Best Dressed

Fern Mallis reacts to the drama she didn't see while the show was shooting. This week was all about cliques — what clique were you in? How did you dress in high school?
I was voted “Best Dressed” in my high school … which is an “honor” and a “label” that has followed me for my whole career.  I was not really in a clique. I was always a good student, had many friends, and mostly was with a more creative group of students. I wasn’t the “cheerleader” type, and it wasn’t a time for a druggie group … and I wasn’t the smart nerdy one either.

But with that said, I honestly barely remember my high school days. Which were the biggest hits and misses to you?
I actually wish more of our comments would be included in the show … because I know we all liked James-Paul’s “Preppy” take on his design, and I was very fond of Lidia’s “Nerd.”

I think they were the two strongest looks of this challenge, but the audience did not select them.

Both of those had some humor, and an attitude, and a real look. I was not too keen on Merlin’s “Mean” pink -- or Haven’s “Skater” outfit, and they were not my top choices.

The two bottom looks were however the biggest misses to me … for the reasons expressed on the show.

It’s important to remember that we have to select the winner from the two choices the audience likes. Only a handful in the audience are “professionals,”  so we are having to find the talent and the winner who the “people” who are the “customers” like best. What do you think of Johnny’s attitude?
His attitude is very frustrating, but I think it is his defense. When I see his comments during the various sessions that I am not otherwise privy to, it makes me nuts, but I do honestly believe he has talent ... and I guess we have been forgiving him … and it is probably making the audience upset with us. I sometimes think “he knows not what he is saying.” Many people have already said to me, “How could you have kept him?" when he says, "Fine — send me home.”

However, as someone who has watched designers grow and evolve, and has tried to understand their potential, I believe at this point, and so do the other judges, that there still is a spark, an idea, a talent and potential that Johnny has … and we want to see more from him.

Let’s wait and see… Do you think Angel’s look was “offensive?” Kelly seemed to think so.
I don’t think it was “offensive” in the natural sense of that word, but it offended Kelly as she is so close to the b-girl music scene and understands how important an influence that has been on our entire society and culture … and even her own career. For Angel to just cop out with her “Indiana” background was wrong. She should have gotten a better sense of what her challenge was from pulling info and advice from her colleagues, and I think she just got stuck … and had not been at the top of her game for a few weeks.

And as we stated, of all the themes, hip- hop music girl was really a no-brainer, and should have been the most fun and easiest to pull off … and we know Angel was capable of doing better. It came down to whether it’s a bigger crime to not care or not — what’s your take on that?
I don’t think the issue is about caring or not caring. I think everyone who signed up for this show cares much more than they want to admit.  No one wants to lose, and yet that’s the nature of this exercise. We are not judging on their conversations or their personalities, which in fact you and I hear at exactly the same time — when the show airs. Everyone has their own defensive mechanism for protecting themselves, and we see that played out in the elimination challenges.

Also sometimes caring too much gets in the way and can lead a designer down a very private path that also doesn’t work. You didn’t see it, but after watching the show, there was a big fight between Reco and some of the other designers. Were you aware of his attitude? What do you think about what happened?
I have not been aware of his attitude until I’ve been watching the show … and we’ve already taped the episodesm and I again only show up for the “fashion show” segment and the elimination judging. Which I am glad about, because if I was aware of all the fights and attitudes I’d probably have a hard time keeping it separate from my opinion on the clothes and the successful understanding of the challenge they are presented with.

Ultimately, they are all stressed out, and have a great deal to accomplish in a short period of time, surrounded by their peers, and they are all being judged, all want the prize, so of course there is going to be friction, and most viewers seem to like seeing that part of the show and process. I would rather we spend more time commenting on their work and giving more advice and counsel to help them all be better designers. They’ll work out their battles … and may the best man or woman win!

Mommy Dearest

Stefan explains his process for creating the final fashion shows, including an inspiration that almost didn't happen.

So at the end of it all, two designers from The House of Emerald Syx are left standing, with dueling red "tribute" gowns, for the win! With the chaos, twist, and turns thrown at these designers, the message from Calvin, Dominique, and our winner Jeffrey was peace, calm, and self-reflective.

Fashion Show #1: Enchanted Forest

My consult with Calvin was very touching because he spoke very deeply and passionately about his dying lover of ten years. While showing me his collection and mood boards (which only had one beautiful picture of a misty forest), he told me that his finale gown would be a tribute to his partner and to the Gay Men's Health Crisis, hence the color red.

Speaking calmly, he said he wanted his fashion show to reflect his journey through this competition from being an angry person to someone more agreeable (though most would beg to differ). I truthfully never saw Calvin as angry…he's just direct and brutally honest (which can feel borderline abusive at times) in his want for things to be as amazing as possible (though that yellow dress from the first day was questionable). At this moment, Calvin became very childlike to me so I thought to make his show into a fairytale of sorts set in the woods.

Using his personal journey and single misty forest image, I created a montage of woods imagery that started with a dark, foggy, moody, leafless forest and end with a lush, sundrenched, green jungle of life that became the perfect backdrop for his red gown (the back of which was gorgeous). I had the models walk through a path of Kara Walker-inspired trees and low looming fog to the sounds of pianos and music box tunes. For a humbling feel, I had the runway covered completely in burlap, which the art team hand sewed together with thick black yarn…it was well worth it! The details of the runway were beautiful and matched the dreamy elegance of Calvin’s final collection.

He and I agreed that the staging should not be as antagonizing as the zombie, barefoot show from the challenge before, though Calvin may have wanted to do something slightly more aggressive if given another chance. I'm glad we stuck with this tone because I believed it charmed the judges and almost got Calvin the win. Fashion Show #2: City Slicker

Dominique, the last surviving member of Nami, was also self-reflective during my consult with her. But unlike Calvin, her journey ends in chaos. She wanted her show to be all about her a naive, innocent arriving in NYC and entering this competition with beautiful jazz-style music in her head (well, iPod) and leaving with static, noise, and confliction (could David have had anything to do with this?).

I was impressed with Dominique’s ambitious ways during the whole competition and her willingness to try new things, like making her own plaid and deconstructing those umbrellas to create a chic sheath dress. One of the pieces Dominique made that she edited out of her final collection was a tangled wired bustier and ankle cuffs that were a cool, modern touch to her slouchy chic (which I love) silhouette.

Dominique show was the most fun to build because I focused on NYC and the fast-paced vibe here. I opened her show with city sounds set to jazz, which then exploded into techno rhythms. The models were lined up in a power stance behind the LED screen as footage of the subway whizzed by (Glenda Bailey loved this). I then had imagery similar to the of old-fashioned TV static sliced into the all the footage, with the final shot of the TV (and noise) being shut off as the model exited. Her runway was a city sidewalk with grates built in (the choreography was vital here, so the models heels would not get stuck in the grates…kind of like real city life). At the model entrance I designed a wire-filled structure that was inspired by her wire bustier (which never saw the light of day). My favorite moment in her staging was the night surveillance images I sourced with the guy shadowing the model on the catwalk…so eerie, so New York!

Fashion Show #3: Mommy Dearest

Jeffrey's fashion show was the toughest of them all because his journey was inspired by his late Mother’s presence, and I had to be respectful of that. He showed me mood boards of doves and red stains the resembled blood. Then he told me the story of his now famous red gown that was designed with his Mom in mind. After my first consult with Jeffrey, I left with thoughts of heaven in my mind…would it be about angels on clouds and golden gates?

But Bravo exec (and mega sounding board) Lara Spotts, made me examine closely what heaven would truly represent to our Jeffrey. So for my second consult with him (I always had two consult with the designers before the big show), I questioned Jeffrey about his show again (he loves a chic power woman) and what heaven represented to him. While he was talking I noticed a whole other board that he never shared with me with imagery of Buddhist monks and temples. I grabbed the board, and told Jeffrey that his show would be inspired by Buddhism...freedom from suffering, Nirvana. He agreed and went back to sewing (his collection was so far behind to the point that I was worried for him).

I fine tuned Jeffrey’s presentation up to the last minute as to capture the perfect mood for his collection, because I did not see the clothes till the models were dressed. Everything looked stunning on the girls! Once I saw the hair and makeup (Mally did a stellar job) complete I thought his show needed air, so I simplified everything and had the models trot through a grey ash filled catwalk (which captured a smoky, saintly atmosphere) as if they were entering a temple. The ash would also give a more deconstructed look to his pure clothes especially on the clothes with longer hemlines (some still with raw edges). Plus Jeffrey patiently handed painted all the models shoes with white paint (as if he did not already have enough to do) so the chalky ash looked great and modern (very Rick Owens meets Donna Karan).

I had the art team paint the symbol for the word PEACE on the runway and we built a candle filled alter at the bottom of the catwalk for an OM SHANTI feel. As I had the model posed on the stage for a final tableau, I asked our lighting guy to shine one perfectly bright beam of light on the group of girls for a heavenly glow.

And it all worked! Guest powerhouse judge Mary J. Blige could not stay in her seat… she loved it so much. And Jeffrey won!