Sunday, October 19, 2014

Project Runway, Season 13, Runway Finale Part 1: vini, vidi, vesti.

Greetings, Project Runway Fans!

We're in the home stretch and this week, we're smelling the jet fuel.  The final four designers set off for Rome, Italy. What should have been a highlight of the season turned into an afterthought that was tacked on to an already action-packed episode.

Time for a cat nap!
So our four designers, plus a few decoys, as it turns out, got to go to Rome, Italy for some inspiration and a fabric shopping spree.

The tour was practically drive by.

"And on your left is the coliseum..."
Well, perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit.  Tim Gunn was giving a walking, guided tour to some of the highlights of the city.

After his Project Runway stint is over, Tim should look into running a travel tour operation. He's a font of knowledge about art and history.
It reminded me of my first trip to Rome when two sets of cousins took me on two sets of tours of Rome. Any Roman worth his sal knows the top sites: the Coliseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, the Vatican...and they hit all of them. A visitor really needs time to explore the soul of the city, however. There are wonderful markets, shops...every church seems to have a hidden gem of art or architecture. Every neighborhood has it's own flavor. One afternoon, my cousins lead the way on a brisk march through the streets of Rome from their apartment near the Vatican to the Coliseum. They were arguing the entire time. It was hilarious. They're both athletes and I wanted to slow them down because we were walking down some back streets near the fashion district. We sped past the workshops of fledgling designers. A shoe maker studio on one side.  Ateliers on the other. The garage doors were open and the views inside was tantalizing. Someday, I'll return and see Rome on my terms, without speeding relatives. I hope the designers get to do the same.

By the way, Lifetime has some extras from the Rome visit that you might want to see. 

The designers paid a visit to Salvatore Ferragamo.
Char said it best: "Italians do a lot with a little." She went on to describe the little plates of food at dinner and the little cups of espresso. It's so true. Good Italian food, like good Italian fashion and how they live in general is all about balancing the little flavors, colors, shapes and activities that make up life.

And speaking of Char.  I've got a theory.

 Tim "went there" in Italy, OVER DINNER. Gee, Tim, that's so American of you, to talk about uncomfortable topics at dinner. Italians save that talk for after dinner, over shots of grappa.

"How does it feel to be the ONLY FINALIST IN PROJECT RUNWAY HISTORY not to win a challenge?"

I would have spit out my pasta.

Later, Char turned the tables asked Tim why he gave her the save.  

"Your voice needs to be heard," Tim replied.

So here's my theory.

Season after season, Project Runway had been criticized for booting off designers of color. 
"Wait...I was the winner of Season 12. Remember?"
No, Dom. After 12-13 seasons, no one remembers. I'm convinced the judges and producers also forgot. Anyway, does one African-American winner make up for so many others being passed over?  The topic is hot. Observers are questioning whether the fashion industry was writing off people of color. Last year, a major designer showed his collection with all white models. And where are the African-American high fashion designers? I mean, not even Kanye West can catch a break!

So, no, one win by Dom Streater doesn't set this whole thing right. Just like one African-American guy in the White House can't undo centuries of racism in this country. It's not that simple. 

Enter the Tim Gunn Save. In his heartfelt desire to make sure that Charketa Glover's voice got to be heard, did he really do her any favors? To catapult her to the finals only to have her hopes dashed? Cast her on the pile with Korto Momolu and Emilo Sosa. Only thing... Momolu and Sosa actually won challenges! 

And if she wins, all the times Tim and the judges bent over backwards makes it look like a form of affirmative action--the sort your crazy, Fox News-watching uncle rails against at Thanksgiving dinner. It's the sort of break that seemed to elude designers of color in past seasons with a really fresh, different and modern voice, like Jerell Scott. 

I agree with Nina on Char. The reason why Char never won a challenge this season is because her runway entries never completely reflected her personal style. She often wore something way more interesting than the garment she showed on the runway. So if you're a judge and willing to be charitable about a designer's style voice, when you give them six weeks, $9,000 and an inspiring trip to Italy, you expect to see something fantastic. This is where her design vision should finally be revealed.

This week, during Tim's visit, we learned that Char's mom died when she was young and her father was in prison. She was raised by her grandmother. The family wasn't so pleased when she decided to abandon her career as a hairdresser and begin pursuing fashion design. She had a few high profile clients and then began her own clothing line in Detroit. The risk is finally paying off.

@chargrelscouture on Instagram
Behind the scenes, things are continuing to look up for Char. She dressed the BET Hip Hop Award trophy girls for the second time in a row. She also designs for artists like Keisha Cole. We'll see if she brings the fly style to the runway.
Tim visited Kini in Hawaii and revealed that he can't hula. It was an incredible Tim Gunn moment. His interactions with the families are always a highlight of the show, but as usual, in their efforts to jam pack each episode with moments, these were given the short shrift.

When the designers returned to New York, the judges asked for a preview of the final show so that they could critique it. They've done this a time or two in the past and when they have, the final collections improve immensely-- even though the designers have only a day or two left.


During Tim's visit, he said that Sean should show a cohesive collection that reflected his voice. Sean speaks "fringe" apparently, so fringe is peppered throughout. Of the four, Sean was the most inspired by the history of Rome, particularly the betrayal of Caesar, who was strangled by Brutus with a strand of fringe (a little-known fact!) The fringe sliced his neck clean open and rivulets of blood spilled down--the inspiration for the white dress with the orange-red fringe. All of Roman history in one outfit! Oh, and a toga-dress! The judges received his preview quite well, so he got the least constructive of the critiques. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?


The judges told Char to lose the middle look and try to address the missing piece with more of her own, personal style. The middle look does look a bit out of place. Nina hated the placement of the sheer fabric...and let's face it...she's sick of the sheer. And get off her lawn, already! The look on the right features wild and garish fabric she bought in Rome for $100 a yard. Thing is, that crazy print really does reflect her style. So the judges are hoping to see more of that on the runway. They also wanted her to tweak the styling into something less severe. 


The hippy, bohemian love affair continues....

Look closely. You can almost see the graffiti and architecture that pepper the Roman streets Amanda claims to be her inspiration. Thing is, there are women in Rome who would dress like this. Cosmopolitan, urban Italians, more than anyone else, will dress their personal style. But unless Tim managed to take her to some exclusive night club or a dinner party with venture capitalists, I'm not seeing the Italian flair. This is "Amanda goes to Italy." The judges did have some constructive feedback.  Amanda had some jewelry made for the collection but only showed it on one piece in the preview. The judges loved the jewelry and the styling in general. They wanted her to try and lighten up the final collection. There are too many maxi dresses. She should show some more variety.


Kini proved he could show exquisitely made clothes but I always worried he would showcase his construction technique and nothing but that.

He completely fell into that trap. There's the coat everyone loved but didn't need to see again. There's the fussy skirt that almost scuttled his last competitive entry. There's the denim fringe that everyone loved as a trim now being used as a major detail. It all looks so overbearing.

And that's just what he sewed.

The Mary Kay make-up team conjured up some sort of denim-shaded, smokey eye that made the models look like they were appearing in one of those "stop domestic abuse" film-shoots. Kini also managed to find the most matronly purse on the Aldo accessory wall. Aldo probably doesn't even know it sells that purse. The list of judges' recommendations constitutes an overhaul. Kini sews fast and well but my constant critique of him this year is that he never uses the extra time remaining to address the details. Now, after six weeks and $9,000, I have questions about his design vision and (as Nina would say) taste level. If anyone has the chops to overhaul a collection, Kini does. Previews of next week's show, however, show that this critique broke down his spirit. We'll see if he manages to overcome.

This week, I'm going to be posting the collections of the "decoy" designers that showed at Fashion week. So do check back!  Until next week!


  1. Hi Susq,

    Thank you for having the courage to speak your mind. I enjoy reading different points of view, especially well thought out ones like yours. I think what the judges have been seeing in Char all along is her personal style. She is a cool and modern urban Detroit woman. She has not injected so much of her personal style into the garment she's created for the challenges. if likability is a key ingredient in the season, then Sandhya should've been the one that was saved by Tim Gunn. She is just about the most likable person in the history of Project Runway and their franchises. Much to the credit of the producers they did try to bring ethnic variability into the season. I, for one, would have loved to of seen what draping and interesting new styles the Moslem woman would've created – but of course she was eliminated before the show even began. Sandhya referenced no designer that we know and gave large nods to that Indian continent. Karina contributed to urbanmodernization of Northwest indigenous American Indians. Kini, although from Hawaii, did not seem to reference the styles of the islands that I know so well.

    I agree with you that Rome, Italy, seem to be a lost opportunity for design inspiration. I am Italian by marriage and have been there many times – and, as a matter of fact I'm a professor at four schools in Italy. Every time I've been in Rome I have been completely taken with at least one design that I see walking the street or in a storefront. once while having coffee I spotted a woman in a black cashmere cape that I just had to have. I scoured every store I could find in Rome but could not locate this cape. Upon arriving home I bought fine Italian black cashmere fabric and made it myself – with a few unique "kitty" improvements to the original design. I could have easily designed an entire collection around that cape, but fashion design is not what I do.

    Your idea that the runway should actually reference what Italians might where is a good one. I cannot see any of Kini's designs being worn by Italian women on account of the heaviness of denim and the lack of flow in the garments. His were simply too detailed. I also cannot see Char's designs there either. Her romper, while beautiful with its fabric, would likely only be seen by the seaside. Easily I could see Amanda's work walking down the street and being worn at parties. Knitwear with plunging neckline's are very popular in Italy and always have been. Walking the street there would be a scarf around the neck for warmth and modesty. Sean's designs would likely work for evening affairs in Rome, albeit only suited for very thin women with no hips.

  2. I think the designers may have been set on going to their own inspiration for the final collection. The Rome trip was a twist--but one that really hamstrung their creativity. We'll see if the judges hold fast to that requirement. But when a designer claims that Rome was her inspiration, we sort of need to see it somewhere, I think.

  3. I agree 100% with your theory on Char. When Tim wasted his save on her (and it was a waste) I knew what was happening and it irked me.

    She just isn't on par with the other finalists. It isn't just her failing to win a challenge all season - she lacks the things all of the other designers have. Kini's tailoring. Sean's creativity. Amanda's ease.

    Char is just an unfortunate victim in some kind of political correctness crusade. Remember Justin from Season 12? Same deal. He was okay, not great, wouldn't have made it to Fashion Week anyway. It was a waste.

    These kinds of stunts really hurt the credibility of the show.

    1. Thing is, Justin's runway show TOTALLY vindicated Tim. It was a fresh look--one that used 3-D printing technology and a very smart visual take on sound waves. Extremely inspiring. Can Char inspire on the runway? I'm not so sure. All she needs, however, is to produce a respectable show. She's well on her way with clients.

  4. Not winning a challenge is no gauge; Jay McCarroll never won a challenge but won season 1. (Floyd Cardoz did the same on Top Chef Masters.)

    However, Char has not only not won any challenges, she's really had only two good designs and was in the bottom multiple times. She is where she is at this point in the broadcast because production needs to save Tim Gunn's reputation, which has taken a nosedive over the past few years.

    I even wonder whether Tim had Sean ditch the striped fabric and embrace the fringe and told Amanda to hold back on the jewelry in order to semi-sabotage them with the judges and give Char a leg up.

    1. Besides Jay McCarroll, Patricia Michaels and Justin LeBlance never won a challenge either.

    2. But Patricia and Justin didn't win their seasons; Jay and Floyd did.

    3. Jay should have won with the Chrysler Building dress. Anyway, the whole "never won a challenge" was something Tim brought up.

  5. It's been a pretty bad season overall. Most of these designers would have been booted much earlier in previous seasons.

    From the sponsorships - burger bars to multi-level marketeers - it's feeling like it's limping to a close. They should just let Tim do his thing, it's far more interesting.

    He is a fount of knowledge and is completely compromised and underutilized on this program. Too much of Heidi pretending to act surprised about events that producers conjur with their half baked machinations.

    Such a shame. I used to love this show because there was time to enjoy the sewing and construction and ideas. No longer.