It’s time once again to parse out reality… or what passes for it on Project Runway, the show where clearly nobody has ever seen the inside of an office not featured on a show involving Kardashians. Clearly nobody ever watched The Apprentice, or even The Office.
And if you don’t know where that rant came from, you might want to watch the episode before you read this… or you might want to just jump right in and read all the discussion now. Your choice.
So. Last week’s challenge was about dressing real women for an on-the-go world of childcare and office work and romantic dinners during business meetings on planes. Most of the designers decided that what women need in order to negotiate the real world is outfits with no place to put a bra. Sonjia won for creating quite possibly the only dress on that runway that could be worn to an office somewhere on Earth at least in passing, and Buffi was sent home for covering a badly made zebra print dress with an ugly pink hairdresser’s smock. As much as I will miss Buffi and her fabulous red boots, I would have booted her, too. Ven, on the other hand, didn’t even get called on the carpet for making an ugly, sloppy harvest gold potato sack with a meandering zipper up the entire front. The fact that I think the judges did call the right three out for bad work in light of that tells you something about how the designers did.
This week I’m going to focus on the clothes rather than the drama. The drama is annoying and frankly not the part I care about the most. Besides, there are a lot of designs to get through describing this week. Why? Because this week – oh joy of joys! – is another team challenge. The designers are divided into two teams, and this is where Kooan’s defection makes things awkward. You see, the teams were clearly supposed to be the same size, but since two designers went away voluntarily and only one was brought back, there are now eleven people to divide into two equal teams, which doesn’t work unless someone gets bisected in which case I doubt that person would get much work done.
So how are the teams determined? Well, Heidi comes out with the Velvet Bag of Doom. All the designers rightly shudder at this. Heidi tells Sonjia that since she won last week, she gets first choice of teammate. Then Heidi will pull a name from the bag, and that person can choose someone for their team. The last person chosen for each team will then choose the next person for their team. And of course whomever is chosen last will have Last Kid Chosen for the Baseball Team Syndrome.
Sonjia picks Elena for her team. Heidi pulls a button and chooses Nathan to start the other team off. Nathan chooses Ven. Elena picks Melissa for Team Sonjia. Ven chooses Christopher for Team Nathan. Melissa choose Dmitry, Christopher picks Fabio, immediately putting Raul’s tighty whities in a bunch because he’s been talking about the ‘special connection’ he and Christopher have. Back at Team Sonjia, Dmitry chooses Alicia. Fabio chooses Gunnar. And that means that Team Sonjia gets Raul, whether they want him or not. Raul clearly doesn’t want to be there. Then again, Gunnar doesn’t seem very thrilled about where he is, either.
And what is the challenge? Each team must create a capsule wardrobe for a woman to wear to work in the real world. Just to keep things fair, each team must create the same number of total looks as they have members on their team, and each team will receive a budget of two hundred dollars per person on the team. They have one day to create their wardrobes, with absolutely no fudge time in the morning. Why no fudge time? Because in the morning they will take their wardrobes out to a professional photo shoot, which the teams will direct. The photos will be shown to the judges at the same time the clothes walk the runway and be included in team scores. The winning team will have their photos published in Marie Claire @ Work, a spin-off of Marie Claire magazine.
Teams go off to consult and sketch. If you were doing this where would you start? Well, Team Five Designers starts where I would have: color story and theme. Christopher grabs items from the accessory wall, and everyone loves his idea of purple, turquoise, and fucshia… except for Gunnar who is having eighties flashbacks despite the fact his father’s voice hadn’t broken then. Not that he’s wrong, mind you. I was there. That was the palette. But bold color is a big story right now, so it’s not a bad idea to capitalize on that.
Team Six Designers starts with what kind of pieces do designers want to design. It’s quickly decided that Alicia makes the best pants, so she should make two pairs. Sonjia is going to do skirts. Dmitry wants to do a dress. Elena is on jackets. Melissa also wants to do a dress. And now Raul pipes up and starts wanting to have a chance to make what he wants to make. Since he wants to make blouses and they’re going to need two blouses, I’m not quite sure where the drama is coming from. But when the team starts talking fabrics, Raul is screaming that he wants to do lace. When it’s rightly pointed out that too much lace isn’t office-appropriate, he digs in his heels and insists that’s what he does and he has to do his thing, no matter what. After all, this is a team challenge, so he should do exactly what he does no matter what the consensus is because they all need to understand that this is a team. Yeah, he doesn’t seem to understand the definition on that one.
By the time Tim does his rounds, everyone is frazzled and honked off at one another. Raul and Gunnar are both feeling left out in the cold. Elena is having a huge meltdown that involves profound sighs punctuated by frenzied running around and screaming at anyone who suggests she might be in need of a deep breath or two to get her head together.
Tim asks how Team Six Designers is doing and is greeted with one of Elena’s sighs from the bowels of perdition. He looks at Melissa’s draped dress, Dmitry’s colorblocked jersey dress, Sonjia’s skirts, Alicia’s pants, Elena’s jackets… and he’s happy with them. He tells Elena that her work isn’t the frumpy, dumpy ugly mess she thinks it is. And then there’s Raul’s black organza blouse with the ginormous bib of seventies prom tux ruffles down the front. He says he likes the variation in volume, but his face doesn’t express delight at how it’s being done. Raul interviews that he’s clearly on the right track. All in all, Tim is happy with what they’re doing.
On to Team Five Designers. Not much is on the forms over there, so they need to explain what they’re up to. The table is littered with black, white, fucshia, bright purple, and a rather horrible old lady print of massive pink roses on a black background. Everything is silk. Seriously, guys? No jersey? No wool? No cotton? All slippery, thin, lightweight silk? Half of it sheer? Gunnar is working on a frankly lurid purple skirt trimmed in heavy black lace that’s making me shudder. And that’s from a purple loving lace maker! Tim can’t hate it enough, either. Gunnar decides to scrap that look and start from scratch.
Elena is getting on everyone’s case. She’s singing a derisive name for the other team: ‘silk chiffonsies.’ She’s ragging on Dmitry for his use of navy blue, a color she insists no woman actually wears. She complains loudly to the room about Raul on principal.
Models arrive and get fitted. Dmitry gives a priceless interview in which he describes Ven as a ‘one way monkey.’ Oops! That was supposed to be ‘one trick pony.’ I’m liking Dmitry better and better as the season progresses. Come over to my place, Dmitry. I’ll make you some tasty piroshki and some very, very strong tea.
In the morning, there’s the photo shoot. Marie Claire has provided a photographer and office props. The teams are given three hours to get their models ready, design the shots, and get three decent pictures that include all the clothes in their collections.
If you thought Elena was a stressmonkey in phase one of the challenge, you haven’t seen stressmonkey yet. Seriously, she’s about to stroke out through the entire photoshoot. She’s running around screaming at everyone, barking orders, and arguing with every decision. Elena wants the props to go away so everything can be photographed against a stark, white background. Because apparently putting the clothes into something resembling the sort of place they’ve been designed to be worn is a bad thing. And using the props provided is probably Just What They’re Expecting Us To Do.
Things are calmer with Team Five Designers. They discuss things as they come up, but there’s a general plan going in, Christopher has drawn a couple thumbnail sketches of set ups that the photographer can follow, and they’re using the props pretty well.
Eventually, that ends and it’s time to go to the runway.
The guest judge this week is Joanna Coles. I always like it when Joanna Coles shows up, because her critiques are smart and usually from somewhere in the vicinity of Planet Earth.
First up: Team Five Designers.
Nathan’s office outfit is first. It consists of a pair of white baggy pants with a slightly freakish drape across the crotchal area that looks as though the pants are four sizes too big and the model has cinched them in with that wide black patent leather belt. Over the pants, there’s a one shoulder blouse in the giant rose print with an elbow-length sleeve on the right. All in all, this manages to be frumpy, weird, office-inappropriate, and wildly unflattering all at once. I don’t know what he was thinking, but Nathan has created something ghastly.
Next up is Christopher’s look. He’s taken the ugly print and turned it into an above the knee straight skirt with elaborate pleating that looks cool and improves the print dramatically, but that no woman in the world is ever going to take the time to iron correctly before heading off to work. Also, it doesn’t appear to have been hemmed, so there are little flyaway threads making a mess of the look. Over the skirt, there’s a white shell blouse and a kind of cute hip length jacket with elbow sleeves and narrow tuxedo lapels. Again, the construction is a bit messy, which is too bad because it’s a jacket I think a lot of women could find plenty of use for. Also unfortunately, I think it’s the only piece of this outfit that is both practical and a little interesting for the real world. But you know what? I’ve seen similar jackets. It’s nothing new.
Gunnar’s dress reminds me a lot of sun dresses from the seventies in general feel if not actual details. I’m not quite sure why. Anyway. The skirt is knee-length and a little high-waisted in black with racing stripes of the rose print down the sides. This goes into a fuller white mock turtleneck bodice. The turtleneck is in black and the shoulders are in the print. In the back, there is an open space between the turtleneck and about midback. And with the way the back is cut, good luck finding a bra to wear that won’t show all day long. Not really office wear, if you ask me. Plus the cut of the bodice is giving the model a strange, low-lying monoboob effect that Heidi is already talking about before it leaves the runway. Gunnar is in trouble.
Things perk up a bit with Fabio’s little black and white dress. It’s a simple sheath with a little flow to it that hits about knee-length in black and has white shoulders that extend into soft little cap sleeves that don’t constrict the arms. The modest vee neckline adds a bit of interest where it dips just below where the white part ends and into the black. When she turns around, the back of the upper bodice and the skirt are black while there’s a wide swath of white through the waistline. I love that this would look good in every size and every color of the rainbow. I love that I can see women wearing this to all kinds of jobs at all kinds of offices, and I can equally see them reaching for it for a picnic lunch, a nice dinner, running errands, playing with the kids, and heading for a PTA meeting. Fabio, I want this dress. I want it fifteen years ago and I want it for the next twenty. I could live in this dress. The only thing? Take that stupid turban headband off of her, especially in that horrible rose print.
Ven has wrought a white pencil skirt with a small bit of draping to the left side and a black jacket/blouse with architectural fabric manipulation, an asymmetric collar and cap sleeves. It’s well made, and I could see it in some offices… but only on a senior partner whose fashion choices dare not be questioned. Still, it certainly is editorial, which was part of the challenge.
And so we come to Team Six Designers.
Melissa’s dress is up first. I’ve been trying to figure out what color it is all episode long. It’s one of those colors that’s strongly affected by the lighting around it. Depending on lighting and angle, it’s looked like: royal blue, bright violet, and a sort of deep periwinkle. On the runway, it’s reading a particularly attractive shade of bright violet. It hits a little above the knee, is sleeveless, and has the world’s hugest funnel neckline. There’s a long silver zipper in a swooping curve down the back. I know she meant the construction to look this way, but all I can think of is that I want to tug everything straight. It looks a little like an unmade bed to me. Oh, and if I wore that to work, I would totally be picking my lunch out of my bra all afternoon. Seriously. Anything you spill is going right down that funnel. I adore the fabric choice, but I’m kind of hating the dress. I hate to say that because I kind of love Melissa and her odd sensibilities, but this doesn’t work for me at all.
The next look is a pair of pants by Alicia topped with a shell and jacket by Elena. The pants are dark grey skinny pants that fit impeccably and would be appropriate in any office. On top, there’s a black shell covered by a rather fabulous slightly slouchy black jacket with leather trim at the shoulders and down the tight sleeves. There’s a soft, rounded lapel below the jewel neckline of the jacket. I actually really think this look works for the challenge. It’s completely office-appropriate, but it does have some editorial interest, too. Maybe it’s not the most ground-breaking look, but it’s one a lot of women could wear well and often.
Then comes Sonjia’s beautifully tailored royal blue pencil skirt topped with Raul’s black chiffon sleeveless blouse with self ruffles from here to eternity and back again. The skirt is great, though nothing new, but the blouse… the blouse is horrible. And who wears chiffon to the office? Not a lot of women.
And so we come to the next Alicia/Elena collaboration. Again Alicia has created a great pair of office-ready grey pants. These are more of a light charcoal stripe and wider-legged. Again, a really nice pair of pants, but there’s not too much more to be said about them. Elena’s jacket, however, is definitely not for everyone. It’s a darker charcoal with a silver zipper running up the front to the slight mock turtle collar. She’s got the zipper pulled down to just above the breasts, though, which strikes me as a good spot. The bodice fits close to the body, though there’s a tiny bit of ease at the hem which hits just at the top of the hips. The sleeves are a kind of nouveau leg of mutton with a full, pleated short sleeve over a very tight long sleeve. I admit I’m a sucker for leg of mutton sleeves. It probably stems from the fact that I have ridiculously narrow shoulders, so I like things that make them look wider. Also I have a thing for Elizabeth I, and this jacket has a futuristic Renaissance Faire vibe that I’m digging like a digging thing in a big ol’ dirt pile. The judges, I fear, will probably not agree with me.
Dmitry’s black and navy color blocked dress walks next. It’s a simple, sleek line with some padded shoulder detail with a tiny cut out at the small of the back. It’s a very cute dress and it’s impeccably made, but it does look a lot like the dress he made last week. Also, I would have gone for a brighter blue with the black. Oh, and Dmitry? Cut out backs are not generally considered office-appropriate. In other words, love the dress, don’t think it fits the challenge, and it’s time to expand your range a little lest the judges decide all you can do is sew. I do, however, have to give mad props to the little notch in the neckline. It’s a pretty detail that really works for me.
Again Sonjia and Raul have collaborated. Again Sonjia has made by far the better piece. This time she has made a draped straight skirt in a grey on grey shadow stripe. It hits the tops of the knees and manages to be interesting without being overly bulky or too trendy for the office. Raul has made a tank top in a shiny, metallic, pewter fabric I can’t even identify and a big honking zipper down the back. There’s nothing really wrong with it. It’s even a metallic that one could get away with in an office while metallics are a big trend. But when you say that, you’ve said pretty much everything you can say about it.
I foresee pain for Raul.
In a Project Runway first, it turns out the two teams had precisely the same scores overall. That means that anyone from either team could be the winner, anyone from either team could be sent home in disgrace, and the judges will have to discuss which team is featured in Marie Claire @ Work because, well, the scores didn’t determine it.
Heidi likes that Team Five Designers used a print to soften the overall look. Nina loves that it comes across as a collection, rather than a bunch of pieces. She (big surprise!) adores Christopher’s skirt. Michael Kors, meanwhile, has fallen in love with Fabio’s dress just as much as I have. Joanna Coles is taken with how ‘easy’ the clothes look. In particular she’s struck by Ven’s modern interpretation of a business suit. The designers are praised for coming up with shots that look like the women are actually at work.
On the downside, Nina hates Nathan’s frumpy resort wear look. Nathan explains that horrible pleat was intentional, to bring a skirt detail into pants. I can see where he was coming from, and I even applaud his imagination. Unfortunately, his idea as planned just didn’t work. Heidi, on the other hand, has had a good drag off that crack pipe and sees the look as just ‘another age group represented.’ She thinks a woman in her fifties would wear this to the office. I suggest that Heidi has no clue what a woman wears to the office, let alone a woman in her fifties. As I predicted, the one Heidi hates is Gunnar’s. She thinks everything else looks expensive, but Gunnar’s looks cheap. Plus the fallen boobs issue. Michael thinks the downfall of the entire collection was fabric choice. I can’t argue too strenuously on that, though I do believe a complete lack of understanding of women’s office wear runs a close second, and definitely entered into that poor fabric choice.
When asked who is the weakest link in the team, everyone with the exception of Fabio who passes the buck like a pro picks Gunnar. Even Gunnar kind of picks Gunnar with the caveat that he feels his look represents his point of view very well, thank you.
Nina feels Team Six Designers have some really editorial looks, and some really useful looks. She’s excited about Melissa’s funnel of doom dress and Alicia’s pants. Michael also lines up to love Melissa’s dress, calling it ‘believable.’ On the other hand, he feels that Raul’s ruffles could easily overwhelm a woman. How about the fact that they’re just ugly and get in the way? Heidi thinks the ‘bib with all the ruffles’ is too much for the office. This from the woman who thinks a one-shoulder chiffon blouse is just what a woman executive of a Certain Age would wear to work. I do, however, happen to agree with her that Raul’s blouse is heinous. Joanna Coles thinks that women would seriously buy a lot of the clothes in this collection, particularly Sonjia’s blue skirt. But she does not see commercial potential in Raul’s blouse. Heidi adores Melissa’s dress, particularly the fact that it’s in a cheerful color. She also loves on Dmitry’s dress. Joanna Coles points out that Dmitry’s dress cannot be worn in the financial or legal professions at all, but Heidi thinks that little touch of back is fine no matter what line of work you’re in. Again, I submit that Heidi does not know how women dress for office work.
What Heidi hates is, as I predicted, Elena’s Renaissance-inspired jacket. And this is where Joanna Coles loses the plot, because she thinks that jacket would be perfectly appropriate for a lawyer or financial advisor… and as much as I like the look on a personal level, I can’t imagine an office where it would be remotely okay. Heidi says pricelessly “If my lawyer would be wearing that jacket, I would be scared.” Michael Kors points out that while there are great pieces in the collection, what it really boils down to is six very different looks with very little to hold them together.
So who’s the weakest link here? Sonjia, Elena, Melissa, and Alicia all choose Raul. Raul and Dmitry choose Elena. Raul does it because he hates her Renaissance jacket, and because he can’t stand her personality. Oh, and because she cannot compromise, says the poster boy for refusal to compromise. Dmitry chooses Elena because he found her lack of teamwork skills so disruptive that he felt it hurt the team. Everyone else chose Raul because he was a pain to work with, made one hideous blouse and one forgettable piece… and did them both badly.
Judges deliberate. Designers are called back.
Team Six Designers will get the feature in Marie Claire @ Work.
The winner of the challenge is Melissa!
Would it have been my choice? Well, you saw what I said about it and I stand by what I said. The only thing I like about it is the color. Left up to me, the winner would have been Fabio, and then I would go back and give him the win for last week’s show retroactively because I can see women living nearly their entire lives in that dress. Nothing at all against what Sonjia made last week, because I love that dress, too. Just if Fabio had made this dress last week, I think it would have been the cream of the crop in terms of meeting the challenge.
But I’m not a judge on this show. I’m just a blogger with an opinion or seventeen.
And the loser is Raul.
On his way out the door, Raul takes a super klassy moment to tell everyone else to be sure to get rid of Elena as soon as possible. Dude, it’s not up to the other designers. It’s up to the judges, and they aren’t judging this on whether or not they think Elena is a nice person. She’s not. I wouldn’t want her in my home. But that’s neither here nor there when it comes to whether she’s capable of winning the game. I do believe she has the talent, if she can start to not bore the judges. On the other hand, as much as I like Nathan and think a nice cobbler would be a good way to his friendship, I don’t foresee him staying very much longer unless he does something spectacular. Those ugly pants will not soon be forgotten.
Next week looks like it’s going to be the joy of the ‘real woman’ challenge where Ven is going to be a complete back half of the quadruped of your choice. Have the fire extinguisher ready, because I’m going to go ballistic.