Didn’t I just do this? Yes, I did. But it’s time for another round, starting next Thursday.
This season’s innovations make more sense than teams: More Tim Gunn (who gets one “rescue” vote, guaranteeing a shock boot at some point), and closer inspection of garments. I approve. Hey, I’ll approve of anything: it’s the Season of Ironic Distance for me. One hour challenges? Blindfolded judging? Go for it, I’ll take it all in stride. This summer has been so depressing, aside from one glimmer of a rainbow and a pair of running shoes, I’ve shut down a bit. At least until the first crack-pipe decision.
They’ll also be adding a past losing designer, chosen by popular vote (uh huh) to the mix: oddly, I approve of that, too, except I thought that was what All-Stars was for. Dishing them out in small doses is a much better idea. The choices were Ra’mon, Valerie, and Kate. That’d be terrific if anyone could remember who they are, so here are some hints: Ra’mon is the one from the Lost S6 (the one no one watches on reruns, so that’s why we don’t remember him) who dyed the neoprene dress in the toilet (and Tim Gunn was so outraged that it won, he bought it for Nina when it went on auction). Valerie is Cray-Cray from Evil S8, and she was a model for S10E3 Emmy challenge that Ven and Kenley won. Kate… Kate… pancakes come to mind… yes, Kate Pankoke, who couldn’t believe what was being done to her but came back for another round. Since she’s the most recent (and the most impolitic), she’s probably the favorite, but the neoprene dress could take it from behind.
For the new cast, we’ve got the usual blend of cannon fodder and interesting oddballs mixed in with genuine contenders. I have a terrible track record of predicting the outcomes of these things, so I’m not even going to try. Ironic Distance, remember? Someone might need to remind me of that around Episode 4 or 5, which is when things usually go off the rails.
Alexander Pope (38, Queens NY) has some plusses – he likes opera and Charlotte Bronte, and his website‘s incredibly slick – and some minuses – he hopes they don’t do overweight or old people, for god’s sake. He seems a bit obsessed with weight, in fact, judging from the fact I know he has a 26″ waist (he announced it in his closet tour video). His style is dramatic (he’s a costume designer, comes from a “family of actors”) and he likes to use upholstery fabric. It’s great stuff – not sure what he’s going to do with the ready-to-wear that’s become the staple of PR. He reminds me of Austin. I’ve been watching this show too long – everyone reminds me of someone.
Alexandria von Bromssen (38, San Francisco via Sweden) was a model/advertisement assistant at TIME (TIME has models?) before she finished her MFA and became a designer/boutique owner. Seems to like slash/jobs. She didn’t make the PR cast five years ago, but “they reached out” to her this time. She seems versatile – lingerie, a few gowns, jackets, sharp modern-edge sportswear. And they do love sharp, modern-edge sportswear – but twice in a row?
Angela Bacskocky (33, Richmond VA) likes Oscar Wilde and The Scarlet Letter, sang in a rock band, and loves to wear Gretchen’s grandpa sweater. No, not Gretchen’s own personal grandpa sweater, but a “grungy, oversized old man sweater” owned by her own grandfather. PR recruited her off her Kickstarter campaign. She trained and worked for a time in Europe, but her clothing seems pretty unremarkable to me, with faint Michelle overtones; maybe it’s the color, that drab yellow. Love the wild-woman photography, though it doesn’t seem to go with the clothes.
Bradon McDonald (38, LA), a 2012 FIDM grad (he was an upscale modern dancer before) won my heart with 1) his appreciation of Purcell, and 2) his hilarious answer to the routine “Can you win?” interview question: “There is a very slight chance that I could win, as long as the other 15 designers are blind and/or quit the show before the finale.” Unfortunately, I think he’s right: he does a lot of pleating, some of which is terrific, and some of which is… not. What’s really cool is that his website includes production cost information on his garments in Excel spreadsheets, the kind of detail I’ve always wished PR would include in their “production look” episode.
Dom Streater (24, Philadelphia) likes birds. Halcyons, specifically. That’s why she used that name for her line. I’ll be honest: I didn’t know there was a halcyon bird (a kingfisher, like that helps). I just knew about the adjective. And the drug. For that matter, I had a shrink named Halcyon once. Aside from some interesting hoodie suits, her portfolio doesn’t seem outstanding, but at least she reads (Tim O’Brien, Anthony Burgess; those are not names you pull out of your hat to sound smart).
Helen Castillo (25, NJ) seems to like strategically placed lace and appliques (which remind me a bit of Samantha Black’s final collection from last year, and Daniel DeFranco’s lingerie). She has a unique way of phrasing her answers to the interview questionnaire: “Describe your family: Living mother…” Weaknesses as a designer: “Criticism for the way I look instead of acknowledging design strength.” In other words, don’t mention her tattoos. We’ll see.
Jeremy Brandrick (41, NY via London) is the only person I’ve ever known claim “Empire of the Sun” as a favorite movie, but he is British. He’s London-trained (after a couple of false starts in architecture and interior design), worked for D&G in Milan, did casual menswear for a while, and is now doing bridal; I prefer his menswear. I don’t see anything super-creative, but he’s trained, he can sew, and he’s versatile. He’s got kids, so I’m sure we’ll be treated to a lot of teary Skypes.
Justin LeBlanc (27, North Carolina) has an architecture background, shades of Laura Bennett; he now teaches at the NCSU College of Design; and oh by the way he’s deaf. Or at least he was deaf until he got his cochlear implant. He’s a Palahniuk fan, which could go either way. He has some interesting textures and shapes, all very architectural, going for him, but as always the question on PR is: can he throw together a waitress uniform in six hours?
Kahindo Mateene (34, Chicago via Democratic Republic of the Congo) likes bright colors, which is always nice to see when so many designers favor black. She’s a reader, too – so many readers this season – Adichie and the Twilight books, now there’s a combination you don’t see every day. She didn’t make the cast the first three times she auditioned, but they encouraged her to try again, so here she is. I like that her line, Modahnik, is an anagram of her first name. And last initial.
Karen Batts (29, Queens NYC) likes the word “amazo” which immediately makes me nervous. She also likes Gatsby, Jane Austen, and Malcolm Gladwell, which, oddly, also makes me nervous (sounds a little too self-consciously “literary” to me, but I could be wrong). She has an odd combination of (rather nice) denim-ish print mixed with (less nice) bright color block on the same runway; the juxtaposition confuses me, but a lot of things confuse me, and I’m more worried about “amazo.”
Ken Laurence (24, Birmingham AL) says he was “Goal-driven, nasty attitude and very outspoken” as a kid. Now, he’s only goal-driven and outspoken. He doesn’t seem nasty at all in his home visit video. His personal style includes a lace sweater (“the pattern makes it masculine”) and color chinos. Oh, and a mirror obsession, but maybe only in home design. He does some interesting things with shapes and shoulders, but he does a lot of less-interesting things with houndstooth and ruffles, too.
Miranda Levy (29, NYC via WI) spent eight years as a mechanic in the military; uniforms were a way of life before they influenced her classic post-WWII designs. She seems to be playing Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin on her home page. Her biggest fear isn’t failure (or the grander “I have no fears”) but rather, sewing over her finger with a sewing machine. Now there’s a fear everyone can understand. This was her third audition; it looks like she can sew, so I wonder what took so long. Maybe they were saving her? She sounds interesting; if she turns out to be a jerk, well, I’ll (ironically) pretend this paragraph never existed.
Sandro Masmanidi (28, NY via Russia) has a fake Faberge egg and hopes some day to get a real one. He likes beading on female skin. He’s eye candy out of central casting, complete with the half-exposed chest. He could be completely adorable, but it’s a fine line between charm and smarm. Still, his favorite authors are Chekhov and Dante, so I’m going to hope for the best. Looks like he can sew, but he tends a little towards cheesy, with lots of open crochet and lace. Obviously, he can’t possibly win; Belarus is too close to Rus, and Dmitri wasn’t that long ago.
Sue Waller (45, Brooklyn) doesn’t know who her favorite past PR designer is, because she doesn’t watch TV. That’s a really good sign right there, eh? Does she understand the one-day challenge means she has about six hours to make a complete garment? She’s a little old to play hipster, but she pulls it off with a lot of confidence. Her favorite colors are gunmetal grey, greyish greens, and dark greys. Hey, at least it’s not black. She does a lot of leather, and very fine pleating; her photos remind me of fingerprints which is seriously cool, but I’m not sure how they play in real life.
Timothy Westbrook (24, Milwaukee) was last year’s Pfister Hotel Artist-In-Residence, which is… I have no idea but it sounds cool. He weaves fabrics out of plastic bags and cassette tape. He’s a figure skater and might be the only PR designer ever mentioned on the Smithsonian blog – did it have to be for sequins? – but he’s awfully young and other than a couple of ten-year-old prom dresses, there’s no evidence he’s made clothes at all.
The usual blend of types, specialties, and personalities all chosen to allow the pre-selected Winner to rise to the top, kicking some upstart to the curb if necessary to allow Nina to feature a suitable magazine spread. I’m betting cassette tape, bright colors, and houndstooth don’t stand a chance. Uniforms or architectural shapes might just work. And you can never count out a good grandpa sweater. Though I’ll never understand why.