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"The Worst Review is No Review": Inspiration and Lack Thereof on "Project Runway"

Is it too soon to want to shake some of these designers already?

I'm talking about this season of Project Runway on Bravo (the very last season of Project Runway on Bravo, to be specific); unlike previous years, I am distinctly getting the feeling that some of these "eccentric" designers were definitely cast for their quirkiness (speaking in the third person, adding "licious" to every word, being obsessed with leather) more so than their design abilities. Sure, Suede's dress last week was absolutely amazing but if he doesn't stop referring to himself in the third person, I am going to start to root for him to be auf'd right away. (Yes, it bothers me that much.) And the less said about Blayne the better, in my book.

On this week's episode of Project Runway ("Bright Lights/Big City"), the designers were tricked--rather easily, I might add (don't these contestants watch the series?)--into thinking that they were off for a night on the town with Mssr. Tim Gunn, when in actuality Tim forced them into some ridiculous red ponchos and wellies and then took them on a double-decker bus tour of Manhattan at night. The designers were split into groups, given an hour to photograph some inspirational images at three different locales, and then were told to design an outfit based on one of those photographs.

I have to say that I absolutely loved this challenge. Sure, Project Runway has used the photographic inspiration challenge in the past, but never with such dynamic results; having the designers photograph the city at night also opened up a whole new world of possibilities, utilizing light and color to great effect.

It's funny to me that, after all this time, some of the designers still don't listen to Tim's advice as he goes by offering up his opinion. Tim is on target about 98 percent of the time and knows what the judges are looking for, so it is always surprising to me when some of the designers (ahem, Emily) choose not to listen to him about their garments. Unlike some other series, where a mentor like Tim might be striving to inject some drama, Project Runway's Tim Gunn has always given his fledgling designers a true and honest opinion from the start. And guess what? Tim's criticisms were the same exact ones that the judges later gave on the runway. While it might be too late to change directions completely by the time Tim strolls through the sewing room at Parsons, there is enough time to try to tweak the design along his guidelines. After all, he is there to help.

So what did the designers do with their nighttime Manhattan inspirations? I have to say that there were a bunch of designs that really stood out to me and I was really impressed with several of the garments that went down that runway. While I knew that either Kenley or Leanne would win this challenge, I was really pulling for Leanne to win, if only because it was a complete 180 degree turn from where she was last week, in the bottom two. Kenley's dress was absolutely stunning: a thoroughly modern version of a 1980s Joan Collins power garment, it masterfully played with the concept of volume (with a half-pouf skirt) and embodied the aesthetic of Lacroix and Ungaro but with an updated twist. She's clearly the one to beat this season and I wouldn't be surprised if she has, not one, but several more tricks up her vintage sleeves.

As for Leanne, I was absolutely stunned by her design, a separate sleeveless blouse and architectural grey-on-black ruffled skirt that completely captured the look of her photograph (a tree planter) and, yes, looked as though it came right off the rack (in a good way) rather than being sewn together just hours before. It was inspired, professional, creative, and showed that Leanne had taken on the judges' criticisms from the last challenge and pushed herself to be dynamic and to edit her ideas more constructively. Well done, Leanne; you've erased the judges' memory of the disaster that was last week's ensemble.

I thought that Terri's design was gorgeous and provocative, consisting of a backless print dress (which matched her photograph to a T) with black satin pants. It was urban, sophisticated, and confident, telling a compelling story about the woman who would wear this. I thought she brilliantly captured the essence of Manhattan street culture while still keeping it wearable and runway-appropriate.

(While the judges didn't mention him by name, I really, really liked Jerell's design, an asymmetrical chartreuse gown with a long train and a fitted bodice. It didn't pop like some of the others, but it was damn impressive nonetheless. And I did not care a whit about Blayne's ghastly rainbow dress or Stella's--surprise!--leather pants and halter top.)

And there there was the bottom three. Tim called it perfectly when he referred to Jennifer's design as "matronly" (I forgot her name halfway through the episode, so I began to refer to her as matronly); inspired by some Columbus Circle clocks, it failed to capture any of the energy, light, or movement of Manhattan and, though Jennifer claimed that she liked to use surrealism in her work, was just matronly and boring. You can't call a dress "Holly Golightly meets Salvador Dali" and have it look like this; there was nothing fresh, original, or young about Jennifer's design and it looked messily finished, to boot. I had a feeling that she would be the one to be clearing up her space upstairs.

Keith's design looked messy and uninspired. I get what he was trying to do by taking on a revision of the fringe dress but here it just looked like he sewed pieces of white fabric onto a sheath and called it a dress. There was no aspect of form or silhouette here and the model just got lost in the material (loved that Michael Kors said it looked like pieces of toilet paper caught in a windstorm); Tim warned Keith that the dress would have to be fitted and he didn't listen. I didn't think they'd send home the Salt Lake City native but he's definitely on warning and better step up his game if he has a chance of making it very far in this competition.

Finally, there was Emily. Oh, Emily. I keep trying to wrap my head around what you were striving to create in this challenge and I just can't envision it... or understand how you thought that this awful dress was beautiful. Essentially an asymmetrical black dress, the garment then went an unexpected route with layers of orange, red, and yellow ruffles, which cut the model right across the chest and then trailed down to nowhere in particular. It was perhaps a too-literal interpretation of her over-exposed photograph showing light movement but, regardless, it was vile. Tim warned her that it was not looking good but she continued to go in the direction she was moving. Perhaps the worst comment any of the judges have made to date was Nina Garcia's "no comment" about this dress; if that's not the kiss of death for a Project Runway challenge, I don't know what is.

I really thought that Jennifer would be the one to go home. Heidi said that she wasn't interested in seeing anything else that Jennifer designed, so I was surprised to see her stay in the competition whilst Emily got auf'd. Then again, in a reality competition where criticism and discussion is part and parcel of the series, the worst thing you really can say about a design or a designer is that you have nothing to say.


Next time on Project Runway ("Rings of Glory"), designers are challenged with designing sport outfits for the Olympic Games and are judged by Olympic medalist/Dancing with the Stars winner Apolo Anton Ohno.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Big Brother 10 (CBS); Last Comic Standing (NBC; 8-10 pm); Smallville (CW); Ugly Betty (ABC); Don't Forget the Lyrics! (FOX)

9 pm: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS); Supernatural (CW); Grey's Anatomy (ABC); So You Think You Dance (FOX)

10 pm: Flashpoint (CBS); Fear Itself (NBC); Hopkins (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching:

10 pm: Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List on Bravo.

Okay, I know, I know, but I find her acerbic overeagerness somehow calming. On tonight's episode ("For Your (Grammy) Consideration"), Kathy comes up with an exciting way to promote her new CD by going on a rather unusual date, but discovers that her mom seems to be the one getting all of the media attention.


Anonymous said…
Yeah, I was pretty surprised it wasn't Jennifer after Heidi's comment. But I remember liking Jennifer from her intro in the premiere, and I don't know anything about Emily, so I am ok with it. I liked Jerrell's a lot, too. Go Kenley!
This was definitely the best challenge of the season so far. I loved all three of the top designs and, like Heidi, would wear Leanne's "tree planter" outfit in a heartbeat. (Of course, I think that Heidi would probably look better in it but that's beside the point.)

And you know how you said that Tim Gunn was right 98% of the time? Well, Kenley's dress is the perfect example of his 2% of wrongness. He was very concerned about the dress (as was I!) but it turned out beautifully. Definitely a hard dress to pull off and I'm glad that it was such a success and look forward to seeing more of Kenley's designs.
Unknown said…
I'm having a really hard time getting into this season because of the contestants. Not only are they irksome, but their quirks come off as completely manufactured to me. It's like they were thinking "what can I do to get the most time on camera?" So many of their comments and "zingers" seem overly rehearsed (and not particulary funny) and the interaction between them seems forced. Nothing about it feels organic at all and that really upsets me. When the contestants become more invested in turning themselves into the "next big reality star" than trying to win the competition, that signals the beginning of the end of a show. Good luck, Lifetime. Here's hoping you can bring back some of the earnestness and life into one of my favorite show.

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