Sunday, September 4, 2011

Project Runway Season 9, Episode 6: The Art of the Matter

Hey there, Project Runway fans!  It's time to recap and analyze another episode.

This week's episode was an avant garde challenge!  Exciting, huh?

No, not so much?

How about you, Tim?

Looks like you're busy chasing Swatch through Mood Fabrics.

I was trying to bite designers who were going for the chiffon, but Tim thwarted my plans!
Avant Garde.  Ever since the Christian Siriano season, we've had some sort of avant garde challenge.  What is "avant garde?"  It's the intersection of fashion with art, pushing fashion ahead (avant) of the current trends (garde.)

In other words, these are the clothes that pop singers wear to pick up their MTV Video Music Awards.

For inspiration, the designers were teamed up with a child artist.  I was hoping for a standard, garden variety grade school so that designers would come up with something like this

but instead, they were teamed up with students attending the prestigious Harlem School of Art.

Because I was attending to my own talented children this week, I tuned in a little late.  I was hoping that the designers were presented with a painting chosen via Heidi's dreaded BUTTON BAG, but no.  They were teamed up with an artist and WORKED WITH THE ARTIST ON A PAINTING.  I emphasize this because it's handy information for later, when you will see that most designs bear no relationship to their painting whatsoever.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's start with the designer who drove me the most batty this week.  Oliv(i)er.

This week a student tried to help our weird accented friend from Ohio overcome his fear of color with a little art therapy.

"Tonyalee, I don't think I can do it.  I can't touch the color.  It makes me uneasy."

"It's very easy OliVER.  Just move the brush up and down.  That's it!  You've got it!"
But alas, when Oliv(i)er went to design his dress, he did not see the colorful painting he created with Tonyalee....

He came up with this.

To me, it resembles that morning after moment when you throw the sheet over yourself, in your chiffon nightie and stumble across the floor to your pile of clothes.   We've all been there, but do we really need to see this on the runway?  And if you wore this to the VMAs, would everyone think you were pushing the fashion envelope or would they think your tryst with John Mayer totally messed up your schedule?

This man is Kenneth Cole.

You know who he is because if you're human and live in the developed world, you have worn something he designed.  I just point him out because he thought the top part of Oliv(i)er's outfit was well designed.

Presented with a similar type of painting, Viktor chose a similar path, but to more successful results.  But he still drove me just as crazy because he took this magnificent painting

This was one of my favorites.
and reduced it to this.

He put a lot more work into his garment and the effect on the runway was quite stunning

But it was not quite avant garde enough to capture the imagination of the judges.  He was safe, however, because he produced a well-made dress.

The editors at Bunim-Murray didn't dwell on the actual composition of Laura Katheen and Kai's painting, but according to Laura, this rather Georgia O'Keefe-like image

was actually two roses with thorns that were sprayed with water after she painted them.  So while the eye is drawn to the white petal shapes at the top, Laura had peach petals, green stems and thorns on her mind when she created this

Nope.  I'm not seeing it.  I don't know why the judges were enamored with it.  The "juxtaposition of 'hard and soft'" wasn't even genuine.  The "boning" they saw under the dress was actually strips of dark, green fabric.  It was a pretty dress, but it would make Katy Perry look like a prom queen.  She would demand that Laura install some LED lights inside to make it flashy.

Becky and her artist came up with a painting that was out of this world...

She fixated on the little green blocks at the top.  She produced a respectable runway dress

but was it avant garde?  Not really...however...where have I seen the blocks on the shoulder before?
Oh yeah...on the Today Show...

"Stupid Jean-Charles de Castelbajac!  I told him to put the dice on the RIGHT shoulder!"
Well, if Katy Perry can wear blocks on her shoulder on the Today Show, I guess they ARE avant garde after all.  Well done, Becky!

Kim disappointed me the most this week.  She's got mad construction skills but seemed to get all lost in the imagery when presented with this challenging painting...

Tim talked her out of the feathered sleeves and headdress.  "You don't want Michael to call this a 'Hiawatha Moment' do you?"  All that was left was a little leather dress.

It was probably the best she could do with what she was given.  Was it avant garde?  Hell if I know.  The judges seemed to think it was good enough for safe, but not the top three.  I would have put this ahead of Laura Kathleen's, but no one cares what I think.  I don't have a fancy title at Marie Clare magazine like SOME people...

"You talking to me?  Listen, if Nina makes one false move, I am so taking over!"
Right, Zanna...if that's your real name.

Bert, Bert, Bert.....

The accusation here is that Bert is stuck in the glory days of Studio 54 with Scaasi and Halston, but I think we need to move the clock forward about 7-8 years to 1984.....

Can't touch this.
Yeah, he embraced the inspiration piece

so much so that he nearly cut it apart and adhered it to the outfit.

It was as if MC Hammer rolled around in some Colorforms.

Now we get to my favorites...not exactly because they triumphed in producing the perfect, avant garde dress in 2 days with $300 and a rabid dog chasing them through Mood Fabrics.  These designers let their inspiration piece bring out the best in them instead of letting it get the best of them.

This week, Bryce received quite a bit of snide remarks from the other designers for what they perceived to be a poorly constructed piece.  Perhaps...but then again, some of those same designers thought that Bert's outfit was amazing.

Audrey's painting with Bryce was haunting.  The editors had a whole lot of fun playing around with the eyes, even superimposing them on the runway model at one point...

Bryce resisted any temptation to take a literal interpretation of the images in the piece and instead, constructed a garment around the theme.

You can't see it from this pose, but the top is constructed as a sort of straightjacket.  The model had some fun with it.

I actually thought this was the piece that used its inspiration in the most innovative way.  Was it for the win?  Not really, due to some serious construction issues.  But it was a good use of two days, materials and inspiration and kept Bryce safe for another week.

Anya found some sewing skills this week and constructed a pretty sophisticated dress.  AJ, her artist, had a vision of desolation and burning trees and from this

she created this.

I think that's pretty magnificent and should have ranked right up there at the top, instead of Laura Kathleen, but what do I know?

Another example of this is Josh McKinney, who almost pulled off a repeat win this week.  Patrice painted a vision of a tree with a strong trunk and deep roots.

Josh M was really challenged by this.  He dwelled on the strong horizon line and eventually saw the blend of red and green into brown.  Brown, like a standard tree trunk.  He decided to use neoprene (too bad Nina wasn't there this week to praise the neoprene!) and paint it like a tree trunk.  Faux bois, is the may recall Malon Breton getting booted out for trying to create faux bois with fabric stitching a few seasons back...   Josh had some fun with it, painting "carved" initials into the side to honor his mom, who recently died of ovarian cancer.

The tree skirt itself was not enough to take it over the top, so Josh created an exuberant, fiery ruffled top.

Unfortunately, the "Bride of Frankenstein/Stevie Nicks" hair was a little too much for the judges.  Once again, Josh M got docked for his poor styling.

The winner of this week's Project Runway challenge is one, lucky devil.

It was only because his portrayal of the inspiration piece was so clever, that he was able to win with what is proving to be his standard, go-to silhouette.

Anthony Ryan and his artist painted self-portraits.

And Anthony focused on the brush strokes to produce this.

Through half the challenge, he was applying orange and blue swatches to the chiffon underlay.  The artist kept begging him to use more green.  At one point he said, "Maybe I should lose the orange."  Tim agreed that he should lose the orange.  Dude, you're colorblind!  Never make color decisions without running them past a committee!  Luckily, his artist was able to steer him back to the "color story" as designers like to call it.

The same Kenneth Cole who designs everything we wear and thinks that Oliv(i)er produced a wonderful top, began to pick apart Anthony's dress.

Yes, the brush strokes were tacked on...

rather haphazardly...

and the whole thing looks unfinished...

and didn't we see that neckline in the pet store challenge?  (Heidi and Michael mentioned this in the critique, but once again, those comments were edited out.)

But still, someone has to win this challenge and it might as well be the person who designed the dress that Zanna most wanted to wear when deposing Nina from her throne at Marie Claire.

Which leaves Josh Christensen for the auf.  Now I would have auf-ed Oliv(i)er for his heinous, walk-of-shame dress...but the judges, instead, gave it to an outfit conceived by a union between a cocktail waitress and a werewolf.

Now, the artist very adeptly pointed out that the key design element in this painting is the wolf's exposed rib cage.  Alexander McQueen knew how to use a rib cage for inspiration.

Had Josh gone there, he would have been called out as being too referential.  So damned if he does, damned if he doesn't, he didn't.  And after some careful editing, he was left with this.

This made the mistake of being unflattering on the model and bearing little relationship to anything in the painting.  And even though the same shrug was praised last week for being so innovative and edgy, this week, it was just, plain ugly and Josh was, once again, booted off.

And once again, we are left to ponder the subject of avant garde.  I leave you with Alexander McQueen, who, to me, will always have the last word on this subject.  A few weeks ago, I spent a wonderful afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, touring his "Savage Beauty" exhibit.  There were examples of exquisite workmanship with rare and unusual materials.  But I leave you with a simple piece that lets its shapes speak for itself.  It is neither ugly nor beautiful.  It is provocative.  It is avant garde.

Until next week!

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