Saturday, October 17, 2015

Project Runway 14, Episode 11: Cross that Bridge When You Get to it

And every one of us has to face that day
Do you cross the bridge or do you fade away?
And every one of us that ever came to play
Has to cross the bridge or fade away
And the bridge, it shines
Oh, cold, hard iron
Saying, Come and risk it all
Or die trying   - Elton John "The Bridge"

Greetings Project Runway Fans!

This week, our designers faced the AVANT GARDE challenge. You know, the one where no one really knows what it avant garde is? 

In the whole of Project Runway history, the avant garde challenge has been a 180° turn that neither the designers nor the judges have been willing to make. Every season, the judges evaluate most challenges on how well the designers' garment compliments the models and fits the criteria. So while you can take a challenge and tell the designers to throw away the rulebook, to "come and risk it all" like Elton John sings, the designers are afraid to do that. When the judges continue to judge as they always have...Heidi likes sexy, Zac looks to construction, Nina cares about "taste level" and the guest judge is a wild card.... let's just say that a lot of designers do die trying.

In any other season, I'd applaud them for waiting until the final five to unleash this challenge. It always brings better results when the top designers tackle it. But....this Tim Gunn used to say, "I'm dubious."

Tim took the final five to the East River for this challenge and resisted the urge to push them into it. They were to take their inspiration from the "Three Sisters" of the East River: The Williamsburg, The Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Bridges.

The bridge inspiration brought the oddest reactions in the designers. Merline looks at a bridge and sees architecture, 

Architecture is one of my love languages!
Candice sees her dad, who worked on them, 

"He would climb to the tippy top."
Edmond sees Xs, 

Ashley sees wires, 

and Kelly sees the Wu-Tang Clan.

How much you wanna bet that Kelly owns this tee shirt?
"But there's a TWIST! In 3-D! HAH!"
"For the first time in Project Runway history, your work will be in 3-D!"
What?  Have they been dressing paper dolls this whole time? It thought every runway was in 3-D.

"Featuring 3-D printing!"
What commences is 10 minutes of the most ridiculous send up to a challenge that I've ever seen. Only a couple of the designers have seen 3-D printing. None of them understand how it's done, yet all of them are super excited about it. Merline starts to dance. Only Kelly has the guts to say what is on everyone's mind.

There are no words for how much I love Kelly right now.

"Let me explain to you what's going to happen..."
It took me a second watching to absorb everything that Annie said. If that's the case for me, with a good night's sleep under my belt, the designers heard "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...."  And maybe you did too. Let me recap:

The CUBE 3-D printer can print any object up to 5" X 5" X 5". I didn't recall any material limitation, although there may have been a time limitation on how much could be produced overnight.  But let's just say you could cover your outfit with 5" cubes, if you wished. I think you could have asked to make an entire bodice if you had them construct one in pieces. Even at that, I think they would have needed way more time than just a few minutes consulting with technicians immediately after learning about 3D printing and getting the inspiration in order to produce results like this.

So designers tended toward embellishments. The designs were printed on mesh squares so they could easily be sewn onto the garments. Color was no limit, although everyone chose either white or black.

The designers were more excited about having $200 to spend at Mood and two days to sew. Those were concepts they could immediately grasp.

Speaking of grasping concepts, you know how Heidi walks out at the beginning of the runway and explains the challenge to everyone? Mel B., the guest judge apparently slept through that part.

"I had no idea this was avant garde challenge and had to incorporate 3-D printing. Now that I know what this challenge is about, I can go back to saying that I just think this is very pretty and I'd wear it."
More about that later.

So with their plastic gee-gaws and fancy fabrics, our designers were off on their flights of bridge fancy! Let's see how they did.

Kelly Dempsey

According to Wikipedia, the WuTang Clan developed a bunch of "backronyms" for "WuTang." One of them was "Witty Unpredictable Talent And Natural Game." Change "Witty" to "Wicked" and you've got Kelly from the Deli. She knew she had to go big and bold and went there. She may not have the fancy designer vocabulary. She might not know what a pannier is, but she can sure as heck make one.

On the neckline and under the arms, Kelly used cording to reflect the suspension cables on the bridge. The faux croc vinyl reflected the brickwork. Because she let her fabric materials take so much of the image, there was little left for the 3-D printed pieces, except to be on a belt around her waist.

Kelly is very lucky that none of the other designers understood what "avant garde" meant. Hers was the only piece that pushed the design envelope, so she was the obvious choice for a win. Once again. Had anyone else been in the running, she would have been docked for her failure to incorporate her 3-D materials in a MEANINGFUL way.  

Unfortunately, with the little time the designers had to plan out their designs, each had to pick a path they could stick to. It's a shame that Kelly didn't incorporate more of the Brooklyn Bridge's iconic arches into the design. That would have been a more meaningful use of the 3-D elements.

I would have commissioned some large 4X4 or 5X5 keystone and arch bricks to embellish the center of the waist to the hips and down along the legs to make an arch opening that transitioned back to the straight line box. 

Then, it would have been a slam dunk. Brooklyn style.

It's not lost on me (or you, dear fans...) that the woman who didn't know what the heck a 3-D printer was now owns one.

While the Cube people may have been disappointed about that, my disappointment was that no other designer came close to winning.

Edmond Newton

No one is going to ask you why you put your name on something if they can't see that you put your name on something. 

I mean...really? This is all we got? I don't understand. The black flounces off to the side were gorgeous. But from a distance, a bunch of flounces off to the side looks like she's sprouting a tumor. Why not create all sorts of flounces that stick out far and break the plane?

If the X in the bridge was such an inspiration to him, why did he cover up the bottom of the X shape in the front? The back is all covered with plastic gee-gaws, but the shape is not evocative in the least of an X.

Not helping matters, Heidi focused on how sexy the dress was. She spent most of her time admiring the model's cleavage.

THIS IS AN AVANT GARDE CHALLENGE. THE WORD "SEXY" SHOULD BE BANNED FROM THE JUDGING!!! This should be the one challenge when just "making a pretty dress" doesn't earn you any points.

Why did the guy who gave us the Muppet top hold back on this challenge???
Ashley Tipton

"Well, THIS is a different look for you."
Everyone seems to have forgotten the pants Ashley during the Celebrity Cruise challenge. 

Two things vexed Ashley during this challenge: the lack of time for planning the design and integrating the 3-D elements and her taste in fabrics.

Ashley was inspired by the curve of the suspension cables on the Manhattan Bridge. And while a wave pattern in white seemed like a good idea at the time....

Once she put them together, she started to see something that looked more like this...

She never found a way to use the pieces in the top and the bottom. So she decided to create a cape that used them for visual interest.

But the outfit underneath barely featured them.

What the outfit did feature was a sheer, polka dotted fabric.  While the look she put together is provocative, the polka dots were just too cute. Cute + provocative starts to veer into trashy. She was narrowly teetering on that precipice. The polka dots also separated the look from the external cape, which didn't feature that fabric at all.

"It's too different outfits."
Mel B wasn't fooled, but the rest of the judges were caught by surprise by this huge departure in style.


Avant garde doesn't mean "make something you don't usually make." It's more than just that.

Candice Cuoco

And it doesn't mean "using red when you usually use black." 

Candice really had an interesting idea to take the triangle shapes in the bridge and use them in the bottom of a dress. Fashion drawings are usually more exuberant than the garments that are ultimately made, however, in this case, Candice could have benefited from executing something closer to the drawing.

What resulted was a "pretty dress." Still, the seaming was crazy...a center seam down the middle and what looked like a reconstructed peeled orange on the back.

Depending on the angle of the lighting, the seams looked puckered and overwrought.  The train should have been bigger and longer. The triangles needed to be more prominent. 

What was prominent were the 3-D elements...more prominent than the winning look. What to do...what to do?

So seemingly out of the blue....

"It's a pretty dress. I have an event coming up. Can I wear it?"
You know, sometimes I make up quotes to be funny. But I'm not making this one up. Mel really offered. Or...perhaps she was coaxed!

"Annie, we're so pleased to have you as part of this challenge."
"Remember, Tim, the contract says the 3-D element has to be a critical part of the winning design."
Do you have a better theory?

You know who was even more disappointed than Annie?

Kini Zamora
Here's one reason...
Merline Labissiere

Of all of them, Merline had a plan. She wanted to use the 3-D pieces to gradually transition from the two-dimensional plane of the fabric to more sculptural elements of the dress. At least I think that's what she wanted. Let's take a look at what she actually did.

I think that top was off to a good start. Negative space. Positive space. Good use of the 3-D gee gaws. I still didn't get the part where they were going to build up to the bottom. And where have I seen that bottom before?

Oh, yeah...Kini's "rainway" outfit!
Here's the thing. I liked the top more than the bottom. Tim pointed out that her skirt wasn't very even and symmetrical. He also told her that she needed to choose whether she would be symmetrical or uneven--either way--she had to go BIG.

That's not what she did.

The revised top is extremely conventional. The gee gaws sit on the bodice like a broach. There was no evidence of that transition from 2-D to 3-D that she talked about. She used just a fraction of the material that was printed. The skirt is well constructed but really really safe.

And so we bid adieu to Merline.

As I said last week, this was Merline's to win. What happened? Was she so excited about all the elements that she simply didn't take time to process how all of them were supposed to go together? Did she or anyone else even have enough time?

We've been doing some discussing amongst ourselves at Blogging Project Runway and some of the former contestants have weighed in. In the past, there were more 2-day challenges. More importantly, designers used to have more than just a few minutes to plan and draw before going to Mood. Even with that extra time, they struggled with fabric supplies but they managed to conjure up amazing designs and spectacular failures. All memorable moments for us, the viewers.

What will be the wow moments of this season? Kelly brought us one this week, in a season with very little to remember.

Next week, we head west to LA with just two challenges to go.

Come hang out with us in the BPR Chatroom on Thursday at 9 pm, Eastern Time, for our weekly viewing party and group therapy session.

Until next week!


  1. You forgot Tim Gunn announcing how great the designs were presumably because the despicable Swapnil had been banished from the field, which is the reason I'm not watching Project Runway anymore. Tim Gunn has burned his bridges with me....there is nothing great in any of these designs, nothing that shows Swapnil had anything to do with the abysmal results before or after Gunn's chilly dismissal.

    1. Everyone got caught up in how much the designers pushed their comfort zones. But this is avant garde! Not "push your comfort zone!"
      Perhaps we need to check the CO levels in the studio HVAC system.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.