Back in the 70s, Melanie Safka sang, “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma.” I’ll admit, “Look what they’ve done to my Project Runway” doesn’t have the same ring. But it’s just as true. And yet, I seem to be in for another round.
Instead of meeting on the Atlas roof for a glass of champagne, the designers gather in the Runway room, where the folding chairs are suspiciously divided into two groups. Heidi welcomes them to Project Runway/Teams (the designers are supposedly learning this for the first time), because they stopped caring about fashion or, heaven forfend, art, a while ago and they need to ratchet up the interpersonal drama for the Dance Moms and Double Divas crowd.
The teams have already been decided, using criteria known only to God:
Daniel Esquivel, 48, Austin, TX. He’s wearing an amazing jacket in his casting session. He can sew; can he do PR?
Amanda Valentine, 31, Nashville, wardrobe stylist/costume designer. She had skulls as toppers on her wedding cake. I see her as the murky middle.
Layana Aguilar, 28, NY, originally from Brazil. Her stated weakness is that she never listens to anybody. That bodes well for the Team season. The jumpsuit she brought to her casting session may be the only jumpsuit I’ve ever liked.
Richard Hallmarq, 39, Sacramento, CA. He brought a Ven-esque skirt (and his own hangers, with his name on them) to the casting session, but it looked like the roses were tumors. Shades of Kane, he has a belt with his name in silver letters.
Patricia Michaels, 46, Taos, NM. Her husband said it’s me or fashion, and she picked fashion. She walked into casting carrying a parasol. She’s really into textiles. She’s Native American (her native name is Water Lily), and she really knows how to use the motifs without going kitsch; I’m very interested in her fabrics and designs.
Joseph Aaron Segal, 30, Providence, RI. He’s a textile specialist, teaches part-time at RISoD. I like his Wonders of the World collection.
Stanley Hudson, 44, West Hollywood. He used to work for Bob Mackie and he has the purple ostrich feather skirt to prove it. He’s also got a green jacket I love, and either I’m getting over my hatred of jumpsuits or he, too, has the secret of making something I like.
Kate Pankoke, 23, Chicago. She’s working in Bridal. “I’m like a scary possessed Chihuahua.” She names her dresses. She would be a criminal psychologist if not a designer. Oh goody.
The Other Team:
Benjamin Mach, 35, Australia. I thought he was Ed Begley Jr. in the group photo, and imagined a screamer, but his videos seem much more mature and thoughtful. He seems to think he has a web presence, but one site doesn’t exist and Narcissus right now is an Etsy shop offering two necklaces. He’s really attracted to metal at the moment. And faded romanticism.
Cindy Marlatt, 59, Washington State. I love her because she’s a funeral director who, at age 59, she just graduated from the Art Institute fashion design program. Her website shows a variety of complex designs – jackets, pleating – in a variety of fabrics – leather, tweeds – but in her casting video, many of those things look sloppy. She won them over with latex. And, by the way, she hates team challenges, heh heh. I was initially delighted to see her reference Rachel Maddow as the “celebrity” she’d like to design for, but was dismayed by her reason: “Rachel Maddow (MSNBC talk-show host). Rachel wears a selection of the most unflattering, boring jackets available on the market today. I’m sure I could do better.” I’m sure you could – hell, I could – but forget it, Cindy. Rachel has said she prefers to keep her personal style off the table when she’s doing political commentary and present a more neutral visual, so people will focus on what’s being said (a glorious attitude for a newswoman, one I wish more would adopt). But I’m pretty sure that Cindy, this season’s Peach, is toast before she even starts.
Emily Pollard, 24, Falls Church, VA. She’s got some very creative fabric manipulations; I suspect she’s operating on a student level (“oh, wow, look what happened when I sprayed the organza with varnish and melted it with an iron!”).
James Martinez, 29, Dallas, TX. Fast talker. Loves zippers as accents. I like a couple of his looks, but I’m dubious. He liked to wear suits to elementary schools and got bullied for it. He names his sewing machines.
Matthew Arthur, 30, NOLA. He’s fascinated by people in rehab because in NOLA they start drinking wine at 2pm; his Spring/Summer collection is based on addiction. That said, I like his clothes, I love how he incorporates the bizarre rehab motifs, but it’s almost exclusively casualwear.
Michelle Lesniak Franklin, 34, Portlandia. Some interesting stuff, but overall, pretty routine. Geek chic is her thing.
Samantha Black, 28, Brooklyn. Ya gotta love someone whose favorite colors are “yellow, and neon yellow.” And who wishes she could design for “Hasidic Jewish culture. ” She’s got some interesting looks, mixed patterns and bright colors (which would go over big in Hasidic Jewish culture). I could do without the fox head on shoulder; it reminded me of the marten stole my stepmother had.
Tu Suthiwat Nakchat, 26, Springfield, VA. Parsons grad. He was a monk for a month, couldn’t take it because “you can’t watch tv.” He quit his job in Bangkok to do PR, which seems like an insane risk. I’m meh on his clothes.
Make a garment that shows who you are as a designer with the input of your team to guide you. Someone on the winning team will be the winner, someone on the losing team will go home. The inspiration is NYC: One Team will look at NYC from afar via a boat on the Hudson, and The Other Team will look at it from the roof of Atlas. There’s the Atlas roof. You knew they’d work it in one way or another. Champagne, too.
Psssst… Heidi… That’s not a team challenge. That’s not even a group challenge. That’s a “do your own thing and ignore what people tell you unless you like them” challenge. Maybe they’re starting slow.
One Team, the boat people, name their team Keeping it Real. I have real doubts about the creativity and artistic values of a team that comes up with that name. The Other Team names their team Dream Team. Same doubts apply.
Zac Posen is the new Michael Kors. Christian Siriano is guest judge. I’m so relieved Heidi’s back and that awful Blondie woman isn’t grating on my nerves every time she sing-songs. And while I like Joanna and I no longer trust Tim Gunn, I still have great residual affection for him.
I can tell you from all the writing workshops I’ve been in, the key to getting advice is knowing which advice to take, and which to discard. So there’s going to be a lot of, “Why didn’t you listen to your team?” here, right alongside all the “Why did you let your team talk you out of what you wanted to do?” If the judges like it, you did the right thing; if they don’t, you didn’t. Figuring out what the judges will and won’t like on any given day is a crap shoot.
No, I’m not detailing it all. Too many designers, too little of interest. Tim’s walkthroughs are group events, some people think others are annoying or crazy or lousy designers, and there’s a lot of soul searching about whether one wants to help another, leading Kate to utter the line that nearly made me turn off my tv and vomit: “It’s like on an airplane. You help yourself first, then help the child who’s struggling for oxygen next to you.” I haven’t been on a plane in quite some time; do they really tell you that now? Lord help us all.
An editorial note: Thanks to Lifetime f*cking up their Rate the Runway page with forced advertising, I’m not linking to it any more, nor will I be using it. Blogging Project Runway and Tom and Lorenzo are still available with all the photos you need, and I actually like and respect the people who run those sites. One more thing: I’ll never again buy the product Lifetime thinks it’s selling.
Winning Looks from Keeping it Real (I feel stupid even typing that; are these the teams for the rest of the season? Because I’m not gonna type that every week, I’m saying right now):
Daniel: I like his suit, but I’m willing to bet it isn’t nearly so well-made in any color other than black. Still, he did a lot in a short time, and it’s striking. Zac likes the structure plus drape; Nina likes the shorter sleeves and pants. Christian loves the neckline.
Richard: He’s used to trees, and now he’s surrounded by buildings, so he thought of gray and black. I liked his look immediately on the runway, but I figured the judges would hate it. Nina likes that it’s urban and sporty; Zac likes the asymmetry; Heidi thinks it’s a great basic but it’s not schlumpy; Christian appreciates that it’s different. Richard was going to do bindings on the side – bindings? – but the team talked him out of it, and he’s grateful for their helpful input.
Patricia saw the shapes of windows from the boat and thought of the cubist artists, so she hand printed fabric to layer over cobalt blue. Heidi eventually interrupts her: “She’s a talker. You know the show is 90 minutes, right?” I guess it was the Andrae Monologue going on, but what they aired was pretty interesting. And it’s a great dress, which, as Heidi says, speaks for itself; the manipulation is genius. Christian gets the time and effort it took; Zac likes the tactile quality but thinks she should’ve included the emotional quality into the shape of the dress itself. Nina disagrees; she likes the shape simple, the panels give movement the shape doesn’t have.
In Chat, Patricia gets praised for her fabric manipulation and the artistic element and strong female POV; Daniel impressed them for all the structure he accomplished in one day, and for an interesting, beautiful, original look “of the moment” since it’s what just walked the Paris runway. Richard gets props for a straightforward, versatile, effortless look.
Daniel wins. Aww. I would’ve given it to Water Lily. But his suit was impressive.
Losing Looks from Dream Team (same aside as above except with more irony):
James wanted to color-block his tank but the team said it needed more detail, so he added a bedraggled neckline and now wishes he’d stuck with the original idea. Zac calls it pedestrian and chewed up; that’s pretty accurate. Nina doesn’t find it inspiring. I don’t get any sense of NYC, from any view.
Cindy: I was afraid of this. It’s a perfect 70s maxidress; she thinks it’s a gown. She was inspired by a checkerboard design on the side of a building, and the print reminded her of the jumbled colors of the city. She wanted to make a long top over narrow navy pants, but the team talked her into making it a long dress instead because the print was so beautiful. Heidi: “Raise your hands if you said that print was beautiful.” A couple of hands go up, but they explain it away as better than the alternative. Heidi loves mixed patterns, but not these patterns. Nina sees nothing NYC, nothing urban. Christian sees no designer quality to it. Zac doesn’t know who she is; it’s confusing to him, the construction isn’t that interesting, and the prints are jarring. I happen to like it. I like it quite a lot. But then again, I was young and foolish in the 70s. I just might’ve worn this dress back then.
Emily had serious time issues. We never saw her working on anything, just complaining about everyone else. Heidi thinks it looks like the sewing machine ate it up. Nina says they’ve never seen such an unfinished garment on the runway in eleven seasons, which might be a bit of an exaggeration but not much. I can’t even figure out what it is. A skirt, tank, and jacket? Very strange. The team says her sketches were amazing and they tried to help her, but it didn’t work. Zac says something good: “It’s important to have your craft ready to go.” Great line. So much better than a Michael Kors zinger.
In chat, James gets spanked in absentia for his mall look, what Zac calls “intern couture” (I’m liking Zac’s turns of phrase); Cindy missed New York and did old and sad (and only young, happy people are allowed into NYC); Emily’s look is both butt-ugy and a hot mess – two clichés for the price of one failed garment – but she did start with a creative idea whereas the others went nowhere from nothing.
Emily’s out. I’m ok with that. It was a strange outfit, and I’m glad Cindy gets another shot; it’ll probably be her last.
But it’s gonna be a long season.