In Noir and White

Stefan Campbell discusses what vamps inspried him this week, and how he'd change his tune now.

Its true! The designers and I had only 24 quick hours to build EVERYTHING for the Femme Fatale challenge and everyone was on edge (even the production crew). Cesar had the weight of the world on his shoulders with his "disco vampire" concept for House of Emerald and Nami had Calvin (enough said). And though Tamara went home, it was Calvin who had the dramatic exit during elimination with a tearful (and seemingly very sincere) goodbye to his only true friend on the show. He suggested leaving instead of her because he thought Tamara would benefit more from the competition due to her limited opportunities in fashion (and since he already a successful business and more comforts in life). Some of the judges thought he was faking it, but I thought his emotions were real and raw.

The most fascinating move of the night actually came from guest judge Dita Von Teese. During the breaks, she would kick off her stilettos and would continue standing on her tip toes like a Barbie doll. It was the very keen Iman, who pointed this out to Isaac and I while we were chatting during a break.

Fashion Show #1: Disco Vampires

With Cesar in the house and limited time, Emerald was a lot more together in spirit and vision in many ways—particularly with concept and mood. I think after losing two challenges in a row with such shocking and brutal critiques from the judges, they had no other choice but to try a new approach. The house wanted a disco vampire (disco is more Vamp than Vampire unless you are George Hamilton in Love At First Bite) with hanging disco balls and gelled spinning lights.

But once I saw the direction of the collection during my consult with the house, I knew all those disco trickery elements would make this collection even worse. Sorry to say but the clothes were not moving in the right direction, most importantly and noticeably were Cesar’s cape/gown confection and Tamara’s pleather/stretch pants (Isaac is right about the fabrics this house tends to select…its always off). And the rest of house focused on cocktail dresses (loved Cindy’s dress and Jeffrey’s high-waisted skirt but disco, they were not).

Instead of a discotheque, I suggested that we go deep into the mind of a vampire preparing to seduce her prey by and use elements the were more Hitchcock than Studio 54. I felt a strobe light effect would add both a nightlife and femme fatale mood to give drama and atmosphere to a collection that was borderline overwrought (Golnessa was so nervous backstage her hands were trembling so badly someone else had to cut her fabric). I added Mylar mirrored panels (long and lean, as opposed to round and wide like a disco ball) and a high gloss runway to the set in front of the LED and rear projection screens to reflect more of the strobe and lightning bolt imagery to the stage. The look of the show was dark and mysterious (I remember a brilliant late ‘90s Olivier Theyskens show in Paris were the whole staging was lit to look like a thunderstorm). The music I suggested was a classical, high drama violins and cello mix for a more Hitchockian –Pyscho feel. However, after looking at this collection again, I should have played Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” for a disco seduction vibe.

Fashion Show #2: Film Noir

Nami with Calvin, and without both Mike and Cesar, was a bit deer-stuck-in-the- headlights, which allowed Eduardo to speak up more and take charge. He is now the senior member of the house in both age and technique really (his clothes have been beautifully made so far). Nami, like Emerald, wanted a club scene but more jazz than disco, to create a nightlife environment that fit a sophisticated city girl. I suggested to the house that jazz, though a great image, was difficult to convey as femme fatale as the immediate impression for the judges. So I thought a film noir set and mood would be more fitting. Luckily, they agreed.

The set was stacked with scaffolding and ladders, which I had painted black, for silhouette use only (there was a grip on set during building days who was always on the tallest ladders…I was always mesmerized). The look of this evoked both film set and cityscape. For the film noir mood, I had a reel count down starting with five (for five the designers) and a film strip motif run throughout until the tableau at the end, when I had “THE END” from a ‘30s film appear. As for the runway, I thought a shadowy, yet wet, looking floor would be great, as if the fatales were stalking for their victims through alleyways.

The clothes were better than Emerald’s (yes, Ro’s dress was a bit Dr. Seuss-ish, as Isaac pointed out) and Calvin’s look conceptually fit right in--though he still bullied his new house slightly by insisting on a bold red lip for his model while the others choose not to). I can understand why challenge winner Eduardo felt Calvin should be up for elimination (for the third time in three weeks) because he does not always follow along.

Overall the fashion shows worked, however, I felt the designers (on both teams, honestly) had a difficult time understanding what a femme fatale was as a reference. The houses may feel the staging and sets over power the clothes especially when the judges are critical of the garments. But the true of the matter the clothes needed the exact push to create an ambiance for this 24 hour challenge. Welcome to THE FASHION SHOW designers!

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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!

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