Plaid in Space

Stefan Campbell shares how time travel and outer space inspired the shows this week.

This week's Time Capsule challenge brought out the best and, in some cases, the worst of all these designers. The House of Emerald clearly needed this win, but it was Cesar, whose "disco vampire" cape/gown combo concept had caused another lose for the shrinking house, who was the most blood thirsty for victory over his former house. Standing in front of those judges, as Cesar did for the first time last week, and getting ripped to shreds is not fun, especially when you think you did an amazing job.

As for Nami, they were in a zone and feeling confident that they were the better house after three consecutive wins. Some members were more innovative than others (Eduardo and Dominique both brilliantly made their plaids) while others tried to be innovators and fell flat (Ro had no help from Cesar this week, and it showed).

The surprise hit for this week was guest judge and model Anja (who I started working with the moment she became a model) for her sharp, critical eye and clear, yet cutting, opinions of the designer's clothes. (Did you notice that Isaac's handkerchief matched Anja dress perfectly?!) And Iman looked FIERCE, which is no surprise!

Fashion Show #1: Plaid in Space
Nami was now in a groove and felt so comfortable winning that they acted invincible, executing more conceptual (though David's always is) and sophisticated (Calvin’s grey flannel wrap skirt) designs, and even leaving extra room for flirting (Dominique, stay focused!). Though they were happy with the show and set for the previous challenge, they were unified in wanting a clearer less "complicated" staging this week (sounds like Cesar'’s influence trickled over), though Ro was eager to have an industrial environment (as if he selected the year 1990 and Nitzer Ebb was in his time capsule, as opposed to the year 1969 he actually selected).

Keeping the challenge to heart, I started to think of outer-space, which is one of my absolute favorite references (A fashion story I created for The New York Times Magazine set on a spaceship won a prestigious award, and got me a hand written note from Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquière, who shares my love of outer space references). Wanting to "keep it simple," I imagined the Nami show would be aboard a spaceship with the inhabitants (the models) viewing planet Earth through a telescopic portal…simple.

First, I had the black curtains behind the LED screens removed so I could use the screens themselves as a grid wall for the model entrance, and had a long sleek runway built to look like a metal plank. I draw inspiration from one of my favorite conceptual artist Dan Graham and had the art team build translucent panels with metal braces that were placed at the top of the runway for more texture. On the rear projection screen, I researched moving landscapes and fields, from icebergs to sand dunes to mechanical parts, for a sense of motion. But my favorite moment came at the finale and model parade when I had the view of outer-space and the sun blast over the horizon stretch across the LED and rear projection screens for a sci-fi moment.

I loved the idea of the models being women of the future, wearing clothes of today, but inspired by the past in space, especially in plaids and tartans. I really appreciated the effort Dominique took in making her chiffon plaid over a gingham-grunge look. And it was Calvin who pointed out to me that Edourdo also made the plaid for his outstanding outfit (the sculpted shaping around the hips made the thin model feel like she was wearing a bustle). Though David’s jumpsuit could have used a few more darts in the back, it was not as bad as it seemed (is that a compliment?). But someone needed to be in the bottom and clearly the judges hated it (maybe he’s the one who lost focus for his flirting). However Ro’s piece was total wrong, even Ro himself was over it. Without Cesar’s support, he relied on Calvin (whose look was very I Love Lucy, a show I worship) who did his best to save it, but failed. The construction was so off that the model actually started to rip the too tight, ill-fitting skirt.

Fashion Show #2: Bright Sunny Day
This show was all Cesar! He whipped us all into shape (yes, including me) to make sure House of Emerald won this challenge. He had the idea of "keeping it simple" (sounds familiar) and to show on white (Cesar wanted a blank "7th on 6" meets Bryant Park—now Lincoln Center—feel) with a beautiful sunny day on the screens, optimistic really. I told the house that I would make sure the judges got a precise view of their designers but the clothes needed to be extra great--and they were.

With the teams "simple" direction in mind, I decided to do away with a raised runway altogether and have the model on an extra wide squared-off floorshow for an up close and personal feel. I wanted the mood to be crisp and sharp, like a futuristic Pleasantville. I had the stage faced in white and asked the art team to put a clear plexiglass over the white floor we laid down for a more brilliant shine. I know I wanted to create a tableau for the house so I had clear plexi cubes with mirrored bases made for a modern, sculptural feel (thanks to the art crew for making this happen so quickly). The clear cubes were important, because I wanted the models to look as if they were floating when I placed them on the cubes. To capture the Time Capsule challenge (and satisfy my love of outer space) I had the cloud formation (that looked like the skies of Montana) on the screens fade into a video of space travel through the galaxy a la Star Wars for the finale.

This show was fun to do because of Emerald's will to win and Cesar's quick change moment. The team wisely changed their line-up in the last minute, swapping Cesar's model for exits one and four as opposed to one and five, which could have be a timing disaster! Yes, Jeffrey won the challenge (the plaid matched in the center seam perfectly), and Golnessa received praise (both should thank Cesar for his guidance and expertise on constructing garments). But it was Cesar's clothes that were so beautifully made, especially the hand-painted "kite" meets African halter-look he whipped together and the sheer cocoon blouse that opened the show (did you notice he started the look as a dress then turned them into pedal pushers! CHIC!) along with Cindy's organza coat that sealed the win, I'm sure.  I was a little worried for Golnessa and her broken zipper moment backstage. Luckily the shape and feel of her dress caught the judges' attention, though razor sharp Iman did notice the zipper flaw through the sheer shawl, of course.

Time Capsule was intriguing to do, but I can't wait for the next challenge with the women of THE REAL HOUSEWIVES ("you prostitution whooooorrre!"). Should be fun!!

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!