First, Old Business:
Tim Gunn was John Oliver’s guest on The Daily Show the other night. His comments on the Pope and the NY Mayoral race are more interesting than those on PR. Though John claims to be a staunch PR viewer, I wonder if he’s been watching with the sound off: first, he claimed “There are no ‘human car crashes'” when there’s at least one every season, and this time there’s a whole car-crash circus; second, he suggests “a PR challenge on an actual runway.” Tim points out gently “We almost did that in the first challenge” and John recovers nicely with “That’s true.” Full disclosure: I have not been enjoying the John Oliver version of The Daily Show. At all.
More old business: veteran PR blogger SuzQ has an interesting report about some first-episode backstage producer shenanigans regarding Miranda.
Second, an obligation:
You know how when things get really passionate you sometimes say things you don’t mean, make promises you shouldn’t? Well, I did that during the show: I promised “a scholarly analysis of unicorns on this week’s recap.” I suppose I could wiggle out of it by saying the promise was invalid since I’m not a scholar, but that would be cheating. So here goes: the King James version of the Bible mentions unicorns nine times, and in Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (which I owned until about a month ago when I foolishly purged my bookshelves; isn’t that the way, you lug something all along the East Coast for 20 years and a month after you finally decide everything in it is available on the web anyway, you need it) Isaac Asimov, alav hashalom, explained it as a translation error of the word for “wild ox.” Lots of stuff in the Bible can be explained by translation error. Leprosy, for instance. But I was talking about unicorns (and Isaac Asimov; I still have his Guide to Shakespeare because I may have been foolhardy a month ago, but I wasn’t stupid).
The OED has the English word itself dating in English from 1225 from the Anglo-French unicorne derived from the Latin for “one + horn,” duh, but also gives the nod to the Middle English biblical “wild ox” explanation Asimov put forth much more simply. I don’t have a subscription to the online OED (but I do have a Compact OED, go figure; 24 volumes compressed into two micro-printed onionskin volumes) so you’ll have to take my word for it.
More recently, if you call the later 13th century and early 14th century recent, Marco Polo reported discovery of unicorns in Java. What he actually had there was a rhinocerous, but he’d never seen a rhino before, so he sensibly called it a unicorn. After all, the Irish Rovers didn’t release their Unicorn Song until 1967, so how could he known they didn’t make the ark?
Around 1500, a set of tapestries referred to as The Hunt of the Unicorn was created. The unicorn was in medieval times considered a symbol of Christ. In the story depicted in the tapestries, the unicorn is hunted, found, and killed, but resurrects himself in the last and most famous of the tapestries, “The Unicorn in Captivity;” this last tapestry may have been added later on to strengthen the Christ analogy, though I’m not sure why they’d put the unicorn in captivity in that case. Then again, I can barely keep up with what happens in my immediate vicinity in any present moment, let alone what some 16th century Belgian tapestry artist was thinking.
At one point in this evening’s festivities, Timothy explains the taxonomic classification of unicorns: they aren’t horses with horns, since they have cloven hoofs (which is true; they’re drawn that way on many coats-of-arms, including the official Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom; the lion represents England, the Unicorn, Scotland) so are more related to the hippopotamus. He might’ve been thinking rhino, but let’s go with hippo for argument’s sake. Hippos (whose name, to start things off on the wrong, um, foot, derives from the Greek word for “river horse”) are complicated (and a big topic of debate in kosher law, though I don’t want to think about why someone would want to know if a hippo is kosher). Some sources say they have four webbed toes, but the San Diego Zoo , which in spite of the lecherous mayor out there is a big deal in the zoo world, puts them in the order Artiodactyla (even-toed hoofed animals) and gives them four toes with a “nail-like hooves on the ends of toes.” I say the hippo debate is irrelevant: Timothy can define his unicorns any way he likes. Even if they’re more like antelopes than anything else.
And one more thing before we move on: one of my (recently discovered) favorite writers, Manuel Gonzales, included a unicorn story in his recently released extraordinary short-story collection. Gonzales’ unicorn causes a lot of discord; he foretold Timothy.
Enough already. But I look at it this way: I may never have another excuse to research unicorns. Besides, things are gonna get nasty in just a little bit; it’s nice to bring something good out of it. And I did make a promise.
And finally: Project Runway, Coney Island edition:
Heidi wakes everyone early in the morning (I’m betting a production assistant prepped them ahead of time. I mean, come on, no one really wears a sleep mask with that much gooey white cream under it like that, do they?) and takes them to Coney Island where they meet Yogurt Guy. Yes, they found a way to work yogurt into the Coney Island unconventional materials challenge. For the right promotional fee, they’ll work a funeral home into the Real Women challenge. Oh my… no, I’m not gonna go there. Sure I am… design a funeral outfit for these women with terminal cancer, to match the caskets they’ve chosen. And someone will say, “At least they’re all thin” and the Interwebs will explode. You think it can’t happen? Just wait, it’ll show up in Season 13. You heard it here first, folks – and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Maybe I’ve jumped the shark myself.
What’s really shocking to me this week is that $100 buys unlimited access to Coney Island. Isn’t that kind of steep? I thought Coney Island was a place everyone went, not an East Coast Disneyland. Or am I still stuck in the 1950s? That was, after all, the last time I lived in New York, and since I was only 5 at the time, I don’t remember it, except that for the next decade I talked about the huge waves at Jones Beach, which probably were regular-sized waves that just seemed huge to a 5-year-old.
The yogurt isn’t important (though the commercial with people gathering in porta-potties to eat yogurt is fascinating; isn’t that Jamie Lee Curtis’ territory?) so I’m not going to try to explain it. They go to the arcade to win prizes that will serve as the unconventional materials for the challenge. Yes, it’s a team challenge, with Tim picking the teams out of the Button Bag. Yes, people who hate each other are teamed up. And yes, they think someone out here still believes the button bag isn’t rigged.
Each team of two designers will do one look; it can be anything as long it goes with their yogurt words, but the words are glossed over (heh heh, get that, glossed over? Never mind…). It’s a one-day challenge, which is disappointing. Kelly Osborne is guest judge. Things got very, very nasty. But the right dress won, and the right person went home, and I can watch future episodes without all the anxiety. I don’t care who gets reamed out from now on.
The Brass Rings (Top Two):
Kate and Helen hated each other in the first episode; flashback to Helen calling Kate a bitch. But sometimes things work out; they’re the happiest people in the room. They get a lot of red sombrero, Kate watches someone cut the genitals off a large stuffed animal (which is scarier, that an oversized carnival prize could have genitals, or that someone might visualize cutting off imaginary genitals?) and they couldn’t be happier; Helen regrets her earlier snide remarks and Kate sees them as a sorority. Kate of course makes a corset. Helen squashes a sombrero flat. Their look is gorgeous. It’s clearly the sharpest, most polished thing on the runway by several miles. The judges use words like sculpture, art piece, high fashion, tailored, refined, dramatic. Kelly thinks it’s something a lot of girls would fight to wear (I agree). Zac calls it sombrero Saturn chic which I don’t quite understand, but that’s ok. Heidi asks who would get the win, and Kate, in a Good Witch state of mind, gives it to Helen: Kate’s all about structure and fit, Helen contributed a lot of artistic flair where Kate would’ve gone realistic. Helen heartily agrees with that assessment.
Dom and Alexandria want to do a playful, energetic garment; Alexandria suggests a sweater dress. They tell Tim they’re doing Japanese street culture; Tim sees eyes and a mouth, and by golly, he’s got it… he seems dubious. Alexandria suddenly becomes a nice person; she loves Dom, she wants another team project. Their look is adorable, but the plush is just a bit too thick for the proportions. And by the way, it’s the very definition of “junior.” Still, it’s striking: the judges were smiling as the model walked, and I was smiling at home watching. I smile whenever I look at the image. The judges use words like happy, inventive, fun, casual, adorable. Nina calls it an Instagram moment, the Spirit of Coney Island. Dom defers the win to Alexandria. Such cooperation.
Plastic Glo-in-the-Dark Rings (safe zone):
Sue and Sandro end up together; Sue thinks it’ll be fun, he makes her laugh. Turns out, she makes him mean. He berates her for the entire episode: “Don’t touch that you’re going to make a mistake” and “You don’t f*ing understand” were the only specific lines I caught. This seems to be a pattern, Sandro going off on someone for undefined reasons. Sue: “Working with Sandro is less fun than I expected.” We got that, girl. Finally Sue just crumbles and decides to just do whatever he says, which is what bullies and a**hats count on. I typed, “I want to kill him.” That isn’t the sort of thing I normally type in recap notes. It isn’t the sort of thing I normally even think. Their look is pretty much what you’d expect from the Unconventional Materials challenge, but it isn’t bad at all, though I don’t understand why the model is holding up a few layers in the front. They’re Safe, so they wait backstage, at which point Sandro utters the words that make him America’s Most Hated Russian since Stalin: “She said ‘I’ll be your assistant’ and that was genius. When women listen to me, that’s so cool.” Now I want to kill him slowly.
Jeremy and Ken have been pretty invisible in this season. Ken gripes about a second Unconventional Materials challenge, since he hates unconventional materials. Jeremy’s trying to win prizes in sophisticated colors, which is quite a challenge at an amusement park. It’s a very nice look, though I’m not sure about the difference in colors between top and bottom; Jeremy points out it’s not a fantasy or a work of art but modern, wearable fashion.
Braden and Karen also fade into the background this week. Tim tells he doesn’t see anything remotely like it in the room; it’s exciting; it’s leading his imagination. What it is, is Ven’s rose skirt, with a stuffed animal on the shoulder. Ven ruined pleated roses for all time.
Booby Prizes (Bottom Two):
Alexander and Justin are thinking playful, going along just fine with a simple but respectable dress, but when Tim walks through, suddenly Alexander worries it’s borderline junior. Tim suggests adding another piece without making it look silly. They do add the other piece, but unfortunately, it goes right through silly into preposterous. It’s easily the ugliest thing on the runway. Zac sees too much going on, and none of it good: kelp on the bottom, dorsal fins on her hips. Heidi calls it over-bedazzled. Nina thinks they got stuck between fun/kitsch and chic/glam and overworked it. when they take off the jacket however… wow. It’s a nice dress. Zac has them take the “erasers” off her hips, and suddenly, it’s a really nice dress. “Edit” becomes the word of the day (or at least the minute). On Closer Look, Tim admits he told them to add more, though he probably didn’t imagine they’d add kelp and dorsal fins and erasers. When asked who should go home, they won’t pick. Good for them. But I don’t think they have anything to worry about. Because we’ve still got…
Miranda and Timothy. First, the fun stuff: Timothy wins a giant stuffed unicorn prize at the arcade. Ok, end fun stuff (went by quick, didn’t it?) and play that augmented fourth chord again: it’s about to get nasty. Miranda has a lot of trouble making up her mind. First she doesn’t want to work with T, there’s “bad blood” between them (boy, would I like to know more about that). Then as they walk through Coney Island, she tells him “I know I’ve been stressed out and bitchy but I’d rather work with you than anyone else because I know we work well together.” Somehow she walks away for a minute and Timothy “redesigned everything.” I have no idea what actually happened, but that’s how she saw it. On walkthrough, Tim thinks it’s hospital-gowney, Disney, and craft-y, and Miranda begins her decline into insanity. Timothy: “Just because he does a negative critique doesn’t mean our project is bad.” Um, Timothy, I’m on your side, man, I stand proudly with you, but yeah, that’s exactly what a negative critique means. Miranda goes into a serious tailspin, and in the sewing room starts a truly cruel campaign of ridicule. What do I mean by “truly cruel?” So cruel Helen lectures her about team efforts. So cruel that Sandro, Mr. Sensitivity, tries to reel her in, or at least points out that Timothy has entered the room where she’s making fun of him (before he joins in the laughter and after he encourages her to let him have it, that is). This goes beyond the usual reality TV drama; this was sadism. Yes, I’ve been known to poke fun at some people; I’ve poked fun at Timothy, in fact. But please tell me I haven’t done that to anyone. I feel like Henry Wiggen in Bang the Drum Slowly: “From now on, I rag no one.” Except, of course, I will, but I’ll always have Timothy sitting on my shoulder when I do, asking me if it’s truly necessary, or if I’m just making myself seem clever at someone else’s expense. Say what you want about Timothy, but he’s had an impact on me. Shocked by the humiliation, he takes his unicorn prize and a letter his model wrote him – his model wrote him an encouraging letter, how sweet is that, something about him moved her to do that – and sits in a corner crying and reading the letter. I’m just praying the producers staged this, because the alternative is just to horrible to consider. Miranda has a call-to-Jesus moment, accepts responsibility for her behavior, and apologizes, though I’m not sure she uses the words “I’m sorry,” but things are patched up and they go on. By the runway show, Miranda loves their look. It should come as no surprise, however, that it’s not good (for it to be otherwise would ruin the story line they’ve carefully crafted for this episode), but I don’t think it’s worse than Justin and Alexander’s outfit. Still, I won’t argue the point. Other than the color, I like the jacket, which was Timothy’s creation (and yes, I may be showing bias), and I like the back of the dress. I strongly disagree with the scorn heaped on it by the judges: phrases like pool toy, life vest, toxic biohazard. As the inquisition wears on, Miranda goes back to complaining about Timothy, particularly his running out of the workroom for two hours after she (admittedly) humiliated him with all possible force. He, however, doesn’t help matters when he wishes he’d been working with a better designer. And something about the Titanic needing lifeboats. I can’t watch this episode again – it’s as painful to me as Team Luxe vs. Michael Costello take-down from S8 – so I’m not sure what that was about. See, I understand Timothy. He gets these associations that don’t make sense to anyone else, and he says them out loud before he’s really processed them to make them more comprehensible. In that, he’s much like Zin: he’s unedited. Self-editing is something he can learn to use when appropriate, to fill in the gaps so others can follow. Or he can just hang out with people who are willing to fill in the gaps themselves, or live with the gaps. I’m fine with gaps. And unicorns. If you’re not, it’s your loss.
The Most Foregone Conclusions in the History of Project Runway:
Helen of Team Kate & Helen wins.
Timothy is out. I’m relieved; this is not his venue. I don’t have to steel myself to watch Project Runway any more. “I won’t stop believing in unicorns ever,” he says, as he packs his unicorn and goes. I hope not, Timothy. I’ll make you a deal: you don’t stop believing in unicorns, and I won’t stop believing in you.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, apparently someone I’m supposed to know, is guest judge for the bow-tie challenge. And we finally get to Sandro threatening the camera with physical violence.