Last Rites for CNN

Image by The Young Turks

Image by The Young Turks

CNN died this week.

Boy, did they blow it when on Wednesday they reported the fictitious arrest of a suspect who at that point hadn’t even been identified. But that isn’t even my biggest complaint about the television news media’s performance this week.

I follow very few Twitter accounts: 39 at the moment. My elected representatives. My local paper. A few political commentators I like. A couple of fun things. And a bunch of writers and literary magazines. So on Monday, when I suddenly had 30 new tweets in a few minutes, I figured something was up. And it was: an explosion at the Boston Marathon. A serious explosion.

The first question in this situation is always: Is everyone I know and love safe? I had no friends or family at the event, so I was spared that particular anguish.

I turned on the TV. Here’s what I wanted to know:

What happened?
Who did this?
Why?
Are people still in danger?

Instead, on MSNBC I heard a terrorism expert talking about… I don’t even know what he was talking about, but it had nothing to do with what I wanted to know at that moment. On CNN, I heard an on-site reporter, audibly nervous now that she was in the middle of a crisis instead of covering a recreational event, call in to say she was in a locked-down business and couldn’t see anything and had no access to any official. Then Wolf Blitzer used the T-word.

I turned the TV off and went back to Twitter, where the real information was.

I knew that – I lived in Boston for nearly twenty years – but if you’re not from New England, you might not, and it seemed an important detail. Don’t call your sister’s office; she’s not there.

That gave me a good summary of the situation; it was accurate, factual, and included what wasn’t known, inviting me to wait for an update when accurate information was available. And it wasn’t necessary to repeat it over and over and over to fill up hours of live coverage.

But the real difference was in the amount of information that was actually helpful:

This was all useful information, especially for people more closely involved than I, who had totally different needs for information. If CNN had been airing this kind of information, instead of useless reporters saying nothing just to avoid dead air – for that matter, if they’d just shut up for a few minutes and aired video with similar helpful chyrons from local officials – I wouldn’t have turned off my TV in favor of Twitter.

Maybe it’s different on Twitter if you follow hundreds or thousands of people. I’ve never understood how it’s possible to do that; it’s all I can do to keep up with thirty-nine. Or are you not supposed to actually pay attention to individual tweets? I’m a Twitter newbie, maybe I’m doing it wrong. And Twitter isn’t without it’s difficulties: in the middle of a crisis, previously scheduled items – whether an innocuous joke or even a perfectly fine book promotion – are annoying at best. And any idiot can set up a fake account and pretend to be anyone. But on Monday I became convinced of one thing: in a crisis, for breaking news, Twitter is better than CNN or MSNBC. The news people have become irrelevant now that we have direct access to the people with actual information.

For some reason I didn’t watch the networks on Monday; maybe that was different. I found the NBC coverage of the last phase of the Friday Night Standoff to be uninformative (since there was nothing to report until they took the guy into custody), but also unoffensive, whereas on MSNBC, Chris Matthew lost any credibility he may have still had when he asked the former FBI and AFT agents who were his interviewees if the FBI could determine the ethnicity of the suspect from the photograph, to see if he was “from Yemen or something.” Even the MSNBC segments hosted by Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow, two of my favorite people in the world, annoyed me with irrelevance and the need to parade a constant stream of speculating experts.

But Twitter worked for me just fine. From now on, my breaking-crisis-news source is Twitter. It’s the death of CNN. And that’s kind of sad.

Remember how CNN started? Not the date they went on the air, which was way back in the 80s, but when they really came into their own, in January 1991 when Bernard Shaw and Peter Arnett watched the start of the war live, up close, and personal from their hotel room. Today, that doesn’t seem like much. In fact, war correspondents have been covering combat since before WWI, and some of us grew up watching the Vietnam war on the evening news. But this was the first time we’d watched the start of a war, live, on tv.

But they’ve turned into something else, and they’re not really useful for breaking news any more. That doesn’t mean they’re useless, of course. It’s my go-to channel when I have 15 minutes to kill and have idle curiosity about what’s going on in the world. Fareed Zakaria has his moments on GPS. And I never miss Howard Kurtz and Media Matters, though it’s frequently just a way to poke competitors in the eye and call it “media analysis.”

The problem with 24-hour-news is, you have to have 24 hours’ worth of news. Or repeat the same news over and over, every hour. Or turn not-news into news. And when over time you end up with a bunch of competitors, you have to do that flashier, sexier, and above all – first. You end up with Wolf Blitzer holding a pressure cooker because props are good TV. You end up reporting the fictitious arrest of a suspect not yet even identified. Compared to that, the misreporting they did on the Supreme Court decision last June was a trifle.

Maybe it’s all about cutting costs, or about ratings, about replacing actual journalists with on-air talent who test well with focus groups. But it’s how you become something I watch when I have nothing else to do, instead of the place I go when something happens. It’s how you become airport news.

I tend to lag behind the curve. I didn’t get cable TV until 1992 (I saw the Gulf War reporting at a friend’s house). I only got high-speed internet a year and a half ago, for pete’s sake. And I just started using Twitter this year. So maybe I’m the only one who wasn’t aware that cable news, as news (as opposed to issues discussion and political commentary) was dead.

But I know it now.

Project Runway S11: Episode 13 – Finale, Part I

Given the real-life tragedy that unfolded this week (and the real-life drama, affecting people I know, that is still unfolding as I type this), Project Runway seems pretty far away and pretty trivial. But I’m sure it isn’t trivial to the four designers who see all those prizes (regardless of the strings attached) in their grasp. And I made a commitment.

You know what happens: Home visits. The awkward back-to-New-York reunion (no, I won’t revisit the “21-year-old” remark, and Daniel shouldn’t have, either) complete with close-up of the champagne bottle to compensate for its donation (if the company had chipped in a few bucks, someone would’ve mentioned what fine champagne it was, but seems they did the bargain product placement rate). Final touches to the collections with the help of the eliminated designers (including a pregnant Layana, which was a surprise). The parade of the mini-collections. One designer is eliminated.

Still want details? Ok.

Michelle:

Michelle comes home feeling alone and misunderstood. Oh, can it. I pronounced Michelle the Star of PR back in Episode 6, and that was before I even liked her clothes. Hers has been the classic Rising Arc with Late-Stage Crisis and Recovery; she’d have to do something truly nuts to get eliminated at this point.

Tim greets her in Portland and blows the myth of separation of workroom and judging out the window: “I was in there with Heidi saying, she has to stay” during Michelle’s Dark Period. I think any question about Michelle’s continued participation in the competition was purely for viewer consumption. During the traditional Family Feast she explains she was in “the line industry” (I think that’s what she said; later she said she did alterations, so is that the line industry?[Addendum: thanks to Kitty for setting me straight: the wine business]) for ten years, and only got her first dress form four years ago when her family pitched in for her Christmas present.

Her collection was raised by wolves. No, make that, inspired by wolves. The Lone Wolf, in fact, because wolves are misunderstood, they’re described as bloodthirsty but they’re really loving pack animals. And every West Wing fan – fourteen years after S1E5, “The Crackpots and These Women” first aired – jumped up and down yelling, “Pluie! Pluie!” Tim’s enchanted by her work-in-progress.

Zip forward to New York: On the runway, Michelle shows a coat with two saddlebags on the hips and a messenger in the back (wow, that’s a lotta stuff she’s carrying), a steampunk suit I like more than I want to (though I’m never, ever gonna wear a neoprene skirt, no matter what), and her wolf-running-in-circles sweater over pants with detachable chaps. Aside from the chaps and the too-many bags, I really like everything. Zac asks about techniques, probably just to get it out there how many she used: quilting, leather, detachable elements, and knitwear, with early eliminee, knitwear expert, and my personal crush this season, Joseph Aaron Segal, providing assistance in creating the sweater. Nina praises her use of resources. There’s a certain satisfaction in that, and a certain irony. Heidi wishes it had more color, but likes it. Zac credits her with creating a universe and making a riff on kooky proportions work. Everyone warns her not to call the side bags saddlebags since they sit on the hips. And, by the way, maybe three bags is overkill. Ya think? Nina’s happy, but warns her to edit it down, to get away from things being too tricky. And they hate the hair and makeup.

Patricia:

As she’s leaving New York for Taos to prepare her collection, she tells Michelle she’s not planning on making all her own textiles, since that wouldn’t make reproduction feasible. That’s a very reasonable plan, actually. Only problem is, Patricia hasn’t shown a whole lot of depth outside of doing interesting things with textiles.

Tim climbs the ladder up to her childhood home for lunch with her parents and sister. After, as he leads her away to visit her studio, Patricia’s mom starts to cry, and Tim becomes Tim again: “What’s going on here, I’m not taking you off to some awful place, this is a happy time.” Turns out, Mom’s just proud. Thing is – we’ve been hearing all along, and she says it again now, how her family is all singers and dancers and she makes their performance garments… but we see no singing, no dancing, no costumes. Not even pictures. Cool house, though.

The studio space, in contrast, is very modern. She’s making a cape with horsehair tassels, a dress inspired by trees, and is working on painting fabric about the face of youth. Tim offers some good advice about the fabric: when she takes literal themes to an abstract level, it works; when it’s as literal as the painted fabric, it becomes “crafty” and looks like student work. It’s nice artwork, though; not for high fashion, but it’d be cool for interior design of spaces intended for kids.

In New York, Tim worries about one of the pieces she’s picked for the mini-collection: a blue-and-white handpainted leather shirt. He thinks it looks lumberjacky, like a man’s shirt. I thought it was a man’s shirt. I thought it was kind of strange she included what amounts to a camp shirt in a collection like this, but I seldom understand what designers do; apparently I was right. He hates the fit of the shorts, too, and I’m with him there. So’s Patricia; she sends out a different look.

So what the judges see is the blue dress with micaceous sequins, easily my favorite piece; the horsehair tassled cape which just feels too studiedly-western to me; and an empire-waisted eagle feather dress that’s kind of meh to me.

We already know the judges don’t like human hair; how do they feel about horsehair? Heidi likes it; Nina doesn’t; Zac never specifies, he’s too enchanted by the Tina Turner Smurf on the first model’s head. Still, he’s worried about the excessive diversity of the collection. These judges are tough, man. Your looks can’t be too much alike, nor can they be too different. But he’s right; this fails the old “would the same woman wear these three looks” test. Nina wants everything restyled, especially the TTSmurf. But Zac points out it’s great to have too much, because you can always edit down. I’m not sure editing down is the point here. Patricia’s idea of cohesiveness lies in that all the silhouettes are “festive,” which seems pretty weak to me.

Daniel:

Daniel comes to the door to greet Tim and I missed the rest of the segment trying to figure out what the hell that was on his head. I’m confused. Is it a wig? Is it what happens when he doesn’t Brylcreem his hair down? Why is he tilting his head to look out from under the bangs instead of just cutting them or getting them the hell out of his face? I’m trying to think who he reminds me of, but I can’t place it. Addendum: Got it – Adam Sandler in Reign Over Me. Or Dylan. It’s easy to confuse the two. But neither is easily confused with Daniel, who just looks weird. Even Tim says he looks like a Chia Pet.

Ok, wait, focus. Project Runway. Fashion design. Daniel tells Tim his inspirations are Salvador Dali, the nebulas around planets, and Berlin.

First: I hate to be a nitpicker, and I’m not claiming to be an expert in astronomy, but I’m not sure “the things around planets” is the best way to describe a nebula. Second, how do those three things relate? This isn’t helped by the fact that a few hours before I just happened to watch an old episode of Chopped featuring a contestant being inspired by sea urchin to make “Salvador Dalí’s spring afternoon sea urchin feast.” But that at least made sense, since Dali was publicly fond of sea urchin (and I gave the chef credit for knowing such an arcane thing; the judges, however, were not as impressed, as they consider themselves to be the stars of the show and resented anyone showing a higher degree of cleverness than that which they themselves are capable). Wow, I’m digressing again, huh? It’s ok, Daniel, like CNN, is irrelevant at this point. He would’ve been much better off to have been cut last week.

So back to nebulae, Salvador Dali, and Berlin. Tim doesn’t get it, either. Daniel (who, when he isn’t wearing a chia pet wig, does bear something of a resemblance to the artist, though it’s probably just the mustache) explains how he molded the collar of the leather jacket in the heat of the sun with his bare hands, which sounds pretty cool; is that how it’s done? Tim brings out the monkey house story again, the one he used to (unsuccessfully) dissuade Chris March from using human hair.

In New York, Daniel says “sting ray” four hundred and seventy eight times. So that’s why this episode is two hours long. I never realized you could make clothes out of sting ray. Or that you’d want to, for any reason other than saying, “Hey, I made this out of sting ray.”

His mini-collection is entirely black, which is never a good sign. He presents ill-fitting cropped pants with a jacket that reminds me of a cross between the first jacket he made in E1 and Daniel Franco’s losing attempt at lingerie; a sweater I like a lot, but paired with ordinary pants, it’s not that impressive; and a black gown whose sole feature of interest is a strip of sting ray running down the back. They rake him over the coals. Zac informs us all of the difficulty of sewing with sting ray (aha, so it is something people actually use… which still doesn’t tell me why, other than… but I already said this). Still, it isn’t sophisticated. Nina doesn’t see shape or drama needed to pull off all-black. Heidi’s overwhelmed; “And I like you!” Yeah, when someone who likes you is underwhelmed, you’re in trouble.

Stanley

His inspiration is renaissance Spain. Tim labels the issue of the cape covering the fabulous dress as “a high class problem.” The orange dress, however, is more of a regular problem problem. But overall, he pronounces it opulent, which worries me. PR is more about – say it with Heidi – young and hip. He tells Stanley he’s the one the other designers are worried about; that seems to surprise Stanley, who thought he was “the quiet horse.”

For whatever reason, Stanley shows up in New York with pattern pieces instead of completed garments for some of his looks. I didn’t get if this was his plan, or if he started in a new direction and didn’t have time to finish. It’s a strange approach; there’s always finishing and fitting to be done, but usually they start with basically completed garments. Tim advises him to show more skin, because his collection is looking “mature,” the most hated word in the fashion industry. Stanley doesn’t know what he’s talking about: it’s fall, who shows skin in fall? That sounds like an incredibly naïve comment for a designer with his experience to make. That’s the sort of thing I’d say.

His runway pieces include a jacket and blouse (I’d wear those; that’s a bad sign) over pants, a horrible garish-yet-frumpy gold dress, and a jacket I love over a skirt set that’s my favorite thing on the runway – but together they cancel each other out. Heidi has the same problem she had with Daniel: not enough ideas, no wow. Zac calls it “chic banal;” the proportions are dated. Nina sees some special pieces, but wants more sexiness. That’s Nina who wants more sexiness, not Heidi, who thinks short and tight are right up there with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

So Who Goes to Fashion Week?

Trick question! They all go to Fashion Week, as well as all the assistants. The real question is: who are the actual three finalists?

Michelle, Patricia, and Stanley. So I was off by one; I thought Layana would be there, not Patricia. I still don’t get why Patricia’s there, but I gave up caring about things like that quite some time ago.

Bye, Daniel. I’ll always think of you whenever I see Salvador Dali by the light of a nebula in Berlin.

Next Week:

I will be very grateful for a long, well-deserved rest from all things PR.

Project Runway SII: Episode 12 – Europe, Here We Come

Tim is here to make things perfectly clear: No one is going home.

Ever? Will they spend eternity in the bowels of Parsons?

No. They’re going to Europe (except for Michelle) for one day to get inspiration and $1000 worth of fabric. And for some reason, the assistants – the eliminated designers – will be going with them. I can see the thought bubble over Patricia’s head: “How can I arrange for Richard to miss the plane?” But even Heidi has some mercy: they switch up the assistants.

It’s a low-drama episode, full of oohing and aahing over torn paper and pleather. Hey, don’t ask me, I’m not a designer.

Michelle:

As T-Bone predicted in last week’s comments, she’s being punished for defying Nina’s instructions yet still making the best-looking outfit on the runway last week (right up there with Don’t Bore Nina should be, Don’t Make Nina Look Like a Fool) so she stays behind in NYC with only Tu to keep her company. She’s pretty weepy about that, and the pity party gets old pretty fast. It’s raining when she heads out for inspiration and fabric, which cleanses negative feelings and washes her wounds. Her words, not mine; I couldn’t write that with a straight face. Some half-demolished New York buildings have soot on the exposed chimney walls, and that’s her inspiration. Rain. Soot. Anybody got any Paxil? She loves having a whole $1000 to spend, so she gets cashmere and diarrhea-brown leather (again, her words), because, well, who wouldn’t.

The globe trotters return, and Michelle sulks. They all had a wonderful experience and bonded without her! Michelle, you do understand they were in separate cities, and the only bonding was on the ride to and from the airport? She still Does Not Want To Be Touched. I actually am sympathetic about that; I don’t like to be touched by people I’m not close to, though I would imagine by now she’s become fairly close to these folks, at least the ones she slept in the same room with. Maybe she needs to go stand in the rain and wash her wounds a little more.

She’s making a tailored grey wool cashmere dress with a leather bib. She describes it thusly: “A reversible quilted leather breastplate.” “Armor.” “Avant turd laminated chest plate.” “Bondage and lobster eating gear.” This cheers her up. I’m fascinated by her coprological obsession. Then, because it’s not quite shitty enough, she ombre’s the hem with fabric paint, to capture the chimney soot. “Soot it up,” Tim encourages her. Here’s the problem: it’s pretty amazing; the leatherwork is astonishing (though I don’t care for the bondage straps in the back). The soot, well, you need to know it’s an artistic statement – remember that – and not just the hem of the skirt getting dragged through the mud, but it’s very apocalyptic, and it fits her portrayal of the Wounded Warrior. Nina loves it; it’s a comeback, she captured the city. John loves how the cashmere walked and the unexpected combination with the shine of the leather, which is pretty sophisticated fashion analysis for a musician; does he have a line of his own? Zac sees New York. Heidi sees a dirty horse blanket. Heidi’s going to lose this one; once again, Michelle has the most interesting thing on the runway.

Stanley:

He and Richard do London. Stanley’s perfected the art of not paying any attention to someone without being rude. So have I, it seems, since I didn’t take a single note about Richard nor do I remember anything about him in this episode. Stanley’s fascinated by Big Ben; the windows are darker towards the top, so what would a woman be wearing up there: something ghostly, haunting; something dark and lean. He always wanted to be a vampire when he was a kid, and he’s made a lot of cheery clothes this season so it’s time for the Dark Side. I’ve never understood the fascination with Big Ben – hey, it’s a clock tower, if a very old clock tower – but I like his story. Even if it does have a whiff of “here’s what I want to make now I have to figure out a story to fit the challenge.”

He finds some fabric I don’t quite understand; apparently it’s got shiny leather pailletes, and apparently it’s horrendously expensive after pounds are converted to dollars. He gets it anyway, to use – are you ready – as a lining. He can only afford a tiny amount, so he won’t even cut it until after model fitting. But he’s happy; it’s the perfect fabric. His dress is definitely lean and dark; from the front it’s all about the capelet, from the back it’s all about the skirt. It’s very classy. But why the exposed zipper? Nina loves the drama and luxury. “Bravo,” says Zac, opening old wounds; he likes the Sherlock Holmes reference of the cape (funny, I got Florence Nightingale), the surprise in back, and the essence of London. Heidi likes the simple but strong silhouette, but mostly she’s happy to see Stanley smiling.

Daniel:

Daniel gets sent to that world capital of fashion, Berlin. Someone hates Daniel (Addendum: I take that back: in his Introductory Interview, he listed Germany as the place he’d most like to design). Amanda goes with him to give him a younger vibe. He cries a lot. He cries because he’s happy. He cries because he’s sad. He cries because the camera’s on and he wants more screen time. Every time he cries, I think he’s faking it. He may be the most sincere person on earth, but he sure cries phony. And a lot. He visits Checkpoint Charlie. Who’s arranging these tours, anyway? He finds a building he likes, Bürohaus Henriette–Herz-Platz 3. Kind of interesting: Henriette Herz started a famous Berlin Salon for Jewish intellectuals in the late 18th century, moving to Italy after Napoleon barged in. Now there’s a building in Berlin named after her. Take that, Nazis. And good choice, Daniel. He likes it because it looks like a UFO: “The mother ship has landed.” Ok, whatever.

He also finds the crappiest fabric store in Europe. No silk. No leather. It looks like a low-budget Joanne’s. He wants to surprise the judges by making, of all things, a jacket. He wants to make a skirt, but Amanda convinces him that younger women wear jackets over dresses, not skirts (do they really?), so he goes with a bias dress instead with a lot of movement at the bottom. Since he can’t get leather, he gets “vinyl that looks like leather.” Pleather, by any other name. White pleather. Sigh. Does PR have some kind of agreement with this fabric store, and he can’t go to a different one? That’s just mean. Then he makes black upper-thigh-high boots. I’d groan, but they turn out to look like leggings, so who cares.

It’s not bad, at least from a distance. I’m not crazy about the fit of the jacket – it looks too tight at the torso and too big across the shoulders in the back – but it has a certain Stormtrooper appeal, and the skirt twirls beautifully. Nina gets the edgy Berlin underground look; Zac’s amused by pleather and the weird futuristic effect. Zac has this way of being non-committal while sounding positive, so no one can use this against him later. Heidi does her “it’s young, hip” thing, and sees Berlin, and I guess that means a lot coming from Heidi. John’s the only holdout: he sees Berlin but doesn’t like the pleather. You go, John! The look fits comfortably in third place, to be sure, but it’s not the smashing success the other judges imply.

Layana:

Layana’s perfectly happy going to Spain with Samantha. She loves the tiles and architecture. Is someone telling them to use architecture as inspiration, or are they all coming up with that on their own? Because no one’s noticing people, or clothing, or trees or flowers or water, just buildings. She finds lace over leather that’ll mimic the tile patterns. But it seems they aren’t big on service in this store, and she has to cut the fabric herself, poor baby. Still, she gives Samantha props for her sewing assistance, so I guess I’ll have to stop complaining about Layana. She’s getting a much kinder edit this episode.

Her look doesn’t get a kinder edit, though we all know by know the judges decide what they want the result to be and adjust their comments accordingly. Zac credits her with smart fabric choices but calls the sleeves a “big eyesore.” I can’t disagree with him, though I’d be a lot harsher about the shape of the coat. And the coat is about it; the pants and top are throw-away except for those draggy cuffs which Nina hates too. Heidi finds no sex appeal at all. “Not that everything has to be hot and sexy…” except it does…”but you want to look hip and young, not older.” You do, do you. They decide Layana herself looks great, but the model looks like her mom. No one sees Spain. They’re not wrong about that.

Patricia:

Patricia’s so happy to be Richard-free, I don’t think she cares who she’s paired with or where she goes. Paris is just the icing on the cake. Kate gets very excited about torn paper. Then Patricia gets excited about torn paper. It’s kind of decoupage graffiti, and seems they don’t have that out in the desert. She’s intrigued by the layers of history in those papers pasted to the wall. She’s in Paris, and she’s excited about the history in post-it notes? She’s not doing the romantic, whimsical Paris, she’s doing the gritty street Paris. “I don’t give you a native woman on a buffalo with wind blowing in her hair, why would I give a romantic Parisian?” Post-its it is. I shouldn’t be so snide, I’m a fan of street art, and what better place for it than Paris.

She’s thinking of layering history in a fitted jacket. She ends up with dozens of different fabrics and needs to put 247 Euros of it back, leading to a three-way wrestling match as the fabric lady and Kate each pick their discard choices while Patricia just wails, “I NEED THAT.” Eventually the fabric lady convinces her if she puts back one piece of black fabric, she’ll be all set, they hug, and Franco-American harmony is restored. It’s a funny segment. Cut to Patricia and Kate having what in any movie would be a romantic moment in the sunset, but here on PR, it’s just filler.

She tries to explain the installation graffiti to Tim, and he’s pretty impressed by her fabric technique. He’s not so impressed with the look as a whole; the dress doesn’t fit with the jacket. He suggests she start calling the jacket a top. I’m not sure how that solves the problem, but she seems to think it does.

And we end up with another Patricia outfit which means it looks like draft of something that could be terrific but is actually pretty messy. I like the jacket, except for the finishing details like the hem. I like the neck scarf, though I suspect that’s only there to cover up an unfinished neckline. The pants are throwaway, but they fit. Zac calls it “trash couture” which is pretty good. He appreciates the textile development and sees the decoupage reference, but it went wrong. I don’t think it went wrong, I think it didn’t get where it was going. Nina’s underwhelmed. John’s at his modest best: he wasn’t sure he was hip enough to get it, so he’s relieved no one else likes it. Heidi seems to like it more than the others, but she’s been on Patricia’s side all along.

Chat turns into a fascinating discussion about Fashion and Art. As in, Nina: “Fashion isn’t art. Stores are not museums.” Somewhere, Alexander McQueen laughs. Fashion doesn’t have to be art, it often isn’t art, but it can be art. And that right there is what’s wrong with Project Runway: it’s now the land of the Least Common Denominator, what will sell at Lord & Taylor. And by the way, can I remind you how excited everyone was about Michelle’s artistic use of soot (see, I told you to remember it for a reason) so they’re not even being consistent. Fact is, Patricia’s art is usually unfinished week after week, and that’s where her problem lies on this show. That said, I still fully expected Patricia to be auf’d, particularly given Nina’s pronouncement that Layana is the most commercial of the remaining designers.

The inquisition:

And now the questions everyone loves to hear: why should you go to Fashion Week, and which two designers should go with you? Few people bother to answer the first question properly; they turn it into how hard they worked rather than what they have to offer. But the second question always yields interesting results.

Stanley: “I’ve evolved.” He likes Daniel’s evolution, too, and likes Michelle’s stuff and her conviction.

Patricia: She’d bring a different look. She’d bring Michelle and Stanley since she likes their silhouettes.

Layana: She knows who she is. She picks Michelle, and she’s interested in what Patricia does but would pick Stanley instead because he’s the stronger designer, which is known as trying to have your cake and eat it, too.

Daniel would bring Stanley and Michelle for her forward POV.

Michelle thinks the world is ready for her take on lean modern sportswear with a dirty edge. And she wants to bring Stanley and Layana.

No surprise, Michelle and Stanley lead the voting in a tie.

Final Auf (except for the one next week but that’s part of the finale so it doesn’t count in PR terms):

Michelle, Stanley, and Daniel are all quickly pronounced safe. They were the top three this week. This leaves Patricia and Layana.

In a surprise that I didn’t see coming, Layana‘s out.

That means Patricia has time, lack of which has been her greatest enemy, to create her collection for the final auf. Do you think they could do it? Make Patricia the winner? I can’t remember another PR winner who was so consistently problematic. In the judges’ eyes, that is. I had problems with several of them.

Next Week:

Home visits. And Nina’s underwhelmed again. It’s tough being Nina, so underwhelmable.

Project Runway S11: Episode 11, Finally On My Own

No more teams: There is joy in the land.

Except wait: it’s the Teams Edition of Project Runway. So there must be teams. There will be teams: the designers will have helpers, making communication and management part of the deal. You know by now, right, you can ignore the criteria set out for any given challenge? That they’ll re-configure the criteria before judging into, “What Nina Wants”? But laying out the unimportant criteria gives Heidi something to do at the beginning of the episode.

The Challenge:

Soon the designers ascend the giant elevator in the Hearst Building (ooooh, just like The Devil Wears Prada except not) and Nina herself sets out the real criteria:

1. Fashion forward
2. Editorial
3. May issue of Marie Claire
4. for Jordana Brewster to wear
5. Not a gown or a Red Carpet look
6. Not t-shirt and pants
7. Bold color
8. Bold shape
9. Bold print
10. Bold Silhouette
11. What’s next, not what’s now
12. Do not disappoint Nina
13. Do not embarrass Nina

Ok, I didn’t number them the way the PR chyron-makers did, but that’s the general idea. One day, $250. Zac is back, and Jordana Brewster herself (whoever she is… she’s yet another in a string of actresses from movies and tv shows I’ve never heard of that PR seems to be able to wheedle onto the judging panel) is guest judge.

Now about those assistants…

Show of hands: who here immediately assumed they would be from an eighth-grade home-ec class? I even wondered if PR had possibly deteriorated to the point where they’d mine a local School for the Blind, but apparently even Heidi (or someone) has limits (or they couldn’t find such a School that would sell out its students). Come on, the possibilities are endless: Prisoners. Politicians. Political Prisoners. Politicians who are now prisoners. But no, it’s just the eliminated designers, which means they can wring one more round of drama out of those who have already been told they’re Not Good Enough.

Back when PR (and Top Chef) were in their infancy, I couldn’t understand how eliminated contestants could not put forth full effort (looking at you, Stephen Asperino and Dave Martin) when called upon to assist those still competing. Don’t they have any pride in their work, any self-respect? I’m over that now. Maybe because I’ve decided most people who go on reality shows, especially the Lifetime version of Project Runway, have no self-respect and are there for fame, not to demonstrate their abilities to potential clients/employers or even to win. Still, I sometimes wonder: what if I were approached to appear on Project American Blogger Star? No, I don’t wonder: I know. I’d laugh and mark as spam. I’m not gonna be anybody’s cannon fodder, nobody’s drama bait. At this point, with Heidi pitching for contestants during each episode, designers who have actual talent and serious plans should to find other ways to promote themselves. Fame whores only need apply.

Round robin of interviews: Michelle doesn’t want to get Richard. Layana hopes she doesn’t end up with Richard. Daniel doesn’t want to work with Richard. Patricia… guess what… hopes Richard is inflicted on anyone but her. Richard is clearly the Devil. The one who doesn’t wear Prada.

Because he won the last challenge, Stanley gets first pick (like it matters; the way Tim roots around in that bag, you can practically see his fingers feeling for the roughened edge of Patricia’s button and the little bit of stickum on Michelle’s. Another side effect of too much Reality TV: rampant paranoia).

Stanley picks Tu, which is something of a surprise. But he thinks Tu will be great at constructing the jacket he’s planning.
Michelle grabs Amanda so they can re-live their prom success.
Daniel takes Samantha.
Layana ends up with Kate, because the alternative is Richard.
And Patricia… Tim: “Déjà vu.” Patricia would pray, but she doesn’t know how to pray any more. See? Richard is the Devil, Evil Incarnate let loose in the world. (see “rampant paranoia,” above).

The Work:

Stanley plans three pieces, including voluminous high-waisted pants for a magnified silhouette under a tight jacket. He drives Tu crazy. Everything must be neat and organized; every stitch must be perfect. He admits he’s OCD. He’s also pretty belittling to someone he picked when he had the whole palette to choose from, someone who has really nothing to gain from this. Tu’s ready to stab him with pinking shears by the end of the day. On the runway, Heidi asks if they bossed their assistants around (remember the good old days when you believed they didn’t know what was going on in the workroom?) and Stanley ‘fesses up. But boy, do they get it done. When the model pulls the pockets out to the side, forming a perfect rectangle, I actually said, “Oh, wow,” out loud. Ok, it’s not as “something they’ve never seen before” as Stanley thinks, but it’s really, really good. Nina’s smitten: it’s smart to create three pieces since it gives them options for the photo. I think she says “fabulous” three times. Maybe only twice. Heidi credits him with good management for whipping Tu into producing the jacket. Zac and Jordana are likewise enchanted. As am I. My only concern: is a leather jacket Spring? It is in Maine, but in New York? Hah, leave it to me to worry about such mundane things as comfort.

Layana is inspired by the architecture of the Hearst building. She also goes for leather; seems leather is her thing, and judging from the final collections I’ve seen, it’s a leather kind of year. She cuts cobalt blue leather into triangles and attaches them with chain links, draping it over a nude lining and using a frothy sheer swirl for the skirt. She hurts her fingers bending the chain links, the poor darling, reminding me of Elena in S10E2 having a meltdown over hot glue on her finger. Not to mention Jillian, long ago, weeping over her licorice sticks and claiming a needle went through her finger. Ah, it’s the “I was wounded in the line of fashion” trope. Tim’s impressed with the appearance of armor. I liked it in the workroom; I was less impressed with it on the runway, and in the photo it’s a downright mess. I love the idea, but somehow the contrasting color of the metal rings looks sloppy, the leather looks unfinished, and overall it looks like the model is bursting at the seams. What’s impressive is how well it matches her inspiration of the architecture. The judges are impressed, but I’ve long since given up taking what the judges say seriously. It’s a good draft, and given more work, it could be impressive. But it’s not ready for magazines.

Daniel hears “fashion forward” and thinks Star Trek. Then he hears “spring” and thinks “peeps.” And again, I swear to you, I wrote this (and selected the header pic) before I read TLo. It’s a jacket with Peeps shoulders and shorts. In yellow. Tim: “the whole look is yellow?” Oh yes, it is. “How will it keep its shape?” Daniel is so proud of the interfacing he’s created for shoulders that can be molded, just like peeps heads. He demonstrates this mutability on the runway; I don’t really see it. Looks like the change is minimal, no more than you’d get when squooshing any pile of fabric. Heidi, who’s been too long at Victoria’s Secret, sees wings. Zac’s not sure about the closure, which I hadn’t noticed until he pointed it out; yeah, it’s very sloppy. While Daniel thinks the sheen of the linen is a plus, I think it looks like it’s been ironed at too high a temperature. Nina thinks it’s good, if a little FTD (which cracked me up; Nina gets the prize for best line of the night, and I’m betting that was truly ad lib’d); it’s the sort of thing that would be on a rack for a celebrity model. On the rack, sure. On the model, not so much. They seem to be falling all over themselves looking for ways to say, “This is horrible” without saying “This is horrible” since it isn’t Daniel’s week to be horrible. But I’ll tell you this: I am cravin’ me some Peeps right now. Even though they’re the most horrible tasting food-like product ever manufactured, I want Peeps.

Michelle plans “bitchin’ giant pleated linen pants and a weird t-shirt.” “Wait,” I said, “didn’t Nina specifically say not to make a t-shirt and pants?” I actually said that. Out loud. Yes, I talk to myself. Another side-effect of Reality TV. But Michelle has just begun: “A see-thru knit tank that opens when you walk.” That sounds similar to what Daniel was proposing last week, the idea that Layana thought was so out-of-touch. By the time Tim gets around to her, it’s a matador pant with a black bra. Tim: “Don’t you care tremendously about that bra?” Of course she does. Except no, she’d rather not have a bra, but she can’t have the “lady bits” exposed, that would upset the censors; we’re not in France, after all. Tim: “There’s a far cry from nothing to a black bra.” Further evidence of Tim’s decline: the man whose control of the English language has in the past made me swoon is mixing his metaphors. Michelle has some kind of epiphany in the restroom (which is a great place for an epiphany), but I don’t quite catch exactly what it is. Maybe it’s along the lines of “Is it enough.” And I again say, out loud, “No, it’s a t-shirt and pants, and Nina said not just a t-shirt and pants.” But Michelle doesn’t hear me. I’m a voice crying in the wilderness here. But y’know what: I love her look. The pants have that same relaxed sexiness that Kara Saun first surprised me with in the Postal Worker challenge: they could be a mess, but they’re great, which shows how little it takes go to from great to a mess. I love the shirt, though I wish the back matched up better at the waist. The nail in her coffin is her capsule description on the runway: a take-off on muscle tee and pegged pant. Heidi’s shocked… (I bet the writer/director/editor spent all day working on this suspenseful pause) at how good her sewing skills are. But is it enough for editorial? Nina says it’s impeccable but not strong enough, and reminds Michelle of the brief (with a refresher rewind for those of us playing at home). Jordana would wear it all day, but it’s not editorial. Zac sums it up really well: it’s the look you want in your wardrobe, but it’s not what you want to see in a publication. Which may be why I don’t understand fashion magazines. Aren’t you supposed to want the clothes? Nina explains it to me: the magazine is part fantasy and part reality, to make a woman think, wow, I’ve never seen that before. And since the American reader has the memory of a mayfly, “haven’t seen before” can mean “this week” or “this year” or maybe even “this decade” since it’s only 2013. Ok, got it. Thanks, Nina, for explaining the mindset of the fashion magazine reader. I wear clothes (when I need to), but when I want something I’ve never seen before, I go here. Or here. Or even here.

Patricia is thinking two pieces, off-the-shoulder, organics, bulbous shapes like flowers about to bloom (for some reason that sounds outrageously pornographic to me; I’ve never thought of “bulbous” as particularly obscene, but from now on, it is), and a collar across the shoulders which I suspect is another version of the disaster from E6, the Senior Citizen look. Then she finds out she’s got Richard “helping” her, and everything goes to hell in a handbasket. Except, Patricia never executes what she sets out to execute, or at least what it sounds like she’s saying she’s setting out to execute, so I’m not that surprised. She’s unable to communicate her ideas and needs to Richard, she’s also unable to send him away so she can work in peace, so she spends 40 minutes teaching him a French seam she could do in 15 (and for the record, I haven’t sewn anything in 20 years, and I might be able to fake a French seam. I learned how watching Project Runway. Maybe Richard should watch back episodes of the show). Tim: “This is an opportunity to heal and repair, since it didn’t go so well last time.” Yes, I’m sure that’s why you felt for that scraped button with Patricia’s name on it, so we could all watch the healing. Tim: “Why are you introducing blue?” She doesn’t have another opaque color, except suddenly she does. She perks up a little. Tim: “You feel better, you look better.” She sounds better. Unfortunately, the outcome is not better. There’s nothing particularly innovative in slicing up leather into fringe; most seven-year-olds have done something like that (albeit with felt or construction paper) to make an Indian Halloween costume. I can’t even tell what the dress is: it seems like a sheer poncho over neutral. She tries to defend it by talking up the dancing fringe, but it’s nonsense. Again, the judges struggle to say “this is crap” without saying, “this is crap,” which again puzzles me, because – and I support Patricia’s oddness – this is crap. I’ve liked having her around this far, because she’s come up with some interesting things even if they often were a bit stillborn, but this is crap. I’ve liked how she sometimes uses Native American ideas but turns them into something barely recognizable, but sometimes, like this time, she just produces crap. This is what I might make if someone told me (who knows little about Indian motifs and nothing about textiles or sewing) to make an Indian dress. Nina sees to think the problem is that the tent-like shape wouldn’t be flattering to Jordana. Zac sees spring texture but not enough movement and it’s “not a totally finished look.” Heidi isn’t sure: does she like it, or is it borderline Pocahontas? Oh, Heidi, give it up, it’s not even a close call. Why are they trying to maintain the suspense?

Here’s why:

Stanley’s the winner, of course. I still think Michelle was a challenger for the win, and it wouldn’t have been the first time they changed their minds or said, “You made a t-shirt and pants that’s more than a t-shirt and pants.” Because it truly is. But that’s not how they’re playing it this time. That’s fine; Stanley deserves the win. It’s a great outfit, and far more complicated than Michelle’s.

But now we find out what they’re up to. It comes down to Patricia, and … Michelle.

What? Patricia and Michelle? Not Patricia vs Peeps? I could tell it wouldn’t be Patricia vs. Armor-All from the (imo undeserved) praise they heaped on Layana, but… Michelle? I guess they did this so they could auf Patricia without guilt; obviously they’re not going to cut Michelle, who’s won so many challenges and has really shown herself to have more of an artistic sense than she initially showed, in favor of Patricia, who’s mopped up the bottom over and over again.

Except… Patricia’s in.

As much as I hate the manipulation that’s going on here (and it’s only just begun), and as much as I hate myself for promoting that manipulation, the reaction of the designers in the Lounge was worth watching this entire miserable season for. Layana has Patricia dead and buried since no one with a grain of sense can comprehend the possibility that the judges would keep Patricia over Michelle. The girls, in their overnights, have had this “boys vs. girls” riff going, but let’s face it, they know the score. And even if it weren’t Patricia’s turn to go just by looking at her portfolio, she turned in crap. Layana’s priming her tear pumps and working up an aura of sympathy towards Patricia. “She’s so good at textiles, if I had a company, I would use Patricia for sure.”

Then Patricia walks through the door, and says, “I’m in.”

You can hear the screeching, smell the burning rubber, see the skid marks in Layana’s face. “Oh my god… I mean, I’m happy for you, but oh my god.” Daniel’s trying to work out his own shock. “What? We were just going on how…” How what, Daniel, how it’s such a shame she’s out when she’s so creative and talented? …”how much you inspired us.” Quick thinking there.

To be honest, I felt the same way. I had some warm, “Hey, you had a great run” feeling for Patricia, and it never occurred to me she’d survive this auf. So I did my own little spit take. Even though I know what PR is capable of, it never occurred to me they were capable of cutting off their nose – and both ears, a right arm, and both feet – for the sake of a ten-minute Twitter trend.

Turns out, they’re not: Michelle isn’t out. She gets another chance.

No, we don’t know exactly what that means (oh, that suspense, can’t you just feel it), but I’m guessing it’s something along the lines of two people will be cut next week, and unless Michelle wins, she’ll be one of them. It’s the “both of you will design collections for Fashion Week and show us previews, but only one will be in” moved one week early. Michelle, Stanley, and Layana are still going to be the Top Three. All this nonsense is smoke and mirrors (and by the way, I have to applaud Michelle for the lack of jaw-drop and eye-roll when Patricia was announced in; she was a little brittle backstage, but still held her composure and didn’t bitch or whine); this was a planned maneuver.

And how am I so sure of this?

Because Next Week: they send them all to different countries. And you just don’t cobble something like that together for an extra person on a day’s notice. That is, if they’re actually sending them to real countries and not some Vegas imitation of other countries.

We’ll all Watch What Happens. For sure.

Project Runway S11: Episode 10, The Art of Fashion

Ah, the Guggenheim. An icon of modern art. What better place for a set of talented, eager designers to find inspiration to create works of wearable art to rival the Cezannes, the Gaugins, the Degas.

Or, they could just complain about each other for an hour and a half. Heidi’ll find a way to rake in product placement fees, either way.

The judges create the teams again, and finally – FINALLY – decide to match the six remaining designers in pairs according to approximate standing: Michelle and Stanley, the stars. Layana and Daniel, who can produce good stuff but are inconsistent. And Patricia and Richard, the left-handed red-haired stepchildren. Funny thing is, Michelle used to hate Patricia, but since Richard hoarded the gold tape in the prom challenge (and perhaps since Patricia became her roomie), she’s changed allegiances. Richard’s now the Bad Guy. Remember the girls putting the boys on their list at the beginning of last week? Funny how we just so happened to end up with boy-girl pairs now.

The Challenge:

Each team must create one grand, over-the-top wearable art look (I guess they’ve given up on anyone understanding what “avant-garde” actually means) and one ready-to-wear companion piece. Oh, and because this season isn’t enough of a mess, let’s throw the design-your-own-textile thing in here, too, and incorporate that fabric into both pieces. Tim: “You have all this material to help you with your wearable art”: Elmer’s glue. Bubble wrap. Oh. You want that kind of wearable art. So a little Unconventional Material challenge as well. There’s also a trip to Mood. I give up; I think we’re getting a glimpse into Heidi’s mind, and it’s pretty jumbled in there.

The winner gets $10,000 and a computer (which CNET describes as “slower performance at a high price. You’re paying for style,” making it the perfect PR computer). Rachel Roy again fills in for Zac. Guest judge is Tracy Reese, to prove that even though a black woman can’t win Project Runway, if she makes it anyway, she can appear as a guest judge. Yes, I’m still bitter. Even though I suspect I know which decoy collection was Samantha’s, and it’s nowhere near my favorite.

Stanley and Michelle:

From the moment Tim paired them, I knew they’d be the winning team. Or, maybe I should say, I hoped, because if they’d found a way to cut one of them, I might have run amok. They’re both happy with the pairing, probably recognizing each other as the best option. “We’re both in the same head space,” chirps Michelle. They’ll both work on the art piece, she’ll design the fabric, and he’ll do the ready-to-wear.

Michelle creates a fabric of her face. I swear, it reminds me of Munch’s The Scream. To be honest, I have very poor facial recognition skills, so it might be obvious to everyone it’s not her face, making it considerably less narcissistic. But it’s a face, and it’s creeping me out. Yes, Seth Aaron did a face on his fabric, and it worked great, but it was much less recognizable as a face. And it was clearly not his face. Michelle says her kitchen is painted the same color as her face. Maybe she means the camouflage background, which she finally got to use. She draws The Scream on fabric, she makes kilt vests and rain vests, I can imagine Michelle painting her kitchen in camouflage.

For the Wearable Art portion of our program, Michelle makes a coat-thing out of olive drab waterproof canvas; the faces only make a brief appearance around the shoulders. She draws more on the train of the coat. She’s taking this Wearable Art thing seriously, isn’t she. Tim gets chills looking at it. Stanley gets inspired by bubble wrap and makes a petticoat for the coat thing. There’s some concern when it takes longer than expected for the paint to dry, but it’s all good. Stanley: “A museum piece should not fit in a cab; by that criteria we nailed it.” Michelle makes a spiral headpiece that evokes the Guggenheim (and if it had been better-sewn, might’ve worked), but overall, this look screams Pregnant Post-Apocalyptic Wedding Gown. Still, it has its appeal, in a vaguely steampunk way.

For ready-to-wear, Stanley makes a Pregnant Bridesmaid’s Dress out of Michelle’s fabric. He refuses to use the hat she’s made: “She made this hat with faces coming out of it. We have faces all over the dress, why do we need faces coming out of the hat?” I think I just fell in love with Stanley. Where have they been keeping him all this time? He’s got some of the best lines in PR history this episode. Michelle wears the hat to Runway. And she wears a pin with the little face in all her interviews as well. I’m betting she wore the hat, too, but it screwed up the lighting so they made her take it off.

They’re the Winning Team, Michelle with her “Dark woman on the brink of insanity” and Stanley’s dual inspiration of sculpture and bubble wrap. Perfection. Out of control fun. Yin and Yang. Shape. Inspiring. Editorial. Taste. Yeah, they all love both looks. Heidi asks who should win, and Michelle suggests each of them say the other, which surprises me since I figured she was in charge here. They explain the division of labor: he did the dress and bubble wrap, she did the print, the painting, and the coat.

To my surprise, Stanley wins. No comment from Michelle. Wanna bet we get an earful next week? I wouldn’t blame her; the showpiece dress was pretty much hers, and the fabric was all hers. But Nina liked Stanley’s dress better, and that’s what counts.

Layana and Daniel:

I’m not sure how much they’re paying Layana to play the conniving, devious whiner, but whatever it is, they should pay her more, because she plays it to the hilt. I can’t wait to hear her complain about her edit when this is over; somehow, I can’t believe anyone can really be this evil and still live. Right off the bat, she’s disturbed that she now has to carry Daniel, who, by the way, won the first challenge, and when he and Layana were in the running for the second win, graciously indicated she should have it since he had immunity – ok, the comment made no sense, but it was a nice move. And now she’s out to destroy him. They both want to do the art piece, of course; doesn’t everyone? Daniel lets her take it, then she complains that he’s doing the companion piece, following which she decides she’s nervous because it’s all on her shoulders. She won’t give him any of the fabric she’s designed, though it was made clear both looks have to use it. And in the end, when his look gets a better reception than hers, she cries because he didn’t give her enough credit. Forget Jeffrey, forget Gretchen and Ivy; they were amateurs. This, this is how assholery is done.

Which makes it doubly delicious when she’s the one who can’t produce. Her first attempt dies a painful death for reasons unknown. Her second brings her to tears because the fabric doesn’t look ironed. Daniel leads her some distance away and shows her it looks fine; she sees it’s true, the tears stop, she gets back on track, just in time to start complaining she’s all alone. Damn, girl is good. A lotta stuff thrown at tv screens last night. They should start giving Best Actor awards for reality shows.

On the runway, her look doesn’t work; it’s like she made the dress, then threw some netting over it and glued on some napkin rings. I like the overall idea of the print covered by something sheer and diagonal, and I love the headpiece, but it’s off.

Daniel, finally able to wrest one yard of the fabric he’s required to use away from the clutches of Layana, makes a bubble skirt and sleek, narrow-lapel blazer. Both pieces are pretty nice, but think the contrast between them is too extreme; they don’t seem to work together.

The judges, however, are ecstatic about Daniel’s look. I suspect a lot of that ecstasy is more tied to knowing the viewers at this point have been given a view of Layana that makes them all want to flush her head in the Port Authority men’s room toilet for a few hours, rather than the aesthetic merits of the clothing. Heidi pronounces the jacket “hot,” Nina credits Layana with providing a good influence and Daniel’s head doesn’t explode. Layana, on the other hand, not so much. Struggled. Hodgepodge. Kitchen Sink. Period Piece. Yesteryear. Barbie. Barbie? I don’t think so. Anyway, they ask who should win, and Daniel says he thinks his look won. Layana argues, it was 50/50. Yes, it was, Layana was 50 for Layana, 50 for Layana. I think Daniel’s just so happy to not be in the bottom, he agrees with everything Layana says. She cries backstage anyway: “It’s not your garment, it’s our garment. I feel so betrayed.” Oh, can it, sweetie, nobody’s buying it. You did everything you could to leave Daniel out in the cold. It didn’t work.

Richard and Patricia:

Both of them recognize this is Patricia’s challenge, so Richard stands back and lets her work. That’s to his credit. However, standing back for a day and a half, making only a bracelet, is not to his credit. It seems he thinks he needs to see her look before he can make the ready-to-wear, since nothing Patricia says ever makes sense to anyone and it wouldn’t matter if it did since she usually ends up doing something else anyway. As in this case when she starts out with “a corrugated skirt” and ends up with Taliban chic (™Michael Costell0). I…actually like it quite a bit (ducks head in shame). It’s weird as hell, but there’s some strange appeal to it, similar to the appeal of Michelle’s coat. I hate the print of the lower skirt, the one Patricia designed based on an eagle feather – it’s too sharp – but the print she used for the top (the arm restraints), the print she seems to have painted on organza, is great. It’s kind of a statement. My first note was “hostage wear” but the patterns, particularly the top, are so free and joyous, it’s kind of interesting. Yeah, I’m serious. I actually like it.

Richard, on the other hand, makes bloomers. He’s got the restraint idea in the skirt, and it’s a good idea, but the proportions are completely off (the skirt falls too low on the hips for starters, the hem comes in then goes out just like, well, bloomers), and the top is much too sporty and doesn’t fit. Visually, it’s in a different universe from Patricia’s, even though I can see a shared idea. It’s clearly the failure of the night. But that was forecast when he looked blank when Patricia asked him what shape he was using, if he was doing something mod or a-line, like he’d never thought about clothing in that way. I think Richard realized early on he was in over his head, and he’s been struggling to not show it. But now he’s just given up.

It’s really interesting that Tim turns into a shit-stirrer this episode. Remember when they took our sweet Mondo from S8 and turned him into a cranky old man in AS1? They’re doing that to Tim now. He wonders if Richard’s using a strategy of blaming it all on Patricia, since everything is her idea. Richard is shocked, I tell you, shocked to his foundation. So is Patricia. So was I, not at the thought of someone being so devious (considering the graduate seminar in treachery Layana’s been giving) but that Tim would suggest it to Richard and Patricia, both of whom have their problems but neither of whom seems particularly cutthroat to me. I miss Tim. The real Tim. Maybe he’ll return some day.

They’re the losing team, as the judges are Not Impressed. Heidi, oddly enough, loves Patricia’s look. I agree with Heidi on a controversial look; that scares me. They don’t ask who should be the loser; they ask, who is the stronger designer. Oh, yeah, so now you start worrying about that. Richard talks about different aesthetics. Patricia interviews: “I’ve been doing textiles for 20 years, if I go home over a challenge dedicated to textiles, I’m going to lose my mind.” Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Patricia.

But it’s Richard who’s out. I don’t think he’s a bad guy; I don’t even think he’s a bad designer. I do think the team aspect of all this was particularly hard for him. But it’s particularly hard for Patricia as well, though for different reasons.

What does it mean when you’re fine with the win/lose, you found most of the clothes interesting, and you still feel pissed off? I think it means you’re over Project Runway.

Next Week:

It’s Nina’s turn: The “Celebrity Editorial” for Marie Claire. And they finally pull the plug on this teams nonsense.

Project Runway S11: Episode 9, “He Said, She Said”

Editorial Comment from Swatch - and me

Editorial Comment from Swatch – and me

Time for another rant. Oh, come on, it’s been a while. I’ll even block it, so you can skip over it.

I wrote my resignation last night.

Maybe “resignation” isn’t the right word. After all, recapping PR isn’t a job, certainly. It’s a fun thing. A fun thing. A FUN THING, DO YOU HEAR ME?

What, don’t I sound like I’m having fun?

For me, it all came down to something Rachel Roy said towards the end of the show; she approvingly interpreted Samantha’s approach as: “A girl that dresses like me, looks like me, why not bring her into the store; we need that in fashion, in design.” Everyone agreed with her. But a few moments later, that same panel of judges – originally from three countries, ethnically from four continents – said: “But not into my store.” Because as hard as they try, on the surface, to have a diverse mix of contestants, they’d better all be designing for upper-middle-class white women who shop at Lord & Taylor. Or at least bring good Drama. That’s what the show is.

That’s what the show is.

That’s what the show is. Resignation is exactly the right word.

The Challenge

After Michelle and the girls set their goals as: “Stanley, Daniel, and Richard” (what does that even mean? Do they want to hook up, is it an evil incantation, or is this some kind of conspiracy?), the designers meet Tim at Lord & Taylor. Richard finds it so luxurious, he feels right at home. He’s wearing a crystal-studded hat with spikes sticking out of it. Just what kind of home did he come from, anyway?

Tim divides up the winning team from last week into two teams of two each, and leaves the losing team to slog through another week together, since they’ve done all that work forming new enmities. In case you’ve forgotten who’s who (last week was so forgettable), this week’s teams are: Patricia/Stanley, Michelle/Daniel, and Richard/Layana/Samantha. Fortunately, we’re not going to be subjected to another round of “Who can come up with the stupidest name for a team,” which is fine by me.

Their task: use the Lord & Taylor rose logo as inspiration for a Spring 2013 look, to sell at L&T for under $250 (this L&T/PR thing seems to be working out. Did they ever manage to get a store to retail looks for more than one season before? There was Banana Republic, and Macy’s, Sarah Jessica Parker’s line – which I believe bit the dust – Blue Fly, the Heidiwear project…so many outlets to exploit). One look per designer. The word “cohesive” is never mentioned, underlining yet again that the point of teams is drama, not fashion.

The Mood visit is marked by the most inelegant Swatch sighting ever: the butt plop, rear view, complete with sound effects. Come on, guys, do you have to turn absolutely everything about the show into trash?

Rachel Roy again fills in for Zac Posen who’s been filling in for Michael Kors. L&T is the guest judge.

Smelling like a Rose:

Michelle starts off thinking a black rain vest over a chartreuse silk dress. Rain vest? Hey, she comes from Portland, they do rain. And she does vests. Hence, rain vest *shrug*. Tim is dubious: the dress is fresh and joyous, but the vest is gloomy, heavy, apocalyptic. His advice: lose the vest, focus on the dress. Michelle is sad: the dress is not her passion. She works on both, but in the end, the vest isn’t finished so she goes with the dress. And again I marvel at how she managed to get through the first four episodes without producing anything decent: it’s a great dress. I don’t quite understand it – she claims there’s leather in it, but I don’t know where – but it looks great, and I say that as someone who reacts to chartreuse like chalk on a blackboard. She tells the judges her inspiration was buds breaking in spring. I’m not sure where the L&T rose comes in, but sure. Heidi loves it, which would’ve meant something back in the day before Heidi decided her erogenous zones were property to be advertised. It’s sophisticated, fun, young, and Michelle thought about the challenge differently. At which point you can see the thought bubble over Michelle’s head: “What was the challenge again? Oh, the L&T rose… well, I had chartreuse buds, that’s like roses, right?” Nina loves it, and since it isn’t a prom dress, that means something. L&T plugs the accessory wall. Oh – duh! It just dawned on me – this is why they’ve been harping on styling for the past few years, to draw attention to the sponsor’s stuff. Silly me – I forgot, it’s the Product Placement hour. all that said – it’s still a great dress.

Daniel loses his mind. I guess a producer took him aside and told him to ramp up the volume, but didn’t give him enough in the way of specifics, because he loses his mind over the phrase “21-year-old.” Don’t worry about it, it’s so artificial there’s a metallic aftertaste. His basic issue is that he needs to keep current, so he proposes a jacket over shorts in hot pink. If you immediately thought “Michael Knight, Pam Grier, hot pants,” you, too, have been watching PR too much, too long. Tim leads a Discussion on Pink, and Michelle continues to evade the question, “Do you like this color?” since she hates pink. Tim sees Joan Collins in the jacket, leading Daniel (after the phoniest crying this side of daytime soaps) makes a dress instead: “I forgot I like to design clothes that make people happy (sob). and Michelle, you can’t bring me down (sob) because I’m a happy person (sob) – these are tears of happiness.” Diane Keaton once told a story about her early days doing Hair, how no one ordered them to take their clothes off during a performance, but they’d get extra money if they did. I wonder how much Daniel’s tears earned him. He ends up with the world’s most ordinary dress (it looked better on the runway), even if it is pink. Nina’s glad he embraced a bold color to go with the conservative shape, but the shape is still too conservative. She talks to him like he’s a hypersensitive child on the verge of a meltdown. Heidi and Rachel are more direct: nothing new here. Rachel suggests he stop thinking and start feeling. I think he’s just relieved that he’s on the winning team and doesn’t have to defend or die.

Smelling like a Silk Rose:

Stanley shifts. Tim asks, “What’s new about it?” What’s new about any of this crap, Tim? He encourages Stanley to give some thought to a collar or cowl, something different. Stanley nods politely. Tim implores him to percolate. Stanley nods politely again. He does end up with a little drape at the neckline, and though he claims it as a design decision, to me it looks like bad fit, if I may borrow the bug-or-feature debate from the tech world. It’s not a bad dress at all. In fact, it looks like a much better version of Daniel’s dress. But, as Heidi said about Daniel, there’s absolutely nothing new about it.

Patricia has a vision of something involving wet muslin. Stanley hasn’t been on a losing team yet – that’s pretty amazing – so he’s taking control to make sure he’s not going to end up there now, and tries to talk specifics, but Patricia’s got her own method of teamwork: “There’s nothing you can say to controlling people so just agree and they’ll go away.” I hate to say it, but in general, she’s right. However, when you’ve been sinking week after week, it may be time to take a little advice. However, I remember someone made a broomstick skirt that went over big, and that involved wetting the fabric; maybe that’s what she’s up to? Tim’s worried about the cost of manufacture, but likes the idea of sleek pants and a billowy top. At some point along the way, Patricia decides this isn’t working, so she takes Stanley’s advice and achieves epiphany: “I can do something simple, too… it’s allowing me to be who I am.” The pants are sloppy in the crotch and I hate the shiny fabric, but the top is kind of nice, if a little motley.

Smelling Like Something Else Entirely:

Layana spends her time whining ignoring Richard and whining about him ignoring her. She tells a Mood employee all his fabrics are horrible, “nothing against you.” Girl’s working, doesn’t have time for social skills. Her idea is a soft, feminine print with leather detail. Sensing the tension in the room, Tim forces each team member to critique the work of the others, a charming technique he didn’t use on the other teams. Tim, what happened to you, man? Remember when you used to be on the designers’ side? Remember when you were an educator instead of a performer? Remember? When did you go over to The Dark Side? Samantha likes Layana’s dress (so do I), and Richard is having a hard time finding a reason to say he dislikes it. Something about flowers and open-toed shoes. Tim isn’t crazy about the leather, but tells her to stand by it if she feels it’s right. And of course she feels it’s right. It looks right to me – it’s my second-favorite up there, though I wish there was a slit or some solid fabric to break up the skirt a little. Nina loves the leather, not the print – it’s old-lady fabric – but the design is great, tough and soft, youthful. Rachel isn’t crazy about the waist, but overall she likes it. Heidi calls it a “hot” dress (Heidi, get a grip) with a horrible print.

Richard spends all his time ignoring Layana, and I’m going to ignore his ignoring. He’s doing something with “a huge pop of color.” How about we come up with some new ways to describe the use of color as an accent, to stop all the popping? Maybe “color as an accent” would work. A slash of color for red. A trickle (or flood) of color for blue. A bloom of color for pink, a glow for yellow, a sprout for green. No more pops. Tim wonders if he’s prepared for the judges to say they saw this from him already with sleeves in E1 and in the fat-lady version in E8). Richard’s shocked that anyone would say that. And hopes they’ll remember how much they liked those looks. Hey, Kara Janx made her career on a knit wrap dress in a variety of color combinations, lengths, and sleeves. He could do that with this; it’s not bad at all. Heidi would buy it – wait, what? No, she wouldn’t, but she said that about the E6 dress, too, so at least she’s being consistent. Nina’s not impressed; it’s generic, and he’s done this before, better. It’s beachy (beachy? What?) but too dressy for day, so she’s confused. I’ll say she’s confused, if she’s wearing full-length black-and-hot-pink-jersey to the beach.

Samantha tries to keep out of the line of fire between the other two. Tim advises her to make her colorblocked dress into separates; she asks about a heart cutout on the back, and he says, “If it’s done well, it’ll look adorable… they’re looking for a teen customer.” So she goes junior. Oh, Tim, how could you – when was the last time anyone got praised for a junior look? To make matters worse, Samantha has some fit issues at the very end which hike the skirt up to the stratosphere. Long, long ago, on a network far away, on the first episode of ST:TNG, Deanna Troi became known as the Galactic Cheerleader. Deanna Troi had nothin’ on Samantha, except Samantha threw in some Carhop reference as well. It’s a horrible design, horribly made. It’s easily the worst thing on the runway. But at least she tried. She didn’t recycle something she made before. She didn’t do safe. She brought it. Usually that counts for something, but not when you’re up against Mr. Sulky Drama with the Spiked Cap. Rachel is the most complimentary: it’s youthful, it’s got thoughtful design elements, it’s unique, it could be a tunic for an older customer. Even Nina doesn’t hate it, but maybe not for this client. L&T doesn’t want to alienate anyone, because, to paraphrase Michael Jordan, Juniors buy clothes, too.

The Rose, and the Thorn

It’s so clear Michelle is the winner, there’s not even a pretense of suspense. You can buy it (sans leather, wherever it was, but it looks exactly as it did on the runway) for $259 [oopsie, no you can’t, at least not right now – it’s sold out already, at 3:30 pm ET Friday, but they hope to have more in soon]. Here’s a note to chew on: you won’t find her name, or “Project Runway,” anywhere on the webpage. I still want to know how she got through the first four episodes without showing any evidence of actual talent. Turns out she might be the Real Deal after all.

It comes down to Richard and Samantha. And the Shock Boot. Yep, Samantha’s out. I waited before I even typed it in my notes – first Heidi said Richard was in, and I thought, maybe this is a fake-out, and they’re both in. But, no, she’s out. Tim: “You should be proud, you made it to the final seven.” I’m going to say something I never thought I’d say: Tim, shut the fuck up. [and I swear, I wrote this before I visited TLo this week]

I’m tired of feeling dirty every Friday when I press “publish.” I’m not recapping Season 12 unless Heidi gets therapy and Tim undergoes deprogramming.

Next Week:

Design your own fabric at the Guggenheim. Hey, Heidi? I don’t see anything new here…

Sunday with Zin: The Sing-Off Is Back!

Hello I am Zin and it is my Blogging Birthday! I started Sunday with Zin one year ago and I am very proud that this is my 52nd post and I did not miss a single week!

I got a wonderful Blogging Birthday present this week: The Sing-Off is coming back!

I was so sad that it was cancelled last year I did my own six-week a capella tribute at Christmas and it was a lot of fun but I would rather have had the show! It is really strange we were just talking about this and that same day I discovered it had been renewed for this Christmas! Maybe I should start talking about how disappointed I am that Google Reader is being cancelled and they will bring that back too.

History lesson: The Sing-Off started as a surprise! I did not even know about it until the night it started four years ago during the week before Christmas! Since most of the groups were from colleges (that is where the a capella is) it was filmed over the summer but most of the competition was aired in December with a finale just before Christmas and it was so wonderful, so special, like a little Christmas present during a time of year when no one is watching television!

The next year they expanded it a little and we started blogging it (I did 2011, I was not blogging in 2010) because we loved it so much! The third year they made a mistake and turned it into a full twelve-week competition but even though they had some wonderful groups (including my beloved Pentatonix) it did not do well I think because the specialness was lost. It was just another singing competition!

So it seems they have gone back to the original short format for the Christmas hiatus and that is a good thing! Mark Burnett will be the producer which makes me a little nervous because he does things like Survivor and The Apprentice that depend on viewer manipulation and suspense and that is not at all what The Sing Off should be. A lot of people think he has done a good job with The Voice which I have never seen (I think the chairs are gimmicky) but I hope it means he knows how to present music without getting in the way. They had better bring back Ben Folds and Shawn Stockman!

I watched some of the Chinese version last year and discovered some cool new groups! Maybe someone noticed that a lot of people were paying attention to Chinese songs. The article says they never actually cancelled the show they just did not pick it up for last year and I am glad they decided it was time to start again.

They are casting right now so if you are in an a capella group or know someone who is you should hurry!

Project Runway S11: Episode 8, Take It All Off (and as quickly as possible, please)

Remember, back in S4, when Tiki Barber came to PR? Carmen’s not-a-shirt, a swath of fabric tucked under the Members Only jacket like a scarf so her model’s chest hair wouldn’t show? Sweet P’s rumpled mess of laundry claiming to be a shirt? The kindergarten attempt at a suit by… oh, what was his name, I don’t even remember?

Turns out, those looks might have looked pretty good amidst the rubble from last night.

But this was a set-up. In the novel that is Project Runway, the exposition’s over; it’s time for escalating conflict and complications. Yawn.

Picking Sides:

Heidi and Tim join the flock on the runway to create two new teams of four, selected by the three judges. We eavesdrop on their earlier musings:

Zac wants to balance Patricia’s techniques with Daniel’s construction; Heidi thinks Michelle has a cool vibe, so she’s thrown in that group, and Zac wants Stanley to show he can stay strong amid “all these forces” so him too.

Nina pairs Richard’s obvious talent but questionable taste with Layana since he needs her young, hip vibe (and if I never hear the word “vibe” out of these people again, I’ll be very happy). Zac thinks Samantha and her strong opinions will wake up this group. Then we have the inconsistent Amanda because, well, who knows. It’s all bullshit anyway.

All the designers think they’ve been paired up with inferior partners. Funny how that works. Michelle is obviously displeased at working with Patricia again. Layana thinks Richard is good for stuff that’s far out and tacky, Amanda has good ideas but she hasn’t seen it yet, and Samantha is a little tacky as well. You know, guest2visits tried to tell me after S4 that Layana had Pretty Girl syndrome, and I didn’t see it. I see it now. She’s just a little princess, isn’t she. And no one else is good enough for her.

The Challenge

Men.

Not just men. MEN. The Cowboy, the Fireman, the SWAT guy, the mailman, the businessman, the construction worker. An Australian dancing/stripping troupe called Thunder From Down Under, apparently the hottest thing in Las Vegas. Forgive me, but all I could think of was the Village People.

The designers watch them dance and rip their clothes off. Samantha calls them classic action figures. Amanda’s worried her mom’s going to watch this. Daniel would be happy with any one of them; “That was a lot to handle for 10am.” Richard thinks it’s like designing for Thor, The Incredible Hulk, or The Avengers. Am I the only one who still thinks John Steed and Mrs. Peel when I hear The Avengers? Michelle’s a little worried, since she doesn’t know the male beefcake body. Then she recants a little: “My husband is beefcake, but he isn’t that kind of beefcake.” At one point she’s so flustered by the biceps she can’t remember the word “fabric.” And Layana plays Blushing Princess to the hilt.

Each team of four designers must complete three tear-away looks for a new show featuring business attire; one look must be a suit. They have one day. And that’s when I knew it was a setup. One day – a short day, considering at 10am they’re still on site, they still have shopping at Mood to do – to make menswear for guys with thighs bigger than their usual models’ waists, including a suit, using tear-away seams, a technique not many designers have ever seen (turns out Stanley has, but that’s kind of freakish; it might be the reason he was cast). The Season 4 disasters had two days. Nope, this was for the drama, not the clothes.

The guest judge is an actress I’ve never heard of. And I keep wanting to pull up Heidi’s errant bra strap. The runway is hilarious. The clothes are so awful, but you’ve got these male strippers dancing. “It’s like a wet dream,” says Zac. No, no, he didn’t say that, he said “Like a weird dream” but I’m betting they had to re-shoot to clean it up for tv. They all forget to vote, whether it’s because the guys are so attractive, or the clothes are so awful, it’s hard to tell. Nina breaks into hysterical laughter, rivaling Michael Kors’ giggles when faced with the lady wrestlers of S4. The whole episode was like a mashup of S4, now that I think about it. A bad one. Intended to get us sputtering. I refuse to sputter.

The teams

Each team also has to come up with a team name, and given the ridiculous things they came up with back in S1, I wasn’t surprised when they came up with equally, if not more, idiotic ideas. Team Slick & Hip? Didn’t they learn anything from Team Luxe? When you name your team after a look, it’s a given that you’re going to end up with something that’s the opposite of that look.

Team Slip & Fall: Richard, Amanda, Layana, Samantha

Right off the bat, Richard’s out of touch with his team. Samantha interviews he’s headed for a drag race between Ru Paul and Boy George; Amanda worries about his ‘tude, his dated aesthetic (she’s using the word ‘tude and complaining about his aesthetic?) and his inability to speak her language (she’s visual, he’s verbal); Layana seems to think he gave her the wrong answer about something, but it’s pretty unclear to me exactly what was going on. The actual problem is this: nobody knows what they’re doing when it comes to menswear. Richard volunteers to make three white shirts and he’s never made a man’s shirt before. Ok, I’ll admit, I didn’t know what a collar stand was, but first of all, I’m not a designer, and second, now that I do know what they are, I realize a lot of my more tailored shirts (from back in the days when I wore such things) had them, so they aren’t exclusive to menswear; what’s wrong with these guys? Layana’s the jacket girl, but only girl jackets. Amanda has two pairs of pants to make so she knows they’d better be perfect; is it really a surprise when they’re too short and too tight, even though Samantha’s are just fine and they all used the same pattern?

The highlight of the episode is Amanda’s discovery of the penile bump while goosing the manikin: “It has a bump. A little penile bump. And I do mean little.” Your mother’s gonna watch that, too, Amanda. But Amanda shows she kind of knows her stuff, too: she points out, “Another problem is we don’t have a style.” Layana announces she’s thinking Armani. I guess she expected everyone to pick that up by telepathy. But Amanda goes with it: “Oh, so mid-century, slimmer cut, slimmer lapel.” I have no idea if that’s actually Armani, but if so, she’s not as non-verbal as she claimed with Richard. Of course, it could be completely off (isn’t Armani pretty current?) in which case she’s proved her point. I’m flexible.

Richard gets beaten down by the girls to the point where he Skypes a friend in tears. Poor Richard, he has a band-aid on his head over his ear, he must’ve cut himself shaving his scalp that morning, too.

Predictably, the result is a complete mess. Richard’s shirts look like bad kurtas; they can’t be tucked in because Amanda’s pants are too tight, the point where they’re opening up during the Q&A. Even Layana’s tie looks ridiculous – hey, I think I might be able to make a tie, isn’t that the first thing they teach you in home ec? – and her jacket is too small and ridiculously feminine. The only thing that looks halfway decent is Samantha’s vest, but it’s hard to see because Richard’s shirt is so scary-awful. On the plus side, the clothes tear away perfectly when the guys dance. And with these clothes, the faster they tear away, the better.

Shades of No Way

I’m beginning to wonder if someone cooked the books on Michelle early in the season. Why is it that for the first four episodes – at least two of which involved no collaboration at all – were distinctly mediocre, and now for three weeks she’s been churning out the best stuff on the runway? It’s almost as though she had the narrative when she started, and deliberately held back for several weeks, to create a character arc. That isn’t something someone would do, right? At least, not unless she knew she’d already been chosen the winner, or at least guaranteed the time to complete the ascension? Thing is, Christian took a while to get started; maybe a little time to get the feel of things is necessary. Whatever the reason, at this point, she’s actually (almost) equal to her opinion of herself.

Not that her design is good; it’s nonsensical in the context of the challenge and the other looks. But it’s something different and interesting, and it looks like a draft of something that might turn into something interesting, if it weren’t supposed to be related to work. And strippers.

Not only that, but she starts off the planning session with a good idea: an office guy in suit, a more casual worker, and a bike messenger. Stanley shoots her down (after a struggle, during which Michelle admits on national television that she fantasizes about bike messengers on a daily basis; I’m sure her different-kind-of-beefcake husband will be happy to hear that; maybe he’ll tell her about his fantasies, too. Maybe there’s a reason for that rumor about post-PR break-ups). I think her kilt-vest is possibly a thumb in the eye to the team’s more “classic” vision.

Since Stanley just made tear-away suits a few months ago for a photo shoot, he’s doing a suit; he suggests that Patricia make a basket weave textile for the plackets of the shirt, which is a good use of her skills. Of course, it doesn’t quite work out that way, as the shirt she ends up making is pretty hideous once it escapes from under the boring and vaguely obscene trench coat Daniel takes as his destiny. Interesting that Tim sees clergy in that trench coat. Overnight, Michelle tells Layana, “If the ship is sinking and there’s only one lifeboat, I know who’s going over.” Layana guesses Patricia, twisting the metaphor into a soggy pretzel. On the runway, their clothes don’t have quite the same level of horror as the first team, but the tear-aways fail. And this I have learned from Project Runway: There’s nothing funnier than a stripper with his pants tangled around his ankles.

It’s All Over but the Shouting:

I lost track of the criticisms somewhere along the way. Heidi even suggests auf’ing everyone, but of course she can’t do that, she’s got more thigh to flash. So Team Oil Slick loses, and while that means Team Named After Mommy Porn doesn’t lose, it doesn’t mean they win, either, they’re just a little less terrible, and the most important consideration was the tear-away feature which they completely screwed up. The conversation with the judges is hilarious:

Nina: “Why not be creative?”
Patricia: “We were thinking office looks…”
Zac: “Stop – what office story does this tell you?”

He’s got a point. Ever seen these guys in an office?

The Decision:

Heidi falls all over herself in Little Chat trying to convince the actress these really are designers and they have produced some decent looks in past challenges, but in the end, she just can’t name a winner. Best decision all season.

As for the losers, it’s evident that Samantha is safe, and somehow the Princess gets by, so it’s between Richard and Amanda, who can’t decide if they want to snipe at each other or kiss and make up. Amanda’s out, so it’s moot.

Next Week:

Didn’t they just do a Lord & Taylor challenge? No, that was last season… they’re all beginning to run together.

Project Runway S11: Episode 7, A Sticky Situation

I had two favorite dresses this week. One won; the other lost. Neither was really a prom dress, but they were pretty. Project Runway, with their arbitrary choices and nonsensical judging, has finally beaten me down to the point where I don’t care.

Except that, at the final second, they went beyond jerking contestants (and viewers) around to being just plain mean. Watching them lie – LIE – and cut someone off at the knees – SURPRISE! – for no reason at all isn’t fun. It’s cruel.

That’s entertainment. Lifetime-style.

The Duck:

Enter Heidi with a duck named Fred. Daniel likes ducks; he had a pet duck once, so they have a special place in his heart. Tu, on the other hand, hates ducks. A friend of his had a duck, and it followed him and tried to bite him. I’m wondering where all these duck people came from. Out of ten people, two have encountered ducks-as-pets? Is this true for the general population – half have had a pet duck, or know someone who has? Have I been duck-deprived all my life? Is that what’s truly, fundamentally wrong with me? Or did they select contestants based on personal experience with ducks?

Here’s what I really want to know: how is the leash attached?

Layana’s trying to figure out what they’re doing with farm animals. I’d love to see what’s in her head right now. As Heidi fades out behind the screen, Fred makes a break for it, and Heidi reacts like a girl. That’s what you get for putting a duck on a leash, Heidi.

The Duck Tape

The Man from Duck Tape is in the workroom, wearing a Duck Tape tie. We get an official Duck Tape history lesson, but they don’t mention that in 1943 Navy mom Vesta Stoudt, an ammunition factory packer in Illinois, wrote a letter to President Roosevelt suggesting a waterproof tape as a better way of sealing ammo boxes, making it quicker and easier for troops to get to the ammo when they needed it. Leave it to a concerned mom to come up with ways to protect her kids while the men are off posturing. No, she didn’t invent Duck Tape in the same way Mike Nesmith’s (the guy from the Monkees, sheesh, just when you people born anyway) invented Liquid Paper, but she specifically suggested it.

Until recently – less than 10 years ago – I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Duck Tape. I called it “duct tape.” I looked into this back then, wondering if it was a clever little play on words, but found that nope, it was originally army green and referred to as “duck tape” due to its waterproof quality; after the war, it was produced for civilian use, particularly the construction boom as all those soldiers used the GI Bill to create the suburbs, in the traditional silver color, and got to be generically referred to as “duct tape” as it was used to hold metal air ducts in place for welding. Turns out, in 1998 a couple of Berkeley National Laboratory physicists demonstrated that the one thing duct tape is really bad at is… sealing HVAC ducts. Water, it can handle. Repeated heating and cooling, not so much.

And in this millennium, what duck tape is really very good for, is… prom dresses.

The Duck Tape Challenge:

The designers, working in teams of two, must create one prom dress per team, which makes this an actual team challenge. Students will get a mini-runway-preview in a high school gym at the end of the day, give the designers some feedback, and vote for their favorite; their overall vote will count towards 20% of the team’s score. So time is short on this one.

Daniel: “How can you go wrong on a prom dress for a sixteen-year-old girl?” Ask Christian Siriano, he’ll tell you. Funny how things work out, isn’t it. What if Christian had been eliminated that week? Would he still be dressing the rich and famous today?

Samantha isn’t feeling it; she’s not into proms, or teenagers. I have to say, I’m with Samantha on this one. I wasn’t into teenagers even when I was a teenager. Especially when I was a teenager.

Layana isn’t enjoying the idea of being judged by high school kids, since they’re just going to vote for the one that shows the most skin. I wonder if this says something about Layana’s high school experience.

Patricia is terrified of teenagers. Yeah, me too.

The Duck Tape Challenge Teams:

Because the pairs are all snarled up at this point, Tim brings out the Button Bag and new partner selection begins.

Stanley gets first choice, since he won the week before; he picks Layana, which hurts Richard, who thought he was Stanley’s soulmate. “He probably thinks her aesthetic is better for prom, but what he doesn’t know is, my specialty is prom dresses.” But Stanley was actually thinking, he likes to learn something new, and Layana’s someone he can learn from. It’s a little Glee drama in there, isn’t it?

Kate gets to pick next. She can’t stand Michelle, Layana, or Amanda: “They’re bitches.” I love Kate. She’s this incredible Good Witch/Bad Witch, lying to Daniel one week, standing up for Tu the next, and now she’s being a bitch about who’s a bitch. Good Witch Kate stays with Tu since he’s been so nice to her (sorry, I’m reading Wicked).

Michelle picks Amanda for reasons which pass understanding.

Richard takes Daniel.

That leaves Patricia and Samantha stuck together. “This will be interesting,” says Samantha. I suppose this isn’t the time and place for a diatribe on the devaluation of the word “interesting.” I warn you, some day I will bust out on this.

After the high school run-through, they’ll come back to Parsons for the real runway the next day. Zac is back from not wasting his time on senior citizens, and Chris Benz, pink-haired
Designer to the Stars and First Lady, is guest judge. The winner will be credited with a $5,000 donation to Autism Speaks, which bizarrely comes out of left field showing no connection to anyone or anything involved in the episode. I don’t know why I’m surprised; Project Runway gave up on making sense a long time ago.

Does it seem to anyone else that there are an awful lot of self-promotional spots buried in here with tiny slices of sponsorships in them? Are they having trouble selling full advertising time, so they’re offering something like integrated spots with no production costs?

The Duck Tape Challenge High Scores:

Stanley and Layana

Layana wants gold duct tape, but Richard’s already hoarded all the gold and won’t part with any; she thinks it’s because Stanley picked her instead of him to go to the prom. Wow, Eric3000 is going to have a blast with this episode. Stanley tries to be reasonable and tell her not to get stuck on gold, here’s some really nice hot pink we can use, but as Bad Witch Kate points out, Layana’s used to getting her own way. They compromise on black and zebra print with a big pink bow for Stanley, who, remember, has immunity, so it’s not his ass on the line. Their pinafore is absurd; the bow is the least of their problems. So of course the judges love it; it’s lovely, smart, 3-D, almost comes to life. Heidi wants to be friends with this girl, she’s modern, plugged in, cool, and whatever other word Heidi can think of to prove how modern, plugged in and cool she herself is. And she loves that they weren’t afraid to put on that ginormous pink bow. Zac loves the bow; it ties the whole thing together, no pun intended, I’m sure. Chris likes that it references Greek warriors in the bodice, fetishism with the black leather look, and has all sorts of strange layers of inspiration to keep the feel fresh and modern. This is modern? Can we go back to the old days, please? I will say I love the petticoat. There’s a story that David O. Selznick insisted all the Gone With the Wind costumes be complete with beautiful petticoats; when asked why, since the audience would never see them, he said, “The actress will know.” So I give them points for including a petticoat, even a muslin-and-duck-tape petticoat. Heidi asks whose idea the garment was; Layana claims the top, Stanley the bottom.

Patricia and Samantha

Patricia’s got a technique for stripping a floor to show layers of paint, and she’s going to use it on this dress; this makes Samantha very nervous. Seems like everyone on Patricia’s team is always nervous. But when Tim comes around, it’s Patricia who looks scared to death; they sketched independently and have two very different design concepts. “I know you’re working hard,” says Tim, “but are you working smart?” Right now it’s the bride of the Tin Woodsman (maybe Tim’s reading Wicked, too. No, he probably read it years ago). Samantha realizes one of them is going to have to get watered down by the other, which sounds like something that would make a fortune on a different kind of show. At the high school show, Patricia realizes their final look is pretty out-there in the future. Again, if that’s what the future holds, I want to go backwards. It’s not out there, it’s ugly. The colors don’t work together, the skirt has awkward lines and a vaguely, i.e., unintentional, bulbous shape, and the top looks like a cheap cami with no style at all. Of course, the kids voted it their favorite, which just proves that teenagers have little taste and less sense. On the runway, Patricia explains her floor-stripping technique; I think if she’d used something a little more harmonious than electric blue for the top layer, it might’ve worked. Heidi loves it; Nina thinks it channels Katey Perry, and the back is fabulous – ok, there’s a cute little string closure as a hook-and-eye at the top of the zipper, but it’s .02% of the dress. Chris says the proportion is a little tricky (it sure is), most girls want tight and short, but he loved the idea and they could use it as a format to create their own prom dress. Wait, I thought the idea was to actually make a prom dress, not a format for someone else to make a prom dress. But the judges are smitten, or pretending to be, and there’s no reasoning with them. Who should win? Samantha can’t give the credit to Patricia fast enough. She’s no fool; she doesn’t want to be associated with this mess. Patricia repays the compliment, saying it’s good to have someone pulling the reins in on her, and she’s always grateful for someone who can say, “Stop.” Hey, Patricia? Stop. Ok?

Michelle and Amanda

Add Michelle to the list of people angry at Richard for hogging all the gold tape. She’s thinking Power 80s but she’s also thinking camouflage, which makes no sense to me. Her prom dress, see, was really funky, so she’s going to push the edge, no one wants to show up and find Becky wearing the same gown. Who’s Becky? Amanda nixes the camouflage and suggests tie-die. Michelle Just Says No to that, and they end up creating a print for a punk-rock dress. Bad Witch Kate calls it a Queen of Hearts costume, which it kind of is, but it looks pretty cool in the workroom. Amanda tries to add, and fails: “I’m twice the age of these kids…. Well, no, almost twice… yeah, I am, I’m twice their age.” Amanda is 31. Are the kids 15 ½ ? I’ll even give her 16. I confess: I love this dress, and that’s hard to admit since I’m waiting for Michelle to trip over her narrative and fall down. But it’s the best thing there. I’m not 100% sure it’s a prom dress, but when I was prom-age, we all wore floor-length empire chiffon with sheer sleeves. At least, I think that’s what everyone wore; I wasn’t there. In any case, Michelle and Amanda’s dress is great: sharp, unusual, and clever. Chris loves it; it’s modern, fun, and slightly sinister, a little high school fantasy. Zac loves the shape, the pattern (“tessellations,” he says, which endears him to me forever, and Michelle wisely doesn’t correct him with, “Actually, it’s houndstooth”); he’s a little concerned about the side cutouts which need boning (I didn’t even see them; he’s right). Nina sees Gwen Stefani, which makes the designers happy. When Heidi asks who should win if the dress wins (which it absolutely should) Amanda gives it to Michelle. That’s happening a lot this season, isn’t it? Michelle says it was 50/50 kismet, “but I did pick her,” just in case the judges get any funny ideas that it actually was a 50/50 collaboration and they consider giving it to Amanda. I still don’t have a clue why she picked Amanda in the first place, but I can’t deny that it worked.

And Those Who Couldn’t Quite Quack It:

Kate and Tu

Tu wants a short circle skirt, but Kate worries it’s too much and talks him out of it. Bad Witch Kate interviews, “There’s only room for one cook in this kitchen, and that’s me.” Tu knows Kate went to prom, so he respects her opinion on what’s appropriate, and Kate thinks every girl wants a long gown, since you only get to wear a long gown once when you’re that age. Tim doesn’t like that it’s pretending to be fabric; the point was to use duck tape, and he sees a flat, lackluster effect that’s forgettable. Kate’s shocked that Tim hates it, and rethinks her being the only cook in the kitchen; maybe she should trust Tu more. She sets to work giving Tim the volume he craves without compromising anyone’s personal design aesthetic. She’s pretty sure their dress is the most realistic of all in the room. Tu: “We’re going to prom, girls, not Hollyweird.” I have no idea what that means, but I love the color and on the runway I love most of the dress; in the photo, it’s a bit wrinkled, though it’s easier to see the reference to denim. The model has a little trouble walking in it, and it’s not really a prom dress at all, but I still think it’s pretty good. Nope. Heidi “didn’t respond to it.” It doesn’t look like fun. Chris thinks it’s old-fashioned, and it ages her. They said the same thing about that amazing dress Rami designed for prom; they said it was a dress for a 30-year-old. They had a sliver of a point then, and they do now, but it’s still damn good. But it seems long prom dresses have gone the way of the dinosaur (that would be me). Nina and Zac get into a little tiff about who knows more about prom dresses, which Heidi tries to defuse by asking Zac to ask her to prom. Heidi, dear, I know you’re going through your post-divorce second childhood, but let’s not get ridiculous. They try to figure out who’s to blame. Good Witch Kate stands up: the length and silhouette is on her. But Heidi wants to beat Tu up a little, since he hasn’t been doing much for the show in the way of Crazy Asian sound bites, so she scolds him for not speaking up.

Richard and Daniel

Richard decides there’s only going to be one gold dress at this prom, and it’s going to be his, so he takes all the gold tape and squirrels away what he doesn’t need. Because if he can’t have Stanley, at least he can have gold duck tape. They’re doing Beyonce, or maybe Rhianna. Though at one point he realizes they’re doing baked potato, which isn’t Beyonce-ish at all. Them change tactics; instead of putting tape on the mannikin, they make fabric out of tape then use the fabric on the mannikin. They’re doing great with this latticework on the sides, and then they add ruffles. Big ruffles. Still, Tim is impressed: it’s the opportunity to have fun and do sculptural forms, and this looks like a wow. The ruffles don’t bother me at this point, but ruffles can go bad fast, and they do; they sag, and there’s nothing worse than saggy ruffles. Well, actually, there are plenty of things worse than saggy ruffles – famine, poverty, disease, to name a few. But for this dress, the ruffles are dragging it down. Daniel claims he was thinking Sixteen Candles which turns out is not Heidi’s favorite movie, and since it came out 20 years ago, isn’t perhaps the best image to work towards. Zac tells them putting detailing on the side is kind of a waste, since the arms cover it. He’s not wrong, but still, it’s kind of cool to have a little surprise peeking through; not everything has to hit you over the head like a bag of hammers to have impact. Though I suppose on Lifetime it does. Nina is borrowing Michael Kors’ scriptwriter: “You go from heroes to zeroes.” She should give the writer back. They stick together, though; they’d both work together in the next round, and refuse to throw each other under the bus. I’m approving of this trend this season, more and more. It’s too bad the rest of the show is so awful.

Who’s In, Who’s Auf:

Michelle wins. She absolutely deserved it, though she should’ve given Amanda a little more credit for talking her out of camouflage. Now I suppose we’ll have to hear about how she’s hitting her stride now that she doesn’t have to carry around all the deadwood any more, which is pretty funny, considering Amanda seems to me to be mostly deadwood. But she’s deadwood Michelle can push aside in pursuit of her own ideas, which makes all the difference. “Now I feel like I’m supposed to be here,” interviews Michelle. And, when poked with a sharp stick by the producers, “And $5,000 goes to Autism Speaks which is pretty freakin’ cool.” To be clear: $5,000 would have gone to Autism Speaks, via the Duck Tape people, no matter who won. But I’m sure they wanted to get credit for the donation, in addition to all the advertising for duck tape they hope to sell to high school students everywhere for this year’s prom.

Patricia and Samantha are consoled with how close a decision it was. No, it wasn’t.

Which leaves us with the Gold Dust Twins or Tu and Kate. I still think they were second and third and shouldn’t have been in danger at all, but my opinion counts for little. Richard and Daniel are whisked away to safety.

Tu is out. I’m not surprised – I don’t think this was his venue – but I’m sad. He’s not; he’s fine. He even thinks he deserves to go home. Now I’m really sad.

Then comes the stupid part: Kate is out, too. Both Good Witch and Bad Witch.

Now, that was just mean. Didn’t Heidi say at runway time that “one designer from the losing team” would be out? Yes, she did, I just watched the video. She lied, having left all pretense of integrity and consistency behind when she jumped to Lifetime. Mean Girl pays better, I guess.

So they wait until Kate bids adieu to Tu, and Good Witch Kate is feeling some measure of guilt mixed with Bad Witch Kate’s immense relief, and they axe them both.

Mean, Heidi. Just mean.

Next Week:

Male strippers. Because deception, lying, and cruelty aren’t enough.

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…

Top Chef Seattle: Episode 17 – Finale (Finally)

ADDENDUM: Tom Colicchio appeared on UP With Chris Hayes on Saturday, 3/2/13, starting out with a couple of solo segments to talk about the release of the documentary he just produced on Hunger in America (“A Place At The Table“) then a broader discussion, on a full panel of four, about food politics and economics, school lunches (including shots from the S7 school lunch challenge), and the restaurant industry. I was impressed; he held his own along with the activists and policy wonks. The videos of the segments start here and should chain from there.

I was looking forward to this finale.

No matter what the outcome, I figured I’d be happy. It isn’t that I didn’t care who won; it was more like I wanted them both to win and kept going back and forth, but I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed (or outraged) either way. Unless, of course, someone made a horrible mistake and won anyway. But that didn’t happen.

I’m guessing the producers saw they were dealing with two likeable contestants with strong skills and low-drama styles. And panicked. No hissy-fits? No back-stabbing? No trash-talk? Just solid cooking with a few unusual accents and standard foods combined and presented in slightly different ways? What kind of finale would that be?

So they wrecked it.

I suppose it’s better than making a big deal out of a single serving of fish with bones in it, or ramping up some phony suspense about whether a dessert would set in time. Or featuring an extra leaf of arugula as a major flaw (love you, Paul!) only to have Tom backtrack in his blog the next day.

No, I take that back. It isn’t.

Ok, so I’m an old fart, and I’m resistant to change; I know these things. But it was nearly unwatchable. Oddly, I’d just left a comment for minxeats complaining about (among other things) the unwatchability of The Taste (all those flashing lights and dynamic camera angles obscured what was actually happening). So imagine my disappointment that TC decided to go that way as well.

It wasn’t unwatchable, but it was close.

For Starters:

Instead of the usual boring opening sequence, we have Padma playing Game Show Hostess. What I truly loved was that for the first ten seconds of her little spiel, her face was covered by the TV Parental Guidelines square. Hint: Producers, when you’re using a world-famous model, don’t put her in the upper left-hand corner for the opening.

iron chefWait: the kitchens, the judges, the audience, 160 diners (including the families of the two contenders and all nine former TC winners) are all visible in a huge open studio. It’s Kitchen Stadium. Did they knock-off Iron Chef America? Why would they do that? Just to show they could? Or to return Alton Brown’s smackdown?

We join things in progress: the chefs have already chosen their sous chefs (in whatever mysterious way: was it random draw or alternating choice? Why should we care what’s actually going on, let’s just look at the flashing lights and dark space and fast shoulder-cam pans and marvel at the confusing visual. ADDENDUM: Kristen’s post-show interview with TV Guide fills us in). Brooke has CJ, Stefan, and Kuniko; with Kristen are Lizzie, Sheldon, and Josh. I wonder again about Kristen’s ability to choose a team, and admire Brooke for not going for the last-eliminated, but focusing on who might have skills she can use. I love Sheldon, but Kristen does French; unless she’s going to be making breakfast, what good is Josh? But she was thinking about egos, or lack thereof. I guess that means they selected. So it tickles me that Stefan is on Brooke’s team.

I wonder if Brooke’s fears include stage fright. If so, she’s in for a rough night.

First Round:

I’m not sure what’s going on, but it seems they’re doing a First Course. Though Padma calls it Round One, without explaining how many rounds there will be (TC, The Mystery Version). Brooke warns CJ not to fry something; cut to CJ flaming pig ears (aha! Knew she’d work them in), drawing displeasure from Tom and Emeril, but no chiding from Brooke, who’s busy. Kristen frets that her comfort zone is cooking for ten, not 160, so she needs to stay calm and not throw up. Yep, not throwing up is good. Kristen expresses herself using bodily functions a lot. That might not be the best style for a chef.

Kristen serves Chicken Liver Mousse with Frisee, Mustard, Prune, Hazelnuts, and Pumpernickel. Emeril notes it’s not the first time she’s done chicken livers on TC, but he loves it; it’s simple and classic and very her. Tom likes the seasoning and balance. Gail thinks it’s perfect, velvety and airy, but the lettuce and croutons piled on top make it hard to find. Its a perfect metaphor for the finale.

Brooke finally gets to serve the Crispy Pig Ear Salad with Chicory, Six-Minute Egg, Apricot Jam, and Candied Kumquats that she developed over the break. Sounds kind of breakfasty, doesn’t it? Tom loves the flavor; the eggs and puree (presumably apricot?) worked together. Emeril loved the dish, but his cracklings were overcooked, thanks to CJ’s flambé technique while Padma’s were delicious and not burned at all. Hugh praises her knowledge of balance in salad dressing, which sounds like damning with faint praise (how many times have the judges scorned a salad as an offering) but he emphasizes how important it is. I think it’s the best-looking dish of the night.

Round One Vote:

Now we find out: each round will be voted immediately, and the first chef to win three rounds will win Top Chef. Sort of like the Super Bowl. For each round, first chef to win three votes wins the round. Which opens up all sorts of possibilities for manipulating the results to stretch things out and add suspense. It also cuts down on the discussion of the food, which Tom acknowledges in his blog. Sure they’d want to cut down on the descriptions of the food, since we’re viewers who can’t taste it and thus rely on the judges’ comments; they wouldn’t want to make it too easy for us. TC, Viewer Challenge Edition.

Kristen wins Round One with Hugh, Gail, and Emeril before Tom and Padma have a chance to chime in. Brooke admits there were execution errors. Be sure to thank CJ for the burned pig ears.

Round Two:

Brooke is using a wide spectrum of flavors. Kristen shouts out direction for a rub to Sheldon: “Four parts salt, one part sugar…” At least I think that’s what she said (yes, the recipe backs that up). She sees Brooke has a lot going on, but she wants to highlight, not cover up, the scallops, so she’s taking a simpler approach. Tom worries that Brooke wasn’t keeping a close enough eye on CJ last round, which resulted in burned pig ears. We hear from Brooke’s family, how she used to watch Galloping Gourmet when she was five years old. Hey, I watched it when it originally aired back in the 60s, back when the Galloping Gourmet still galloped, before he traded in his clarified butter and wine for a calorie chart and a Bible. Stefan is flirting with anything that moves, and on this set, that’s a lot of flirting.

Brooke prepares Seared Scallop with Salt Cod Puree, Speck, and Black Currant and Mustard Seed Vinaigrette. Tom likes the combination; it’s her style to make a version of a basic dish with one thing fighting for dominance, and the scallop is perfectly cooked. Gail wonders why she cooked the scallops so early in the process; she wanted to let them rest. Hugh loves the synergy and earthiness. Emeril’s always a fan of salt cod puree (aka brandade), and this drives it home.

Kristen makes a Citrus and Meyer Lemon-cured Scallop with Bitter Orange, Meyer Lemon and Apple. Tom’s pleased; it’s exactly what he expects from her, flavorful and delicious. Padma: “There’s nowhere to hide on this plate, well done.” Emeril also loves the simplicity.

Round Two Votes:

Gail and Emeril go for Brooke; Tom takes Kristen (people are beginning to talk), Padma ramps up the suspense with a vote for Kristen (forever putting to rest the debate on TWoP about whether or not Padma gets a vote), but Hugh breaks the tie in Brooke’s favor.

Round Three:

They have 34 minutes. Another complaint: no prep time. The first dish seemed to take a while – it had to, for braised pig ears – but everything else is fast food. Add to that the lack of information about whether that is indeed the case. It’s like the Elves are saying, “Just look at the flash and don’t worry your pretty little head about what’s actually going on.” Well, I’ll worry my not-so-pretty-little-head about anything I want, and I want more substance, less sizzle.

Brooke is making chicken wings, then worries this might be too playful: what if the judges don’t want to eat with their fingers? Kristen tells Sheldon all about super-umami bone marrow. Does Sheldon do bone marrow? Does he need to? There’s more family stuff, but that’s when I go get more tea.

Brooke plays with Vadouvan Fried Chicken with Sumac Yogurt-Tahini and Pickled Kohlrabi Fattoush. I thought someone had done vadouvan on this season already, but it looks like that was back in All-Stars E3. Unless I misspelled it. In any case it’s a French spin on curry powder. Fattoush is new to me: it’s a Lebanese bread salad. And sumac is not the same as poison sumac. Hugh was not expecting chicken wings. Brooke defends them as a redemption of her boneless, and flavorless, fried chicken in E12. Tom: I get why you’re doing it, though I’m still not sure why you’re doing it” which is maybe my favorite thing Tom has ever said. He’s also not sure about the salad working with the chicken wings.

Kristen brings out her Celery Root Puree with Bone Marrow, Mushrooms, Bitter Greens and Radishes. She does radishes a lot. Tom asks why the mushrooms were stewed which eliminates their roasty toasty goodness; she wanted the mushrooms as an undertone. Padma wishes something was something, but it wasn’t. Gail isn’t enthused, either.

Round Three Votes:

The judges must’ve been mighty displeased at eating chicken wings with their hands, because Kristen take it 1-2-3: Emeril, Tom (duh), Padma. How did that happen? Tom explains his reasoning, and the deeper failure behind Brooke’s dish, in his blog entry. I say, nonsense. We already know Padma doesn’t mind licking her fingers on camera. Or is it ok if she’s paid for it?

Round Four:

They’re tied 2-1 so Brooke needs to win to keep the game going. But since it’s 10:45 by the time they finish the commercial and start, I’m thinking this is the last round. When the voting starts at 10:55, it’s pretty much a sure thing. For the usual 10:40 interstitial, they feature the former winners giving advice. And they go out of their way to make Ilan look like a jerk. Not that it’s hard… Surprisingly, his advice does not include head-shaving. Kristen practiced this dish; Brooke is going Surf & Turf. And there’s a restaurant supply company getting a lot of product placement time.

Brooke serves Braised Pork Cheek and Red Snapper with Collard Green Slaw and Sorrel Puree. Hugh’s glad to see collards; Tom likes the combination. Emeril loves the sorrel, it perked everything up. Gail loved the play between pork and snapper, and the pomegranate gave it the juice it needed.

Kristen makes her Red Snapper with Leeks, Little Gem Lettuce, Tarragon, ad Uni-Shellfish Nage. Tom’s happy Gail likes the textures, but the leeks, served long and stringy, are hard to eat; they have to be cut. Hugh loved the braised leeks, and didn’t mind that he had to use his knife to cut them. For the record, little gem lettuce isn’t that much of a big deal.

Round Four Vote:

First, Tom asks Kristen about her comeback from elimination, then, at 10:52, we cut to commercial. Spoiler, Bravo. They also show a poll that Kristen is ahead of Brooke for Fan Favorite by 56 to 44, but this seems to be a different Fan Favorite than the important one that earns them money (which I’ll get to).

At 10:55, Gail votes for Kristen’s dish; it was a little more harmonious, and she loved the use of uni. Emeril also goes for Kristen. Brooke looks sad. Kristen looks nervous. And Tom gets to cast the final vote (of course; he is head judge, and you know they aren’t going to let Padma seem to elect the new Top Chef) for Kristen. And Hugh, well, he already got to do a tiebreaker.

In case you weren’t paying close enough attention: Kristen wins Top Chef. Both of them have red eyes and trembling voices in their after-interviews.

I’m happy. I was surprised to discover, during the show, that I was hoping Kristen would pull it off. But I wouldn’t have had any complaints at all about Brooke, either; she seems to know what she’s doing, she seems super-nice, and I admire how she did the boats and the helicopters and all the other crap all season long. She did a great job, and she came off well, and I have no doubt that’s going to serve her well in the future. Maybe not as well as $125,000, but if she wants to get investors together for a restaurant, I don’t think she’ll have any trouble finding them. And if she wants to go the media route, she’ll find herself welcome there, too.

The Unspeakable Andy Cohen Show

I don’t watch this show. I don’t even know the actual name of it. I barely watched it last night, just during The Daily Show commercials, but enough of interest happened to comment.

For instance: in spite of the poll put up during the closing segments of the episode, Sheldon won Fan Favorite and $10,000. Which is super-cool; he is incredibly likeable, and if he hadn’t had those stumbles over the last three episodes, it could’ve gone a different way. When asked on air by phone how he was going to spend the money, Sheldon said: “I’m going to pitch out my 2013 Product Placement Make Model”. Or something like that; Andy Cohen couldn’t manage a clear phone connection to Hawaii, because, well, beyond the shotski and a fondness for showcasing obnoxious housewives, the man’s talents are limited.

And a caller asked Kristen to say three nice things about Josie. Kristen had no trouble:
1. She’s got a wonderful spirit.
2. She’s a great alarm clock (“She woke me up every morning.”)
3. I’d eat her food. She can cook, TC wasn’t the right platform.

Next Week:

I do Calculus on Thursdays instead of recaps. Which is going to do wonders for my comprehension of derivatives and optimization.

If you really, truly haven’t had enough, you can read Francis Lam’s behind-the-scenes; as much as I liked Francis Lam as a TCM judge, it’s nowhere near as interesting or informative as the less-prestigious Nosh Pit article from July.

See you next season. I hear they’re casting already.

Project Runway S11: Episode 5 – A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock ‘n’ Roll

If you recall, we left off with a teaser last week (which I erroneously transplanted to Top Chef yesterday; I’m going to be unusually confused this week, since I have Tim’s picture plastered all over that TC recap): Tim wandered back to the designers after the auf and said. “Come out to the runway and meet with Heidi, there’s something that needs discussion.” I speculated, “It’s probably a complete recalibration of teams….”

And, sure enough, the Evil Button Bag is clearly silhouetted. The designers groan. Except for Stanley, who’s glad to get rid of all that dead weight holding him down.

Me, I’m thrilled. Now I don’t have to worry about those dumb team names. See, everything works out, if you just procrastinate long enough.

They’ll be working in teams of two, usually called pairs, but then they’d have to change the promos to “Project Runway: Teams or Pairs Edition.” Tim exhorts them to choose a true partner, someone who will complement them (not “compliment” – the “e” makes a difference – though I suspect they’ll all go for the compliments over complements). Because she won the last challenge, Samantha gets to pick first, after which Heidi goes to the Evil Button Bag.

Samantha picks Daniel because he likes shapes and structure.
Richard picks Stanley since their energies are great together; “it was destiny.”
Patricia takes Layana maybe because she’s sitting right next to her. Layana’s dubious.
Matthew picks Michelle.
Kate picks Tu.
Amanda Benjamin are just stuck with each other. Benjamin’s nervous, since all those people pushed her under the bus last week; she’s still smarting from that. But he’s going to push her to be more adventurous. All this talk of pushing is making me nervous.

Field trip! They end up at a country-western bar which has nothing to do with the challenge but paid for the promotion. Turns out they’ll be designing for country singer Miranda Lambert. Everyone gushes about how wonderful she is throughout the episode. Wanna bet no one ever heard of her before this episode? Except Amanda, who’s from Nashville (making Benjamin a little less nervous about her) and pronounces her “not a princess or a diva, she’s one of those cool country stars.” If you say so.

Each team-pair produces two looks, one for performance (a little bit… etc), and one for Red Carpet use (chic, young, fresh, not overly designed). Dang, why doesn’t anyone ever want something old and out-of-style? And it’s time to celebrate curves. Oh goody. The looks don’t need to be cohesive. This means that the “teams” are once again a notion of convenience rather than an actual part of the challenge. With the exception of last week, I don’t think there’s been a challenge in which cohesion played a significant role, has there? They get $400 per pair and one day. Miranda herself will be Guest Judge.

It’s not about the clothes, it’s about the narrative.

Rising Arcs:

Benjamin and Amanda: Team Narrative – Double Redemption.

Benjamin does glamour, so he takes the Red Carpet look. They end up so seriously under-budget at Mood – only using $271 of their allotted $400 – that he’s worried. The extra money, once you get beyond the basic cost of decent fabric, really is for fixing mistakes and allowing options, I think; if you know exactly what you’re doing and can execute it perfectly, I guess you can manage on less. But it’s very risky. He even manages to stay on schedule, and gives us a little insight into his personal psychology with, “My mother would be so proud.” Tell me more about your mother… On walk-through, Tim thinks it’s great, and Benjamin is very psyched. The finished look is striking, but whenever you pour a model into a tight dress, it’s striking. I know Miranda wants to embrace her curves, but does she want to embrace them that tightly? I’m not sure about the placement of the fanny pack, or the swinging curtain of beads on her right boob. I, however, am not a fashionista, and apparently it’s terrific. Lack of side seams apparently is an important feature. Nina thinks it’s elegant and gorgeous from every angle. Zac likes her hair. Her hair? I wonder what else he said that they cut out. Miranda is dubious, and all the thin people on the judging panel tell her it’s perfect for her: it’s got support, it’s streamlined without those bulky seams, and it’ll be great. I hate it when thin people tell non-thin people how great they’ll look in stuff that only looks good on thin people. But Benjamin’s on the schedule for an upward arc.

Amanda has seen Miranda (once) and she’s pretty sure she’s got the Performance look nailed. She shows Benjamin a fringe technique for the skirt and he loves it. She’s doing “hipster country.” I’m still working on “hipster” but they all seem kind of whiney and annoying to me. She and Michelle enjoy a little gossip about the dubious value of their partners. Tim loves the in-progress; she’s glad, but, as she says, she always gets good critique from Tim, right before she goes out on the runway and gets slaughtered. She’s dealing with her own psyche: her brother is a rock star. Literally. So she’s tired of being the other one. Her dress looks pretty “other one” to me – lots of blue fringe and a silvery glitzed-up v-neck. She explains the model is wearing a “regular bra” but that back seemed really low. Still, it’s a good thought; Miranda needs a bra. She likes the shape. Zac loves that she took casual jersey and made the fringe, giving it a wet-t-shirt connotation, which is another thing I never thought was on the list of fashion do’s. Seems the chevron makes it chic. I have no idea what chevron he’s talking about, but I’ll take his word for it. Nina likes that it’s easily accessorized. I suppose the last-place-to-top narrative is foremost on the agenda, since Heidi can’t stop talking about it.

Richard and Stanley

Richard (narrative: t-shirt ex machina) does the Performance look, all glitz and glam. Netting, chains falling, rock goddess. This is the guy that wanted to buy a water pump last week, remember? He keeps in mind she’ll be sweating a lot, so the fabric is more like netting. Tim’s fine with that; it’s not a coverup, some skin is going to show. At the end of the day, he realizes there’s all this fishnet stuff with no lining. “It’ll happen, something will come along.” Really? I know I said everything works out ok if you procrastinate long enough, but he’s got less than 24 hours. On Runway Day, he’s still worried; no one has anything he can use as a lining. And somehow one hasn’t dropped out of the sky like he’d expected. Then the miracle happens: he bought a “Thank You, Mood” t-shirt with his budget, so he can use that to make a tube dress for a lining. Thank you, Mood, indeed. His fringe dress isn’t bad, until she turns around, when it’s seriously ordinary. Zac loves the movement and sparkle, and the body exposure in the back. Heidi thinks it looks expensive; of course it does, those Mood t-shirts go for up to $30. Nina likes that it plays up her curves (by hiding them under layers of fringe). Miranda would wear it. ‘Nuff said.

Stanley (narrative: Designated Black Designer who Won’t Win but Proves We’re Not Racist) who is working on the Red Carpet dress; he wants a hard edge, with beading that isn’t prim and ladylike. Just before runway, he’s worried he hasn’t done his best. I don’t think so either; it’s slut on top, Amish on bottom, with a hammered foil belt he’s very proud of. Miranda likes the plunge, but the bottom’s a lot of fabric. Nina thinks it’s beautiful, but Miranda would be swallowed up by all that pleating. Heidi likes the neckline. Of course she would.

Tragedic Twists:

Samantha and Daniel: Team Narrative: How the Might Have Fallen

Samantha (narrative: one day you’re in, the next you’re out, and boy it’s a good thing you’ve got immunity) takes the Performance look. She explains to Tim about the motorcycle vest and skirt with movement; he likes the counterpoint of tailoring on top with an “exuberant” skirt. I’m not sure what he saw, but in the final look, the skirt doesn’t exuberant to me, it looks like the upper third is showing by mistake. The vest is pretty, though. She tells the judges she does rock, not country. Zac wanted more wow. Miranda would wear what Samantha’s wearing, not what she made.

Daniel (narrative: the hare who started strong now stumbles) goes Red Carpet; he figures he’ll do separates so they can be used at other times. He’s thrilled with some metallic navy leather he finds in Mood. She’s cutting up cotton jersey for a skirt that moves. He’s got this soutache technique he’s dying to use. Now, I associate soutache with military uniforms, but apparently it’s all the rage in jewelry, so if he wants to use it for a country singer’s Red Carpet gown, sure, why not. I think he just likes saying “soutache,” myself. Thing is, he doesn’t usually use leather, so why he’s torturing the leather in this particular way, I’m not sure. Maybe because it’s what he knows how to do. He explains it to Tim, who focuses instead on the center seam and slit as the winner of the Bad Idea of the Day. It’s not improved by shredding the hem with a fork. Then we learn something interesting about Kate: she keeps telling Daniel what a terrific thing his soutache is, but she really thinks it’s stupid. Keep in mind for future reference, Kate is a two-faced phony liar. Either that, or she actually liked it, and the interview was shot after judging. Having seen the final product, I don’t quite get the big deal myself. It doesn’t look like anything in particular, other than texture with shine (Heidi thinks it looks like tin foil); to make matters worse, the skirt’s ugly and stiff, and the top and bottom have nothing to do with each other. Miranda’s not impressed; it’s someone’s interpretation of what a country star would wear. I don’t understand that, maybe the fringing? Nina puts the dread “inexpensive” label on it, and she hates the middle seam. Tim’s no longer infallible, but he called it this time. Nina breaks her own record for using the word “bad” in one critique. Zac: “Pieces from you are starting to look referential and old; they’re not flattering.” Ouch.

Michelle and Matthew

Michelle (narrative: Questionable Taste?) does Red Carpet, starting with a plunging leather vest. She starts with navy leather, but notices everyone’s getting navy (I’m guessing it’s in the Dossier) so changes her mind. She seems ambivalent about Matthew; one minute she’s worried about how he’s been in the bottom so many times, but then she loved his unconventional look last week and she respects his convictions. Tim thinks her fabric looks like eel. Is eelskin a thing? To the point where it’s recognizable? Michelle does a Nina imitation making fun of the necklace she’s making, except her Nina sounds more like Natasha. I like the vest she ends up with, but the skirt’s absurd and the necklace doesn’t make sense. She was thinking more rock-n-roll, MTV awards. Heidi’s sure she’d go on the Worst Dressed list. Miranda’s distracted by the necklace (Zac calls it linguine) but might wear the vest with a short leather skirt. Removing the necklace improves it greatly. Nope, Nina doesn’t approve, it’s Rock of Ages, AC/DC, bad rock-n-roll. Michelle professes her love of hair metal. Miranda: “You tried to capture my personality and I appreciate that but I don’t like it.” So there.

Matthew (narrative: If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will, either… and maybe not even then) wonders just how edge a performance look can have before it becomes kitsch-y or costumey. As have we all, during those Dark Nights of the Soul. Tim and Michelle play double-team therapists. “It’s weird to be my age and still struggle with insecurity.” Oh, honey, don’t you know yet, it never goes away? The big problem is, he’s got a top but no bottom. Matthew, make the skirt. After a few hours of seemingly doing nothing but dithering over not having finished, he finally does make a pleated skirt; it’s not the design he wants, but it’s the one he can finish in the short time he has left. After all, he’s been busy worrying about not finishing in time. He ends up with a depressed figure-skater costume. Except the skirt is more cheerleader. I don’t even see what he was going for. Nina sees little movement and no shine. It’s Miranda’s turn to play therapist: have confidence in his craft, he can do better with the leather and lace idea. Michelle is kind of nice, chirping that last week he had a great look, then takes it back by saying he was stuck this week.

Minor Sub-Plots

Patricia and Layana:

Patricia (narrative: Look, a Native American designer!) does the performance getup, since she’s Native American. She comes from a family of performers, and they have to create all their garments. I believe her. She explains her semi-constructed look to Tim: the crossed straps are bullet holsters, and she’ll add twisted leather fringe so you’ll see hints of brown and gold underneath. Tim: “When I saw it before I knew what you were going to do, I was terrified, I wanted to run for the hills.” Wait… so that means bullet holsters are a good thing? I want so bad to make a Cowboys & Indians joke. Hey, wait, I don’t have to – Patricia’s dress is a walking Cowboys & Indians joke. X marks the spot.

Layana (narrative: it’s my week off) talks to Tim about ruching and chiffon; Tim thinks her keyhole feels modern. I think the whole thing is awful; there’s nothing natural-looking about this dress. She managed to recreate Daniel’s cheap look without fringing the fabric or the center seam. Maybe the model is holding the dress open; but why?

Tu and Kate

Tu (narrative: I’m the Crazy Asian this season) likes curvy. He’s going Gaga: volume on the hips, “curvy when she moves and like the country music.” I have no idea what he means, but he’s happy, at least until Tim walks through. Tim’s so upset, he actually takes off his glasses: a new level of “Tim, Concerned.” “It’s going to be wacky, coming out here and here, exaggerating.” Tu nods, excited: that’s it exactly! Tim: “You really gaga-ized her.” Kate suggests stitching down the pleats; but it’s not the pleats, it’s the projectiles. Tim is gasping for air. Then he sees Tu: “You really want to do this, don’t you?” Tu does. But he’s aware Tim does not like his design, and it troubles him. Lifetime didn’t create the Crazy Asian Reality Show Contestant stereotype, but they’ve certainly exploited the hell out of it. I’m a little troubled myself. He makes a few changes, but doesn’t have time to revamp completely. I think I would’ve liked his original vision better than what he dialed it back to. It has nothing to do with country music, rock & roll, performance, Miranda Lambert, or really anything at all. I like the dress in general, and if those little droopy napkins on her hips had been allowed to fly as he envisioned, I think it would’ve been amazing.

Kate (narrative: I’m a two-faced stone-cold liar; see Daniel) likes Tu, because he’s always been nice to her, and they start with the same idea so she’s encouraged, but by the end, she’s working hard at ignoring him because he’s gone Gaga. She needs to show Nina she can make more than feminine, floral garments. Isn’t it interesting everyone’s worried about Nina. She goes mermaid in red leather. I rather like it though I see some sewing goofs and the fabrics don’t quite match in color; the neckline could use some work, too. I guess I like the idea rather than the actual garment. But it flows really nicely as she walks, and the train works for a change.

The Closing Chapter:

Richard wins. Thank You, Mood.

Matthew is finally put Auf of his misery. What a great story arc: tell him to have confidence in himself just before you cut him loose. I should have more sympathy for Matthew – he’s probably the contestant most like me – but he’s just this black hole of self-pity. Pot, kettle. Tim: “It was a self-fulfilling prophecy on your part.” Twist the knife a little deeper, why don’t you? Matthew even agrees with him, poor schmuck.

Next Week:

It the 40-to-death challenge for real – hey, I was joking last week! We get Joan Rivers, too. Because who else would it be.

Top Chef Seattle: Episode 16 – Almost-the-Finale

Sheldon spent his off-season in a cave

Sheldon spent his off-season in a cave

It’s time for that boring pre-finale episode, when we’re all sick of the season and just want it to be over already. Occasionally we get some wonderful surprises; last season’s Fire and Ice comes to mind. But… not this year.

Some will disagree, as Top Chef has stolen the concept of “home visits” from Project Runway (which probably means the Elves merely transplanted their own idea). Problem is: what makes the PR home visits work is Tim Gunn. Top Chef has no Tim Gunn (remember one of the first things Tom said back in Season 1: “I’m not a mentor, I’m a judge”). What they do have are two finalists with lovely families, and I suppose the producers just couldn’t resist the opportunity to show that off. Not to mention get a trip to Hawaii. For me, the most interesting nugget was that Brooke’s husband is a guy she originally hired as her sous chef. The Animal guys are sighing about What Might Have Been right now.

After ten minutes of cooing over children and watching Brooke and Sheldon in their native habitats – their restaurant kitchens – we get to the business of who won Last Chance Kitchen. I got my reality TV confused here: I was trying to figure out how the teaser from last week, the “We have something that needs discussion” in the Stew Room would fit in… except that was Tim, on Project Runway. Yes, I got Padma and Tim mixed up. Can you tell I’ve already moved on?

Turns out Kristen won LCK, to no one’s surprise. Seriously, did you think Bacon for Breakfast was going to win? And Lizzie was overlooked and underrated all season, but she never quite made magic. It had to be Kristen. CJ was just a placeholder.

Which brings us to the cooking part of our cooking competition, finally.

The Challenge:

The three chefs will be serving at Craft, Tom’s LA hangout. Each must make an app, an entrée and a dessert. Tom, Hugh, and Emeril do drive-bys during prep, to distract the chefs and get some footage. Tom expedites; boy, does he expedite, though Hugh assures us, post hoc, that he’s ” calmer with these chefs than he would normally be.” I like it when Tom goes into the kitchen for service; it’s a good opportunity for him, as a judge, to see them function in an actual restaurant setting, and I would think that’s important. It’s also fun to watch Tom in his native habitat.

Martin Yan and John Besh join the dining table. I’m truly embarrassed; in my notes I typed “John Boehner” instead of John Besh when I first saw him. Sorry, Chef, you didn’t deserve that. First I mix up Tom and Padma with Tim, now Besh and Boehner. Maybe I should set up a doctor’s appointment; this is getting alarming.

The Food:

Brooke is a little distracted by too many choices which seems to include everything but pig ears (she’d wished for them during her Home Visit, since her restaurant featured them that night). She isn’t sure exactly what she’s doing with her dishes when she starts. That seems to be her creative process, and it’s worked for her (fried chicken aside) pretty well so far. Hugh visits with her while she’s trying to figure out what to do, and he praises her creativity but warns her to clean the sweetbreads. She’s behind for most of the service; Tom’s constantly at her. But she gets the food out, and there are no disasters:

Crispy Veal Sweetbread Salad with Kumquat, Beets & Mustard: Padma loves the intensity; Yan thinks the beet is a stepchild; Hugh wishes the sweetbreads were cleaned better and weren’t cut as thin, as he misses that “milky softness” in the center. Someone’s gotta make a gif of that.

Braised Short Ribs, Parmesan Sauce, Nettle Puree & Squash Dumplings: Yan and Hugh are crazy about it; Emeril praises the nettle puree. Wait… nettles? Oh, I see, it’s a British tradition, I should’ve known. Especially with Noma turning weed cookery into the Next Big Thing.

Brown Butter Cake, Whipped Goat Cheese & Blackberry Sauce: Yan and Besh are crazy about it; Yan particularly likes the texture and balance the berries add, and makes a “yin and yan” pun.

Judges’ Comments at JT: Tom liked the sweetbreads, but Hugh wished she’d cleaned them more. Turns out she was cleaning them to order, which sounds bizarre to me, but I’ll admit my understanding of sweetbreads is, shall we say, limited. Or, more accurately, nonexistent. Tom: “You have to be prepped and ready to go.” Yeah, we got that from all the nagging you were doing during service. Her short ribs were delicious; Emeril loved the Parmesan sauce. Padma, who is feeling like she isn’t getting enough attention, turns up the bitch again: “Your sauces were great, I wanted to sweep up the sauce with Kristen’s tuna.” Was that really necessary? Brooke’s dessert earns high praise from Emeril, but Tom Was Not Impressed. It was nice, but it’s “not a restaurant dessert.” That’s because restaurants have pastry chefs. Making a delicious, well-made and balanced dessert that goes with the meal is the level they should be shooting for here, and she hit it. But I suppose they had to throw some kind of suspense into the mix, since Brooke’s food was clearly the best of the night.

Kristen wants to simplify, since her downfall has been overcomplicated dishes that can’t be executed properly. Well, that was her downfall once, when she wasn’t the actual cook, but ok. Tom visits her during prep and points out that may be why she did so well in LCK; the limited time forced simplicity. She agrees she didn’t have time to overthink. Whether she really did well in LCK or whether Tom just wanted her to win so he pushed her through, I don’t know, but I’m happy either way. She admits her dessert is an afterthought. Which is too bad, this is someone who made a cake in a tin foil pan to win a Quickfire. I question her taste in one-liners: “I’m sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat” was ok, but “I peed in my pants a little” thanks to Tom’s frightening expediter persona may replace “I threw up in my mouth a little” as my least favorite disgusting tag line. Kristen, a little advice: no matter how the producers encourage you in that interview room, stick to food.

Chestnut Veloute, Duck Rillette & Brussels Sprouts: Good soup, but needs pickles. Pickles?

Seared Ahi Tuna with Veal Mustard Jus & Meyer Lemon Puree: Yan loves it, but Padma thinks the lemon curd is a little too harsh, and Besh got a little too much salt in one bite. He blames it on Tom.

Curry Chocolate with Cashews: The picture is really interesting, because there are leaves on top; ince recipes are not provided, I don’t really know what they are. Yan is surprised by the curry-chocolate combination, though Padma approves; Hugh thinks it’s not much of an idea; it’s a basic dessert.

Judges’ Table: They liked her soup, though Hugh felt it was one-note and safe. Well, yeah, that was her theme for the evening, keep it simple. Emeril liked the perfectly-cooked tuna, but the lemon was bitter. “I was going for bitter,” says Kristen. With some people, I’d call that bullshit, but not here, probably because I’m a Kristen fan. Tom: “The bitterness in puree didn’t work.” That’s making it clear. She laughs when they ask if she was happy about the dessert. “No, of course not, I gave you a bowl of chocolate.” Yeah, well, why’d you do that? Hugh calls it a badly thought out pot de crème. Emeril liked the flavor; it could be something, but it wasn’t tonight.

Sheldon knows Brooke has some high-falutin’ stuff in her arsenal, so to hone his skills he staged at the impossibly upscale Vintage Cave in Honolulu, a private club based on prehistoric cave art. He hears spot prawns speaking to him in the cooler, and they’re saying, “Pick me, I’m gonna make you win.” He found that really good weed he was wishing for on the glacier, didn’t he? “May the best man win, and you heard that right – the best man, not woman.” Sheldon, see what I said to Kristen above, about not letting the producers goad you into saying dumb things in your interviews? He’s never made dessert either. Well, not never, but it’s way out of his bailiwick. I’m getting a bad feeling about this.

Sashimi Spot Prawns, Court Bouillon, Radish & Asian Herbs: Emeril loves the radish and sea beans; Yan finds it delicate; Besh thinks it’s a difficult dish to pull off.

Roasted Quail, Pine Nut Puree, Garam Masala & Tangerine: Sheldon knows roasted quail with pine nut puree is out of his comfort zone, but he want to show he’s grown as a chef. Yan salutes the brave. Hugh isn’t crazy about the eau de Pine Nut hummus; it’s not Sheldon. Emeril wonders if he’s been brainwashed.

White Chocolate Mousse with Apple & Fennel: Padma loves the flavors, but Besh and Yan are distracted by the raw fennel.

Judges’ Table: Emeril loved his spot prawn, and Hugh was happy with a simple starter. But then the quail… Tom liked the seasoning but not the chalky pine nuts. “Did you roast the pine nuts?” Um, no, was I supposed to? It’s a replay of “They feed chum to the dogs.” He goes into the “I’ve grown” thing, but Emeril tells him there was nothing wrong with the Old Sheldon; he landed in the finale-before-the-finale, in fact (though his last three dishes failed). Hugh thought the quail was well-cooked, but not what they expect from him. A lot of this criticism could be read as, “You’re Asian, make Asian food” like they did with Hung, but I don’t think that’s the case here; I get the impression it just wasn’t a very good dish. He also gets spanked for using raw fennel in the dessert; it was an incomplete dish. Seems he made up the dish on the fly; he was saving his “real” dessert for the finale. Note to future contestants: have more than one dessert ready to go, please.

Tom joins the dining table and discusses his view from the kitchen, primarily that Brooke was in the weeds all night. We bid Besh and Yan adieu; only Emeril and Hugh get to stick around for Judges’ Table.

Top Chef is Not…

…a man. Sheldon’s out; I’m sorry, Menehune, I really like you, but you had a lot of trouble towards the end of this series. Fatigue? Maybe. I hope you win every award on the books and come back to TCM in a decade or so to show us all.

But this means the next Top Chef will be a woman; that “so far” Stephanie tossed in, way back in E7 was foreshadowing.

Based on what we were shown, they got it right. I’m a little surprised John Tesar and Stefan didn’t do better along the way, though I’m sure they’ll tell you (and I agree) it isn’t about who’s the best chef, it’s the best chef under these conditions. Kuniko could tell you that, too, if she wasn’t too busy opening new restaurants with David Myers. Anyway, I couldn’t be happier with this result: Brooke has been a star all season, and while Kristen stumbles once in a while, she’s also shone a lot; in fact, before RW, she and Brooke were trading off wins regularly. I’d have a hard time choosing between them. I think Brooke may have the upper hand, if only because Kristen has gotten tangled up in her complexity and now is also tripping over simplicity. But I’m sure of one thing: I’m going to be very happy with this season’s Top Chef.

Next Week:

Well, what do you think it is?

Addedum: It’s always exciting when worlds collide. On Saturday, March 2, Tom Colicchio will be the guest on UP with Chris Hayes, a weekend morning political panel show (it’s on MSNBC so it comes with strong liberal leanings). He’ll be talking about hunger, and promises to “make over the UP pastry plate.” For those who don’t know, UP has a plate of some of the biggest, unhealthiest goodies available plopped in the middle of the table every weekend. The plate is incredibly popular (it even has its own Twitter account) possibly because it’s so incongruous, sitting there amongst all those prescriptive liberals fretting about sugar and junk food. There’s even a bit of sport around seeing who, if anyone, dares to actually take a pastry on any particular day.

Yes, this is how I spend weekends from 8-10am. Then I spend from 10am-noon with Melissa Harris-Perry, who has fruit on her table. But she’s wonderful anyway.

I’ll post a link to Tom’s segment when it’s available (probably by that afternoon) in the Real Finale post.

Project Runway S11: Episode 4 – The Ultimate Hard and Soft

While discussing the preview of this episode with MoHub in last week’s comments, I made a series of predictions:

Richard, Joseph, Patricia, and Samantha will do well
Matthew, Benjamin, Kate, Amanda, and Michelle will need Xanax. Which isn’t much of a prediction, since all but Michelle have needed Xanax all along.
Patricia will win.
Matthew will be out. Not for clothes, but for smelling up the workroom with the Heart of an Artist he carries with him everywhere. With luck, the donor will be found and reunited with his/her body part.

It’s a good thing I don’t gamble, since I was wrong, wrong, wrong. But who knew this would turn into a pretty good episode, with pretty good clothes?

The Challenge:

The designers gather with Tim in the workroom by candlelight. Candlelight? Don’t worry, the candles (like the competition itself) are only there as an excuse to collect fees for product placement.

It’s time for the Unconventional Materials challenge. Tim really enjoyed the flower shop challenge, so they’re recycling that one. Samantha is happy; Amanda is not (hey, at least I got that much right). Amanda hates flowers. She didn’t even have flowers at her wedding, she hates flowers so much. She doesn’t understand their wavy lines.

What kind of person hates flowers? Georgia O’Keeffe, for one, who said, “I hate flowers. I paint them because they’re cheaper than models and they don’t move.” And, as a bonus, they look like vaginas.

Heidi drops in on the workroom: she has an idea, too. She liked the Hardware Challenge, so they’re doing that, too. As the title says: the ultimate Hard and Soft. I guess they figured so many designers claim to use that as their inspiration, they might as well make a challenge out of it. And make some money off the two-in-one candle manufacturer while they’re at it.

Each team needs to come up with a cohesive line of six looks; the line must include both hardware and flowers, though the individual looks can be one or the other.

And one more thing…

Tim is concerned about ‘the inequity in the distribution of your ranks.” I melt when Tim talks dirty like that. With one team of eight and one of five, it’s time to even things out.

The Losers get to pick two Winners. Benjamin’s happy; he needs the energy shift. He pushes for Stanley, while Michelle wants Daniel. I thought Daniel would be a no-brainer, but maybe Benjamin, with his unresolved management desires, doesn’t want someone quite that good. So they take Stanley. Then they pick a girl, for no reason other than gender equity, which is a little silly but ok. Michelle vetoes Patricia; she’s condescending, talks for others, and thinks she’s the end-all-be-all and that’s Michelle’s job. They take Layana, who, understandably, is not happy.

And then in a reverse twist, the Winners get to pick one of the Losers. They don’t even need to huddle; they want Michelle, who suddenly wishes she’d let her team pick Patricia after all. Funny how the universe gets ya sometimes.

Each team gets $2500, or about $400 per look – a lot more than the $100 for the original Flower Power challenge or the $150 on the original Hard Wear challenge – and, here’s the best part – two days. That’s probably because running to two different stores eats up a lot of time (it isn’t like you or I going to two stores, there’s camera guys and production assistants and noses to be counted) rather than to allow the designers creative time, but it’s still a good decision. And it shows. Lesson to PR producers: do this more often. Time and money, that is, not hardware stores and flower shops. Let pressure and economy be the focus of an individual challenge (or two), not a way of life.

Fashion blogger Leandra Medine – aka MAN REPELLER – is guest judge. Everyone’s got a niche. And no, I’d never heard of her before this. Hey, I’m a PR blogger, why don’t they make me a guest judge? On the “40-to-death woman schlepping cat litter and milk home from the grocery store on the bus” challenge? Now that’s man repelling.

They also make a big deal out of revealing Bette Midler as the second guest judge, which I’m guessing is part of her contract (“I will make an entrance”), and it’s a good part. I love Bette Midler. The designers do, too. Bette Midler in a room of gay men, what were the odds.

What Happened:

The Heretofore Winners plus one Loser Minus Two Winners who now become the Losing Team:

Ok, ok, I guess now that they’re shuffling teams, and the Winners have Lost, I’m going to have to start using the correct names, but I don’t want to, not just yet. Next time. For now, this is the Amanda-Daniel-Joseph-Kate-Michelle-Patricia-Richard team. But not for long…

First they decide who will pair up, since they have seven people and six looks. Kate’s paired up twice already so she wants an exemption. They decide to get Richard to supervise newbie Michelle to make sure she’s up to their standards before letting her loose. No, of course not, they just happen to both have the same idea during brainstorming so they decided to work together. The team decides to incorporate both flowers and hardware into all six looks.

The theme of the day is cohesion, or lack thereof. About midway through the challenge, they suddenly realize none of their looks relates to any of the others. They do a really bad job of trying to bullshit this (“The hardware and flowers are the common elements;” “How about if we all add some black netting to our individual looks?”) before coming up with a better layer of bullshit: they’re each doing a decade, from the 50s to the future. But that’s pretty much labeling tacked on after all the work is done, so it’s weak. It’s a good effort, though; some of the looks actually worked into it. But not enough.

Kate is obsessed with cupcakes. So she makes one. Tim warns her not to let it look too much like a craft project – it reminds him of the paper mache volcano he made in 3rd grade – but she figures they’re working with hardware and flowers, it’s a craft project kind of challenge. And as cupcakes come with diabetes, her cupcake dress comes with a torture device underneath: chicken wire to produce the cupcake shape. She’s willing to bleed for Project Runway, but she warns the model to wear something to protect her legs. Hey, Joseph, what were you saying about designing clothes for how they feel? How would a dress that may cause bloodshed fit into your worldview? I thought two things as the model walked down the runway: 1) Did the dress start out pink shading to red, or is that blood? And 2) Kenley. It is pretty, though. If a little over-frosted.

Amanda starts with an idea for a short semi-fitted tank dress in hardware, embellished with something fringey. A metal minidress. Since she hates flowers, she gets moss, which apparently has lines she likes. Obviously she didn’t watch PR2 where Andrae got the boot thanks to his moss tribute to Audrey Hepburn. She too has the problem of the moss falling off the dress; Daniel says it has alopecia. Tim tells her it’s a pretty background, and the bald spots can be filled in easily; it’ll be fine if it’s just embellished. But Richard’s worried, calling it the Swamp Thing and Moss Couture. Hating flowers is bad karma, see, the moss will get you for it. I wrote in my notes, “Everyone hates Amanda;” she keeps whining about the problems she’s having. Finally Joseph makes a suggestion: cut half the panel of sunflower petals in the back and put it on the front. Genius! A fringe of eyebolts around the collar and she’s got a pretty decent look stemming from that one little suggestion Joseph made.

Richard and Michelle: The idea that initially united them was a high stand-up collar plunging down in front. Then, once Michelle signed on, Richard started in with Bjork and Ru Paul meets Gilligan’s Island and “the point is not to be practical” and she’s having second thoughts. When he starts jabbering about a pump for water, she decides her role is that of editor. She probably likes saying “no.” And yeah, Richard needs an editor at this point. A pump for water? They get window blinds, and they’ll fill in the spaces with flowers. But it doesn’t go as planned, and Richard asks if they should use the tree he bought. Yeah. Ok. Tim thinks it’ll be great if they just put the soft stuff in the negative space created by the frame they have, and that seems to set them on the path to love and harmony. Michelle: “After three or four hours of darkness, it feels good.” Move to the light, children… It’s kind of a Dominatrix Eve look; I love the skirt – it almost looks like a print – but I hate the bra cups, which have little shades over them to… keep the nipples shielded from sun and rain?

Joseph: I love Joseph. I love his attitude. His voice reminds me of Bradley from S3 – the guy who made tinkertoys while the other designers were making real clothes. I like most of the stuff on his website. But his conversation with Tim was a dead giveaway.
Tim: She looks huge.
Joseph: I want her to be huge.
Tim: You don’t want this to look like it’s consuming her.
Joseph: No, you don’t want this to look that way.
You gotta love a guy who gets the better of Tim. If only for a moment; you know Tim’s ultimately going to win the overall argument on this one. But Joseph has his philosophy: “Not everything has to have a sexy fit,” he says. “If it’s cold, you don’t wear a skimpy dress.” He designs for how clothes feel, not how they look (my fashion mantra, by the way). Oh, you little lamb. He has some idea about a string of garland attaching flowers to the dress, and makes an openweave net (“for a sea hag to troll the ocean,” snipes Michelle, who’s probably feeling her power having been so immediately and unanimously chosen for rescue from the Losers) that doesn’t work. He replaces it with some kind of strip-sewn screen adorned with flowers. He can’t tell if it’s too weird or not. Oh, honey, I love you, but it’s way, way too weird for this crowd. It’s about even in weirdness with Patricia’s; very similar, in fact, with flowers dripping down over an underdress. Thing is, it’s less flattering, and that’s a major sin. It’s a tight fit to pull it on over the head of the model, because – duh! – he forgot to use the zipper he put in the back. All the designers who sew models into clothes, here one puts in a zipper, then forgets. I love you, Joseph. Please stay in touch.

Patricia tells Tim she’s doing something about mother nature. It does have a roses-over-mud feel to it, but I’m not sure I get it. And her bra is exposed in the back. She calls it “Frida Kahlo” (which I sort of get) and “Ave Maria” (which I don’t). Not as good as I was expecting from her.

Daniel has a sculptural dress I liked in the workroom, but on the runway it’s got the Paniers That Ate Pittsburgh. I love the white leafing on the skirt, it’s very lacy, but I can’t tear my eyes away from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon on her hips.

The Remnants of the Heretofore Losers Minus One Plus Two Winners who now become the Winning Team:

That’s Benjamin, Layana, Matthew, Samantha, Stanley, Tu you.

Stanley asks about the initial inspiration and direction they want to take, and everyone ends up on Dior. Simple shapes, 1950s, but good 1950s, not vintage. I thought I understood what “vintage” meant but I guess I don’t. See, this is the step that was missing from the other team. I wonder if Stanley’s been The Man all along. He thinks morale has improved already, but if they don’t shape up under his direction, he and Layana will form their own team. I’m not sure secession is allowed on PR, either, Stanley. I don’t know if he saw S2, but he remakes Chloe’s dress. I think the proportions are off; it’s just a little long. Not necessarily at the hem, but overall.

Samantha isn’t about frilly and flowery, so she goes Hardware. I love the lattice bodice she’s using in the workroom – turns out it’s contact paper and she cut out the lattice, which is pretty amazing. However, she’s running out of time, and she’s struggling. Layana: “I had a dream about your dress last night, do you need help?” No, thank you, Samantha knows exactly what needs to be done. She’s seen enough people on the runway not trusting their vision and getting called out for it, so she’ll stick with her plan. Stanley’s worried about her, too; she seems to be the Amanda of this team. She does finish her dress; I think it looks sad. The bodice has real possibilities, and I like the leaves under the screen, but the peplum is droopy, the proportions of the skirt are off, and the gray straps in the back just look odd. As with Patricia, I’m surprised; I expected much better from her.

Benjamin wants to be recognized – and not in the way he’s been recognized for the past two challenges – so he builds his own loom and weaves his own fabric. Time management issues? Who, me? Matthew’s gonna get mad if he doesn’t finish and they end up losing again, but Benjamin thinks they’ll appreciate the detail. The finished product is pretty impressive when you realize he started with string, not with fabric; someone always uses some kind of basket-weave technique on these things, but his is real weaving, and the fabric has two different kinds of texture. I wish the diagonal line of flowers went up to the strap, but it’s not bad at all.

Tu explains to Tim he’s making a sleeveless jacket. “You mean a vest,” says Tim. Thank you, Tim. It’s a very interesting garment, and it fits really well. But again, it looks heavy in the skirt, slightly out of proportion, to me. Maybe this is the 1950s Dior signature; if so, they’ve certainly captured it.

Layana constructs a cage for her skirt. It’s a little like Kate’s Cupcake Theory but not as life-threatening, and with a much nicer, more sheath-like shape. I think the sheer part of the skirt starts a little high (I’m hard to please), but overall it’s my favorite look.

Matthew makes a great bodice out of mopheads, but the skirt has a weird shape from the front; it’s better from the back. I’m just happy there was no whining about his Artistry. He did much better than I expected.

Over to You, Judges

Heidi’s very impressed with what they did (yeah, it was a lot better than I expected – see what an appropriate allotment of time and money can do?). But decisions must be made: DT wins, and KIR, well, they come in second, which means they lose, but it sounds better.

Who Wins:

The blogger likes Tu and Stanley.
Zac and Nina like Samantha’s play on transparence and fragile, delicate quality, and Layana’s beautiful cage; Bette appreciates the craftsmanship involved.

Heidi asks the team who should win:
Stanley nominates Tu.
Samantha talks about Benjamin’s loom. He built a loom, for pete’s sake.
Benjamin and Samantha both nominate Matthew.

But the judges have their own ideas, and Samantha wins. I’ve liked a lot of Samantha’s past looks, but I’m surprised she gets it for this one; I think it’s the weakest look on the team. Maybe they’re keeping track, and awarding cumulatively.

Who Loses:

Kate explains the “decade theory”: her 50s dress, like an Alfred Hitchcock leading lady going to a dinner party; Amanda’s 60’s color blocking, Daniel doing the 80s, Michelle and Richard taking on the 90s, and Joseph off in the future. I can see the 50s, 60s, and future; I’ll admit, I don’t know what the 90s were about, fashion-wise. This would’ve been all well and good if it’d been clear on the runway that was what was happening, but the judges never saw it in the work. Zac likes Patricia’s “pow-wow chic” dress, a description that makes me cringe. Heidi likes Daniel’s; for that matter, she likes everything, so it’s hard to pick. Nina has some trouble with Joseph’s silhouette; he explains it might be inappropriate for this experience, but it’s a good jacket shape, at which point Zac says, along with everyone watching, “It’s a jacket?”

Then comes the nail in the coffin. Zac asks, “How do you define the future of fashion?” and Joseph says, “Wearing what feels good instead of what looks good on your figure.” I love Joseph. But that was a stupid thing to say to those judges. I thought maybe he had a shot with MAN REPELLER. But I doubt her vote matters much. And I doubt her idea of repelling men means dressing comfortably instead of fashionably.

So they ask the team: who should go home? To my great surprise, Everyone Still Hates Amanda. Patricia is particularly pointed: she tried to talk her out of the moss. Joseph, bless his heart, rescues her again: she’s been seeing clients and working in the real world, so he’s impressed. That gives her an angle: maybe she’s been focused on what will sell and hasn’t been focusing on the avant garde enough. Nina chirps, “Whatever the struggles you had with Amanda, they weren’t apparent from this side.” Amanda’s kind of surprised everyone saw her as a burden on the team; it didn’t seem that way to her. Oh, honey, it seemed that way, in terms of the emotional wear and tear of all the whining, to those of us watching. But Nina’s right; her dress wasn’t the worst thing on the runway, and her annoyance value wasn’t anywhere near high enough to justify her team turning on her. It was that Wolf Pack thing again: once the first person singled her out, everyone else was glad to have someone to jump on, just so it wasn’t them.

Joseph is out. No surprise, but I’m sad. He isn’t sad at all; he knows he doesn’t really fit into this competition. I hope he got some good publicity, and it helps him, because he’s the sweetheart – the Kooan – of the season. And they’re always out early, it seems.

While we’re waiting for next week’s promos, Tim comes into the lounge and announces there’s something that needs discussion, come out and meet with him and Heidi on the runway.

Fade to black…

I hate it when they do that. It’s probably a complete recalibration of teams, since it isn’t mentioned at all in the promos (if it was something juicy – an allegation of cheating, or someone needing to leave – they’d tease the hell out of it.

Next Week:

Miranda Lambert, Country Star. What they’re doing to her, I have no idea.

Last Week:

The ad for Heidi’s perfume is available, and, much to my surprise, the dress is substantially identical to the one made last week by Kate and Layana. As for the Press Event dress by Daniel, I have no idea; if you’ve seen pics, by all means, let me know.

Top Chef Seattle: Episode 15 – Glacial Gourmand

As Dawn Breaks over Juneau:

Padma leaves the three remaining chefs a hand-written patchouli-scented note, with the warning, “Dress Warm.” And a zillion Grammar Nazis scream, “-ly! –ly!” Yes, I am one of them.

TC panoceanThey’re going to a glacier, which really looks like a mountain if you aren’t paying attention. A helicopter is required. And guess what – Brooke is afraid of helicopters, too. It’s all her fears combined: close spaces, lack of control. No water, though. Unless… but we won’t think about that. She’s in tears. “Can you wait five minutes until my Xanax kicks in?” she asks the pilot. Apparently it kicked in pretty good: she starts out hanging on to Josh’s arm and squeezing her eyes tightly shut, but by the time they arrive, she’s having a great time. And that, folks, is what modern chemistry can do for ya.

Speaking of modern chemistry, there’s Sheldon: “We’re landing on a glacier. There’s dogs everywhere. I’d die for some good reefer.” Given the chain of non-sequiturs, I think he’s already had some.

Continuing the theme of weird transportation (the Elves wanted to go with Planes, Trains & Automobiles, but it was already taken, so we got “Cruise Ships, Helicopters, and Dogsleds” instead. And if that doesn’t have quite the same ring, well, that’s television; it isn’t like they had the $30 mil budget of the movie), they travel by dogsled to an Iditarod training camp. Brooke isn’t afraid of dogsleds. Either that, or the Xanax is still in effect.

Quickfire:

Padma and Tom are waiting at the Iditarod camp with the challenge: cook anything you want, using whatever you find in the camp. Which happens to have a nice little kitchen outfitted with, I’m guessing, propane.

Brooke picks halibut as her protein, then sees Sheldon’s doing halibut too so she has to find a way to separate herself. Beets and currant jelly, that’s the ticket, for a panzanella salad with beet-and-currant vinaigrette. She’s a little worried because the pan seems to cool down quickly when she puts the fish in, but that’s a little Drama Red Herring. Seems there’s some arugula in there, because Tom loves it along with the crunch of the bread; Brooke wins. She deserves it after all they’ve put her through.

Josh is doing, guess what, breakfast. Corn cake, egg, smoked salmon, Canadian bacon, arugula, cheddar. He wanted to do the eggs over-easy but runs out of time so just scrambles them; he’s worried his textures are all “mush” but he gets to make a pun out of it so it’s all good. Padma: “It looks like a form of breakfast.” What it looks like is an Egg McMuffin. Tom doesn’t like the scrambled eggs; they weren’t mixed enough so the yolk and eggs were separate. That sounds like the next wd~50 craze to me. But it fails the QF.

Sheldon makes pan-roasted halibut with tomato sauce, sesame-fried bok choy, and pickled radish. Tom loves the perfectly-cooked fish but the sauce is salty and one-note.

Intermezzo:

Back in Juneau, Padma has another surprise: She can drive! And she proves it by driving the chefs to their next destination. Sheldon: “Padma gets chauffeured around all the time, I hope she can drive.” What, did they lock him in a room and not let him out until he came up with some good one-liners for his talking heads? Or is he still under the influence?

The surprise is Emeril and Roy Choi, who’s to blame for the plague of gourmet food trucks on our city streets, the 2010 version of Let’s Put On a Play in the Barn. He knows Brooke. I guess it’s a good sign that the judges know the contestants more and more; it shows the level of contestant has gone up. But it still seems a bit unfair, especially this late in the game. Then again, she’s up against a guy who makes fourteen breakfasts but has a baby on ep 15 on the day before Valentine’s Day during Sweeps Month… and a guy who rose from dishwasher to winning the award for Best New Chef given by the magazine Gail edits… so why not. It’s all about the food, right?

Emeril and Roy have made dinner for the chefs. Roy transfers all the spirits of his ancestors surrounding the whole existence into the rice as he washes it; I’m thinking they don’t teach that technique in culinary school. Roy came to chefdom later than most, at 25; he was a skull daddy, which, well, I’m not sure what that means, it seems to be a video game, is it also something more sinister? [Addendum: Thanks, MinxEats, for setting me straight in your recap: he said he was a “scumbag” not a “skulldaddy.” Now that makes sense.] He saw Emeril on TV, making short ribs braised in red wine, and it changed his life: “I wiped the snot from my eyes and researched culinary schools.” First of all… how did snot get in your eyes? Second, “researching culinary schools” doesn’t sound like something done by someone who’s hit a really nasty bottom. Last season Paul Qui told us he was dealing weed living with dog poop before he decided to move to Austin and be a cook. At least dealing weed is actually illegal. Asian chefs really have high standards, even for squalorous pasts. Emeril realized he wanted to be a chef while washing pots and pans in a Portuguese bakery.

Which brings us to…

Elimination Challenge:

No, they don’t have to reproduce the dishes Emeril and Roy just made, though I bet that was on everyone’s mind. What they must do is make a dish that represents the moment they first realized they wanted to be chefs. They’ll cook for the Governor and First Lady of Alaska at the Governor’s Mansion. Wolfie and Gail will join Emeril and Roy at the dining table. With Tom, of course, who’s seeing eagles everywhere. Padma’s wearing a beautiful off-the-shoulder blue dress at said dinner, and if you’re curious about how many people it takes to dress a Padma, Bravo has the video for you. Hint: double-stick tape isn’t illegal on TC. And Padma’s never sounded as intelligent and focused as when she’s discussing just how off-the-shoulder her off-the-shoulder should be.

And if you’ve been waiting with bated breath to find out about Joshua’s baby… his wife gives birth on air. No, of course she doesn’t, but she does Skype and share pictures of the newborn Georgia Valentine, which is a stripper name if I’ve ever heard one. I think they should’ve named her Breakfast.

Brooke has a hard time with this, because she knew she wanted to be a chef in the womb. She watched Julia Child instead of cartoons (hey, who didn’t), and her mom cooked a lot of chicken, so she’s got some idea about mom’s chicken and the more cheffy quail but isn’t quite sure how it’s going to work together. She decides she struggled because she had to pull it out of a deeper place – hey, stop, only one birth per episode, please. Whatever place she pulled it out of, her Braised Chicken and Grilled Quail with Carrot Barley and Pickled Veg is eaten with gusto. Silent gusto. “When the food’s good, everyone’s quiet,” says Tom. Um, not necessarily, sometimes it’s just shock, but this time it’s a good sign. Roy says it looks simple until you take it apart and see the layers of temperatures and textures; Brooke was a prodigy, and this is her style. See, that’s why it isn’t quite fair, especially at this late stage of the game, to have someone who knows what her style is and not that of the other chefs. It’s a little too much like advocacy, which, as much as I like Brooke (and she’s right up there for the win; we better get a female TC this season), it makes me uncomfortable. Wolfie thinks the quail breast is overcooked, and Roy beats him with a Skull Daddy to shut him up. No, that didn’t happen either.

Josh decides his defining moment was the first time he tasted foie gras, which is a strange thing for a guy who’s all about bacon and country food and breakfast. Maybe he’ll make fois gras breakfast with bacon. I think he just saw the foie gras and figured he’d do something upscale this time, and made up a story to go with it. Then there’s something that seems more authentic: he was trying to make weight for his wrestling team, riding a stationary bike in a sauna, reading Gourmet Magazine, which makes every bulimic in the country laugh with recognition. He can’t decide on a foie gras preparation, or maybe he thinks he’ll get bonus points for serving three times as much, so he ends up with Foie Gras Three Ways: Torchon, Pan-Seared, and Profiterole; with Cornbread Puree. For those who are a little confused by those terms, no worries, that’s what I’m here for: a torchon is similar to a terrine, or a kind of liver pudding. It takes three days to make. But Josh makes it in one, just because. Alas, it doesn’t set, so he puts it in the freezer to get it to solidify a little. And a profiterole is a cream puff. This one just happens to be stuffed with foie gras. He tells the table about his internship at Alma, where he learned about torchon. Tom, of course, has been there, and is looking forward to comparing versions (or something like that, I didn’t quite catch the dialogue), which gives Josh a little uh-oh. And the torchon is the problem; besides not being set, Gail found it veiny, and it wasn’t cooked through. And the Governor wants something he can chew on. Oh, my.

Sheldon grew up with food, unlike the rest of us who were fed intravenously. He’s playing with a beautiful pink-and-blue snapper, and Tom warns him to keep in mind that so many times, fish is plated too soon and ends up overcooked. This becomes Sheldon’s earworm: “don’t cook the fish too soon, don’t cook the fish too soon.” It cooks fine, but his dashi reduces too much and is salty, and now there’s no time to fix it. Oopsie. Tom uses his blog to absolve himself of any responsibility; he said “Don’t cook the fish too early,” not “over-reduce the broth.” He adds baby veg, spot prawns, but the damage is in the sauce: the fish is perfectly cooked, the prawns are great, but the broth is just oversalted.

Judges’ Table:

They stay in the mansion, for the most elegant JT ever.

Brooke is so obviously the winner they don’t even try to wring any suspense out if it.

Josh gets scolded for thinking it’s possible to make torchon in a day. Tom: “This has nothing to do with how good you are, it can’t be done.” They mourn over Sheldon‘s oversalty sauce. Wolfie: “How can you cook fish so perfectly then screw up the broth?”

But in the end, it comes down to this: Josh’s wife had her baby, they got their TV moment, and Sheldon still has his F&W award, so Josh is out. I’m not arguing; it could’ve gone either way. It’s been Brooke all the way.

“Watch out for this menehune,” says Sheldon. We’ll do that. I love you, man, I do, but come on, since RW, this menehune has been making one major mistake after another.

Next Week:

Part 1 of the Finale, which I finally think I understand: Brooke and Sheldon will go against the winner of the combined LCK/Fan Favorite matchup, which better be Kristen. Because here’s my dream of the final-finale: Kristen gets stuck with Josie as sous chef, and tells her to go sit down under a tree far, far away.

Last Chance Kitchen:

Spoiler: you won’t find out who won. That isn’t my editorial decision; it’s how Bravo wants it.

It’s a three-way at Craft LA: Kristen, Josh (who’s wearing his FT 33 Pastry Chef jacket, so this is filmed at some point after the regular season), and the winner of the most recent Fan Favorite poll, Lizzie. Turns out she’s more popular than CJ. The assignment is to make a great plate of food in 30 minutes using anything in the kitchen.

Josh takes venison, figuring it’s different. He tells Tom he’s doing venison with a coriander, brown sugar, and black pepper cure, kale, and shaved raw carrots. Tom asks, logically, why he’s doing a cure with only 30 minutes; hey, come on, he just went home for trying to compress a process that couldn’t be compressed. Turns out it’s really a rub, but he calls it a quick-cure. He wishes he’d cooked it a little more, but once it’s cut you can’t put it back in the oven (many Chopped chefs have learned that the hard way) so he’a little worried, but “sometimes a mistake is also a victory.” And sometimes it’s just a mistake.

Kristen sees semolina, so goes for orecchiette with brown butter, pomegranate, apple, citrus beurre blanc, and fresh figs. Tom’s dubious about making pasta in 30 minute, but Kristen’s completely confident about time. Tom notices she seemed to be editing as she went along, and she was: she added the pomegranates at the last minute because she wanted something crunchy but didn’t want to use bread.

Lizzie likes the looks of the black cod, so cooks it in paper with vinegar and pepper, which mellow each other out in the cooking process to create a lovely sauce. Tom notices she knew exactly what she wanted to do.

Tom gives a little parable: often at a restaurant, you see a special dish. One dish that stood out as not special in this trio was Josh’s venison; it was too rare. Bye, Josh. Hey, you have your baby and your new job, go make some Candied Bacon Sticky Buns, which I have to say sound terrific.

Which leaves us with Lizzie and Kristen. Tom was dubious about the pasta, but they both pulled it off. The orecchiette had that perfect hint of chewiness, and it was inventive but not over the top. Lizzie’s fish was cooked perfectly and the cabbage was beautiful.

And the winner is…

I really hate Bravo sometimes.

Project Runway S11: Episode 3 – Surprise Me

Michelle: “If we lose one more time I’m going to need some happy drug.” Oh, Michelle, we all need some happy drug, whether you lose or not.

The Challenge:

Tim warns them they have to design for a client who’s very particular. Didn’t he deliver this speech last time, and the time before? No surprise here: it’s Heidi. Daniel and Layana act like it’s the first time anyone’s ever been allowed to design for Heidi. Are people getting stupider, or is it just that only the stupid people are still watching PR? Oops…

Did you know Heidi has a new fragrance coming out, called Surprise? Surprise! Fragrantica describes it as “balmy” – isn’t that the word used to describe your great-aunt Eunice who isn’t sure what day it is? It’s got mandarin orange, pink peppercorns (which they keep calling pink pepper, much to the annoyance of any dedicated TC viewer), and other stuff. And the poor girl doesn’t have a thing to wear for the TV commercials and the PR events.

Each team must make four outfits for the ad, and two for press events, which means the Team of Losers gets to assign one look to each designer, while the Winners will have to team up on a couple of looks. That’s an interesting built-in advantage for the Losers, I think. Heidi provides them with a box of “inspirations” including Heidilicious, the photo book by Rankin (aka John Rankin Waddell – no wonder he goes by Rankin) who’ll be doing the ad photos. She wants them to stay with the colors of the perfume bottle – pink, black, gold – produce garments that are sexy but not slutty, and include hard lines and feminine softness. Piece of cake, right? It’s not like they have to make a dress out of flowers or hardware (yet).

Each team gets $1200. Two winners – one commercial, one PR – will be chosen, and one loser. Interesting – I think she left out the thing about the winners coming from the winning team. She probably wanted to give herself some flexibility, just in case. This ain’t Heidi’s first time at the rodeo, after all. Kristin Davis is the guest judge; I’m not sure who she is, but everyone else seems to think she’s pretty famous.

The Losers: Yep, they lose again. Prep the happy drugs for Michelle, please.

Benjamin (Bottom Two) is completely within his comfort zone on this challenge. He doesn’t try to manage anyone this time, and we maybe get a glimpse into why he was so invested in being Team Manager before: he’s recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship that eventually affected his career, and he needs to build up his confidence as a person and as a designer… just when you’re thinking he’s pulling the old “feel sorry for me” card, he just breaks and cries, and it’s impossible not to feel sorry for him. I don’t know what he went through, for how long or how long ago, but he’s either a terrific actor or he’s genuinely scarred. But here’s the thing, Benjamin: that’s one. You get one. You take two, you’re pushing it. I just scolded a woman mourning the death of her father, for pete’s sake, you think I’m going to let you off easier? Still, I admit I’m kind of curious about what was going on. Not from any prurient impulses, I assure you – more of an impulse to compare notes. At any rate, he’s making something out of a high school production of Romeo and Juliet where the mothers make all the costumes. And he struggles mightily with time, falling apart towards the end. He’s got some seaming going on over the rib cage, but then he covers it with leather straps wrapped around the torso eight or ten times (which Tim sort of suggested), and the fabric over the breasts, which is thin and flowy to begin with, is staying up on a wish and a prayer. He just ran out of time before he could structure a proper bodice with cups. But why he ran out of time I don’t quite get. Yes, he has several seams, but it isn’t that complicated a dress. Maybe Benjamin had me fooled – another of those guys who seems to know what he’s doing, but when it comes down to it, can’t quite get it done; my comments from E1 lean in that direction as well. So Benjamin isn’t rating high on the credibility scale right now. On the runway, he says he chose his pink fabric to match the “juice” of the perfume (or did I mishear that?). Kristen loves the color, and the overall dress is flattering, but the breast part is so upsetting she can’t even look, it’s painful. Zac: “Mushy boobs.” Heidi: “Sad droopy boobs.” Benjamin explains there is boning, but not there, which is really strange – he boned the part that’s pretty much wrapped in leather, but not the part that desperately needs it. Nina says it’s the worst construction she’s seen, and comes up with “shipwrecked.” That isn’t a bad concept, really, but it’s the mushy, droopy boobs that kill it. Zac starts in on “slow down with the excuses” which makes me pretty sure something was cut out of the runway grilling, because what was shown wasn’t excuses; he admitted he had a time management problem, which isn’t the same as saying “I didn’t have enough time.” Mean Zac.

Matthew (Bottom Two) isn’t feeling it. He’s intimidated, because Heidi of course looks good in everything being a supermodel and all that, so he has to nail it. And all he heard was the word “bondage.” Can’t imagine why – take a look at those storyboard elements, nothing suggestive of bondage there, right? He’s not a dressmaker (from last week: “I was in dance, I have the heart of an artist”), which I guess is his interpretation of the challenge. I’m a little sick of him and his moping artist persona already, and I’m someone who loves a good moping artist persona. Tim senses his despair. He also senses his early effort is going matronly, so suggests going for all-out S&M through a fashion lens, not through a sexual deviant lens. Hearing Tim say “sexual deviant” is scary. Unfortunately, his fashion lens is not calibrated to the judges’ fashion lens. Zac thinks the fabric is fine but with the neck piece it looks trashy, not sexy; Heidi wonders where her whip is (and that sound you hear is all the straight guys watching Lifetime – all three of them). She can’t wear this on a red carpet. I think the collar plays with Fifty Shades of Grey but it’s much too short and is missing the “soft, feminine” element that might bring it back from over the edge. Kristin blurts, “I’d die if someone asked me to wear that.” She notes how creatively Matthew has dressed himself, and wonders why it didn’t translate. He brings out the intimidation factor; she tells him to stop being intimidated, and dream. I don’t think lack of dreaming is his problem. I don’t think his taste matches Heidi’s – which, by the way, is nowhere near as demure as her pearl-clutching would indicate.

Cindy (Bottom Three) is going to go sexier than anything she’s ever made before, which isn’t very sexy; she’s mostly about classics, jackets, tweeds. Which raises the question: why isn’t she working on a Press Event look instead of the Ad Look? Mistake. She buys a bunch of fabrics and takes a vote on which one she should use; Benjamin proclaims one is “Madonna, Material Girl, not a good reference” so she ditches it. She trusts Benjamin. When Tim comes through, she explains she’s doing cap sleeves in leather, which seems like a pretty awful idea to me. Tim thinks so, too, and advises her to show more skin, and to do the whole look in one textile. She trusts Tim. Can you see where this is going? Yep, right down the tubes. I liked her dress, actually, but I’ve said that before. I must have the same old, dowdy taste she has. It’s hard to defend someone wearing a ball-fringe-trimmed shawl over a tank top, but I liked the iridescence of the fabric, and I liked the overall style, even though it didn’t fit very well. But the judges are brutal. She points out how she sexed it up with a slit over the chest, and Heidi gives her a lesson on sexy: a slit doesn’t make it sexy, it needs to hug the body in a sensual way. Zac asks, why shantung? She thought it was elegant and classy. Zac disagrees; it’s hard to photograph, and it shows every wrinkle. The iridescence I liked? It’s cheap. Ouch. Good thing I can’t afford iridescent clothes anyway. Heidi asks the team if anyone advised her to stay away from the fabric; Samantha says this was the best of the fabrics she bought. Kristin is the only one with anything positive to say; she could see what she was dreaming of. That’s something, I guess.

Samantha intends to highlight the back, a very sexy area. I like the overall impact of her dress, with the curvy color-block, but the black fabric strikes me as too stiff and shiny, and the illusion mesh is just a no. If the black had been softer, hung more graciously, and the pink was fabric – even sheer fabric – it might’ve been a different story. But I think there’s an imbalance, too much of a difference between the black and pink. And the sewing in the back is awful. Still, the design is there.

Michelle knows how to sex it up: “I can take my volume up to 11.” Oh, goody. Tim loves the Press Event look she’s working on. On the runway, I think the model looks pregnant, but I like the yoke. Still, I wonder why she doesn’t get a dressing-down for something that doesn’t hug the body in a sensual way.

Tu tells Tim he’s working with a rose-petal shape. I don’t see it. I see a dowdy mullet gown that doesn’t make sense. But Tu isn’t a 58-year-old funeral home director without Peach’s personality so he passes.

Winners Winners Winners:

Patricia (Top Three) again makes her own fabric, this time by cutting hundreds of tiny squares of pink leather and sewing them together into a mesh that lies over a skin-tone skimmer. Tim finds a way to rein in her penchant for long explanation: “Tell us in 100 words or less what you’re doing.” He’s impressed with the ambition, and gives his approval. She wanted to do the whole dress in leather, but given costs (and time) just does it on the top front. She thinks this is great for press appearances since no one’s ever seen this kind of fabrication. That sounds like self-promotion, but I think she’s right. And yes, it’s impressive technique, but… isn’t it a bit sloppy? Do the colors really go together? What are the gold squares doing there? Isn’t the skirt a little sheer? I think this is a draft, and after some revisions, it’ll be fantastic. In spite of (what I consider) the flaws, it’s very impressive work, and I’m glad she got the recognition for being truly innovative, as opposed to what passes for innovation on this show. Everyone loves it, and Heidi recognizes it as a – wait for it – surprise. Kristin worries that it’s boxy and not that flattering; Zac thinks it’s more appropriate for a younger girl, which earns an impressive, if staged, glare from Heidi. But Nina thinks it’s a nice departure. In chat, Heidi notes it’s something that, in a press interview, might make news.

Layana and Kate, working together on a commercial look, struggle initially; they see the same silhouette, but Layana wants to do gold and black and thinks Kate’s pink and black is too cutesy. They’re over budget by $140 at Mood, and Kate’s freaking out, but the other team members have enough left over to over it: “It’s Layana, of course we get extra from everyone else.” I love her for saying that. Layana’s a Pretty Girl. And Pretty Girls don’t have to pay attention, or worry about budgets, because someone will always fall all over themselves to help. I’ve been the one trying to play by the rules, only to watch some adorable little bundle of personality and hair come by and get special treatment. Enjoy it, Kate, while you’ve got her on your side. This continues to play out in other ways: Kate’s bringing up some construction details, and Layana says, “Say it again, I didn’t pay attention.” I don’t think Layana’s malicious or “mean girl,” not at all – she seems quite unaware that she has this magical power, as if she assumes everyone has it, and she doesn’t get what Kate’s so uptight about. I had a friend who had this magic power, and was a Mean Girl. She once had a store clerk (working on commission) get a ladder and bring a bag down from a top shelf, only to glance quickly, put it on a table with a casual “no,” and walk away. I was the one who apologized to the clerk. If I’d had the $250, I would’ve bought the bag. Layana might’ve left the bag behind, but she would’ve genuinely been considering buying it and would’ve handed it back to the clerk with a “thank you.” I think. Anyway, clothes… During walkthrough, it’s Layana who turns whiny: she hates the pink. Tim tries to talk her down. Kate TH: “I don’t care if you’re worried, go cry in the bathroom. This is not time for doubt, I’ve made the corset and I’m not changing it.” That’s how those who aren’t born with generosity-inspiring charm (and who don’t have immunity) deal. It’s a whole little dyad psychology lesson here, I’m fascinated. They explain to Tim the corset will create the cleavage Heidi loves; “And she has beautiful cleavage,” agrees Tim. And Layana comes around, since the pink’s going to be well-covered anyway. And the final product? Really nice. Hard, soft, sexy; you can just see the wind machine setup; it screams Winning Ad Look. And is that Jaslene modeling? PR, the retirement home for Tyra’s cash cows. No, I don’t think so, but kinda looks like her. Heidi loves the luxury; Zac likes the draped top and shadow effect, though the lower part could use a little more black chiffon. Nina loves the movement for a photo shoot. Kristin loves the pink, it has a balletic quality. Heidi asks who should win, and Layana passes it to Kate, as it was passed to her last week by Daniel. Layana just shot way up in my opinion, Pretty Girl or not. Kate, on the other hand…”If I won, and you wore this dress, my mom and dad would be so proud…” Oh, honey, just shut up and say, “Thank you.”

Daniel thinks Bond Girl from the ad story board: low back, high leg. Tim suggests a halter, and he goes with that. Except: Crisis! He thought he got some contrasting fabric, but it’s not in his bag. Patricia to the rescue: she’s not using the dark leather she bought, so she hands it over. For some reason, Daniel thinks this is a Big Deal. Hey, they’re on the same team, she isn’t using it, of course she should give it up. He gets a bit emotional in a TH: “I come from nothing, and look what I’ve done.” Maybe the producers are waving tear sticks around in the TH studio today. His dress is kind of milquetoast, isn’t it? I love the leather, but the beige fabric is a little too beige, and a little too flimsy for me. But Heidi finds it simple, interesting, and sophisticated. Kristin likes that he thought about following the line of the bottle but actually followed the line of the body. Nina loves the construction and shape but the fabric looks inexpensive (aha!). Zac’s not sure the color is right for an ad (aha! again) but it’s well done.

Stanley goes bling: gold metallic. Tim: “Heidi loves bling.” I very much like the scarf effect at the top, I’m crazy about the zipper moved to the side in the back, but it’s too much gold for me. Heidi calls him out for the necklaces. There is such a thing as too much bling.

Richard… oh, Richard. You seem like a good guy. But every season, someone poops fabric or makes a hip goiter, and this season, it’s you who does both at once. I like how he turned the fabric to stripe in different directions; I even could like the goiter if it wasn’t so… fulminant. He knows he has a problem: “Her butt looks huge, it’s like an exotic chicken.” Heidi calls him out.

Joseph and Amanda have very different aesthetics. He’s about long, full, draping, sheer; she’s fond of structure and close fit. They dither for quite some time over what to do. Joseph: “I’d be proud if this was on What Not To Wear, I love that stuff.” Amanda: “Oh god help me.” But somehow, the tumblers click into place: she makes a structured dress, and he creates a lattice as pattern. Amanda sees the light: “This is where Joe really shines, it’s an amazing concept, fragmented like the design on the box. That’s why we love Joe.” I’m betting this TH was filmed after the judging. Whatever they did to come together as a team, someone should study it. I wish the lattice was a little more fragmented and abstract, but it’s my favorite press-event look. Not Heidi’s, though.

Surprise!

Instead of picking one Press Event look and one Ad Look, Heidi picks the two Ad Looks: Kate and Daniel win. I’m really disappointed for Patricia. Sure, there were some details that would have to be cleaned up, but it was true innovation, and I’m betting neither of these looks is going to be recognizable by the time Heidi wears them, which should be February 15th – isn’t that a strange time to launch a perfume, too late for Christmas or Valentine’s Day?

Addendum: And now it’s my turn to be surprised: I don’t know about the Press Event looks, but the dress in the ad is pretty much what Kate and Layana came up with.

Cindy’s out. No surprise there. She bids Tim an emotional adieu: “It’s because of you that I’m a fashion designer.” That makes me sad.

Next Week:

Now it’s time to make dresses out of flowers and hardware – it’s the Unconventional Challenge, and it seems they’re recycling ideas. Let’s see if anyone makes a washer bikini. And who better for guest judge of the unconventional challenge than Bette Midler.

Top Chef Seattle: Episode 14 – Kings of Alaska

Cover art for Kathy Doogan's "Simply Sourdough"

Cover art for Kathy Doogan’s “Simply Sourdough”

Hey, Elves – here’s a tip: at this point, you’ve got only four chefs left. You need to have something else to fill in where there used to be 16 chefs.

Lots of detailed, interesting cooking would be great: maybe a cool artistic challenge like the Evil Queen or Fire/Ice, maybe some interesting ingredients or techniques like dumplings soups or desserts from obscure corners of the world, or even a treatise on the chili pepper and which to use when. If not, then some of that cool stuff about making knives by hand, or more Nathan Myhrvold, or, if you really can’t come up with anything, a great guest – Dita von Teese was surprisingly clever on TCM, those kids at the glass garden were fun for a celeb couple, and at least Pike’s Place had some interesting products, even if the food was awful.

It’s been a great season so far; it’s no time to drop the ball. Because this, this was just boring.

With lots of time to fill and nothing interesting to fill it with, we hear a lot about Josh’s pregnant wife (including, in the category of TMI, her dilation status) and have a second round of Lizzie’s tears for her father. I sympathize with both of them, I really do. I’m not heartless. It’s kind of interesting that Josh is on this show while his wife is giving birth to their first child. But a centimeter-by-centimeter countdown, well, no. And I lost my father years ago, I know how I was afterwards, I was teary and explained it to someone almost every day until my husband-at-the-time gently reminded me, after I again said “I just lost my father” that I’d lost my father two years prior. So I get it. Fresh grief is tough. But replaying it over and over isn’t good TV, it’s crass exploitation.

Then we come to Sheldon’s efforts to keep his package nice and warm. I wonder what the producers had to tell him to coax him to say that on camera. Do you have to make everyone on Bravo as tawdry as your disgusting clutch of Housewives?

I also don’t understand your import of a Southern chef into an Alaska challenge. Hugh calls him a “wunderkind of Appalachian food lore” and while I’m not sure what that means, I’m betting it’s an improvement over the state of Josh’s wife’s cervix. And why use a tacky Crab Shack which, right down to the alluringly-clad young lady on the sign, is a duplicate of every tacky Crab/Clam/Lobster Shack in every two-bit coastal city in America, just so the chefs can work in less-than-four-star-conditions with Alaskan King Crab (and I’m no snob, I can appreciate that a tacky place can serve terrific food, but really, how can you mess up king crab?). And the salmon bake, well, there was salmon, and there were people were wearing down jackets and hats. And bears waiting for leftovers. But it all just sat there on the screen, going nowhere.

The sourdough bread had more possibilities, and you kinda sorta went there with Padma giving her 4th-grade-level lecture and the chefs’ comments while they were working on it overnight. But couldn’t you have found a sourdough connoisseur somewhere in Alaska to talk about it, with more than one sentence, with love? Emeril got close, with his story about one of his chefs taking the “mother” home from the restaurant before Katrina and feeding it in a closet until they could re-open a couple of months later. That’s great stuff, right there. I still remember a story in Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential about “the mother.” But you just grazed the edge.

Come on, guys, I know, these are just filler episodes ’til we see who Kristen’s going up against in the finals, but put some effort into it.

But you know something? Now that I’m writing this all out – there was some cool stuff in this episode (I mean, come on, bears). Just not enough of it.

Quickfire:

Sean Brock, temporarily transplanted from Charleston and Nashville, joins Padma at the tacky Crab Shack as guest judge. Josh idolizes him for his modernization of Southern food. Maybe I’m a heathen, and we’re all supposed to know who he is on sight. But I thought Padma said “Husky” and there just happened to be a Charlestown in Alaska.

The assignment is to make, guess what, king crab.

Sheldon, of course, never worked with Alaskan King Crab in Hawaii. Hell, even Spam is expensive there. But he works it. He makes a miso soup with the brains and innards, and for the asparagus, uses smoking pine needles like they do at Noma (did CJ teach him that?) which Sean notices and applauds. Padma thinks the broth of his soup is nice and a little thick. Sheldon wins $5000 for using the whole crab. Guts pay off.

Brooke wants to highlight the buttery, briny delicateness of crab, but she has to dress it up a little so goes for King Crab, Sweet Corn, and Leek Salad on Toast with Dungeness Crab Butter. Sean still thinks it’s too simple, so he doesn’t want to like it, but dang, it was good. Top two.

Lizzie makes a Crab Frittata with Cherry Tomato, Garlic Oil, and Fried Capers. Padma notices the capers weren’t soaked; Sean thinks there were just too many, too many flavors in general, losing the crab. Oh, and by the way, it was overcooked. Yikes. Bottom Two.

Josh wants to do Country Boy food for the Southern Boy chef, so he pulls out Butter Poached King Crab with Succotash and Bacon. He knows his butter sauce is breaking, but hey, there’s no time to do anything else, which is the challenge of the QF – you have to get it right first time. Unfortunately, Sean is a Succotash Snob (which is so cool I want to be one, too) and thinks the bacon was unnecessary and covered the taste of the crab. Yes! Finally, someone called him on using bacon – and it wasn’t even someone who knew he’d used it in every dish. Bottom Two.

Elimination Challenge:

Padma announces: “Two of Alaska’s oldest traditions are fish and bread.” Then she tells about the prospectors travelling with sourdough starter, which someone probably got off this website. The remaining four chefs have to make a dish including salmon, which they’ll get right off the boat, and sourdough, which they’ll begin overnight using a famous 30-year-old starter someone has provided. Ok, I admit: I’m a big fan of bread of any kind, but I don’t quite get the fuss over sourdough. It always seemed like far more trouble than it’s worth. And this mother stuff borders on fetishism.

The winner gets a trip to Costa Rica. Hugh and Emeril will join Sean at the salmon bake, along with 200 Alaskans and a couple of bears and cubs climbing trees. Tom will make a joke about his bear fan club. I’m wondering if these are stunt bears, because no one seems to mind them hanging around smelling the fish.

Brooke has baked a few times, but she isn’t sure about sourdough. When Tom walks through the kitchen, he asks her if she expected to come this far. Hey, Tom? That’s kind of, oh, I don’t know, condescending? Then he questions her decision to poach the fish to order. That gives her pause, but she likes it because it’s a delicate way to serve, and she doesn’t really have the time now to change her mind. Turns out, she knew what she was doing. Her Sockeye Salmon and Seafood Broth with Mustard Seed Caviar and Dill Sourdough is great. Tom likes the acid and the mustard seed, though Hugh thinks the seeds kind of broke down into a gooey mess. Emeril loves the bread, and Gail likes the use of dill.

Josh makes a loaf of black olive sourdough to use as croutons, and a loaf of traditional sourdough to thicken his Roasted Garlic Sourdough Soup with Sockeye Salmon and Black Olive Croutons. As Tom strolls by to see how things are going, he asks if there’s any news on the baby front, and that’s when we find out about dilation and contractions. Tom wonders if that’s inspiring or distracting: both, says Josh. I know I’m distracted. But you know, it’s a rule of TV: when you’re looking for ratings, do a wedding or a baby. They had the baby this season, so they left out Wedding Wars. His dish is another matter. The salmon is good, and the soup has tons of flavor, but it overpowered the salmon. Gail appreciates that he pushed himself.

Sheldon uses two kinds of salmon: sockeye and chum. When I hear “chum” I think Jaws. Shark bait. But maybe it’s not the same for salmon. Unfortunately for Sheldon, it is: Padma shows a bit too much delight when telling him it’s what the locals feed the dogs. I prefer Hugh’s blog comment: “It took someone who loves Spam to realize that we should be eating the primary ingredient of catfood.” And even though he’s never made pea soup before, he goes for it. Tom thinks that’s funny, because just the day before he’d been wishing for some pea soup and salmon. Apparently I’m the only one who never realized salmon and pea soup go together. Then again, I don’t think much about pea soup. When I hear pea soup, I think The Exorcist. And I’m a little nervous that I’m thinking in 70s movies, believe me. At any rate, the Green Tea and Chive Sourdough with Smoked Salmon and Pea Soup is a mixed bag. Padma isn’t crazy about the combo of green tea and chives, though she likes them individually; Gail’s fish is raw in the center, but has a smokey flavor. Sean didn’t like the way Sheldon was grinding down on the fish with his tongs; it was disrespectful. Hugh puts pea soup in the good-tasting-healthy-baby-food category.

Lizzie forgot about the slider disaster at Pike’s Place so she makes salmon sliders. Citrus and Beet Glazed Salmon Sliders with Poppy Seed Butter and Pickles served on the grilled sourdough rolls she made. They’re crazy about the bread; she got a terrific crust on the rolls. The glaze doesn’t come through, though; Tom doesn’t understand why she didn’t marinate it, and it’s, guess what, underseasoned.

Judges’ Table

Lizzie is surprised her salmon underseasoned; it tasted fine to her. Aha, she didn’t taste it put together with the roll and other stuff. You can’t win for losing on this show, at least when it comes to salt.

Sheldon finds out his dog food fish was pretty tasty, but Sean didn’t like the bitter flavor from the smoke.

Josh gets props from Emeril because Emeril’s made of garlic, but Hugh thinks the salmon got lost and Gail and Tom are worried about the balance.

Brooke needs to be in charge of her demeanor, says Hugh. What? This is like Tom and the arugula on Paul’s dish last time, isn’t it? Seems Brooke was a bit apprehensive as the judges walked up to her station because she wasn’t quite in the groove yet, and the fish was slightly overcooked.

To no one’s surprise, Brooke wins. Seems the locals all agreed, as well. “I’m dying to go to Costa Rica,” she says. I don’t know if that’s because a producer is poking her with a sharp stick to get her to be enthusiastic about this product-placement prize, or if she’s always wanted to learn more about Fair Trade coffee – or if she’s just cold.

And the Loser Is…

The judges debate. Tom doesn’t think any of them are thinking about the next step, really working through the dishes. Josh’s problem is balance; Sean wants Lizzie’s slider to scream, instead of whisper, salmon and sourdough, but Gail gives her props for technique; Padma points out Sheldon had issues with both the bread and the fish, though Hugh loves that he created a world of bitterness.

So of course Lizzie’s out. I say something’s fishy – Sheldon’s Food & Wine award is serving him a little too well. As Padma said, both his fish and his bread had problems, and Lizzie’s bread was the best of the bunch. But that’s what happens when you don’t give Tom enough salt.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Sheldon, and I have no doubt he’s a really good cook, with a very interesting focus. And I think Lizzie’s consistently been a little off, just not in step with the usual contestants – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, by the way, but it didn’t play well here. I just think someone’s been cooking the books for Sheldon for a few weeks now.

Next Week:

Helicopters. Huskies. Roy Choi. Feeding the Governor of Alaska, who, thank god, is not that governor. Or I’d have to skip an episode. There are some things I just will not do.
And the Continuing Saga of Josh’s wife. Question: How many episodes can you milk a baby for? Elves: How many you need?

Last Chance Kitchen:

Lizzie explains to camera her salmon wasn’t good because she was feeling sad about her father and it came out in the food. Apparently grief likes its food underseasoned. She’s not surprised to see Kristen.

The challenge is, of course, fish, since that’s where Lizzie had trouble. Twist: they’re cooking over campfires. Grates and pans are provided, and Kristen is glad so see the grates swivel so there’s some way to control temperature.

Lizzie is out to redeem her salmon with a simple but elegant fish stew. She cooks how she’s feeling, so that’s why her baked potato early on was so good. Or something. She goes for Poached Salmon Stew with Fennel, Leek, Hungarian Paprika, and Sweet Pepper Flakes, for a little hot and a little sweet. Wasn’t that the name of Padma’s cookbook?

Kristen screwed up butchering the salmon a few weeks ago so she’s going to prove she can butcher cod. She too is going for stew, and giving it Asian flavors, to prove she can do different types of cuisines “which is important if I’m going to be Top Chef.” I love that an Asian-American chef has to prove she can make Asian cuisine, not just French. Hung must be smiling somewhere. She makes Cod with Coconut Broth, Clam Juice, Lime, Chili-marinated Tomato, Corn, and Petite Herbs.

Kristen’s worried that Tom’s eating a lot more of Lizzie’s dish. Lizzie also served bread with her soup. I’m worried, too. I like Lizzie, but I like Kristen more.

Tom calls both dishes restaurant quality. Kristen kept the coconut milk from getting too sweet, the chili oil and lime added great flavors. Lizzie would’ve won with her salmon dish, not been eliminated; she’s demonstrated she can cook fish. But one dish had flavors more developed and more round, so Kristen wins.

Kristen has muted confidence perfected. Blowhards, pay attention: this is how it’s done.

Project Runway S11: Episode 2 – Spin Out

SPiN: Photo by Gray Matters Photography

SPiN: Photo by Gray Matters Photography

It seems the hottest spot in NYC these days is a ping-pong nightclub called SPiN. Susan Sarandon would like it to be hotter and thinks Project Runway on Lifetime will help. I think Susan Sarandon is a lot smarter than that. So I’m sticking with, she’s doing Heidi a favor by letting the designers come up with new outfits for the ball boys and servers.

Yes, ball boys. There will be lots of tee-hee about balls. When you start with a corporate slogan of “Balls are our Business” you’re pretty much expected to tee-hee about balls. And sticks. No, ping-pong does not require sticks, but the ball boys do, to net the escaping balls.

Are you with me so far? Let’s go back to the beginning…

The designers are still mulling over what they’ve learned from last week. Matthew regrets not helping Emily until the last minute. James decides he will be more greedy in taking care of himself, and not listen so much to others, because that’s why he ended up third-to-last. Hey, everyone has his way of getting through the day. Cindy needs to stop feeling like she’s been run over by a truck, which is what happens when you’re second-to-worst. Michelle lies through her teeth and assures her that she wouldn’t have been in the bottom if all sixteen looks had been included, instead of just her team. Again, I kinda liked Cindy’s dress, but given the hatred everyone in the Chairs that Count felt for it, Cindy would’ve been on the bottom if everyone in America had sent in an entry.

Heidi tells the designers only that this challenge will be a ball. Amanda: “Ball gown? Horrible. Athletic? Horrible.” That Amanda, she’s a cheerful gal. They head off to somewhere that turns out to be SPiN. Daniel: “Ping-pong? We just have guns in Texas.” Watch out, Susan, next they’ll be coming for your balls.

Each team must create five looks for: two female servers, two male servers, and a ball boy, all of whom will be young, attractive, and thin. Ok, that isn’t specified, but there’s no warning to make sure the outfits will work on different body types. Let’s face it, fat old farts aren’t going to be hired at SPiN, should they be so foolish as to apply. There’s probably a “must present athletic appearance” clause to get around legal nasties. A screen print guy will come in and add logos, slogans (“Balls are our Business” must be included on the ball boy uniform), in whatever size and location desired. The designers hang out making pests of themselves acting as servers and ball boys for a while so they’ll understand the requirements of the uniforms, since none of them could possibly have ever actually worked as a server before. Tu’s parents own a restaurant so he immediately drops a drink. Patricia gets herself fired. Benjamin has worked in high-end restaurants so he decides all on his own to play DT leader. The current uniform is a gray t-shirt, so pretty much anything is an improvement. They get $500 per team, and one day. Susan Sarandon, owner of the club, is guest judge. Tu: “She has big boobs.” I’m pretty sure that’s the designer talking, since, come on, they’re not all that big.

Winning Team (I told you, I’m NOT going to type the name ever again; hey, I put back links to the Lifetime images, don’t push me):

Layana and Daniel (Top Three) work together on a female server outfit. She’s open to criticism when she’s working with someone who knows more than she does and she can learn from them. Daniel doesn’t have any formal training, but he does have a quick way to drape pants and he’s happy to help “the weakest link.” During Tim’s consult, they show the skirt covered with a panel, aka skort, and Daniel’s got some asymmetry going on in the shirt. Tim suggests finding other opportunities to use the shape, and a lightbulb goes off over Daniel’s head: pockets. On the runway (after Heidi admires Daniel’s heart), the model looks like a server, and even acts like a server, taking out a pencil and pad of paper. It’s a nice server outfit; I like the lapels. Daniel did the vest (he watched a ping-pong ball bounce for the shape of the lapel), and Layana did the skort. Susan likes the combination of sexy and practical, which is hard to do; she appreciates that the vest says, “I’m here to serve you.” Zac likes the more formal aspect to the t-shirt and the asymmetry, though he’s not sure about the balance of the whole thing. Still, it works. Heidi likes that it’s sexy, but not overly so. Then she schools me on what it’s like to be one of the Beautiful People: “When you’re a girl, you don’t want the girl bringing drinks to have everything hanging out. You want to be the one with everything hanging out.” See, I was thinking of the server, who might not want to be serving drinks to drunken strangers with everything hanging out. We’re in agreement, just for different reasons. Nina likes the skort/apron thing, that they thought about a lot of details. Heidi asks: if your outfit wins, which one of you is the winner? Daniel does something incredible: he has immunity, so he passes the potential win to Layana. His reasoning doesn’t quite make sense (it isn’t like he’d be going home if she wins and he doesn’t) but it’s a nice thing to do.

Stanley (Top Three)tackles a male server uniform, and goes retro. Is that what retro looks like? Guy looks like a SEAL to me. It’s pretty simple: drop crotch black pants, black t-shirt. No, not a t-shirt; he didn’t want a t-shirt, so it’s a short-sleeve raglan sweatshirt. There’s something odd in the fit, to me. And I hate the orange belt sticking out. I’m ok with the drop crotch, though; the pants are fine. It just looks dark and military. But Nina thinks it’s edgy, fun, and cool, futuristic and retro at the same time, so what do I know. Susan thinks the guys would wear it; they weren’t too crazy about having “Balls are our Business” on their clothes, but here it’s on the back so it’s not so much in-your-face and, I gues, they’ll forget about it and not realize people are pointing at them and giggling as they walk away. Zac likes the pockets and the modern, angled construction, but he’s not a drop crotch fan. In fact, in chat he thinks it looks sloppy, though it’s fine if someone can pull it off.

Richard and Joseph (Top Three) seem to work together really well, doing what teammates must: listening to each other, bouncing ideas around, finding ways for minds to meet instead of ways to dominate. Though I know it’s ridiculous, Joseph’s glasses keep reminding me of John Lennon. He’s got a fun, cute, vintage business screenprinting cats onto old sweatshirts (or something like that), but Richard’s got more of a toned-down, masculine aesthetic, though he doesn’t do menswear. They work on the ball boy. Joseph suggests harem pants, which gets nixed. He’s into graphic patterns and interesting textures, and that gets incorporated. See, the ball boy needs a place to put his stick. After he’s netted an errant ball, he puts down his stick and suddenly doesn’t have it any more. So they figure out a harness that’ll let him put his stick down his back instead of leaving it laying around. Tim’s impressed with the cleverness. Yep. Then Joseph wants the pants more fitted (hey, wait, he wanted harem pants, what’s going on here?); Richard’s fine with that, he’ll go to leggings if Joseph wants, but no, they end up with ordinary black pants, again with boots. And pockets with “Balls are our business” printed on them. The color-blocked T-shirt has the logo in contrasting colors; it’s a real tour de graphics. Which is good, because otherwise it’s a t-shirt and pants. I think the pockets are a little too busy but it’s quite striking. Susan says they were going to have them carry back-mounted vaccuums a la Ghostbusters to chase after the balls; the nets were a compromise. And here the design is a back-mounted net. Zac likes the graphic break over the chest, unusual for men. Heidi likes the placement of everything. Who would get the win? They waffle: “It’s hard to say.” I think they’re right; it was an actual team effort. And it meshes with Stanley’s commando gear and the graphic shirt-and-vest. Susan murmured, “I love this” as it walked the runway (unless that was edited in from somewhere else, which is distinctly within the realm of possibility).

Amanda (safe) asks one of the male servers if he’d like something button-down. No. “Ok, just double-checking,” she says. Oh, come on, you were ready to make him an oxford. Instead, she makes a black tennis dress out of swimwear fabric for a female server. It’s short. Really short. Nicely made, though. I guess Waitresses to the Beautiful People don’t have to worry about getting goosed. One of the female servers told Benjamin to be sure things were long enough to cover important matters if they had to bend over; I guess Amanda didn’t hear that conversation.

Kate and Patricia (safe) collaborate on a female server uniform, and it’s kind of a nightmare. Patricia’s assignment is leggings, and she’s worried that if she’s called out, she won’t have much defense, since there’s not much to design. She’s right, too, even though Tim kind of pooh-poohs the concern, but you know it could happen. Me, I hate the top; I don’t understand how no one else said anything about it, tried to get Kate to do something different. The leather yoke is a good enough idea, but it just doesn’t work with the fabric, and the draping in back is ugly. The leatherwork on the hem is another good idea that just looks bad. I think Patricia has reason for concern, but everyone’s decided she’s got too much ego in the mix and she needs to shut up and do what needs to be done instead of trying to figure out how to do something better. I think she’s lucky they were the winning team.

The Losing Team:

Cindy and Benjamin (Bottom Three) are the poster children for what’s wrong with team challenges: for Top Chef fans, think Robin doing the dessert for MVolt’s team at Restaurant Wars. She’s pretty confident about her ability to make a jacket, but Benjamin’s breathing down her neck at Mood (where Swatch sleeps unawares). Cindy: “Why is he keeping such close tabs on me when James is picking the ugiest fabric in the store?” Cindy, the brown you picked isn’t anything to write home about. She’s desperately trying to get her POV out there, and Benjamin’s just as desperately trying to keep her from doing that. Her jacket is perfectly nice. Not for a waitress at the athletically-themed hottest club in NYC, but a well-made dishwater-colored version of the nondescript jacket everyone has in her closet. Benjamin makes the shorts, and they don’t fit right at all. Bottom Three. Susan thinks it looks sad. It’s catatonic, is what it is. Zac: “I think you achieved what you were trying to achieve but it’s not appropriate to the venue.” Nina calls it dated and catalog. Benjamin explains he spent so much time checking on everyone’s pieces, filling in gaps, he compromised himself as a designer. The problem with that being, the rest of the team just lost, too.

Matthew and Benjamin (Bottom Three) are working on a ball boy uniform. Matthew was in dance, and he has the heart of an artist, so making generic jeans isn’t really what he’s about, but that’s what he’s assigned because someone has to do them. Tim’s dubious about jeans. Michele pipes up, “We were joking around about a kilt…” and the energy picks up. Matthew’s excited; a kilt is more up his alley. Tim’s for it, too: an urban kilt. Michele likes that it’s rock and roll and edgy but wonders if Susan Sarandon would think it’s appropriate for her servers. But the idea has caught on, and a kilt it is. They add a sporran as place to store balls, and a tank. I confess, I love it. On the runway, Matthew starts talking about freeballing, and Susan maintains her composure: “My guys wouldn’t wear it, but it really is ballsy.” Zac thinks it has too many elements. Nina appreciates the provocation, but they’re supposed to be pitching a real client. Matthew: “I’m an artist, not a commercial designer.” Oh, Matthew, you had me, and then you lost me. Zac: “Fashion is art and commerce, not a fine art.” They need to pick their risks, and this was a design commission. Nobody says, “But Michele suggested it…” Or “Tim liked it!” It’s kind of overall grey, so it’s not the best thing, but I love that they actually did something instead of another pair of pants and a tee. In chat, Heidi finds the “crotchpiece” tasteless. This is nonsense. It’s not a crotchpiece, it’s a sporran. Actually, it’s a ball bag, but hey, it wasn’t Matthew who decided the company slogan would be “Balls are our business” and that ball boys would wear uniforms with that slogan on it. I’m not saying they should’ve won, but they deserved far more respect than they got. Even if Matthew actually did say he has the heart of an artist, and no one with the heart of an artist would say such a thing.

James (Bottom Three) goes off to a corner and works by himself on a male server uniform. See James work. He produces a really ugly purple shirt. “Shirt” is kind of misleading; it’s a maternity top, though he might’ve planned to turn the front pleat into button plackets. Cindy and Matthew disapprove. Benjamin doesn’t understand it. Tim says the shirt is a mess. Michele says the color scheme and proportions are off. The team says, scrap it. James: “I want to say, where’s your hope, let me fix it before you say scrap it.” He scraps it, abandoning all hope. He has hip hop pants, loose, knee length, no top. He doesn’t know what fabric he can use for his top. See James fret. I’m not sure where the fabric came from, but by runway time he has a color-blocked tank with a very sloppy collar half-tucked-in, half-out of these loose knee-length pants. He wants the consumer to remember the brand. Oh, they’ll remember it. Nina says the pants are a “disturbing” length, and that’s not a good kind of disturbing; he looks like a pool boy. That’s only because the model has longish blond hair. Susan doesn’t think he looks like a server. Heidi’s worried about a guy with furry armpits serving food in a sleeveless tank, and I have to say Heidi’s right about that. Zac thinks the top looks messy. The color blocking is fine, it’s even nice, and I don’t really have a problem with the pants, but now I’m worried about armpit hairs in my soup. In chat, Nina calls it “Surfer Dude” and would rather see the outrageous kilt. This is the second time he’s made something very simple, but very sloppy and not very attractive.

Michele (safe) notices the other team connects well, and manage to come together even though they have different points of view. In the overnight, she says she wants out of her team. Last week, I referred to Michele as Portlandia simply because she came from Portland, OR as opposed to my home town of Portland, Maine; I didn’t realize it was actually a thing in some circles, like with my buds Sarah and Paul from IJustReadAboutThat, that she’s a character from the TV show Portlandia. RealityCreator on TWoP even commented: “Maybe she’ll put a bird on it” which is pretty hilarious. She makes a dress in the same color as Cindy’s depressed jacket (and, by the way, Heidi’s dress); back in the 80s I had a dress exactly like that, in blue denim; it came in two washes, with short or long sleeves, from a catalog for about $20. My #1 Rule for Project Runway is: if I’d wear it, it’s a bad idea. It’s an especially bad idea since you can still buy it second-hand for $24. The collar’s also a mess, and there’s some oddball shirring or elastic around the armholes. She worked down my perfectly good dress. Even Michele thinks it’s a boring color, and it might not be a server dress.

Tu and Samantha (safe) make a female server uniform. Most of it – vest, skirt – is well-made and pretty good, but they lose me with the sheer-over-bra undershirt. Samantha wishes she were more covered as well. They’re reasonably happy, though. I’m crazy about the jacket Samantha’s wearing; she showed it at her casting session too.

Decisions, decisions:

Layana wins; she’s very excited since she can call her friends and tell them to check out the uniform she designed at SPiN. I’m surprised; I thought the ball boy had it. But I love that Daniel gave her the win. It was also a smart thing for him to do. He doesn’t need it, since he won the first week, and he’s building up good will that might come in handy later on.

Heidi points out that Benjamin had two pieces that failed; if he played a leadership role, he did not succeed, since the rest of the team was pretty bad as well. But both James and Cindy were up there last week. What to do, what to do? Kick James out, that’s what to do. He feels like he should’ve taken more control, which is exactly what he said about last week, and in both cases he was off by himself doing his thing, so I don’t know what he’s talking about.

Next Week:

Heidi’s Perfume Dress. The Heidi challenge already? Oh, I see… in time for Valentine’s Day. But just barely.

Top Chef Seattle: Episode 13 – Chefs at Sea

Did anyone else think things felt lighter, happier, more companionable, in the kitchen this episode? Too bad it didn’t translate into the food.

Padma pays a surprise visit to the chefs while they’re still in the Stew Room picking the last shreds of flesh from Josie’s dead body. Metaphorically, that is. Brooke seems almost embarrassed to be caught. But it’s good news – maybe: Pack your bags for a cruise to Alaska.

Time for a look into the contestant’s personal lives. Stefan’s parents dumped him on the Army when he was a kid. Seriously, the way he tells it, it’s like the way parents used to take their kids in for tonsillectomies: “We’re going for a ride… oh, look at the green uniforms, here, try one on… bye!” Lizzie sailed on the QE2. And Brooke has a fear of boats.

Quickfire:

Padma and Curtis Stone meet the chefs in the ship’s kitchen. Curtis looks like he’s growing out a crew cut. Awkwardly. Their mission, should they decide to accept it (and they have little choice) is to cook a one-bite wonder for two hundred guests featuring… iceberg lettuce. Get it? Cruise? Iceberg? Oh, those Elves, they are so funny. Hey, Brooke, want some Xanax? In her talking heads, she’s got her hair in loose braids, and she looks completely adorable.

It doesn’t help that iceberg lettuce is the most boring lettuce, and that’s in the universe of lettuce which isn’t exactly high-excitement to begin with. Add the no-flame kitchen, and only 2 hours to compose 200 plates, and it’s your standard QF crazy.

Sheldon wants to treat all ingredients with respect, even boring iceberg lettuce. Sheldon, I love ya, man, but when you call something “boring,” that is not treating it with respect, ok? Even though it is boring. He goes for a Vietnamese Lettuce Wrap with Pork, Shrimp, and Pickled Iceberg Hearts, to give it different layers of crunch. Padma says it’s got lots of flavor; Curtis wonders if it’s too much for one bite. Apparently not, since Sheldon wins for elevating the ingredient, complex flavors, and beautiful texture. He’ll get an advantage in the next elimination challenge, because the cruise line wasn’t about to fork over more money for a prize, and there is no Iceberg Lettuce company.

Stefan loves iceberg lettuce. Remember what Padma said about him being a bullshitter? Because no one, NO ONE loves iceberg lettuce. He treats it like cabbage and turns out Braised Iceberg Lettuce, Pastrami, Fingerling Potato and Blue Cheese Sauce. Padma lets a “very nice” escape her lips; Curtis likes the intense flavor.

Brooke thinks BLT except with scallop instead of tomato. Her Iceberg Wrap with Bacon, Scallop, Caramelized Onion and Crispy Quinoa doesn’t look the way she wanted, but the taste is there. Delicate Padma doesn’t want to put it all in her mouth. “It’s a two-biter, I suppose,” says Brooke. Ok, girls, enough.

Lizzie shoos Stefan away from her space. He’s like weeds, I guess, if you don’t cut them back they just take over. She wants to serve something eaten with a fork, which I think is not the challenge, but who knows. And she wants to make the lettuce stand out. She ends up as Iceberg Salad with Crispy Bacon, Shallots, and Anchovy Vinaigrette, which sounds like… a pretty routine salad. I got a more interesting salad when I was in the hospital a few years ago, though it was served in a Styrofoam cup. Curtis asks if a little salad is something she’d serve in a restaurant; perhaps. Perhaps not.

Josh uses the oft-scorned wedge salad as an inspiration for his Iceberg Roll with Apple Cider Vinaigrette, Bacon Jam, and Blue Cheese. That’s a lettuce roll stuffed with… lettuce. Padma says he elevated a classic dish. Curtis thinks he played it safe, but it was good. And he walks like a chef. New Song: “Walk Like a Chef-test-ant.” I think he walks like John Wayne right after getting off a horse. But he is from Oklahoma.

More personal stuff. While resting up for dinner, Sheldon and Lizzie get manicures; Josh interviews, “Where I come from, men don’t get manicures.” He probably thinks the wink is cute. Stefan got laid for the first time on a cruise. Lizzie’s dad, a fisherman, died recently. And this is the due date for Josh’s baby, but he hasn’t talked to his wife. Producer! Get a producer over there with a phone for pete’s sake!

They have a lovely dinner onboard, served in strange containers. All I can think of is how pissy Gordon Ramsey got on the original British Kitchen Nightmares when someone served a shrimp cocktail in a martini glass and served flatbread on a hanger. It looks cool. Is the food good? Probably not to chefs, but to people who take cruises, it’s probably amazing. At the chef’s table there’s much teasing and comparing the number of wins. It’s all fun ’til somebody puts an eye out, and Josh puts Brooke’s eye out with a jab about fried chicken. But the banter stops when Padma comes over. They don’t know if they’ve got to make a late supper menu with the leftovers on their table, or what. But something’s coming.

Elimination Challenge:

Tomorrow night, they’ll be doing dinner service. They must turn a classic dish on its head, and what’s more of a classic cruise dish than … surf & turf. Curtis: “Surf & Turf has a bad rap. Be innovative. Let the food served tonight take you down a different path.” I’m learning so much from Top Chef. First, that Chicken Cordon Bleu is déclassé, and now I discover, so is Surf & Turf. But Mark Bittman just had a spread about Surf & Turf in The New York Times Magazine (interesting timing… he is a Friend of TC) so maybe it’s making a comeback. Curtis is the guest judge, and it’s Hugh’s turn to rotate in. And Padma displays impressive cleavage as she seats herself at the dining table. Impressive even for Padma.

Sheldon has the advantage of picking his protein first, and making it off-limits to the other chefs. He takes his time looking at all the possibilities, then picks lobster tail and beef tenderloin, which seems kind of a stupid choice. I’m hoping he has some kind of crazy spin to put on it, because that’s pretty standard S&T. I happen to love standard S&T, but it’s not gonna fly with the judges, who specifically asked for them to stand S&T on its head. This dawns on Sheldon later, as he realizes his dish of Korean BBQ Filet Mignon and Tempura Lobster with Sesame Cabbage, Kimchi, and Teriyake Sauce is pretty straightforward. He did want a redemption of his failed roller derby tempura, though. But here’s the problem: as Josh learned earlier, when you try to redeem a past failure, you’re supposed to correct the mistake. He himself calls it soggy and uninspired, and the judges agree. Hugh wonders why people think tempura is a good idea at all, and the sauce isn’t great either. Tom makes a feeble attempt to praise the kimchi and the presentation, but it’s a failed dish.

Josh is a little worried because he doesn’t do whimsical, fun, creative food. We know, Josh, we know: you do bacon, you do breakfast. He picks scallops and pork belly. And he gets a whimsical, creative idea: scallop noodles, made from ground scallops mixed with gelatin. He doesn’t know how to do it, but how hard can it be? Pretty hard, turns out. He can’t form noodles out of the goop. The resulting mess reminds him of scrambled egg whites, so hey, suddenly he’s serving Scrambled Scallops with Braised Pork Belly and Bacon. For some reason he feels a need to explain to the judges how the scallops ended up scrambled; I’m not sure that was a wise choice. Tom likes the sea flavor; it packs a good punch. Padma thinks the turf overpowers the surf. Hugh’s impressed that a traditionalist like Josh took such a leap of faith. I’m impressed the safety net worked out as well as it did. Curtis is also pleasantly surprised. Tom explains a couple of ways he could’ve made scallop noodles on his blog.

Lizzie impresses everyone by ripping a baby pig limb from limb. She’s also got scallops, and she, too, has a failure to redeem, from her less-than-fresh E9 scallops. Her scallops are fine, but somehow the steamer she’s using turns off so the cabbage of her Cabbage Stuffed with Suckling Pig and Scallops with Mustard Sour Cream and Pickled Apples and Shallots isn’t fully cooked. Tom finds it chewy and hard to eat, but loves the pickles and overall enjoys it; later he says it needed another element to bring it all together, and it was one-note. Curtis thinks the scallops are overpowered by the rest.

Brooke takes frog legs and mussels. This raises an interesting question: are amphibians surf, or turf? They’re usually treated like chicken. They breathe air. I call them turf. But she’s not sure. It’s different, at least. She’s stressed because her dish takes seven steps to plate. But she gets the Mussels and Frog Legs with Celery Root and Fennel Puree, Papadums, and Shallot Chutney done. Curtis is impressed with the inventiveness. Tom likes the flavors; frogs aren’t usually that earthy, but she made them earthy. The only problem is the greasy papadums.

Stefan thinks S&T seems old, but he’s super-creative. Really? Not that I’ve seen. He’s got a broad array of solid skills and knowledge, but I haven’t seen a surfeit of creativity. He picks eel and pork belly. Did everyone else also flash back on his E5 Quickfire when he nailed the head of the eel to the cutting board to peel it? Like I said, a broad array of solid skills. One of his skills, it seems, is crisping pork belly hard enough to crack your teeth on. He can’t help it if he likes his pork crunchy; that’s the way they do it in Germany. When the judges first taste his Braised Pork Belly with Beer Sauce and Parsnip and Eel Ravioli, they each in turn stop. “Oh,” says Tom. “Oh,” says Padma. Everyone goes “Oh.” That could mean anything. It could mean oversalting. Undersalting. Bitterness. Spice. Bland. But here, it means “Do you have a dentist on this ship?” Curtis loves the crunch; seems in Britain they do their pork German-style. Hugh takes the obligatory swipe at British dental health, but I didn’t quite follow. He also couldn’t taste anything but parsnip in the ravioli.

Judges’ Table:

Everyone’s invited. Top and Bottom have no meaning at this point.

Brooke gets a lot of credit for being out of the box.

Sheldon admits he was uninspired; the ingredients didn’t speak to him. So Tom asks the obvious question: why did you pick ingredients that didn’t speak to you? Because he thought those were the ingredients he could execute. Hmmm, not so much. Curtis says a couple of things on the plate were almost inedible, like the cold, soggy tempura and the sauce with no spice. Aww, Sheldon, you’re so sweet, why, man, why?

Josh impressed them all with his invention of scrambled scallops. Curtis found the flavor and texture fabulous. Hugh liked the pork belly, and thought the scallop was a little strange but made a nice creaminess around the pork. Tom thinks he may be the first person to ever scramble scallops, and given their ubiquity on TC, that’s saying a lot.

Stefan got Padma all excited – see, she remembers his “deft hand” from S5 – but nobody tasted eel. Tom saw a huge layer of grease floating on top of the sauce. He starts in on all the excuses, and Hugh reminds him: the objective is to conceptualize dishes that work. That’s the trick to TC in a nutshell: what will you be able to do with the ingredients and conditions foisted on you? Tom complains about the hard skin; Curtis chimes in with his acceptance of crispy skinned pork, but he could hear Tom chewing… ewww.

Lizzie had a great idea, but it fell apart. Hugh loved the ambition. Curtis liked the dish more than the others – maybe undercooked cabbage is traditional with the hard pork in Britain – and found the presentation beautiful.

Verdict:

Brooke wins for imagination. She gets a Caribbean vacation for two. TC is determined to beat the fear of boats out of her. For all the times it was mentioned, it didn’t seem to be an issue. She was looking out the window of the boat over the ocean, for pete’s sake, and she didn’t look that scared. Then again, being on a giant cruise ship is sort of like being in an office building. Unless it sinks.

Josh and Lizzie are sent to the Stew Room and safety. Which means it’s between Stefan and Sheldon.

Stefan’s out, much to my surprise. I think they relied on history for this one. Tom even pointed out, during the private conclave, that Sheldon had presented great S&T all season (including this very QF). It sure sounded like his dish was worse. On his blog, Tom presents some additional information. I like Sheldon, and I’m glad to see him stay, so I’m not going to argue. But I wouldn’t have argued if it’d gone the other way. I just would’ve been sadder.

Next Week:

Fish. Huskies. Bears. Josh’s wife is dilated and having contractions. TMI.

Last Chance Kitchen:

Stefan vs. Kristen

“Of course, it’s Wifey!” Stefan says. Kristen puts it in perspective: she and Stefan are competitive with each other, they have this flirtatious relationship, and it’d be entertaining to beat him. Stefan: “Kristen’s a fantastic chef. Kristen is like me ten years ago. She’s young, she has energy.” Tom: “Is this divorce time?”

Tom points out that Stefan’s been on the bottom four times, which is one-third of the challenges. Thank you for pointing that out, Tom, because you’d never get that impression from listening to Stefan. “You’ve been on the bottom, but these are bottom-of-the-barrel ingredients: Offal.” Kristen’s fine with that; she’s cooked offal before, and she knows to pick the ingredient she can successfully cook in a half hour. Stefan seems less sanguine, but later gets his bullshit back and says he’s worked with all the offered ingredients: tripe, tongue, liver, heart, no problem.

There’s some teasing, a riff about aprons (“You look so handsome now;” “You look beautiful as well”) to the point where they seem to be auditioning for their own foodie show, or maybe a guest shot on The Chew. They even kiss when they finish cooking. This is my favorite kind of competition: where both of them are confident in their own abilities, and comfortable enough with each other to do some jesting but don’t feel the need to trash-talk.

Kristen uses chicken livers, which to me are just barely offal. She works with flavors she likes, and she’s confident. But when she sees Stefan’s dish, she’s a little worried; her dish is cold, his is steaming, very warming, and it’s a chilly morning in Alaska. Maybe she miscalculated. Tom tastes her Chicken Livers with Garlic-Mustard Caramel, Pickled Fruit, Toasted Croutons and Herbed Salad; he likes the balance, the controlled sweetness of the caramel, the nice herbaceous notes, and the perfectly cooked chicken livers.

Stefan uses all the ingredients with dumplings in Beuscherl of innards with cream sauce, tripe, hearts, a bread gallette, chicken liver and parsley salad. Tom’s impressed that he was able to prepare these ingredients in such a short time; the dumplings were a perfect golden brown, the chicken liver was perfectly seared, and he got good offal flavor, which is a great culinary oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one.

Tom likes both dishes, but in the end, one was a little more balanced, and Kristen wins. Yes! “Who gets the house?” asks Tom. Nah, Stefan knows who has the money; maybe they’re not getting divorced.

His last words are really nice: “She got kicked off in an unfair way with Josie, so she deserves it.” Either he really is somewhere a nice guy… or he really does know who’s got the money. Or he knows, too, who’s still got the eight restaurants that just got thirteen weeks of free promotion.

Project Runway Season 11: There Is No I in Team

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:

One team:

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.

First Challenge:

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.

Swatch Speaks!

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.