Showing posts with label Project Runway. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Project Runway. Show all posts

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Kenley Collins did not win for this outfit last week,
tho she should have

On January 23rd I wrote about Project Runway All-Stars:

it’s hard to imagine that the final four designers won’t all be men: Rami Kashou, Michael Costello, Mondo Guerra and Austin Scarlett…. It’s conceivable that Kenley Collins – who is competing with Michael & Jerell Scott for the role of the designer who has most improved since their prior turn on Runway – could sneak in there, but almost anyone else will raise the same complaints of fixed judging that once kept Austin out of the final three in Season One….

Well, we’re down to the final four & it’s Michael, Mondo & Austin, along with Kenley Collins. Rami left early, the victim of one particularly bad design in a TV series that, this season especially, has no room for the one-week disaster. And Jerell was the last to go, tho he snuck by with a couple of over-produced pastiches.

After nine weeks of competition, it is noteworthy that not a single woman has yet won a competition, since the show began with seven women, six men. Kenley’s designs have gotten consistently stronger, even if the polka-dots & plaids are way too predictable – I thought Austin’s glow-in-the-dark ice queen that won last week looked as if somebody had draped Christmas tree lights over a sheer but otherwise unimaginative gown while Kenley’s peek-a-boo structure (above) showed a lot more initiative. At this point, any one of the final four could win the prize quite legitimately, although Kenley just might be the first to do so without capturing any single week’s competition since Jay McCarroll managed that trick in season one.

Runway has shown that it recognizes the gender imbalance in this version of the show. After having eliminated four consecutive women contestants in the first month, the judges in week 5 simply had the three women designers left leave the stage – suggesting that they had neither the high nor the low scores for that week’s competition (tho the judges pointedly never said that) – and finally eliminated a male, Anthony. In terms of his talent, that might have been a little early for him, but as you can tell from my ability to project the final four six weeks ago, I don’t necessarily think his departure was a terrible idea. And the fact that no woman has won a single competition thus far can be viewed as partly a consequence of poor casting at the outset – as I noted on January 23, several of the strongest female candidates didn’t make it to this particular series – but also to the fact that the guest judges have been male for six of the nine weeks. Rapper Pharrell Williams, last week’s guest judge, had everything to do with Austin’s Christmas tree lights winning out over Kenley.

When Rami went out the week after Anthony, tho, the remaining designers were themselves stunned – they recognized that he was one of the best in the room, even if his losing outfit had been cringe-worthy. But his departure did make it clear that the final four would not all be men – not an insignificant result for a show on Lifetime – even if it was just as clear which men would be there. Since then, the show’s narrative has been a matter of which of the markedly weaker candidates would go out next. It’s had all the narrative tension of a teeny-bopper slasher flic – which kid will foolishly walk out into the woods next?

Now at last we are down to all strong designers, but with only a couple of weeks remaining. Will the winner be somebody who is still performing at the same level as when they competed on Runway before, Mondo or Austin, or someone who has visibly improved in between their previous appearance and now, Michael or Kenley? That Austin hasn’t really developed all that much in the seven years since he was first on Runway might be worth a raised eyebrow, but he was strong at the outset & his subsequent celebrity hasn’t eroded his skills either. Every other designer remaining has at least one area of weakness that could lead to his or her downfall: Michael & Kenley have a tendency to make the same garments over & over – Michael also has construction or craft issues that are not easy to hide. Mondo’s own inner turmoil sometimes clouds his thinking – when he’s on, tho, he may be the best designer not named Christian Soriano the show has ever had. I don’t have a favorite here, and I think that the next two episodes promise to be among the most fascinating in Runway’s history.

Monday, January 23, 2012

It’s a man’s world: Austin (in bowler),Mondo, Jerell & Michael in the workroom

Project Runway: All Stars is interesting enough on the face of it.But it may be heading directly for a train wreck, insofar as reality TV shows go.

Friday, November 05, 2010

True World Series MVP Dave Righetti

A couple of thoughts about winning & recognition, occasioned by some of my less literary passions. First, Gretchen Jones won Project Runway with a show of what could politely be called Sedona-Wear, highly commercial but yawningly predictable southwestern casual clothes. Mondo Guerra, the pint-sized Pinocchio of Denver, came in second with a show that demonstrated infinitely greater range, sophistication and creativity. Even third-place finisher Andy South’s collection, a little too safe to be as avant-garde as some of his warrior women costumes had been in the past, put on a better show than Jones, who might not have made in it to Fashion Week at all had the judges not applied an unwritten “one finalist must be a woman” rule, thereby dropping the effortless chic of Michael Costello. A poll in the LA Times showed viewers preferring Guerra’s collection with about 80% of the vote, Jones in second with just under 12% and South at 7%.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Mondo Guerra & his model Eyen Chorm

It has taken me longer to decide what I think about Project Runway this summer & fall than it has in any of the show’s seven previous seasons. In part, that’s because the eighth season of Heidi Klum’s reality TV juggernaut doesn’t have the strongest set of designers in the world, nobody who is clearly going to become a Big Designer in the way Christian Siriano, winner of the fourth season, already has. But in larger part, this has been because this season of PR has been far less about the clothing & design & more about the dynamics of the people who make them. Three of the designers – Gretchen Jones, Michael Costello & Mondo Guerra (whose name, yes, translates into World War, tho he is the furthest from the image that projects perhaps of any of the 123 contestants who have at one time or another appeared on the show) – are interesting, complex, difficult characters. Between them, they have won seven of the first ten challenges & almost any other season it would be a no-brainer to conclude that these are the three who will be the finalists competing at Fashion Week. This year, tho, I’m not so sure.

For one thing, Fashion Week was quite a while ago and, as Project Runway has done in previous seasons, that meant that everyone who was then still a contestant got the opportunity to present at Lincoln Center (which has replaced the tents at Bryant Park): ten shows of ten looks each. Later, through the magic of video editing, it will appear quite different on television. I don’t believe they’ve ever had more than five designers present at Fashion Week in prior seasons, although even this has its risks, as when Austin Scarlett, who was not a true finalist one the first season, was widely perceived as having the best show in the tents. But in several previous seasons, it was pretty evident just who had brought in a show that was nowhere nearly as complete or envisioned as the true finalists.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Emilio’s gown

After their three runway shows on Thursday night, Krishna asked me which Project Runway contestant I thought should win the seventh season & my immediate response was “either one of the guys.” I followed this with “I guess I have a slight preference for Emilio’s collection,” which felt to me more cohesive & less costumy than Seth Aaron’s more varied & colorful collection. As has happened several times before (think Mycheal Knight or Daniel Vosovic), strong competitors – in this case both Emilio Sosa & Mila Hermanovski – stepped back from their strengths when it came time to compose an entire collection. Some of Sosa’s pieces were tremendous – his gown (double click on the picture & look at it full size) was the best piece of the three runway shows. But his “signature” print, in which we get to read esosa hundreds of times as it evolves into a wandering stripe, got really old really fast. Mila’s collection was impeccable in construction & execution, but it was colorless (save for one set of dark purple leggings) and far too fastidious. I wished they’d picked Jay as the winner of the runway runoff instead – not because I thought he would have won, but because his designs would have been fun, and it would have been more interesting to test Seth Aaron’s collection against another that went for color, shape & drama.

What really persuaded me most about Emilio’s collection was not so much the clothing, but his models. Sosa, raised in Harlem with a Dominican background, consciously used as many models of color as he could, saying something like “I want my collection to look now, and now is multicultural.” Visually the contrast with virtually every previous runway show – not just this season’s – was profound.

The seventh season – there have now been 112 contestants (111 if you consider that one fellow who made the cast twice, only to be elminated each time) & at least 21 runway shows – was notable for having much stronger designers than the lamentable previous season shot in Los Angeles. But it was notable also for not having any really winning personalities once Anthony Williams – a tiny round Southern black variation on Truman Capote – got “auf’d.” Every time a judge – virtually the entire season – said anything nice about any other designer, Sosa would hang his head & look guilty, as tho it were a criticism of him that somebody else had done something even a little fabulous. He also tended to argue with Offical Mentor Tim Gunn constantly, even though he usually took some of Tim’s advice. Mila’s angst made her less effective a competitor than other “older” women (Wendy Pepper, Laura Bennett) have been in the past. Her best moment of the entire season – as a person, not a designer – was her détente conversation with Jay Nicholas Sario. You could see her lower her defenses & she suddenly looked almost 20 years younger – that was startling.

Sario himself deserves a comment. As the second San Francisco contestant (the first was Beach Blanket Bingo designer Chris March) to make it to a “final four” shootout to see who would present on the Runway, only to be eliminated there, he was the cattiest, most snide person conceivable, especially in the “reunion” wrap-up that took the place of a final Models of the Runway show, where he described one model – sitting not more than five feet away – as having “bad teeth & fat legs.” The excess of bad vibes on the wrap-up show – they hated Tim Gunn’s “trash talk,” and some got eliminated for taking his advice – was not a first for Runway, but it was a worst.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

An outfit by Emilio Sosa using a print of his own design

At the start of last week’s Project Runway, with seven of the original 16 contestants still remaining, I told Krishna that I thought I could tell who the final four should be, but not necessarily the final three. The seventh season of PR has a strong group of designers, much more so than in the show’s rocky & unsatisfying sixth round, the lone season filmed in LA rather than Manhattan. I’m not certain that any of last season’s designers would still be around if dropped into the current pool of wannabe Alexander McQueens & Stella McCartneys. Conversely, there were at least eight designers in the current group who, had they been in the Season Six mix, should have ended up in the top three, the numbers we are told who show in Bryant Park. What we are told, because of the narrative requirements of the TV series, now in its second season on Lifetime after six on Bravo, is not what people see in the tents of Fashion Week. In order to keep from revealing who has been eliminated before it is actually shown on television, PR has had to show work from some contestants no longer in the running. Because of ragged timing created by the move from Bravo to Lifetime (and the accompanying suits between the two networks), this season’s runway show actually took place when there were still ten contestants. The buzz I had heard from the Runway fan blogs was that people in the tent had actually liked the work of Anthony Williams best. And I had him down as one of my Final Four, along with Emilio Sosa, Seth Aaron Henderson & Mila Hermanovski.

So imagine my surprise Thursday night when Anthony Williams was eliminated.

It’s a shame, not because Williams is the strongest designer in the world – he’s not – but he is great TV. In a tradition that began with Jay McCarroll, Austin Scarlett & Wendy Pepper in Runway’s first season & has continued with Santino Rice & his thermonuclear ego, Andrae Gonzalo, Chris March, & Christian Soriano in more recent years, PR has had a steady stream of personalities that just blossom in front of a camera. Williams, an African American from Birmingham, Alabama, dresses modestly but verbally is ever so flamboyant & undyingly an optimist. After he was “auf’d” by show host Heidi Klum, Anthony went around cheering up everyone else who was feeling blue about his departure. I can imagine him doing a glorious red-carpet fashion police commentary on E! some day.

Nor is Williams is the first eliminated contestant whom many commentators thought had the strongest runway show at Bryant Park. Scarlett, who finished fourth in the first season, not only got similar commentary, but has gone on to be one of Runway’s most successful alums professionally. The other really successful alum has been Kara Saun, whose client roster of A-list celebs starts with Heidi Klum.

So now the series is down to just six of the original 16 contestants, and Anthony’s departure has changed my thinking about the final three. For one thing, I don’t think it’s a contest for the final three spots. Rather, I think it’s two parallel contests, with two slots going to male designers, one going to one of the two remaining women. On a level playing field, it’s conceivable that there would be no women among the finalists, but, having moved the show from the “gay channel” to the “women’s channel,” I can’t imagine that the shows producers would be so tone deaf as to let that happen.

The two male finalists should certainly be Emilio, the Dominican-born, Harlem raised designer who has won the most challenges thus far into the season, and Seth Aaron, a San Diego native who practices his punk-flavored work from Vancouver, Washington (a suburb of Portland). It’s not that Jay Sario, the Philippine-born, San Francisco-based, or Jonathan Peters of Providence, aren’t talented. But Seth Aaron & Emilio have generally stood out all season long, tho Emilio also survived perhaps the worst single outfit any designer has ever attempted to send down the runway, a “one piece bikini” made up of washers bought in a hardware store that left his model more or less naked on the runway. Seth Aaron has only once had a piece that was in the lower scores from which the eliminations occur, and his look is consistent & has an edge that the Runway judges have tended to like a lot over the years. Right now I think Seth Aaron is a slight favorite to win the whole shebang.

But the person who I think has the best chance of sneaking in & winning it all is 22-year-old Maya Luz, the lone contestant who, to this point in Season Seven, has never once won a week’s challenge. She has also never been in the low group facing elimination. In a sense, her season has run parallel to that of Jay McCarroll, who won the first season without ever first winning a challenge for any of the weeks leading up to the finale. McCarroll’s post-Runway struggles have been documented – literally, in the superb film 11 Minutes – especially when contrasted with the success of Scarlett (who won two of the individual challenges that season) & Saun (who won four). If Maya gets all the way to the final three without winning a single challenge, this might hurt her with the judges later on.

Mila was the person I thought was most likely to win earlier in the season – her sharply tailored suits generally look terrific. But she has been among those facing elimination for three consecutive weeks & seems to have lost her way. Also, her absence among the finalists would mean that everyone in the televised portion of Bryat Park is at least 38-years old, which is probably not the age bracket that Lifetime is hoping to attract.

The one big variable I can’t foretell is the impact of the Bryant Park shows themselves. Given some time to produce an actual collection – and not being told that they have $50 and one day to produce something from materials found in a hardware store – some contestants shine whereas others have tended to stray. Kara Saun’s final collection in Season 1 proved too safe, a charge nobody has ever made about Jay McCarroll. In Season 2, Daniel Vosovic won five of the 11 weekly challenges – still the PR record (& only Kara Saun has won 4) – but lost out to the more experienced Chloe Dao who had a better sense of how best to construct an entire show. And experiece definitely helps. Of the eight original contests this season who were in their twenties, six are already gone. Of those age 30 & above, half of the original eight still remain.

At this point in Season 7, Emilio has won 3 challenges, Seth Aaron & Jay have won 2 each (a total that includes a week when Emilio & Seth both won a team challenge, the first time PR has declared co-winners), Jonathan & Mila one apiece, Maya none. That should make Emilio a slight favorite, but I don’t have as strong a sense of an overall aesthetic from him as I do from Seth Aaron, but as I say my inclinations at this moment aren’t super strong. Nobody stands out as strong as, say, Christian Soriano did in Season 4 (tho Christian won just three of the weekly challenges). Which means that we’re at the woulda, coulda, shoulda stage. There are at least four contestants remaining who would be credible winners, maybe three who conceivably could win, but nobody ultimately who flat out should.

Project Runway’s ancillary spin-off, Models of the Runway has also benefited from the move back to New York. Or, maybe, midway into the new series’ second season, the producers have finally figured out how to get into the young women & make them seem more three-dimensional. Still, it is evident that none of these women gave up a career as a surgeon to walk the runway, and it’s questionable how many of them really hear – even as Heidi Klum & some of the other famous models who turn up on this series reiterate it over & over – the lesson that the most successful models are not the most beautiful, nor the thinnest nor the tallest, but the hardest working & most prepared. Nor is the model who “wins” by being paired with the winning designer apt to be the best, either. In fact, that certainly won’t happen since Holly Ridings, easily the best of this season’s lot, was eliminated a couple of weeks back when Emilio Sosa switched to another model (Klum glowered at Sosa, dumbfounded by his decision). The remaining models knew it too. Their lot in some ways is harder even than the overworked, stressed out designers with whom they’re working, in that they can be sent more or less literally bare-assed down the runway & end up being “auf’d” because they were paired up with a clueless clothier. If the essence of Project Runway’s success is letting creative people be creative – a remarkably untested idea in the world of television – a season of Models of the Runway ought to persuade any impressionable viewer that this can be a grueling & unfair profession. I’d rather load trucks in a warehouse.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Carol Hannah Whitfield’s exploding skirt

In which I note that I accurately predicted the winner of Project Runway on October 15. Nothing in the final collections made me change my mind about the superiority of Irina Shabayeva’s vision. While the single best look in the three runway shows at Bryant Park may have belonged to Carol Hannah Whitfield’s dress with exploding skirt (or however you characterize that), the cohesiveness of Shabayeva’s collection (here & the following 12 screens) was beyond what previous Runway winners have accomplished. Check out her website for other collections by her.

LA Times on PR’s finale

Talking with Tim Gunn

Stephen Burt on the Project Runway phenomenon
in the current issue of Poetry.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Alas, it turns out that I’m a better forecaster of Project Runway than I am of baseball. To wit:

If I had to guess today (and that’s why I’m writing this), I would project an all-female finals consisting of Althea Harper, Carol Hannah Whitfield & – most likely to win – Irina Shabayeva.

I posted that sentence here on October 15, and I turned out to be exactly right. Not that it was as easy as it seems in retrospect. Althea sort of fell apart on the final challenge and was nearly taken out by Gordana Gehlhausen. The other final contestant eliminated on the cusp of going to Fashion Week was Christopher Straub (the Shakopee, Minnesota, designer who deserves the Where’s Andre? award for the contestant most likely to shed tears at the eensiest provocation). Straub was, to my eye, no better than the third strongest of the male designers & even he seemed to shocked to be, in his words, “the last boy standing.”

All three of the finalists had made it top the top three in at least six of the show’s twelve episodes to date. Shabayeva – “Meana Irina” to at least one of her competitors – has finished in the top three seven times, winning three episodes, Althea has been in the top three six times, winning twice & Carol Hannah has also been in the top three six times, winning once. No other designer won more than once, nor finished in the top three more than three times, and the two who managed that were Gordana & Christopher.

So the three showing at Fashion Week had 19 of the 36 top-3 finishes. I still think Irina is going to win – I think she’s heads above the other two women, and if you don’t believe me, check out her collections on her own website. One could reasonably argue that she’s the best female designer the series has had to date. But it’s a feature of the competitive pressure and simple constraints of Project Runway – the final challenge included a “tour” of the Getty museum that lasted all of 30 minutes(!) – that none of her designs for the show have come close to what she can do working by herself.

Which may be one reason why this has been the most tepid season Project Runway has ever had. They really need to rethink the challenges. One wonders what will become of this show if its standard sink any lower. Runway has been a huge hit, at least by basic cable standards, and there are now knock-offs of it in 13 other countries. But as Tim Gunn likes to remind his protégés, they need to make it work.