Project Runway S11: Episode 6, Senior Fling

Michelle: “I must have kicked a bunny years ago, because luck is not with me.” The fault, dear viewer, lies not in ourselves, but in our stars that we are underlings.

I’m fascinated by Michelle. Remember narratives from last week? Michelle has her own private narrative: “I’m doing great, it’s the fault of my teammates that I’m always on the bottom.” Nothing – not the fact that when she switched teams, her new team started losing; not the fact that she hasn’t been singled out for a good effort on the losing team as several designers have been; not even Nina’s Proclamation of Doom (Questionable Taste division) last week – nothing makes a dent in that narrative. I envy her that. Me, I hone in on the slightest whiff of negative evaluation of my work like a laser; if I get a 99% on a test, I’ve failed. I’ve been trying most of my life to find the middle ground. And I’m trying to look at Michelle as entertaining. In any case, it looks like she’s going to be around a while: articulate cluelessness is the coin of the reality show realm. And you’ll never convince me they aren’t playing it to the hilt. Michelle is the Star of PR11.

The Challenge:

We’ve been having some discussion in last week’s comments about the Button Bag, and how it seems rigged. Once again, the Button Bag has magical powers, and manages to assign the partnerless Michelle to team with Layana and Patricia. Poor Michelle, the harder she tries to avoid Patricia, the more she’s pushed up against her. All by the luck of the draw, of course. And one button with a sanded edge. But though Michelle vehemently denounces Patricia’s work as utter crap, she looks at the bright side: “There’s something the judges see in her that’s magic so maybe it’ll rub off on me.”

It’s time for the old fart challenge. The politically correct term for “old” is “mature,” just fat people are “curvy.” Hey, I’m old, I’m fat, deal with it. The designers visit a dance room, where a bunch of barely-senior citizens are Dancin’ in a scene straight out of Cocoon. Amanda: “What’s the angle, are we making dance costumes?” Tu just wants to dance. And they do, until Tim enters and pairs up each designer with a “mature” lady who will play client. Again, teams play no real part in this other than to ramp up the tension and give teammates good reason to harp on each other.

Zac Posen takes the night off (maybe he doesn’t like to get too close to old people in case it’s catching) and Rachel Roy fills in. Joan Rivers tones down her Fashion Police brand of humor to serve as guest judge (I watch Fashion Police every week, but it gets tiring to hear all those vagina jokes in one place) and Melissa’s dragged along by the umbilical cord.

Brace yourselves: This was one of the worst challenges on record. There’ve been bad “real woman” challenges before, but nothing like this schlockfest. There wasn’t much in the top group that wasn’t cringe-worthy. One stood out, though it might’ve been the client modeling that shone, and another not in the top group was probably the only look of the night that someone would actually wear. I think they should’ve burned the tape, started the challenge over, and let them try again, because this was embarrassing. On the bright side, none of the clients ended up in tears.

High Scoring Teams (but don’t ask me how):

Daniel makes a badly-constructed, ill-fitting black pantsuit. His client requested a “sexy” black suit for a cruise, and this is what he came up with? The jacket closure makes no sense, and the pants are a huge expanse of belly (very flat belly, by the way; this is not a weight issue, it’s proportion). The judges focus on the asymmetric lapel and the “pop of color” both of which are fine but don’t take away from the impression of mess. Nina welcomes Daniel back, which I find hilarious; if this is “back” he should go astray again. Rachel likes the elbow, Melissa the nipped-in waist. Is that what you’re calling it, nipped in? They’re all crazy. It’s a mess.

Samantha and her client both love leopard, so that’s where she starts. The woman also just lost 30 pounds and wants to show off her arms, legs, and tattoos (which look completely fake to me but I’m no expert). She ends up with some kind of 50s party girl mess with a chartreuse satin top and a leopard skirt. The sleeves have possibilities – they aren’t just puffy sleeves, they’re constructed, but they fail. Badly. The woman looks like a crazy lady who picked up some shiny objects at the Goodwill and thinks they’re beautiful. She loves it, however. Joan calls her a menopausal kitten: “The dress says I’m not dead yet.” Heidi loves the way she walked the runway, but doesn’t like the sleeves or the use of leopard; Nina sees mixed messages with the racy vibe combined with puffy sleeves and a big floppy bow. Maybe that’s where I’m picking up crazy lady. You know, the one that has lipstick smeared all over her face? That’s what she looks like.

Stanley says “jumpsuit” and I want to cry. Not just “jumpsuit” but “strapless jumpsuit” and “bolero.” But his client seems game, and he did have a jumpsuit I didn’t hate in his portfolio. Turns out, it’s the only thing on the runway that looks like actual clothing. The client looks spectacular walking down the runway; I think the outfit benefited greatly from her wearing, because in the photos there are a few problems: it looks like she’s outgrown it. Heidi wishes the pants were longer, and the crotch isn’t perfect. Joan loves it: it’s age appropriate and sexy.

Richard focuses on comfort, and something that can be dressed up of down. What comes up with rivals what Jeffrey made for Angela’s mother (remember?) as the Worst Thing Ever Made on Project Runway. Joan likes that it’s easy and chic and shows off her legs. Heidi says she’d wear it with boots or leggings. Oh, right, that I’d like to see. Nina calls it an “interesting” silhouette that would work on many body types, but it drowns her a little. Rachel thinks it’s the most youthful of any design up there. What is wrong with these people? It’s a jersey nightgown with an unspecified band at the waist and a neckline that’s neither structured nor draped. This is not a fat woman – look at her legs – and she looks enormous. It’s what I’d wear, sure, but that should speak for itself.

Stuck in the Middle With You:

Michelle spends most of her time worrying about Patricia. Her main concern is that if her team is in the bottom, Layana’s won a challenge and been in the top, and Patricia has the judges spellbound by some mysterious force, so she’ll be the one who’s out. And that’s not a bad analysis of a more typical team setup, but in this case, they’re all making separate looks so I’m not sure that would apply. I’m surprised when she’s able to find time in between complaining about Patricia to make a pretty good dress. It didn’t impress me at all on the runway (possibly because I was so annoyed with Michelle at that point), but in the photos it looks very good and fits quite well. Their team ends up in the “safe” zone, but Heidi carefully points out that Michelle and Layana had her highest scores of the day; it was solely Patricia’s awful scores that kept them from claiming a prize. Michelle’s narrative gains Official Sanction. Patricia better sleep with one eye open.

Layana makes another relatively simple dress; I hate the second line on the hip, and I think it’s too short and too flimsy and the sleeves make it kind of goofy. I think Safe is the right place for her. It’s not the train wreck most of the “top scores” are, but it’s nothing to write home about either.

Patricia gets points for not saying “Native American” once during this episode. Or the editors get points for cutting it if she did. She’s thinking shawl; Tim’s hearing ponchostraganza: “You’re looking at me like I’m crazy.” Why, just because you made up the word “ponchostraganza?” I see nothing crazy about that. She talks about a wrap-around skirt, and Tim reminds her: “The more volume your clothes have, the more volume you have; it doesn’t hide anything.” Right on cue, it’s time for the unstable triad to turn into a dyad: ” A common behavior observed in a triad is that, in any group of three people, two of the members will often unite against the third.” It’s amazing to see social theory in action, as both Michelle and Layana start complaining about Patricia in interviews: they’re going to lose because of her, her teammates have carried her this far. Now, those comments aren’t completely unwarranted; Patricia has a tendency to go out there, beyond the bounds of what’s ok on Project Runway (textile and costume design won’t work here), and while her craft approach is impressive, it needs far more time than is available in this setting to look finished. Face it, she’s cannon fodder. However, I still enjoy seeing what she comes up with. It’s more interesting to watch than a print dress that’s a replica of every other print dress a woman of a certain age has in her closet. But it’s not by accident that these three people ended up as a triad. And, at this moment, the only triad. I’m thinking the producers were a little disappointed with the lack of fireworks. So they decided to create some. Sorry, Patricia, you’re the fuse. All that said, even Patricia realizes her poncho-shawl is horrible and she starts over in the morning. It’s clear by now she’s never made a regular garment in her life. Some people can innovate and come up with magic (hi, Rami), and some come up with high school home ec projects. But at least she started somewhere interesting.

The Lowest Scores:

Amanda shows clear signs of being an idiot. I wonder what’s wrong with me that I didn’t pick up on this before now. She doesn’t know how to get her POV across with people this age. Amanda’s POV? She hates flowers, ball gowns, and athletic garments and lives under the shadow of her famous brother. Oh, right, structure and fit. She goes for a flirty shape with an interesting neckline, but doesn’t quite get there. It’s kind of amazing what some of these people come up with. Don’t they have mothers? Grandmothers? Haven’t they ever seen an old person in real life, maybe crossing the street, or in a bank or restaurant? To her credit, she knows it’s a mess; she’s embarrassed at having made it. She was three steps behind from the start, since she bought the fabric for the print, then realized it was too flowy for the structure she wanted to make and then realized too late she hated the print. She did something truly bizarre in the back, where it looks like it was pinned for display and she forgot to take the pins out. And flutter sleeves, gee. Her client is a great sport and loves it. Rachel appreciates her use of an abstract print on a dress for a painter, but from neck to hem it’s a mistake. That pretty much sums it up. Melissa thinks she made it with whatever was in the kitchen. Nina sees it as children’s wear. When Heidi asks how they worked together, Amanda says she could’ve used more assistance from Ben, which stuns me, since he was checking with her constantly during the entire work period. What is she talking about?

Benjamin makes a party dress in shiny turquoise – what could go wrong? Well, the bodice fit before he added the sleeves, or so he claims. It sure doesn’t fit now. But you know, that’s the main issue; it’s not a terrible design. It has some degree of shape, and interesting seaming. The judges don’t see it that way, though: Rachel thinks there’s a lot wrong with the construction, beyond, I take it, the tight fit, which I agree is impossible to overlook and turns it into a mess. Nina finds the skirt lopsided. Joan thinks it’s heavy and stiff.

Tu knows he’s in trouble because his sewing was really bad. He makes a shirtdress with handkerchief hem. Again, it’s not a bad starting point, but the neckline’s a mess and the fit isn’t good. His client admits she’s a bit let down. Nina finds an overabundance of fabric swallowing her up (oh really? And this is as opposed to Richard’s look?). Heidi discovers it’s held together by the belt, which is pretty unforgivable, though not immediately obvious. Joan calls it an old-lady dress, which is probably why I don’t think it’s that bad. Kate, who I really raked over the coals for her insincerity last week, surprises me, and stands up for Tu: when she’s told she wouldn’t be in the bottom if it weren’t for Tu, she says, “That’s ok, Tu respected me and it’s the first time I’ve felt like that in this particular competition.” Of course, she’s probably lying, and she’ll take it back in her next interview, but it was a nice defense in front of the judges.

Kate works with a client who’s an interior designer and appreciates structure, texture, and lines. I didn’t like it as I watched the woman walk down the runway, but in the pictures it’s quite nice in fact; the top has some interesting construction. Nina loves the joyful, appropriate fabric. Heidi tells her she wouldn’t be in the bottom except for Tu, at which point Kate launches into her defense (above) and I take back all the mean things I said about her last week. Or at least promise to reconsider. Until she takes her defense back in an interview.

Why Not Announce No One Wins (they did it on Top Chef):

Stanley wins. With some reservations, I can get behind that. It was a complicated garment and looked great, at least from the calves up. His client deserves a lot of the credit.

It comes down to Benjamin and Amanda, and Benjamin is out. Amanda cries. He’s pretty surprised; he felt like he was just hitting his stride. But he’s going to be graceful, even though they were wrong, which is pretty artful commentary on his part. I think he’s another one who has a narrative in his head that doesn’t match reality. He seems like a decent sort, and I wish him well.

Next Week

They’re designing for the Aflac duck. And the week after, the Geico gecko. But when they let Morris the Cat in, tragedy ensues…

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12 responses to “Project Runway S11: Episode 6, Senior Fling

  1. Thanks for your recaps; they are always astute and enjoyable. I agree that Stanley’s garment was one of the few inoffensive looks on the runway this challenge. But it’s obvious he is not designing with reality in mind with this outfit. I get that it’s fashion, but hey, this is the “Real Person” challenge. What “mature” woman — or any woman — in her right mind would deliberately go out in public wearing a jumpsuit, especially one with a zipper in the back? You would have to get completely undressed just to pee. Can you imagine having to fight to unzip yourself from behind when you have to go! (And the older you get, the more “going” can be a major issue!)

  2. Your recap is spot on and witty too! I couldn’t declare a winner since no one in their right mind, “mature” senior, or young woman would wear a strapless jumpsuit with a bolero jacket, even though it was the best choice for the win this week? I’m 58, athletic, over-weight and would not be caught dead in Richards bat winged dress outside of my house. I have no friends who would wear Michelle’s floral “tablecloth” extravaganza with the “sparkle” belt.

    I wonder if the judges have ever been to the post office observing seniors in line, much less the grocery store? If they did then they would know mature women who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s can be very stylish with a modern bent. We often like to wear jewelry and are continually amazed that “kids” in their 20’s primarily listen to our rock music! In many conversations I ask to be turned on to the best of new music and still wait for the next Joni Mitchell, CSNY, or Jimi Hendrix. I thought all the models rocked with sass and attitude.

    I was disapointed with Patricia’s look this week. She can, and does, design for women of all ages. I only wish she had a few more hours on each challenge–along with the others. A friend of mine has quite a few of her clothes and each one is outstanding, timeless and I wish to own. I appreciate her stellar and inclusive attitude. She is old enough to be Michelle and Layana’s mother. You can certainly tell I am bummed the designers came up with sub-par designs. I cannot imagine that duck tape is going to cheer me up next week.

    • Hi Kitty – You’re right, the models were terrific. I thought the duck tape thing was five years ago, but I’m not really up on latest teenage trends. It can’t be worse than this week, can it?

      • Maybe we will see a strapless duck tape jumpsuit with cut outs? Prom girls like dresses with plunging neck lines AND plunging backs. A cool design could be something gothic . I would not mind seeing a Ven styled duck tape rose gown. We will see.

      • Oh, that’s good – and now my money’s on Richard to bring the crazy next week, since 1) he already channeled Ven in his casting session – I thought it looked tumor-ish – and 2) Grace Jones is his style icon.

        I have to say, all through this episode I was waiting for someone to be obnoxious, a la Ven (somehow Olivier and his boob-phobia was funny rather than offensive, and I think Jeffrey gave Angela’s mother a hard time simply because of his hatred for Angela). Either the producers gave them a strict talking-to beforehand, or it got edited out. Which was a relief. Of course, the clothes they designed said worlds about how they view old women (except for Stanley, who seems oblivious to things like bladder control issues), but that’s the fashion industry.

      • Funny thing is that when Sweet P did her prom dress in season 4, she wisely anticipated the need for and found a compromise between the girl’s desire for a really low back and the mom’s wish for a little more decorum. In fact, that was possibly the one time Sweet P was robbed of a challenge win.

  3. Hello again, Karen!

    For me, what killed it with Benjamin’s was the curved, inverted pleat at the center front of the skirt. It looked like an exterior uterus, and I couldn’t take my eyes off it—not even long enough to see the issues with the sleeves.

    And barring the unfortunate shoulder pads in the top, I quite liked Samantha’s design—and Joan’s defense of it as appropriate for a woman with a buzz cut, tattoo, and ankle bracelet. I couldn’t help but think that Heidi and Nina had a predetermined idea of what a senior woman should and would wear and were simply not ready for someone older to be edgy.

    And I also think Heidi was lying to Layana and Michelle when she said that they had her top scores and were relegated to the safe zone only because Patricia brought them down. I believe she said that in order to increase the “drammer” and exacerbate an already ugly working relationship.

    • Hi Mo – a uterus? That’s hilarious! Yeah, that’s a function of the band at the bottom of the skirt, forcing the stiff fabric to bulge the pleat out. That may be the construction issue Nina was referring to.

      I hate bright satin except in very small doses, so both he and Samantha were eyesores to me. Then again, it was a parade of eyesores to me.

      What, Heidi, lie?

  4. Yay; another smart and engaging re-cap by Karen!
    I don’t want to know where you found your road-kill-bunny
    re: Michelle’s comment, for this week’s artical. Let’s just
    say…awesome, and a whole lot of scary.
    Agree; what was so hard about a very simple dress that had
    Amanda in complete shut-down – it was kind of ridiculous.
    So were The Fake Rules of Team Points and Eliminations.
    I’m with you on the button bag; why not pan to the chip in Heidi’s hand with the designer’s name on it – wouldn’t that
    add to the momentary drama? Instead, it’s always avoided.
    Kate’s friendship with Tu is nice, if inexplicable.

    • You guys know how to boost my confidence – I’m going to bookmark these comments for those days when I feel stupid and incompetent and can’t do anything right.

      I started looking for bunny art, then thought of road kill –I think it’s hilarious someone actually crocheted a roadkill bunny – I love the bizarreness of the extremes inherent in crocheted blood. I was a little worried about it, but no one’s complained (yet).

      • I don’t know why my response came out looking like haiku;
        but I’m sure it’s something I did, it usually is.
        Oh you’ve earned your compliments, don’t ever doubt it.
        I laughed at this sad, sad bunny. Guilty.
        I blame it on what diabolical mind thought to knit this
        creature; and it perfectly fit Michelle’s remark!

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