Sunday, September 21, 2014

Project Runway, Season 13, Episode 9: Well She Was an American Girl....

....raised on promises....

Greetings, Project Runway Fans!

Excuse me while I have a Tom Petty moment. This week's challenge was pretty complex. American Girl dolls are very popular with the kids who love them.  The company also produces a line of girls clothes designed to match the dolls.  

In fact, look closely: the girls are wearing the American Girl clothes that match their dolls.  In this challenge, each designer was matched up with a girl and her doll and was to design an outfit for the girl that was inspired by the doll's story. This might be the FIRST TIME IN PROJECT RUNWAY HISTORY that designers were asked to design clothes inspired from a line of existing clothes.

Designers had a small budget to go to Mood but they also had access to the same material that American Girl used for each doll's outfit. While the design brief seemed simple, this week, there were subtle pressures. Would you be rewarded for holding close to the original dress design or chastised for not using the given material?  I found the instructions to be sort of ambiguous. At this stage of the competition, that's the whole point.

The buzz was strong for this episode. Girls have a lot of passion for their American Girl dolls. I can only imagine that tens of thousands of girls stayed up late on a school night to watch this episode. What they saw were some interesting designs and personalities. They also saw a spirited group of girls, all of whom must be fashion models or very quick learners. When they've done girl challenges in the past, we got a little inside information on how they honed their runway skills. We didn't get that this time, which leads me to think that they're already pros.

The guest judges for the episode were Heather Northrup, from American Girl and Elizabeth Moss, who plays Peggy on Mad Men. Both had some interesting insights. In keeping with the real theme of this episode, Heather mentioned each time when a designer used the company's fabric.


Amanda's model had Addy Walker, a doll that was based on a real person. She grew up in slavery and escaped with her mother. There's a whole exhibit on her in he National Museum of American History. 
 Although you really can't see it, Amanda pieced together two prints to make the jacket as a throwback to the quilt that Addy recalled her grandmother had on her bed. It was a nice, updated look for her model, but if the quilt was really the inspiration, I wanted to see more piecework on the jacket. It fit the brief, but this week, there were better examples.


To me, Alexander was inexplicably safe.

I don't even recall the doll that his model had or how this outfit related to it. I think his model had "Kit" a girl who grew up during the Great Depression. He did use some of the American Girl fabric, so big points for that....but.... The fit on those pants is unconscionable. Seriously. This girl has no meaningful curves and he couldn't make a pair of pants that didn't pooch out on the midsection and ride up her butt. Alex has scooted by, challenge after challenge, with some suspect fit and construction issues.  Sticking to the company fabric kept him safe this week.


Char is BACK, BABY and this week, she really came close to winning. Her model's doll was Kaya'aton'my, who was a member of the Nez Perce tribe. Char focused in on making an updated party dress and knocked it out of the park.

As you can see, she made a vest with the American Girl vest material, but she shaped the fringe and paired it with a colorful dress. In this way, Char intelligently updated the outfit and kept it from becoming an inappropriate cultural appropriation. This was a fun, southwest styled look and not a costume. The boots were a nice styling touch.


This was my pick for the win.

Korina's model had Josephina Montoya, who grew up in New Mexico during Mexican rule. Josephina's mother died when she was just eight. She keeps a memory box to remind her of her mother. Her mother's favorite color was yellow and that color is important to her. 

Korina reinterpreted the idea of memory box and made fabric cards that she attached to the skirt with metal rings. On the underside of some of the cards was a yellow card, signifying her secret memory of her mother. American Girl dolls are about the story as much as they are about their culture or background. By focusing on the story, Korina created a sentimental piece that was also fun and clever.


Kini had the one of the most popular dolls in the Historic Collection: Samantha Parkington. In fact, Korina had that doll when she was a girl. Samantha lives with her grandmother and has a penchant for nice clothes. Kini produced some kid versions of two, iconic, high fashion looks.

Chanel for the top and Westwood for the dress. Perfect for a girl who probably knows her way around Saks Fifth Avenue. Speedy Kini couldn't find time to line the coat, but that didn't bother the judges one bit. Kini gets the win this week, all by himself.

Would a kid actually want to wear this? I'm sure that somewhere for someone, little versions of Prada and Dior are being made. I just wonder if American Girl would desire to produce something so obviously derivative for their line. I'm not so sure about that. But again, don't be confused. This challenge was not about what American Girl would or should produce.


What happened? Sean's model had Julie Albright, who grew up in the 70's. She would be about the same age as the child that Peggy Olsen had on Mad Men but gave to her sister to raise. I was a child of the 70's and my favorite outfit was a pair of tomato red, hip hugger, bell bottom, wide wale corduroy pants. I paired them with a white turtleneck. I looked like something out of The Brady Bunch and that was the whole point. So where, oh where, did this come from?

I do not believe I owned a jumpsuit in the 70's. It would have been too much fuss to wriggle out of the top just to pee. I think I went through that phase in the 80's. I do recall the calico fabric. It was HUGE in 1976 when the nation was celebrating its bicentennial. Girls everywhere dressed like Laura Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie. But this is not a prairie dress. The choice of fabric and simplicity of the fabric (literally, Simplicity)

befuddled the judges. Sean ended up being safe by the skin of his teeth this week. It's too bad that immunity is over precisely at the time his magic has worn off on the judges.


Emily has been putting me to sleep for weeks now. I just didn't want to see her go at the exact time she finally put something over the top on the runway.

Emily's model had Rebecca Rubin, who grew up in New York City in 1910, part of the Jewish immigration around the turn of the last century. According to Zac Posen, Rebecca is his favorite doll. Zac likely has relatives with Rebecca's same backstory.

So, yes, this outfit is clearly way too over-the-top for a young girl to wear. However, the ideas are spot on. The colors are period-perfect. The sweater is evocative of an afghan knitted by Grandma. It needed major editing, however.

Lose the tulle, make the skirt a little less full, use less bulky material for the sweater and this outfit is in contention for a win.

Here's the thing: Emily has a children's line on Etsy! One of the garments featured is a "Parisian Tulle Skirt."  Her Etsy version is longer with a less stiff material and it is paired with a top that isn't as bulky.

The sweater was my favorite part.  My friend, Laura Kluvo, who co-hosts the Blogging Project Runway blog, makes sweater coats and dresses for little girls. Here's an example of her work, which is much brighter and more fun:

I instantly thought of this when I saw Emily's outfit. Perhaps if she had just concentrated on one thing instead of a handful, she could have been spared from almost being kicked off.


Sandhya as driven me absolutely batty from the first. There has been a lot of talk and criticism about how people treat Sandhya. Yes, she's Indian. I happen to love Indian style. But that's not her design inspiration. She is inspired by stories and symbolism. I thought, at first, with each doll's backstory, she would eat this challenge up with a spoon.  

Her model had Caroline Abbott. She grew up near a shipyard, where her father works. She likes to embroider. She's also dressed in pink. Sandhya picked up on all of that and began to make a pink outfit that would be decorated with cheesy nautical appliques. I guess Mood only has cheesy nautical appliques. 

Upon seeing the dismal selections, I would have looked at nautical fabric, instead. I just think that trip to Mood totally put Sandhya in a design box that she could not escape.  Tim managed to talk her out of the appliques, but even though he said it looked like a onesie, Sandhya insisted on making the jumpsuit.

With peplum.

In pink.

It reminded Nina of Foofa on Yo Gabba Gabba.

The straps were too thin, the neckline was too low. The shrug was too fussy. The whole thing was too pink and the worst part was that the back was closed by snaps!

She made a onesie!

So it was Sandhya's turn to say goodbye. She had a good run in Season 13 and she got to show a decoy show at Fashion Week. Not bad. We'll certainly never forget her!

See you next week as we are down to seven designers!


  1. Laura Kluvo for the win! I really liked Emily's design, it just needed to be reignedin a bit. Kini is a sewing wizard, but I really need to see something totally different from him. Sandhya just lost her mind on this one, and sealed her fate when she argued back to the judges. Never a good idea. Thank you for this post!

  2. This was a good challenge! For the first time EVER, I liked what Amanda brought. And I finally noticed Emily was in the competition lol!

    I actually thought Emily's was the best. It was a little over the top but it was different and it showed intention AND it was very very well executed. :)

  3. I agree. I thought Emily had an interesting take, for a change. And isn't Laura's stuff super cool?

  4. Update: Several bloggers have commented that Addy's grandmother's quilt was an "escape map" in disguise. There's a reason Addy and her mother memorized the quilt and a reason why it would continue to have strong meanings and memories for her. Given that backstory, it's a real shame the piecing wasn't more obvious on Amanda's jacket.