaders. The team leaders will select from the remaining six designers to form teams of two.

Each team has a budget of $150 and one day to complete the challenge. And each team must determine which team member's model will be used on the runway. Finally, Brooke will wear the winning look on this second season of Lipstick Jungle, and she will be our guest judge, of course!

Regarding the collaborative and synergistic dimensions within each team, there was rampant strife, consternation, and conflict. Designers, why is it so difficult to listen to each other, absorb content and meaning, and ... behave??

rate_runway_kenley_keith_505.jpg

Keith wins! He chose Kenley as his teammate. Their conflict began at MOOD where Kenley acted as though she was the leader and bullied Keith to such an extent that I needed to step in and mediate. Her intractability coupled with her shrillness made her an exhausting opponent. Her cause célèbre was a floral print that she selected versus a floral print of Keith's. For me there was no contest: Keith's print was sophisticated and polished whereas Kenley's was Ma Kettle. I advised that they should purchase both of them, providing that their budget allowed, and debate this into resolution in the workroom. In the end, Keith won and, indeed, his design won. A high-waisted petal pencil skirt in diaphanous chocolate fabric served as a pedestal for the floral chiffon top. A wide black belt softened the transition between the two pieces. Owing to the high-end elegance of the look, I found it more difficult to see the day-to-evening transition, but the judges swooned and Brooke loved it. Congratulations, Keith! We'll see your design on Lipstick Jungle!

rate_runway_daniel_kelli_505.jpg

Kelli is out. She chose Daniel as her teammate.The lion's share of the fabric chosen was black. It was punctuated with leopard (Brooke had cautioned Kelli: "Watch the leopard!") and some odd blue fabric on the bustline that looked like a non sequitur. Daniel was assigned the construction of a black pencil skirt with ruching, but, owing to myriad mishaps, it took two-plus attempts to get it right. Kelli worked on a Kelli-esque bustier top that incorporated the leopard. The day-to-evening transition was offered through a shrunken jacket with a 360-degree peplum: It comes off at night. What was impossible to overcome was how cheap and tawdry the outfit looked, especially the bare midriff: Brooke's character would look like a hooker, not a power broker. Kelli, we will sincerely miss you!

rate_runway_blayne_leanne_505.jpg

Blayne is the team leader and chose Leanne. He conceived of a Bermuda shorts look, which by definition was going to be a day-to-evening challenge. From the onset, Brooke cited Blayne's shorts as being "risky," but she was interested in seeing if he could make them work. From my point of view, the success of this look was going to hinge on the textiles and palette. Therefore, the light gray fabric for the shorts and the baby-blue over-shirt were going to be obstacles. They were. This look couldn't transition beyond the casual tone set by the short or, god forefend, the bare midriff. Blayne, I'm merely happy that you're still with us!

rate_runway_jerell_stella_505.jpg

Jerell is the team leader and is the last designer to select a teammate, so he is paired with the last designer standing, Stella. Jerell was in his prime, but Stella was thrown, once again, by the design context. Luckily, Jerell allowed her to stay within her comfort zone by giving her the assignment of the wide mustard leather ("lethuh") waistband with a smaller over-belt in zebra. This was over a full A-line skirt in a charcoal print and a dark taupe top with a sexy scooped neckline. Brooke loved the top and the skirt, but hated (her word) the waistband. Still, the look was sexy without being even remotely vulgar and it was tres chic.

rate_runway_joe_koto_505.jpg

Korto is the team leader and selected Joe. I didn't understand this look: a form-fitting strapless dress in taupe jersey under a voluminous and shapeless satin coat in pumpkin. What  I am a firm believer in counterpoint, but why take the trouble of having a well-fitting dress only to obfuscate it with the big roomy top? There was considerable passive/aggressive behavior on this team, though Korto trumped Joe when she declared, "Well if this look loses, then I'm not going home, because I have immunity."  Indeed. In the end, the coat was given some shape by belting it with a wide sash, and the look was safe, having passed through the judges' scrutiny. Whew!

rate_runway_suede_terri_505.jpg

Terri is the team leader and chose Suede. Oy! This was the clash of the titans! Terri assigned the top to Suede and gave herself the challenge(?) of the slim-fitting pant. That pant, in black, would serve as a mere pedestal to the top, which was the look's primary statement. Please don't misunderstand; I'm not trivializing the pant, because if the construction isn't perfect, then it could cause the look to go awry. But, it's still just a pant. The fashion statement was in the top, and Terri was going to ensure that Suede would execute her vision. This made it very difficult for Suede, because he was being micromanaged. The vibrant paisley gypsy top had a large cape, or berthe, neckline, a throwback to the 80's, but it looked modern and altogether appropriate. And it was true that the black pant was a fitting pedestal. The look had a sexy silhouette and great proportion and passed forward. Terri and Suede, when you reflect upon your behavior, was it really necessary?

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!