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Windows That Wow

Margaret Russel breaks down the designer's windows.

Could there be a more perfect Top Design challenge than this? First, creating a window display involves basic principles of interior design. Second, the spaces are really confined, so a well-planned concept can actually be finished within the insane deadlines inflicted by notoriously sadistic reality-competition producers. And third, the couture clients are five of Project Runway's beloved star talents, who provide both fashion inspiration and behind-the-scenes drama. Even though it was difficult to see some of the details in the windows (and we taped the show on a night so cold I swear there were snow flurries in LA) I loved this challenge.

Shop windows are all about impact and seduction--the ability to engage someone's eye in a split second. A deft grasp of color, scale, composition, and balance, is key--as well as an ingenious use of materials, boundless imagination, and a hefty dose of fantasy. The best windows are truly memorable; they both inform and inspire. They're never safe; they have to be over-the-top sensational.


The Butterfly Emerging window Ondine and Natalie conjured for Sweet P won because it was finely crafted, whimsical, and fun. Most important? Sweet P "absolutely LOVED it." The designers embraced Sweet P's butterfly/cocoon fantasy and shaped it within their own point of view. Benefiting from Ondine's admittedly boho sensibility--an ideal match for the colorful tiered dress--the team succeeded because Ondine was an organized leader and Natalie wasn't a passive, subservient slave; she spoke her mind and worked hard. They didn't appear to struggle greatly with time or budget constraints; in fact it looked like they enjoyed putting the window together. Natalie even found time to affix a butterfly tattoo to her cheek.


Daniel is the Dream Client award-winner, as he not only arrived with an exquisite gown that we all coveted, but also provided an articulate, distinct theme--delivered in verse, no less. His Paris at Night poetic vision was so specific that Preston and Andrea executed it flawlessly, simply adopting his words as their to-do list. Their window was stunning; its quiet grace and luxe details were perfection; its setting could easily have been Bergdorf Goodman, not a construction-site/parking lot. rate_203_santino.jpg It's fascinating that Eddie--the Polo-clad poster child for preppydom--was desperate to land devilish Santino as a client and then actually did. He was so single-minded in his mission to assume control that Teresa didn't have a chance at the team-leader role. But despite Eddie's passion for the project, his emotional, manic energy didn't result in a successful window scheme even though it's true that Santino was a happy, satisfied client (we were flabbergasted). The judges were in agreement that the execution of the Venice at Night space was sloppy, the setting was morbid not magical, and placing a dark suit on a black-painted mannequin in front of mirror draped with a dark curtain is a big mistake. Window-dressing rule number 1: Product is hero; you need to see the dress. Teresa and Eddie would have had a chance at escaping criticism if they'd moved the mannequin off-center to the violet portion of the back wall. rate_203_andrae.jpg Andrae's Political Turmoil window theme might be timely but it's far too tortured a concept to sell a pretty frock in a window. Interior design is often about compromise; if a client's ideas or specifications are wildly off base the project will be doomed from the start. And that's exactly when Shazia and Nathan got into trouble. Though Andrae was kind to say that the design wasn't what he imagined but "that's why you collaborate with other people to get another point of view," I got the feeling he was making amends for his Mommie Dearest-like "no wicker!" dictum. The window's overall narrative made no sense, the French molding seemed to be installed in the wrong room, and the furnishings were totally random. After aggressively assuming the lead, Nathan was honest about losing his way, but Shazia is still a mystery. She owns a design firm; clearly she's capable of thinking and working on her own. rate_203_jeffrey.jpg


And how on earth could Kerry confuse Blade Runner with Blades of Glory? Interior designers must be well referenced, and not just about fabric swatches and paint chips! It seems that Wisit, Kerry, and Jeffrey were just an odd pairing, and though Jeffrey was explicit in wanting a modernist, less-is-more window, the finished product was a jumbled, blacked-out travesty. The designers are capable of producing a bold statement for a decidedly bold designer, but they struggled with a series of unfortunate mistakes, starting with Wisit's insistence on a rococo theme. Neither his great eye nor fashion background served him well here.

It's sad that the edgy, kaleidoscope effect Jeffrey requested could have been easily achieved if Kerry had stayed true to his David Hockney photo-collage inspiration and been more firm with Wisit, who was clearly off his game. The final straw? Window space is prime real estate and the judges couldn't get past the bad decision to black out the borders and shrink the square footage, regardless of the cockamamie reason. In taking responsibility for his poor judgment Kerry basically sent himself home, but we still all got a little weepy. I admire his character and integrity, and I'll follow his work in the future. And even though he played a part in creating my awful loft in the first episode, he's still someone I'd want on my team. Doesn't everyone need a Big Daddy?

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