Sunday, October 26, 2014

Project Runway, Season 13, Finale: Money Rain Down

Greetings Project Runway fans!

Guess what? This is it! The last show of Season 13!  

As this season draws to a close, I have to admire how perfectly some commercial campaigns fit the shows they sponsor. Take Aldo for instance.  Sponsor of this season's "accessory wall," their signature commercial, "Perfect Pair" encapsulated this season to a T. It featured "Money Rain Down" by Big Black Delta.

It must be heaven,
I must be a fool,
Wake up tomorrow,

Water rain down on you.
This must be heaven,
I must be a fool,
No more tomorrow,
Money rain down on you.

In real time, the designers' journey this year took three weeks of daily competition in New York, plus, for nine of them, an additional month of pressure. Two months of eating, sleeping, breathing design is pretty intense. If you say that you love fashion more than anything, two months of round-the-clock designing and sewing will definitely test whether you are in heaven or just a fool.

Then again, that's sort of par for the course of the fashion industry, isn't it? Designers work long hours in the run-up to a fashion show, television show or movie. Designers with celebrity clients are working through award season non-stop with design, production and fittings.

This season on Bravo, Top Chef is promoting the number of chefs who have been on the show and gone on to open their own restaurant--in some cases, chains of restaurants. Can Project Runway boast anything remotely similar? After 12 years, only Christian Siriano managed to make a nationwide splash. Other winners and competitors have gone on to expand their businesses, produce fashion lines for stores, or take on celebrity clients. Only a few have become anything close to the "next, great American designer" that is part of the show's introduction.

Think about it. On Top Chef, aside from goofy "make a dessert out of this mackerel" challenges, chefs do what chefs do: cook food quickly. On Project Runway, producers give designers a fraction of the time they would have in real life to sketch a design, choose fabrics, and construct and fit the garment. This simply isn't the best showcase of designer talent. Further, are viewers really developing an appreciation for the work it takes to come up with a design when a designer has only a day to construct it? What we saw this season was a parade of shortcuts: neoprene, tacked up hems and pinned seams. On top of that, producer-stoked interpersonal drama further distracted from the hard work of designers. What will you remember this season? Korina's stunning Choppard challenge coat or the mean things she said to Char? 

After 13 seasons, it's pretty clear that Project Runway makes for good television. Since the program came to Lifetime, it's getting its biggest ratings yet. As much as we complain about Red Robin and Yoplait, those are national sponsors who sought out Project Runway as a special, interactive vehicle to promote their business. It works for them and keeps Project Runway and it's endless variations a Lifetime mainstay.

But does "money rain down" for the designers? I'm not so sure. The ones I'm friends with still work plenty hard to keep their businesses going and there's no sure thing. If you win, it's not the panacea for all your problems. If you lose, it's not the end of the world, either. But if you're a contestant, don't expect your handful of television hours to translate into the world beating a path to your door. You still have to blaze your own trail. Smart contestants find that their experience helps them figure out how to blaze that trail.

On to the final four collections.

Each designer showed ten garments, produced in four weeks with a $9,000 budget. The finalists had access to the Aldo accessory wall. 

Charkeeta is wearing Aldo !? earrings!
They had the benefit of a critique session with the judges two days before. No collection really sang out to me this year. I had problems with all of them.  Let's dive in!

Charkeeta Glover

Char's collection needed some revamping. The judges told her to get rid of one piece and Tim suggested she lose two more. In the end, she was only able to make two replacement pieces. 

An aside. She consulted with hairstylist Philip B and talked about piling hair on top of the head.

I don't recall the part where they worked out sweeping some hair into the face the way Char sweeps hers. She used to be a hair dresser. She'd certainly sweat that detail. Every one of her models looked like they were sporting a "Char" haircut! 

Of her ten looks, two were made with the Italian "Pucci-like" fabric. Two were black and white. One was a knitwear zipper dress. Two white dresses, made from different fabric, two t-shirt looks and one blue dress. She had too many fabrics and ideas. Not many of them were executed well.

When she ran out of re-vamp time, she brought back this piece, against Tim's advice. Worse, she led with it! Not that it would have saved the show or anything, but I would have picked the pink jumpsuit over this. At least it wan't the wrinkled mess this was, underneath all those noodles.

Anyway, why, why, why, why, why, why, why didn't Char reproduce her most successful design? Every other designer reproduced parts or all of designs used in competition. And she pulled this one out in an hour.

And this was #2???  It should have been closer to the end. Char had no sense of flow with this collection.

 On her return trip to Mood, she bought more of this black and white hashed weave fabric and sewed an Emily Payne Memorial Hoodie on it. I bet Emily spit out her gum when she saw this walk!

OK, now we're talking. This is Charkeeta's wheelhouse. This was one of the garments she sewed together in a day. Don't get too close, or you'll notice the pattern's not exactly matched up. Had the rest of the show looked more like this, she could have been a contender. I would have preferred a second look in this material instead of the dreadful hoodie.

I know what happened here. She fell in love with the horizontal striped fabric. From a distance, it looks like spun candy. But those ruffles are too fussy and some of the seams are bunchy. Throughout the competition, she had a love affair with sculptural details. However, they just don't seem to love her back. Anyway, who does she think she is? Kini?

That sound you heard from the gallery was fade du grau and Sandhya Garg shouting "Leave the word clothes to us!" What the heck? The judges hated this skirt paired up with the top made out of the sheer, white, horizontal striped fabric. So she paired it up with a tee-shirt? That makes it better?

And then, follow it up with your exquisite Italian fabric garment?  This collection was all over the place. This should have been paired with the jumpsuit in the same fabric, closer to the end. I only note that this fabric really elevated her designs to another dimension. She should explore working with more premium materials in the future.

What a complete throw-away piece. The skirt looks like something you could buy at the mall and the top looks more like something that got caught in in the revolving doors.

This should have been her lead-off piece and I would have tossed all the other black skirt/ white top pieces and worked with this idea more. Imagine a short/jacket combo or even a jumpsuit in this fabric. You can see that a lot of work and thought went into this piece--maybe too much for her to produce an entire collection around it. But I think one or two more pieces like this would have been time better spent than wrestling with turquoise noodles or sewing a nothing, pink jumpsuit.

I like the idea of this way more than the execution. She used white, upholstery material for the coat and as a result, it was stiff and awkward on the model. This is where Char's lack of training comes in. Her poor fabric choices really tripped her up. Done in a better fabric, this piece would have been the perfect end-note to the collection: a formal, but not fussy garment. This is the modern wedding dress she had wanted to produce with Sandhya, but got shot down.

Come to think of it, Tim is right. The world needs to hear THIS VOICE. She needs to explore this piece more. Make it in better materials. Resolve the issue with the back, maybe with pleating or a better cut. We don't need another fly girl broadcasting how fly she is. Fly girls get married and go to special events wanting to look fantastic and modern. This is it. It's the best DESIGN IDEA in the whole collection. Boom. Figure this out and you have modern suits and separates for every important occasion. Toss in the blue, one-hour dress and you have easy, modern elegance. Peplum and ruffle free!

Kini Zamora

Kini can sew but his design and styling skills leave so much to be desired. Here was the collection as shown.

Nice start. It gave us hope for the future that he managed to overhaul the collection, although I'm not extremely keen on the back zipper.
This was Heidi's favorite look. I thought the top looked ridiculous. The back looks like a fortune cookie.
 These two pieces don't belong together. More on that in a minute.

 Oh look at the clever "white it's coming, black it's going" design! Again, these two pieces don't go together.

 HORSEHAIR BRAID STRIP ALERT!  Yes, sewers, horsehair braid strips are how you get those flounces to flounce and not collapse. It's like sewing crinoline right into the material.

 Cool jacket.  Don't know why he styled it open to the navel, like that.

I would have paired that top with the shorts and lost both this skirt and the silly white top, which would have required him to make yet another look, so I'll keep this one to myself.

 Why the big ruffle? Just because he can? It's not a good enough reason. For starters, the gathers are way too big and heavy in that material.

Zac liked this one. Then again, I'm not sure he was completely sober when he critiqued the clothes. The fit on this one is horrible. To see how horrible, let's look at a side view.

She's swimming in this outfit. 

This piece made the chatroom long for a return of Michael Kors. Oh, what he would have said of this. Play along at home. Here's my guess: "Jock strap mermaid."

So, because I've got too much time on my hands, here's a little fun with Photoshop. Imagine if Kini had paired his separates differently.

Sometimes, with garments, you want to mix and match. But these weren't designed and produced together for mixing and matching. They don't play nicely with others, which leads me to my biggest beef about Kini.

Strapped for cash, he auditioned with a portfolio produced in denim. Somewhere, in the middle of competition, he went back there and found a comfort zone. But a runway show at Fashion Week with a $9,000 budget needs to be more aspirational. It needs to touch the soul. Why choose denim in the first place? And why try to make it something it is not in the second place? Kini can sew beautiful clothes. I wanted to see a window into his soul. Perhaps a little Polynesian/Hawaiian influence. Maybe some Asian/Pacific sensibilities. I wanted to see a show that looked like it came from Kini and I never did. This was bland, colorless and heavy. This is going to be a time of soul searching for Kini, no doubt. If he reflects on his experience and finds a design voice, he's going to be a powerhouse, no doubt about it.

Amanda Valentine

Hippy, dippy, trippy girl needs to figure out what Spring means, because it sure isn't this.

Let's pair a custom, Fair Isle knit with leather pants and call it Spring, shall we?
 I like the idea of this vest more than the execution. Those shoulder blade holes are strange to me. I can't get past the combination of Fair Isle knit, leather and suede for Spring, either.

This is one of my favorite looks, despite the colors and the materials. The design details are quite clever. 
 And way more of this jewelry, please!!!

I don't mind the tent shape of the dress at all. The cut outs bother me, however. From the back, it looks like she has black panties on. Why no cut out interest in the top of the back as well? And these colors are not moving me.

 Get that bushy hair out of the way so that I can see the top of the vest to see if I like it! It's cool and edgy, but doesn't belong with that Fair Isle knit skirt at all.

This is another interesting idea with questionable execution. While you do need some weight for an overlay layer to work, this suede just isn't cutting it for me. Maybe a lighter leather? I don't exactly know what would work. I don't like the long piece hanging down in the back. The back straps look awkward. There's certainly some Joshua McKinney layering and negative space going on here that I think she should explore further. But she should really rethink these color choices.

Again, the cutouts are weird. The front reminds me of a crab. The back is not so bad. But in no design magazine ever have we read the words, "Black and sand are in for Spring!" Some color would have done wonders here.

If I ruled the world, the front of the dress would have had pleats like the back. Absent that, a statement necklace would have been nice to see here.

This dress and styling combination is pure, unadulterated Amanda. Easy, flowing, and pieced with interesting details...well, except for the black lobster in the back. Again, with the bushy hair... An updo would have allowed us to see the detailing at the top of the back.

Making it to Fashion Week was a nice vindication for Amanda, who clearly didn't belong in that chaotic season of team competitions. I'm glad she came back. She utilized her showcase moment well. And seriously, Aldo...the jewelry would be a nice edition.

Sean Kelly

So our next, great American designer is from New Zealand! Right? And now he has an opportunity to create an accessory for the servers at Red Robin to wear! What will it be? And will it have fringe? Or be Roman?

Hail Caesar Salad!

Sean is very cerebral about his designs setting the unremarkable pants aside, that top alone has more interesting design elements in it than the entire runway show that preceded it. I want to know if the back just lays or is it somehow attached to the front.
This, however, is pathetic. The sleeves are too wide. The shoulders are awkward. It looks like he cut the tunic with a top fold at the shoulder and just let it lay as it was. The cut is weirdly bunchy under the arm pits. Why is there white on white fringe here? And the fabric looks cheap.

I just figured out what bothers me here. It's an Italian influence Sean probably didn't intend to make.

"Ridi, Pagliaccio,sul tuo amore infranto..."
 The long fringe here is very evocative of the old piano shawls of the 1920s. There's a real Asian feel to this dress. 

To me, this is the worst look on the runway. I have no good words for the top, which I think is unnecessarily bulky in the arms and torso. There are a thousand better ways to piece sleeves into a garment and he used none of them. I don't care how swishy the fringe is. I think it looks ridiculous.

 Had there been just three or four outfits with fringe, we would have treasured them all.

 His "et tu Brute" dress. My favorite part is the dangling fringe in the back.

My least favorite part is the ridiculous draping. No one called him on this. 

 Ugh. More fringe. No one needed the fringe here. It distracts from the top.

 It's a muppet wooly bear caterpillar. 

 This is a better version of the white dress, but that back cowl is insane! Somewhere, Rami Kashou weeps.


Thing is, fringe is big this year. Who knew? Just about every designer at Fashion Week this year had fringe for Spring. JUST NOT AN ENTIRE COLLECTION OF IT.

Sean is a thoughtful designer, but to me, the fringe was a crutch, not a muse. I would have loved him to see him spend more time resolving the bulk issues associated with his draped pieces and explore the full potential of his take on the white blouse and shirt dress. His show really missed the mark for me.

My theory is that he won simply because this stuff is editorial and some of it has wicked potential for innovation. But that's what this season was all about. Potential. Potential, that, for all the one-day challenges and producer intervention, never got fully realized. The moments of magic were too few and far between. But none of that is Sean's fault and he deserves to enjoy his win. The world needs a new take on the white blouse. Just figure out how to make those sleeves more flattering.

Until next the next season of Project Runway, I'll be firing up the blog from time to time for other things every now and then.  Check back in! Thanks for reading!


  1. Do you suppose that Sean won because his was the best of a group of middle of the road designs?

  2. Sean won because his collection was the least of four evils.

  3. Sure seems that way. Past designers have pointed out that they had more time to produce their final runway show. Season 3, for example, had close to THREE MONTHS. In three months, you can take a vacation, clear your head, do one set of garments, meet with Tim and realize they're all mistakes and redo them. There were seasons when the finalists also had a week of prep for Fashion Week. This season just had 3 days. That's not enough time to fit your models and boy did that show in all the collections!