Saturday, August 10, 2013

Project Runway, Season 12, Episode 4: What Knot to Wear....

Greetings, Project Runway fans!

This week's theme: bow ties.

They're essential for the well-dressed man.

Or woman, for that matter.

Just wearing one makes you appear more dashing

and respectable.

Bow ties can be politically complex...


....or just whimsical.

So enter Jesse Tyler Ferguson, star of Modern Family.  He's taken an essential element of a man's standard wedding outfit and turned it into a political campaign to support gay marriage.  He designs and sells bow ties and promotes the conversation about marriage equality on his website, Tie the Knot.

Now before you rush off to the store to buy yourself a pinstripe suit and and order that striped bow tie, you should know that these men are sartorial professionals.  You might sprain yourself trying to make that look good on you.  I will note, however, that next time Tim Gunn wears a tie, he should try one a little less wide and maybe a bit fuller.  I think he might find that more flattering.

The challenge this week was to take bow ties from Ferguson's collection and use them as both material and inspiration for an outfit.  There was no particular guidance on whether that outfit had to be red carpet worthy, avant garde or ready-to-wear.  Usually, when there's no guidance like this, historically, designers that decide to do conceptual art pieces are going to get the axe. That almost happened here had it not been for someone's unruly temper and complete misunderstanding of the judging and competition process.

A little bit about that.

First of all, Sandro was really struggling with the criticism he got from Zac Posen in the last challenge.  Almost to a judge--Tim included-- the main critique was that there were too many design elements in his garments.  He needed to focus on one or two key things and do them well.   So rather than explain what judges usually mean by the concept of "editing," Tim did Sandro no favors by telling him to "be himself."

"I call you 'Top Gunn' ok?  Not like that nasty Zac Posen."
So Sandro sent out this outfit

and was safe.

Digest that for a moment.  He. Was. Safe.


"Listen, before I leave, I have question.  My dress, is it 'too much?' What do you think of it, Mr. Zac Posen?"
You know, at first I thought that this could be sort of an interesting tactic.  What would happen if more safe designers just mutinied and asked for some helpful critique so that they could gain an edge in the next challenge?

"Frankly, I thought it was overworked, referential, and poorly constructed."
Sandro honed in on the word "referential."  Plaudits to Sandro, by the way, for his incredible comprehension of fashion English, which is really some of the most ridiculous English ever concocted.  He snapped.  All of a sudden, he started to compare every copy of anything that anyone has ever done, any inspiration or homage, to what he was producing, week after week.

Really?  You think that highly of the schlock you churn out in less than a day on a shoestring budget on a contest show?

Here's how design contests work.  You try to produce good work with one hand tied behind your back and the judges will critique you as if you had a whole studio of assistants.  Do they not have these kind of impossible TV contests in Russia?  Can't you just be thankful that you're not standing in the middle of a circle of flame while the judges tell you that your garment sucks?

Apparently not.

Sandro is number one!
Which leads me to my favorite part of the Bunim-Murray coverage of the Sandro meltdown.

"Do you not believe I'm NUMBER ONE?"
Not only do we get the Lifetime Modesty Pixelation....

....but they have to pixelate a close up.

For whom, exactly, did Bunim-Murray think they were producing this show that they needed to zero in on a close up of Sandro's finger?  Is Weinstein Company planning to issue some uncensored, "Pay Per View" event?

In any case, he walked out.  In the exit process, he ripped down a curtain, pushed aside some editors, threw stuff around and hit a camera.

Do svidanya, Sandro.  Less talented and capable people than him managed to make it further along in Project Runway.  They had something he didn't: control of their emotions.  I'm not exactly sure what Sandro's problems are, but I do hope he overcomes them.  Fashion does not need another crazy hothead.  There are plenty.

The producers have been hyping this meltdown for weeks.  The show opened with his heated argument with the other safe designers.  In fact, the entire narrative of the show was constructed around this meltdown.  What was lost, was the point of the challenge, which was to highlight marriage equality.  I'm sad for Jesse Tyler Ferguson and all of the intelligent discussions that occurred amongst the designers on this issue.  Had it not been for someone's egotistical meltdown, the producers could have created a very moving show that opened with the tie as metaphor, closed with "tying the knot" as personal narrative, with some powerful personal testimony in between.

But all of that was lost in the Sandro Shuffle.

Chasing that Emmy?  Sandro walked off with it.

As for those that remained in the competition, I was highly disappointed.


The way Helen explains it, should she receive any criticism at any time from anyone, she completely falls apart.  She had an idea, Tim gave her some advice and all of a sudden, she had no idea left.  If her creative process is so fragile, she'll be gone soon.  It's hard to invest much time and interest--in the context of this show--in someone so unstable.


Her work is very cerebral.  It's just not grabbing the judges week after week.  The fit on this is really weird and unflattering.  There are some good ideas here, just not the best ones this week.  Furthermore, in a tie challenge that presented some colorful and whimsical options, this seems kind of bland.


I am profoundly disappointed in Justin this week.  This is a gorgeous dress.  The lines are very flattering, including the side panels that flare out the skirt.  It's a tie challenge, however.  Ties are that pop of color and style that can elevate a plain suit.  Why, then, create a plain dress that fades into the background?  It should have been a canvas to showcase the tie material in an eye-popping way.  Color would have helped.  Perhaps a wider band of material as well.  He was safe because he was boring, which is sad, because the dress is so well made.


Let's ignore the pants and the migrating top for a minute.  The first thing that hit me was a flashback to Melanie Griffith in Working Girls.  Unfortunately for Karen, the fit of the pants is off and what should have hugged the model and kept the top in place, began to repel the top completely, leaving a mess of wrinkles around the midsection.


Ken spent the most time lecturing Sandro, as if Sandro was capable of absorbing a lecture on "respecting the judges" in the emotional soup in which his brain was stewing.  That wasn't his only fool's errand this challenge.  The other was this dress. He made the same mistakes as Justin this week, but with a much less flattering dress.  He used the tie material as piping in the seams of the leather dress.  Unfortunately, he paired it with the fabric top, which makes it look cheap and cobbled together.  I know that right now, millions of women are walking around in a dress that has a jersey neck and shoulder piece attached to the rest of a dress made out of other material.  It's a way for the industry to sell us half an expensive dress but still charge us for the whole expensive dress and look ridiculous in the process.  It looks like an upcycled dress you can buy on Etsy.


Believe it or not, this was not called out with a low score.  Perhaps it was because it reminded them of the tie display at Macy's.  She looks like a clown in an ill-fitting, black jumpsuit.


Jeremy's husband's grandmother died during this phase of the competition and he was unable to attend the funeral.  These life events are sad, indeed.  While he seemed so broken up about something that was happening to his husband we were presented with very little context.  Did Grandma raise his husband like a mother?  Were they really close?  Did she come to family dinners?  Was she supportive of his marriage when no one else was?  We don't know these things.  Perhaps they were lost in the digital trashbin in favor of the drama, which is a shame because the whole show was supposed to focus on marriage equality.  What better way to promote marriage equality than to show that real life gay marriages are just like real life straight ones?

As it was, Jeremy's tribute to his husband's grandmother ended up making the model look like Jeremy's husband's grandmother.  Heidi, in particular, wasn't pleased at all.

Zac: "I'm especially offended that with an outfit that is supposed to be more mature, you show her belly eye."
Zac, grow up.  It's called a navel.

"I put together the ties into an exoskeleton."
I'm not sure Sue grasps the concept of exoskeleton.  A skeleton is a supporting structure.  Exo- means outside.  If this were really an exoskeleton, it would have provided support for the dress in some way--through boning or seaming.

This was an overlay.  It would have been more successful had it been more sewn together.  The shape of the bow tie lends itself to sewing the fat pieces together and playing with the negative space.  Had Sue done something like that, she would have been safe.  Instead, it was attached a bit in the front, a bit in the back and a bit toward some of the bottom pieces.  It was barely constructed and had no visual purpose.  The model looked like a black tuna caught in a seaweed net.


Third suit in a row?  It's not a bad suit at all, it's just that Miranda is pigeon-holing herself.  The point of the challenge was to showcase and pay homage to the bow tie.  I think I know what Miranda was trying to do.  She picked the houndstooth fabric because it looks like little bow ties.  Then, she was going to make a blouse that featured the bow tie in a looser way.  The trouble is, that houndstooth fabric has a tendency to read matronly.  By picking such a strong pattern, she is then limited to using the tie material in the blouse so the blouse is forced to be the edgy element.  I think she should have stayed away from the houndstooth and stuck to a more neutral suiting material.  She could have then showcased the tie fabric in the suit itself (pocket, lapel and sleeve details) playing to her strengths and she would have struggled less with the top.


Kate cleverly played with menswear this week.

The ties form the strapping materials.  In the back, she used brace straps.  The leather in the pants forms a bow tie shape.  Had the top been a little less flowy and more fitted and visually tied-in with the pants, this could have won.


No doubt, this was a very well constructed, fun dress.  I supersized it so that you could see the details of how she put the stripped material together.  I was really disappointed with the slapped on tie mess in the front.  Had the ties been actually incorporated into the dress construction (in the center horizontal strip in the front and back, for example, some of the pieced detailing in the front, and even the shoulder caps) rather than slapped on, I would have been cheering from the cheap seats.


"And in the front I used a technique called 'faggoting'
to join the pieces together.  It's kind of a play on words."
"That is so brilliant!  I don't know if you're a good designer or not, but I do know that you're clever enough to write for Modern Family!"
Bradon made a funny!  He also made the most beautiful piece on the runway--that top.  He did the exact opposite of what Miranda did.  He made an arresting top and paired it with a pedestrian suit.

Unfortunately for me, the suit material was so heavy and weirdly colored, that you couldn't see that he had detailed the pockets of the shorts with some of the tie fabric.  I would have preferred a lighter material.  Nevertheless, he was the winner this week.

Totally caught up in the moment, he proposed to his partner on live taped two months ago television.  Then he told his partner about it over Skype right afterward.  Coinkydinkly, it happened to be the VERY SAME DAY the Supreme Court struck down California's Proposition 8.

Again...the whole unfortunate Sandro meltdown turned a tender, heartfelt ending into tacked-on treacle.  It was the television version of Dom's dress--so much potential had the elements been better integrated.

When the show focuses on the wrong things--the drama in this case--it loses perspective on the important things.  The producers are not that different from the designers in that respect.  Perhaps they need a Tim Gunn in the editing room to help them focus on what is important.  Then, maybe they will win that Emmy.

Next week, despite what Heidi says, it's the THIRD unconventional materials challenge this season and this time, in teams of three.  Tears abound.


  1. Your synopses are so thoughtful and insightful. Enjoyed this! Tim Gunn in the editing room.....quite brilliant!

  2. Actually the Skype conversation was a week or two later when the ruling actually hapened...

  3. Well, there you go. Project Runway, bending the time and space continuum!