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Merle: "I Guess I Was Wrong!"

Challenge winner Merle discusses denim, personal style, and why she thought she was heading home. You've been part of the fashion world for a long time. Expand on why you want to start your own line.

When I was a little girl, I was always drawing and doodling little outfits. I was always re-making the Barbie doll's clothes, and then at around 12 or so, started sewing and discovered it came easily to me - and within a year, I was making all my own clothes. My two loves have always been writing and fashion. I've dressed in a very particular way since I could start making my own clothes. In college, when everybody else was in jeans, I was wearing dresses that looked like they were from the 1920's. If I'd had a little awareness, I would have gone to design school - but when I was growing up in the sixties, fashion designers weren't as well known, and fashion was not the big deal it is now. My role models were authors and magazine writers. It wasn't until I started writing about fashion - I wrote about music and movies before that (for Rolling Stone, People, W Magazine, Harper's Bazaar) that I felt the BIG drive towards design. Trust me, I put A LOT of time into my look everyday - dressing has always been a creative outlet for me. I feel like getting dressed is a way of being your own art project. "Launch My Line" gave me the chance to see if I could throw my hat in the ring. What's the inspiration behind your line so far? What kind of woman do you design for?

The woman I design for has a real sense of herself. She's not just corporate and not just artsy - she's a very real life woman who appreciates all aspects of life, and wants clothes she can run to the store in, go to work in, and then change a little and go out at night in. She's very busy, but that doesn't mean she's not creative or imaginative. She wants designer looking clothes but doesn't want to spend all her income on being a fashion slave. She wants to look interesting and attractive - but doesn't have a lot to prove. And she wants her personality to come before her clothes, so her clothes have to serve her life - not the other way around. She needs her clothes to perform a lot of functions, and also, to be able to travel easily. And - this is very important - she's got a great sense of humour! She loves clothes, but doesn't take it ALL that seriously! This week the contestants headed to the Citizens of Humanity wash house to get a feel for distressing. You mentioned you're not too keenon denim... Why is that?

Ha! I'm catching a lot of flack for that! People think if you live in L.A., you're a jeans person. I have never worn jeans. I do occassionally wear denim jackets or skirts - if I'm painting the house! No, just kidding. Look, denim WAS invented in the forties for field workers and farmers - it's a pretty indestructible fabric, and it doesn't move easily. I'd MUCH rather wear silk, jersey, cashmere, wool, satin, organza, tulle or chiffon - I live soft fluid fabrics - even feathers! To me, denim is really for guys - it's tough, useful, and it's constricting and tight. I do NOT think it flatters a soft curvy female figure - and I think showcasing your butt is a vulgar thing to do - but I may be the last person alive who feels that way! I don't move well in jeans, and I don't think they look good. And now they're so ubiquitous, wearing them is a real "follower" way to dress. I have no interesting in blending in. Not that I won't wear black leggings with a long top - but that reminds me of Audrey Hepburn and ballerinas, so it has a much more feminine feeling. And leggings are comfortable - and inexpensive. $300 jeans are crimimal! Denim was invented to be cheap. The challenge required you to make a distressed garment for your line. What were your initial thoughts about this challenge?

I was very interested in distressing - I love distressed leather and I like ripped up hemlines and avant garde clothes. I just didn't want to do it on denim. So I used brocade! It was the richest fabric, and I thought ripping up something rich looking was a much cooler way to go. It fringed in the most amazing way. I LOVED using the little torches and pics at the wash house, that was cool! I thought it was a great challenge, and I'm so glad most of the other competitors didn't go obvious and use denim. I definitely want to keep using this technique - it's very modern. And it's sort of punk and Goth, two anti-establishment movements that I love and relate to. You were also inspired by another contestant, Louanna. How did she influence your garment?

Louanna's aesthetic was "simple elegant chic." She also tends to wear things that are close to the body, and her clothes for the show were body conscious. I know our jacket is pretty elaborate, and she didn't relate to it - which is fine (cause I do!! I think it's GORGEOUS!) - but the jersey convertible dress with the distressing is body conscious and looks like something she would wear - or make. She'd look hot in that dress, I think. > > You were the inspiration for Kathy's look. What did you think of her > creation? MG: I was watching all the effort Kathy put into distressing that fabric, ironing it to make it crinkle - it was amazing. I love the gold color and our line has a lot of coppers and golds in in - it's the best hue for brunettes. I can't wear a backless dress cause my boobs are too big - I need a bra, girl! - but for the model, I thought the dress was very chic and very Merle. I really loved the fabric. How did Thai help you along in this challenge?

Thai had worked for BCBG and knows everything about denim and how to work with it. He also understood my instant dislike for denim. He was really happy we were working with brocade, was very game to make TWO pieces and not one - and that's the speedy in him that allows him to finish two garments in the time it takes others to make one - and he applied his great tailoring skills to the jacket and the dress. He really made these pieces FIT. We kept changing the shape of the jacket, because we were criticized on show 5 for the shape of our short jacket. We kept wittling away on these pieces till the bitter end of the challenge. We definitely WANTED to win! Where do you think Patrick went wrong?

Well, one of the biggest issues with this challenge was that we got a note at the beginning telling us to grab a bolt of fabric and go. We didn't know WHERE we were going and what the fabric would be used for. Louanna had pink silk with her. I had brocade. Patrick had a thin red chiffon. So Patrick was at a real disadvantage because if you burn and rip red chiffon, it can look like it went through a lawnmower - it's a thin, frail fabric. So that was a problem right off the bat. And of course, Roberto can't use a sewing machine and was really only capable of doing one silhouette. Roberto was a general disadvantage for Patrick. He napped, he schmoozed, he complained - but he never really wanted to get down to work. And of course, so much of his behavior might have been just to get camera time - which I guess worked out for him. You've won two challenges so far! What do you think you're doing right?

Well, I've got Thai - that's a huge advantage! But I did come into the show with knowledge of fashion and years of being around fabric and design. I also have a very strong aesthetic that's consistent, and I think you can see that in the clothes. I only made clothes I would wear myself. And of course, I've always wanted to make a convertible line - I really believe in that. And from the feedback I've gotten so far from the show, it looks like it's something people would want to buy. I was trying to combine stage theatrics of the runway with a real retail reality. You stated that you prepared a going home speech! Why did you think you would be on the chopping block?

By show 6, I knew anything could happen. Also, the judges to me did not seem to have consistent taste - they sometimes picked tiny mini dresses to win (Eric), sophisticated cocktail (Louanna), chic boho (Kathy), or our convertible gown. Thai and I had done SO well up to show 5 - we were never in the bottom, and had been only in the top 3 or 2 almost every show (show 3 we were safe). I started to feel insecure - and being a person who never wants to be without the right words, I thought I'd should prepare a speach - cause I knew if I was eliminated, I'd be so freaked out I wouldn't know what to say. I think show 5 made me feel very insecure - and I could not for the life of me see where the judges wanted us to go. Since winning the competition was ALL about pleasing these 4 people, that was unfortunately the only option. I was starting to feel like they weren't "getting" me - I guess I was wrong!

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