Saturday, October 31, 2015

Project Runway Season 14 Decoy Collections - Merline Labissiere

 Greetings, Project Runway Fans!!!

Most every season, Project Runway films its Fashion Week show while the season's challenges are still being aired. Being a finalist showing a collection at Fashion Week used to be one of the big perks of making it to the last few challenges of Project Runway. Whoever was on the show that aired the same week as Fashion Week was in the show. If you weren't in the running for the prize package, at least you got a runway show on someone else's dime, to an audience of fashion editors, bloggers and other designers. You were bound to come out of the experience with at least someone's business card, if not a job offer or an opportunity to show to a buyer...or something.

For the past two years, the runway show at Fashion Week has been completely anonymous--both decoys and finalists.  Since it is anonymous, six designers showed collections. Now, what is it when you walk to the audience anonymously? I'm assuming even the finalists are presented anonymously so that no one is really praised or contacted until after the show is over. And everyone forgets. So much for exposure.

So it's the very least your friendly blogger can do to present the decoy shows so that you, the fans, can see and appreciate them.

Merline Labissiere

Merline, I never really understood you.

Her portfolio promised to take us to a strange and unusual world.

But her performance in competition, with its impossible time frames for planning and production, never quite got us there.

And the impossible time frames continued, post competition, when the decoy designers were given just a few weeks to produce a ten-look show. Merline tamed her creative beast and limited herself to just a handful of ideas: tabard-style tops in combo with skirts, jackets, uneven hems, and a predominantly neutral palette.  It was an accessible collection but not a very wide ranging one. You could hear Nina say "One note!"

It was as if she was communicating subliminally that she was over the entire experience. 

Did Project Runway break her spirit? Or was she trying to show a commercial collection? At least we still have the iconic red hat.

Opening the collection is a crisp, white, tabard style top with a brown skirt. It appears to be trimmed in the same material as the top. Very wearable by a wide range of body types. Very fresh. Would translate easily to an international market. With pants, could very easily be androgynous.

A rare pop of color in a deep red-orange, she exchanges the iconic red hat for a straw one.  This features the same tabard-style top over a slim fitting skirt.

Crisp shirt with tails in the back and a short flap in the front. There's some interesting seaming on the front of the shirt, which appears to be a contoured front flap sewn on to the sides of the blouse. 

In real life, I question the practicality of those long, rear flaps. But playing with lengths and shapes of the tail and front shows some promise. Merline has the capability of playing with the standard uniform of the modern office worker. I would love to see her take on the suit in all its incarnations.

Four looks in, and it's becoming clear that she had neither the time nor the interest to sew sleeves. Maybe Tim's admonishment to work on her sewing had a ring of truth to it. Who, exactly, sewed the pieces in her portfolio collection? Did she get construction help? While there's no harm in that, a designer, particularly one who graduated from SCAD, needs to know that the parameters of Project Runway, and often the realities of presenting a collection to a potential buyer or client, mean that you are often a one-man band. She totally punted on sleeves.

With sleeves, this would have been a soulful take on the standard jacket-- short in the back and long in the front. Something you can easily sit in and not get wrinkled but still have some flow and movement when walking.

At this point, the audience is checking their cell phones.

We saw this one already, didn't we?  Oh...this one is long in the front.

She's playing with hem shapes here, but I'm not sure it's working. Do women of the world need a curved skirt bottom that binds their thighs together? Do we need a curved flap that points to the crotch? Not sure on either of these.

Paired back, this blouse is certainly more successful. But it also exposes something that bothers me about her skirts. Pockets are nice and all, but do they have to flare out angrily at the hips when the model is walking?  It looks like a mistake in fitting.

This was unfortunate styling. That vest does nothing for the outfit. Why is it on the one skirt that has some interesting color blocking to it? Could we pair that skirt with the blouse that went before this look?  

Whatever she is doing with the pockets in this skirt verges on a marsupial pouch. And while I realize that the tabard overlay is her thing, on top of a dress, it looks like a bib or some sort of weird religious vestment.

I can only shake my fist at the Project Runway gods and damn them all to some sort of fashion hell for what has become of Merline!  Was she only given a week and a half to produce ten garments? Did she have to sew these by hand? Did they tie one hand behind her back? What happened to result in such a watered-down, milquetoast show?


I want the crazy lady in the red hat who makes magician coats with impossible tails and puzzle piece fronts and arms her models with staffs made out of PVC pipe. Until I get her back, I weep. I weep for Merline and I weep for us all.

Watch this space for her triumphant return.

Project Runway Season 14: The Decoy Collections: Swapnil Shinde

Greetings Project Runway Fans!

This year, Project Runway showed a pared down runway show at Fashion Week. Only six designers showed collections.  People who attended said that the shows came out in no particular order, nor were they identified.

When this one came out, however, everyone knew the designer.

Swapnil Shinde

The kurta-wearing, blue-eyed Indian heartthrob stole the show and stole our hearts.

With some smooth Bollywood dance moves...

And mad design skills.

He wowed Tracee Ellis Ross with his sari.

But his "play it safe" strategy backfired after a couple of mishaps on the runway and next thing you know...

Sacred cow patties were flying out of Tim's mouth.

Why all the drama? Perhaps the producers were hoping for a catalyst that would bring out the best in the rest of the designers to greater heights in what has been a very lackluster season. Swapnil wasn't playing that game, however. He was more interested in having fun with his experience, while slowly raising the heat of competition on his own terms.

It's no use rehashing what was or musing over what might have been. Let's just dive into this confection, shall we? 

Swapnil's woman is the star of her own Bollywood movie. The show should have broken out into one of those signature dance scenes at the end. So just imagine some cool music in the background as these walk....

You can't see the jacket, but I'm sure it's spectacular. The sunburst beading is something of a signature motif for him, based on his portfolio looks. He never employed it in competition, however. 

I appreciate his take on the choli, that short, cropped top that traditionally goes under the sari. Paired with the jacket and skirt, it's a mash up of east meets west. Starting off with the light green indicates that we'll be seeing color, but not the typical colors you expect from India. These are sophisticated and subtle hues. He's designing for the world.

Now onto the minuses. The Granny panties seem like one detail too many. You see them so much on the red carpet these days that they no longer provocative. The divided skirt tails seem weirdly complicated and chaotic.

The overall effect, however, is pretty attention getting. You're on the edge of your seat. This is going to be a good movie...
Our heroine is dressed for action. Maybe there's a firearm inside that jacket. Maybe she just zip lined onto the runway.

I'd need to see more details to declare this an absolute win. The jacket, clearly, is to die for. Don't know if that's a belt buckle or a detonation device dangling from the left side and does it really matter? Maybe not.

It's a shame, however, to have to ruin the fantasy and discuss the skirt, but I'm going to. There appears to be a pencil skirt underneath all the flowing chiffon. Why is that? It's as if a business suit were struggling to break free from an evening gown. The only thing keeping it in place is a weird black belt. Maybe our heroine has a black belt in karate.

I think if he had removed the chiffon and simply teamed the top and jacket up with a black or soft peach leather pencil skirt this could have broadened out the collection...and made zip lining a little easier.

She meets the arch enemy at a night club. Will she be kidnapped by the mob before she gets the thumb drive that contains the secret message that will save her brother? 

Paired with the crop top, that short skirt seems a bit trashy. There's an attempt at a luxe vest with some sort of trailing scarf piece. It's hard to tell from the picture. That's not enough to elevate what is the most pedestrian outfit in the collection.

Our heroine visits her brother's casino in Mumbai. Her brother is a traditionalist, so as a nod to him she dons her sequinned take on a kurta and a long, leather jacket. It's unique and fresh while being relaxed and comfortable. This would be a flattering look for a wide range of body types. I can't tell from the picture whether this is a churidar/palazzo pant of some sort or a skirt. The full pant would make this a very interesting and complex take on traditional, ethnic dress accessible to a wide range of people.

Ok...flashback to our heroine's teenage know, that part of the movie where the script veers off into some wild flight of fancy. I've lost track.

Once again, we have the choli paired with a shorter skirt--a little reminiscent of the Hallmark challenge. I don't know why the jacket bothers me in this look. It's too soft and girly. I would have appreciated another hard jacket to make the hard/soft contrast a little more consistent in the show. You'll see one on the second to last look that I think would have been perfect with this outfit. It looked like Swapnil was trying to show some range here.

Ah...the plot is back on track. Our heroine is at a party where she meets the love of her life. Wearing a look like this, he should know that she isn't some simple, traditional girl. She's a cosmopolitan woman of sophistication. She's a handful. We hope he can handle her.

This top is a wink and a nod to a traditional kurta and the wispy skirt underneath is just the right amount of femininity. It's flirty and sexy without being garish (despite all those sequins!) The woman who wears this makes an entrance and burns herself into everyone's memory.

Cue the music, please. We need a dance scene.

Love means never having to sew your sari.

Oh, come were thinking it too.

It's half dupetta, (sari sash) half sherwani (jacket) or half gown, half sari. Or half east, half west. This is a spare and sophisticated piece. This isn't meant to be dramatic. It's a quiet statement about the complexities of how Swapnil sees his country, his aesthetic and his fashion. The only dissonance is the light blue leather belt around the waist. It disrupts the flow and looks like something she grabbed off the Just Fab wall at the last minute in order to hold up the skirt. I don't think that was his intention. We saw that belt two looks ago. Perhaps he just wanted to repeat an element, but it doesn't work for me.

So after I remove that belt, I going to declare this the most important piece in the show. It's certainly the one that reveals his potential and vision. This is a root outfit that can branch into a number of directions....feminine, androgynous, flirty, or modest.

I'm sorry...the movie. Her casino owning brother is getting married and she's attending the wedding. Indian weddings go on for days. This is an understated outfit that says family loyalty comes first.

Wedding, day two. Asymmetrical hems are all the rage. The work well when textiles are mixed. The wrap dress adds body and the wispy skirt adds the movement and some sheer drama (because everyone loves that subtle exposure...) Lovely and delicate, without being lewd.

We're wrapping up to the big finish. It's a bombastic, high fashion gown paired with a biker jacket. There's a ton of things going on with the skirt and once again, I'm a bit overwhelmed. Too many details and you can't appreciate any of them. Those flowy skirt tails are distracting. I'm not sure we needed them.

I can understand what he's doing, I just wish he had put that jacket on a different outfit so that I could appreciate it on its own terms and we could admire the work in the bodice.
Our heroine is going to make it and the movie glides into its happy ending. This gown is luxe, full of drama and pizzazz. Somehow, Swapnil manages to make a bustier top and keep it classy. This could easily have gone completely into the trashy range, but the color is sophisticated and the fan design keeps it modest and more like a bejeweled breastplate. A very strong look.

Swapnil has arrived and he has so many exciting places to take us.

Could this have won?

Well...I'm not exactly sure. In the past, we've had lovely collections of evening wear go out only to have the designer hear that he or she was "one note" and there was "no range." It didn't look like there was a real pair of pants in the whole collection, for example. It was basically one evening look after another, with a day look thrown in for good measure.

But he pulled out all the stops (maybe too many stops) and gave us the show we wanted to see.  And so he doesn't get seed money for his next collection. He's already cast on another show in India, so maybe there will be some money in that.

What he can do is play the next year of his life and career on his terms, without an "opportunity to consult" for nail polish. He'll just have to call his own Uber if he wants to drive out and about and buy his own sewing machine. Something tells me he'll have no trouble doing that at all.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Project Runway Season 14 Episode 12: Best Western

"Hi. I'm Kelly Dempsey. You might know me from TV's Project Runway."
"And after 12 hours hunched over a sewing machine day after day, I'm ready for a break."
"A chance to recharge, relax..."
"Pamper yourself without breaking the bank. Next time, choose Best Western Plus!"
Greetings, Project Runway Fans!!!

Well, we're down to the final four and they're headed out to the land of swimmin' pools and movie stars...Los Angeles.

It's there where Tim greets them with the marketing director.... 

......for Best Western Hotels.

"Wait? This is a Best Western property?"
"Can't be. The hallway didn't smell like a wet dog was sprayed with disinfectant."
"The pool works and it doesn't have dead bugs floating in it."
The first prize for this challenge is 100 free nights at any Best Western property, including their exclusive Best Western Plus properties. I know what you're thinking. The second place prize was 200 free nights....

But what's the challenge?

Kelty Knight, correspondent for "The Insider," a syndicated entertainment show, came out to explain to the designers that their challenge was to design a look for the red carpet. Kelty then proceeded to insult their intelligence by explaining what famous people like her look for in a red carpet gown.

As if they didn't know this.

Tim gave them some time to sit, take in the surroundings, draw and plan their designs. They had $400 and two days to sew.

"Welcome to LA Mood!"
NYC is showing Project Runway no love this year. Parsons moved its NYC location to digs that no longer accommodate the show. The new studios are nowhere near Mood or the fashion district. The fashion district, itself, is slowly fading away. Designer boutiques are now found all over the city. In fact, some of the hottest up and coming designers have studios in Brooklyn and Queens. We getting the feeling that we're wanted anymore, New York!

Meet Oscar (named after Oscar de la Renta.)
You may recall Oscar from Tim's short-lived design show, Under the Gunn, which aired during one of Project Runway's hiatuses. UTG also taped at the workshop in the Fashion Institute of of Design and Merchandising, right in downtown LA, blocks from Mood. Oscar is a rescue dog who sleeps most of the day and walks around greeting customers in the late afternoon. Should you happen by and wish to see him in action, around 3-4 pm is best.

I remember the dreadful season when Project Runway taped in LA. Maybe now that the Fashion District is more established there, perhaps another season in LA might be in order.  I can't believe I'm saying it, but as AARP would say....

imagine the possibilities....
  • the canyon fire challenge, 
  • the mudslide challenge,
  • dress a former actress fso that she can attend a fake party thrown by her reality TV star friend,
  • design, draw and hand sew your dress while stuck in traffic on the 405....
This could be good stuff, no?

This week's guest judge was Christian Siriano. Now that he's grown up and wildly successful, he doesn't throw the shade he used to throw when he was a contestant. 

But we all know what he was thinking....

This was the last challenge before choosing the finalists and this was the best you could do?

Why don't you pull up a comfortable hotel lobby chair and join me as we look through this week's designs?

Candice Cuoco

There was such little drama from Candice this week that it hardly seemed as though she was there. This dress walked down the carpet and it hardly seemed as if it was there, either. 

Candice looked at the wide expanse of the valley view and was inspired to do an "open back."  I'm not really seeing an "open back" here. At Mood, she saw a black, sequined, sheer fabric and used that to close up the dress. The dress had one, interesting feature that you can't see in these pictures. The cross hatch fabric continues to the front under the arms.  

But the way the runway is lit, you can't see those details. Christian had to practically put his face up against it to appreciate the darting. Even still, the fit in the bodice is off, particularly on the (model's) right side, which formed a little bunch up that distracted from the silhouette.  And how many times have we seen this silhouette before? There is nothing fresh or inspiring about this dress.
In many other seasons, this would not have been enough to get to Fashion Week as a finalist. She could gamble by doing a simple thing well because she was pretty sure that Kelly would go hip hop, Edmond would go trashy, and Ashley would take a huge risk and be in over her head.

And that's exactly what happened....only....Kelly worked harder than anyone expected.

Kelly Dempsey

Do I like this look? No. Do I think that it fits the challenge? Only if you stretch the definition of the challenge to include music award shows. Should this have been a disaster? Most definitely.

Kelly spent most of her time constructing a textile from triangles of fabric sandwiched between a grey, patterned sheer layer and a blue moiré type fabric underneath. The effect of this was stunning.  However, by layering muslin in between, any stretch the fabric may have had before was gone. And Kelly had a lot of trouble fitting the garment on to her model. 

Despite all her hard and clever work, the model's body won this challenge for Kelly. It fits HER perfectly. SHE can carry off the look and this styling. No one else could, however. Kelly won a styling and construction challenge, not a DESIGN challenge.

But once again, in a season that is so hungry for anything beautiful or compelling to walk down the runway, Kelly comes out on top. She wins 100 free nights at a Best Western property! 

I love Kelly's personality and her honesty but I'm left wondering if, without completing formal training and technical savvy, will she run out of things to say in a final runway show? Her early work showed some questionable taste. She appeals to such a niche market that you wonder if she even has a business model and whether it could be sustained. This is, after all, a show to find the next, great American designer.

We'll see when she gets to Fashion Week, won't we? Whether or not she wins, I think it's clear that she needs to be Best Western's new spokesperson.

Ashley Tipton

Ashley did exactly what she needed to do this week. Her fabric choice and her technical savvy kept her from being successful with it.

First, she fell in love with the weirdest fabric. On the surface, it was a matte bronze. The slightest brush revealed silver lamé.

The design was on point. Change up the shape of the bodice on a gown to present some interesting positive and negative space. She would have been able to pull it off if only she had purchased the right boning for the bustier. Instead, the bottom began to sink and she had to sew in a support strap.

As you can see, the support strap caused awkward gathering on the top part of the bodice. As for the rest of the dress, as Heidi observed, it was a brush by accident waiting to happen.

"I'm really not supposed to like this, but I kind of do."
That impish Christian might have just thrown this challenge to Ashley. And why not? In a season of such lackluster designs, exactly who should you reward? The one who takes the risk and fails or the one who is so afraid to take a risk that he fails?

Edmond Newton

This week, Edmond had some commitment issues.
Long gown. Red carpet means long gown. Got that?
This is for the final. Got to take a risk. Color. Bold color. Got that?
But on Tim's first walk through, Edmond had a table that looked like the remnant bin at Mood.

He even went so far as to produce a ruched garment that looked pretty compelling, next to the other three designs.  But he also draped a garment out of the sequined fabric for comparison. Tim convinced him to go bold.

I'm not the world's biggest fan of sequins. Oh, they're shiny and all, but to me, they're a cheap and easy way of producing glimmer and shine. I can't get past the rough feel of the edges. It's like rubbing a fish scale the wrong way. So I completely understand Edmond's trepidation.

I don't know exactly what happened after he draped the dress, but Edmond began cutting until he got to this.

As you can see, it's really short. The sleeves aren't sleeves but cape like wings...and

That didn't work out so well for Gabrielle Aruda.
The judges weren't that thrilled. Christian tepidly argued that Edmond's was the most colorful piece. But it wasn't enough. When Heidi went on and on about who would wear this and why it was so sort and how she was SO DISAPPOINTED in Edmond....

Well, let's just say, Ms. Klum, that the Internet knows all.
Well...looky here!
As they were saying their Auf Wiedersehens, Heidi mentioned that Edmond had been up and down. Not exactly. There was only one challenge in which Edmond received a low score. He had been a solid sender this season up to this point.


The chatroom erupted into a debate.

There's a save because....

  • The last scene which should have been Tim saying goodbye and telling him to clean out his space was rushed through.
  • Next week's preview showed a mysterious piece of arm next to Ashley in one scene that didn't appear to belong to the other two designers.
  • Since getting the save, Tim has always used it.
  • The preview video is tantalizingly titled "Almost Eliminated."
There's no save because...
  • Tim has said on several talk shows and in interviews that this was his least favorite season.
  • Heidi said he may or may not use the save.
  • Some of the folks who attended the fashion week show indicated that there appeared to be three clear finalists, not four.

I don't know what to think anymore. I think this picture of Nina wraps up everything I'm feeling right now.
Nina can't even.
Back to Edmond for a moment. I'm getting a huge Mychael Knight vibe from Edmond. While I think he's way more thoughtful and technically accomplished than Knight was at the time he was on the show, like Knight, he benefits from being surrounded by good designers. As the field began to shrink, Edmond's imagination appeared to shrink with it. He's practically by himself now and second guessed everything in this challenge. What would happen when he was completely by himself to produce a runway show? That's where Knight collapsed. 

It would be a shame if he didn't get a chance to try to pull off a win. Of all seasons, this would be the season to do it.  I guess we'll see next week when Tim talks to the finalists and visits them at home to find out what they're doing.

I'll be reviewing all of the decoy designers in the weeks leading up to the Fashion Week runway show. So stay tuned for those posts.

Until next week, join us in the Blogging Project Runway chatroom on Thursday, 9 pm Eastern Time for our weekly group watching party.