Project Runway All Stars: Episode 2, A Night At The Opera

Natasha Turovsky, "A Night At The Opera" 2005

Natasha Turovsky, "A Night At The Opera" 2005

About the art: I was torn. Should I go Queen – one of my favorite albums of all time – or Marx Brothers? In the end I went with this lovely 2005 painting. It measures 33ft x 16ft. Yes, feet. The people are life-sized. Commissioned by “I Musici de Montreal” Chamber Orchestra for the Opera “The Bear”, it can be yours today for only $995,000!

Oh, this was a fun episode. Sufficient money, a decent challenge allowing for different aesthetics, a little short on time but not outrageously so – after all, as Angela (it is Angela, right?) says, they can’t make it too easy. And the results showed it. Everyone put out decent work. Well, almost everyone. There was one disaster, and a few things didn’t work. The initial runway criticism was tentative to the extreme, to the point where I wasn’t sure who the bottom three were. But for the most part, I’m getting used to the new staff, and this was fun to watch.

To start, guest judges Mark Badgley and James Mischka join Angela on the runway to give the new challenge to the designers: create a gorgeous evening gown for a glamorous evening at the opera. They have $350 and one day.

Ok, first off, let’s define our terms here. I’ve been to the opera. I’ve even been to the Met a couple of times, as well as various operas in Boston (including the Met on tour and several European companies) and even here in Portland where no one owns any dresses anything like the ones seen here. You don’t have to wear gowns to the opera. In fact, the people who love music show up in their business suits or their khakis or even jeans. The people in gowns are there to be looked at, not to enjoy opera. So when they say “the Opera” they mean something specific. A gala, opening night, a premier, a charity event. Or the people in the loges. Or just people who look at the opera as a backdrop for their own drama. Let’s not confuse that with music.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled post.

Austin is drooling over Badgley/Mischka; he wants to pattern himself after them, since they are the empire of evening wear. Michael wants to impress them, the Big Boys. And he grew up listening to Pavarotti and Bocelli – which, in addition to tacky name-dropping, is kind of beside the point. Kara, well, evening wear isn’t her thing. Jerell is very aware of Austin, and considers this a face-off. Mondo knew this was coming, and he’s very well aware this isn’t his strong point.

Michael sketches a red dress. April also is thinking red; she wants to show she doesn’t have to do black, that other colors can fit her aesthetic, since that was the criticism that got her kicked off in her season. At Mood, Michael discovers she’s doing red, and freaks. She doesn’t care much, but he decides to change to black since they both did mops last week. The red dress did look great in the sketch, but he says he has a new look in his head.

Austin, known as the king of couture from the first season (yes, but it wasn’t a compliment), will be embarrassed if he doesn’t do well. Sweet P is still stinging from last week, feeling like some kind of loser. Well… Thing is, evening glamour isn’t her thing, either. In Mood, Kenley sees a light pink fabric with black polka dots that’s totally her. She gets matching pink organza. By the way, Swatch doesn’t make an appearance this week. I hope he will in the future.

Back in the workroom, Kara says something about everyone having keys. I think she means they’re all quiet, but she doesn’t quite have the metaphor of locking up the mouth and throwing away the key. April starts dyeing her red fabric, which creates a stir: Austin wonders if dyeing on a one day challenge is a good idea; Mila doesn’t care if she wants to sabotage herself, Mondo thinks it could be enough of a mistake to send her home. She says she does gowns in a different way. All of this negative attention on April makes me wonder if she’ll be the winner.

Michael brings over a bedazzled strip of fabric to consult with Mondo. He interviews he’s put together a look in a day, but not couture. Hey, Michael, you put together a whole season’s worth of looks in a day a year or so ago. Mila says it’s smart he’s started with the main feature of his gown, this strip of beading, and realizes he works very quickly. I think Mila’s beginning to take Michael seriously.

Joanna Coles does her walkthrough. I’m getting her approach: she isn’t warm and fuzzy like Tim, but these aren’t neophytes, they’re working professional designers for the most part, and they’ve been here before. She doesn’t accompany them to Mood (Swatch would horrify her), re-explain the challenge, or herd them to the runway like Tim did. She’s just here for the walkthrough. And she asks questions, proceeding in a sort of Socratic way. Socratic fashion, you might say (groan). I very much like, as we shall see, that when people know what they’re doing, she doesn’t bother them, she just gives them the opportunity to have their screen time and moves on. And, when people are hopeless, she moves on as well. But I still miss Tim Gunn.

She congratulates Rami on his win, and watches him play with triangles on the bodice. She asks who he thinks his biggest competition is, and he says Austin (which pleases Austin greatly), since he has a lot of background in costumes. I have a feeling she’s asking because she wants to see how he evaluates the work of others, an important part of an editor’s job. He’s on the short list. Rami’s happy to get some validation; he says he puts on a strong front, but he likes encouragement.

She proceeds to Austin and asks what he’s going to do to surprise them, since it’s well known that gowns are his favorite thing and he’s brilliant at it. Austin claims to be nervous since people will expect a lot of him. Gordana interviews that since he makes gowns, it shouldn’t be a big deal to him, just make another gown. I like Gordana. But Austin does love the drama. He tells Joanna he’s thinking a lamè sheath underdress with black tulle giving it dramatic volume. Joanna likes the colors and has faith in Austin.

She asks April what her wow factor is, and April tells her it’s the ombre effect she’s dyeing. Joanna asks if it’s good use of her time, but April’s pretty set, and since her fabric is in the dye bucket, it’s too late to change her mind. Joanna points out they’re looking for movement and energy; April shows her some triangles and how they’ll catch the breeze. She has no plan B, at any rate.

Michael proudly shows Joanna the strip of fabric which is now feathered in addition to the bedazzling; it’s a kind of stole, I guess. He wraps it around the neck of the model, and damn if it doesn’t actually look good. That’s how he’s going to stand out, he tells Joanna. She looks at the dress itself and asks if he’s putting cups in; he says no. She tries to guide him in the direction of considering how a woman will feel wearing it; he won’t go there. Jerell interviews about the dangers of the nip slip. Thanks, Jerell.

Kara‘s dealing with a pastel print, and Joanna asks how she picked the fabric. April interviews it’s more summertime picnic, but Joanna thinks it’s bridesmaid, and wants to know how Kara’s going to make it evening wear. Kara looks stricken. She really looks terrible, worried, haggard, tired, something.

Sweet P tells Joanna she thought about black, but went for color again. She’s dealing with orange and pink and a bright print. Jerell interviews it’s the same silhouette that put her in the bottom before; I don’t think it’s anything like the first dress, but it’s not anything near evening glamour, either. Joanna moves on. She’s already decided there is no way in hell Sweet P is going to be a guest editor at Marie Claire, so why waste time?

Joanna watches Anthony work on his cream silk organza and asks how it’s going to not be bridal. Anthony is pretty sure it’s more forward thinking, and has plunging necklines. He seems a bit shy, maybe slightly intimidated, which is cute. Decent answer, though. Good interview.

Joanna leaves; we don’t see what if anything she says to the other folks.

They continue to work. Sweet P concentrates on the bodice. Mondo interviews that Kara is maybe the weakest designer, because she spends time doubting herself and doesn’t focus. Anthony has to get past his foundation, which seems to amuse him. Austin thinks Michael’s look is a little too celebrity and not enough socialite. Every time we see Michael, he’s fussing with the bedazzled stole, but he does have a dress taking shape.

They go home and spend some time fretting about their gowns, talking about how hard it is to make a couture dress in a day. Anthony thinks this is insulting to the world of couture, so they’re really talking about pumped up prom dresses. That’s scary talk, Anthony. Kenley is worried about Kara, and wants her to get it together. Wow, Kenley is thinking about someone else in a kind and generous way? Maybe she has grown up a bit. And Kara still looks awful. But everyone seems friendly and happy. Austin has his arm draped around Kara, Rami around Anthony, it’s all very cozy and homey. Like a producer said, “Let’s get some footage of how compatible all you guys are.” Yes, I’m cynical. Reality TV made me that way.

On Day Two, the models come in. Michael talks about not having time to do French seams or rolled hems; hey, you know what? This is the guy Gretchen and Ivy sneered at for not knowing anything about construction. I wonder if he’s done some book learning in the meantime. Mila thinks Austin’s gown is pretty, but a little basic. Gordana says hers is so different from everyone else’s she doesn’t know if that’s good or bad. Anthony isn’t doing the dress he originally had planned, but it works perfectly. And Jerell is just happy his dress looks like mo fo money. That’s an approximation of what he said, I’m not cool enough to really know exactly what it was.

The Runway:

The Best:

Austin made a gold lamè sheath, as promised, with black tulle over the bust and serving as a train. It’s lovely. That’s the word for it, lovely. Old Hollywood glam. Austin says he tried for sensual but with modesty and refinement. Isaac loves it, it’s fresh, classic, expensive. He’s puzzled by the idea of modesty, but Austin points out the tulle as veiling, which is an interesting concept, I think. Bad/Mis (don’t ask me which one is which, and typing B/M just feels wrong) says he definitely knows how to cut. The tulle is a little lopsided but he fixes it right there on the runway; they allow for the short time limit. Georgina wishes the bustline was just a bit lower. Isaac loves it, it’s the freshest dress here. Bad/Mis thinks it’s tasteful and beautifully exciting; Georgina loves that it’s well mad and flawless.

Michael used his bejeweled-feather-stole (Joan Rivers would have a field day with that) to decorate his dress which has a very bare back and a metallic belt. It’s quite sharp. I’ve been making fun of this stole, but it works. Isaac can’t believe he made this dress in a day (hah, take that, Ivy), it’s shockingly perfect. Hmm, I’m not sure I’d go that far. He calls it Kim Kardashian at the opera, the bare back is great, and Angela loves the belt across the bare back. Isaac warns it’s not a dress a lot of women can wear. Georgina loves the matte jersey; she’s not going home alone in that dress. Bad/Mis love it, it’s exquisite, they love that it’s closed in front and open in back. Angela loves it too. Isaac says there was something fresh about this dress because of the covered up front; Bad/Mis says he has a knack for this sort of thing. Georgina says the shrug had personality and made you look at it. I’m so happy for Michael. I don’t quite love the dress, but I’m glad he’s getting such great feedback from such high-level fashion people.

Anthony channels Rami (who might be thinking, hey, that’s my dress) and sends out a white Greek goddess flowy gown with a plunging V-front that would do Laura Bennet proud. The model’s boobs do the dress proud. Damn, she should have her plastic surgeon’s name tattooed on those things so others know where to get them, they’re magnificent. But talk about nip slip – she better not drop anything, because it’s all over if she has to bend down. The dress has a very cool half belt, and he’s got these black leather gloves that strike me as pleasantly odd. Bad/Mis love the way the leather adds an edge; they call it a show-stopper and body-conscious. And those boobs might just have a consciousness of their own. Isaac loves the vampy sexy plunging neckline. Angela likes the toughness of the gloves. Georgina is on the fence about the accessories; she might want to keep it romantic, but she’s glad he used georgette. Georgina says it’s beautiful, impeccably made, and well-draped; Isaac loves that the drapery is specific. This is the first time anyone’s mentioned accessories, which were so prominent in the past two seasons (much to my annoyance). I think they really changed the dress completely so it was worth discussing.

The Safe:

Kenley dreamed up this pink confection with a polka-dot gauzy bowed bodice and wide double-tiered skirt. It’s extremely pretty and well-made, but it’s also straight out of the Class of ’57 prom. Or Grease – the Pink Ladies. I have no idea if that sort of thing is stylish right now, or if it’s evening at all. I can’t stop looking at it, though. Her sketch shows more of the polka dot coming down on the skirt; I think I’m glad she didn’t do that. I love the bow effect on the bust. I know most people will hate this, and I have no idea who would wear it (not me, certainly) – and given that I have no patience for Kenley, pink, or fairy tale, I’m surprised, but I love it.

Mila made a black sleeveless dress with asymmetrical shoulder strap. It’s very nice, maybe my favorite thing I’ve ever seen from her. She uses the sequined parts and the sheer shoulder strap to satisfy her love for angles and graphic elements, and that works for me. It reminds me of Carol Hannah in season 6 somehow.

Mondo sends out a short sheath dress in white satin with a floral print, a gauzy train, and an obi bow in back. It’s really elegant and striking. I’m not sure it’s formal enough, or evening enough, but it’s beautiful. It’s something along the lines of Austin’s dress, in fact, the same kind of old-movie-star glamorous. An Audrey Hepburn second-wedding dress. But I might be a little biased where Mondo is concerned.

Gordana has a mauve gown with a netted bodice and flowy bottom. I like the bodice with the netted overlay and the dropped waist. I don’t like the skirt; it almost looks like an old-lady bathing suit with tights, the way the sheer fabric falls on the thighs, but it’s an interesting idea and I can appreciate it. For Gordana. Anyone else, I’d hate it (hey, at least I admit my biases). The back view is extremely unflattering, unless the model is really that lumpy in the legs.

Rami sends out a bright pink dropped-waist gown with dropped sleeves. It makes the model look a little pregnant. Not my favorite at all – maybe my least favorite Rami ever – but there’s a lot of design there. In fact, looking at the picture, I think that’s what I don’t like about it, all the piecing together on the bodice. I do like how the dropped sleeves in front become a wrap in back. Ok, Rami, you’ve shown you can do construction, now dial it back a little – they’ve created a monster.

Jerell made a maternity gown (because pregnant ladies go to the opera, too) with furry boobs, sheer shoulders and back, and a print skirt. The seam in back between bodice and skirt is less than attractive. He’s very happy. I’m surprised this wasn’t in the bottom.

The Bad:

Sweet P made an orange and pink print maxi skirt with a sleeveless top. It makes me sad; she tries, she really does, but she just has a very unsophisticated idea of glamour. She was thinking ball gown, a modern Cinderella. Isaac gets prom dress. Bad/Mis gets dirndle skirt. Georgina wishes she’d used the print fabric for the bodice instead of the solid color. I get it, that makes it look like a skirt and tee. Bad/Mis like the use of color, but it needed better execution. Isaac says the bodice of a dress is always the focus of evening wear, and this one doesn’t work. Angela thinks it’s a day dress; Bad/Mis agree, it’s not opera, it’s not the Met (hey, they should see what I wore to the Met; then again, maybe not). Bad/Mis thinks it would appeal to a lot of people; Georgina thinks the top looks like a swimsuit, and Isaac agrees, but not just any swimsuit, a granny swimsuit; what it’s not is a ball gown.

Kara sees a youthful dreamy elegance in her look. I see a very pretty pastel dress with a black belt. I think I wore something like that to a day wedding way back when I was a mere slip of a girl. Kara says she doesn’t usually use prints, and though they aren’t conventional for evening, she was thinking summer at Lincoln Center. I can sort of see that, though I’d think more summer supper at the club. Or wedding. I’m stuck on wedding for this one. Isaac loves prints, but a simple dress needs to be utterly perfect. Everyone loves black grosgrain ribbon at the waist, but it’s either not high enough or too high, it’s off. Bad/Mis wishes the tails of the ribbon in the back were longer for some kind of spectacular drama. Isaac wants to chop the bow off completely. Kara points out she did add pockets, which Angela loves (so do I). Georgina thinks it’s a pretty dress, but it could be anybody’s dress, it doesn’t really have her personality; she gets it but she’s seen it a thousand times. Bad/Mis love the dress, they know people who’d wear it. Angela doesn’t like the fabric.

April sends out a mess. I’m thinking of the Zulema dress, the red one inspired by the African dress, the one that got her sent home. It’s that sloppy. The ombre dye job looks like… I don’t know what it looks like, dirty, messy. In Mood, she called the fabric color oxblood, and the dye job makes it look like she slaughtered the ox herself, then crawled through the pasture back to the runway. The sewing looks messy and home-sewn, and April was never a sloppy sewer. So much for the idea that she can move her aesthetic beyond black. I’m very surprised. Were all her cut-out dresses this bad, but it couldn’t be seen? I don’t think so; she acknowledges as the model walks that she can see all the flaws. Looking now at her sketch on the PR website, I think a lot of the problem is that she didn’t have time to finish what she was going for. Issac appreciates the use of color, but the opera is not the time to think of do-it-yourself ombre. Bad/Mis hate red and black together (I’m not big on personal preferences affecting judging decisions, guys), and think the whole thing looks rushed, even allowing for the short time allowed. Angela thinks the cut is interesting. April defends it as the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland. That’s what I like about April, she creates characters when she designs, that’s really cool. Corpse Bride works, too – I can see that, kind of an odd look, and if it was done better, maybe if she’d had an additional few hours, it might’ve worked. Georgina thinks the matte insert looks like a mistake. Bad/Mis think it looks like she was putting gas in her car and it spilled all over her, which is the perfect description of the ombre. Angela thinks the detail in back looked like the sewing machine accidentally sewed everything down; Isaac thinks it looks too random.

And the winner is… Austin, with Michael a very close second.

Sweet P is out. She had fun meeting the other designers. Some people will love her stuff and some won’t, but it doesn’t matter, she still has a very happy life.

Next week: make a flamboyant cocktail dress for Miss Piggy. Now there’s a challenge. Who’s going to model?

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2 responses to “Project Runway All Stars: Episode 2, A Night At The Opera

    • Hi Meli, thanks – I did check out your post and left a message. We seem to be the only two people on earth who like Kenley’s pink dress. But I still don’t know who would wear it, or where, outside of the Pink Ladies to the Grease prom. ;)

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