Last week on Project Runway: Designers create avant-garde outfits based on make up collections. Nearly everyone does something that’s half good, half bad except for Sonjia who chooses this moment to attack her model with Irish wedding table linens and is sent home. Four are designing for Fashion Week. What will happen this week?
We start with the aftermath of last week’s challenge as Melissa, Fabio, Christopher, and Dmitry are back in their little folding chairs next to the runway. Heidi comes out in a brand new outfit and asks them how they feel. Christopher feels crazy. Melissa feels crazy good. Fabio says he’s nervous. Dmitry just nods and grins. Heidi says they should be nervous. After all, this is Mercedes Benz Fashion Week at Lincoln Center!
With that, Heidi calls Tim out for his annual appearance on the runway and they gush about their talented designers. They give the designers nine thousand smackers and five eensy-weensy weeks to do their collections of ten looks. And that’s the challenge. Get going and get sewing! Hey! I think I may have coined a new catchphrase for the show! Call me, Tim, and tell me what you think. I’ll feed you scones. You know you want them.
Oh, and there’s the dreaded One More Twist: while all four are making collections, not all four are guaranteed a spot at Fashion Week itself. Of course there’s that one ray of light at the end of the tunnel: Tim’s home visits!
The designers are scattered to the winds and set to work.
Four weeks later, Tim is in Massapequa, NY to see how Christopher is doing. Christopher is in a quaint, almost Norman Rockwellian home with his mom, his dad, his two sisters, and his boyfriend. There’s a wreath on the door and it all looks so Leave It to Beaver I’m expecting Tony Dow to have a moment of jealousy over the attention little Christopher is getting.
As Christopher leads Tim into his workspace, Tim marvels at how much has been done in those four weeks. Well, it had kind of better be done. There’s only a week to go before Christopher has to be back in the city and ready to hit the runway.
Anyway. Christopher is working with a very interesting print that turns out to be an x-ray done on his mother’s back after she was in an accident. It hasn’t been changed, it’s just been placed on fabric in sepia tone. He says he wanted something haunting and alluring at the same time. Darned if he hasn’t hit that nail squarely on the head. I absolutely adore it, and so does Tim.
Along with the x-ray print, Christopher has a lot of black leather. He shows Tim a jacket made of crazy quilt patchwork pieces of leather held together with silver chainmail rings. I positively swoon. Then there’s a pencil skirt in the x-ray print paired with a simple black leather bustier with a sweetheart neckline. The skirt is great, but the top is leaving me cold. Tim agrees with me and suggests Christopher toughen up the look a bit. There’s an absolutely scrumptious blue-violet coat with a narrow leather belt that hints there may be a little more color in the collection, which would make me happy.
Tim pulls out a leather mini skirt and Christopher facepalms as he says he ‘destroyed’ it. Tim asks what he means. Christopher had tried bleaching leather, but that resulted in corrosion and he’s disappointed. Tim, however, urges him to take another look at it. He feels it brings uniqueness and excitement to the piece, and I have to say I’m with Tim on this. I know, big surprise, but I really think it makes an otherwise rather pedestrian piece stand out in a good way. He just has to do enough to make it look deliberate rather than a mistake. And suddenly I want to see the bleached leather in combination with the x-ray print. I think the result could be steampunk goes mod in the best possible way. Tim is excited by Christopher’s collection.
And with that they repair to the kitchen where Christopher’s family await with about a billion bakery goodies. They would be homemade at my place, Tim. I’m just saying. Homemade or store bought, though, there’s a lot of cake on that table and it looks pretty darn tasty. Tim says it looks ‘caloric.’ Joann, Christopher’s mom, says “We’re Italian, we like to eat.” I’m Scottish, German, and Irish and I still like to eat. In fact, I think liking to eat is a pretty common trait among humans, seeing as it’s something we need to survive.
As everyone gathers in the living room with tea and cake, Christopher sits himself down on the couch and welcomes us all to ‘Tea Time With Tim.’ I’m jealous. Tim asks Christopher’s sisters, Christina and Katie what it was like growing up with their brother. ‘Eventful’ is one term. ‘Never a dull moment’ is another. Joann says “If you know Christopher, you have a story.” I actually really enjoy having people like that in my life. Then again, it’s a role I fill in the lives of a lot of people I’ve met.
And that’s Christopher visited. It was really warm and fuzzy.
With nine days to go before Fashion Week (wait a minute, isn’t that earlier than the trip to Christopherland?), Tim arrives at Fabio’s New York City work space to see what he’s up to. As Tim walks in, he looks adorably befuddled and asks if this is Fabio’s home. A quick camera pan around the apartment explains that comment in spades. It’s all very Pottery Barn. Lovely space, tastefully furnished… and the polar opposite of anything one would expect of Fabio. With Fabio I expected a more mystical look with all kinds of strange and unexpected touches. This seriously looks like a photo shoot for a nice but safe furniture store.
As it turns out, this is not Fabio’s apartment. It belongs to the father of a friend of his who is allowing him to use the space to work in. Now that’s generous!
Tim sits down to lunch with Fabio, his mother, and his boyfriend. Everything looks delicious. I really should have eaten before I started writing this. Elena, Fabio’s mother, tells Tim about how Fabio has always dressed uniquely. That’s a good word for it. She’s proud of what her son has accomplished. I don’t blame her one bit. Fabio interviews that he desperately wants to win “…and it’s not the money. Lie. I would love the money.” But there’s more to it than the money. Right now he doesn’t have a career. Winning Project Runway would give him one ready made. Actually, I think he’ll have a career now whether or not he wins. Folks who get this far on the show often get amazing opportunities, and I’ve seen people who didn’t get half this far make names for themselves because of the exposure they got on PR.
Once lunch is over, Fabio takes Tim into the workspace to show off what he’s done so far.
The collection is entitled Cosmic Tribalism and each look in the collection represents a different woman of the tribe. As one would expect with Fabio, there’s a lot of draping and surprising angles. The color palette is pastel pinks and blues in a subtle, almost tie-dye effect Fabio did himself in watercolors. These are paired with lots of soft cream. The effect is very feminine and a bit hazy, but somehow not little girly, which is the biggest fear with this sort of color range. Tim is excited.
My one concern is that some of the pieces start looking a little more crafts fair than Fashion Week, especially paired with his accessories of plastic canvas with pastel threads worked over them. What’s worrying Tim, though, isn’t plastic canvas. It’s a pair of pants he thinks look like longjohns and the matching clunky high-heeled booties Fabio has paired with every single look. They’re a dark shade of tan that fights with the collection and Tim finds them very ‘winter.’ He says the woman who would wear the floaty, diaphanous top would never wear those shoes or those pants. Fabio says that’s the point. Tim reminds him he needs to think about who his woman is who would wear these clothes. Tim says he has seldom seen a collection with more potential, but that it’s being ‘undercut’ by details that don’t fit smoothly into the line. I have to say the detail that’s worrying me the most is that plastic canvas. One look at that, and all the judges are going to cry Cheap and tell Fabio to go home.
With eight days to go, Tim arrives in Jersey City, NJ to visit with Dmitry and his collection. Dmitry, as it turns out, is also not living in his own space. He’s sort of apartment sitting while his friends are in Spain, which works out really well for him because at the moment… Dmitry is technically homeless. He quit his job to go on the show and couldn’t sign the lease for his apartment because he didn’t have the money and couldn’t predict whether he would get either a job or the big money win from the show. Yikes!
There’s no family here. It’s just Dmitry, solitary as an oyster, and his collection which was inspired by organic architecture. Think Frank Lloyd Wright. Nearly everything on the rack is black or white, though there’s a hint of a rather unfortunate pastel lime green on there, too. He’s got pieces with fringe, pieces with ruffles, pieces with falls of sliver hardware, exposed zippers everywhere… a lot of these pieces resonate with me individually, but the eye has nowhere really to rest, which is kind of the opposite of organic architecture. I think the key for Dmitry is going to lie in how he combines his separates. If he’s got enough simple pieces to allow the showpieces to wow, then he’s in a good shape. The thing is, I’m not seeing them so far.
Over tea and cookies, Tim asks Dmitry where he sees himself ten years from now. “Rich and famous.” I hope so. There’s a lot of talent and a lot of drive to this guy. I could see it happening.
At the one week mark, Tim is in my very back yard! He’s in San Francisco to visit with Melissa, and I’m crushed to realize how close and yet how very far away he was so recently. I missed an opportunity to feed Tim scones!
Melissa actually lives in a space that bears some resemblance to what one might imagine. It’s small and funky, but comfortable with cool touches to it. Is that a hookah I see in the corner? I’m not sure. I do know that her work table and clothes rack both live in her postage stamp living room.
As one would expect with Melissa, there’s a lot of black with hints of white. I see a tiny touch of deep red peeking out and that’s entirely in keeping with her semi-goth sensibilities. Wait a minute, is that something blue I see? We never get a closer look at that, unfortunately. Tim is very taken with a leather jacket with white crackle painting on it. I kind of love it, too. There’s a white perforated fabric she’s done some work with that I find intriguing. The red piece looks like a leather vest. I want it. All in all, Tim is very impressed. He thinks this collection has Melissa’s name all over it and considers it quite strong.
Melissa, being Melissa, is nervous about the upcoming cut. She worries about what everyone else is up to and whether one of them can knock her out of the finale. Tim, of course, has excellent words of wisdom for her. Melissa has done a great job, and now it’s a matter of the judges’ tastes who goes to the final fashion show. She needs to have confidence in what she’s done and realize that the decision is not in her hands.
With that, they go on a boat ride on the Bay with Melissa’s parents, James and Doris, and her boyfriend, Nick. Melissa grew up in Rogers City, MI, pop. 3000, but she always wanted to be a fashion designer. Apparently when she was a little girl, if her mother got her clothes that didn’t meet her approval for Christmas… she would cry. Funny thing, when I was just a toddler, I am reliably informed that I was the Houdini of getting out of clothes I didn’t like. I wasn’t big on tears, but I sure as shootin’ wouldn’t wear them! Suddenly, I feel a kinship with Melissa.
Oh, and Melissa – while she always wanted to design – only learned to sew four years ago. Interesting bit of trivia.
One week later, everyone meets up back in New York City at Yotel. Yokay. There’s a pool table in the middle of the suite. That’s… interesting. The beds are huge ovals wedged into tiny rooms with floor to ceiling windows and no curtains or shades. With my terror of heights, I’m very glad I’m not staying in this suite. Also, where do you change your clothes? I’m guessing the bathroom, since there’s neither room nor privacy in there with those beds and those windows.
All of the designers are thrilled to see one another. Melissa literally squeals as she sees each of the guys. She hits it on the head when she describes the suite as ‘very Austin Powers.’
Anyway, there’s lots of hugging and kissing and champagne drinking. The cool thing is, I get the sense that these four really do like one another, no matter what they may occasionally think of their design sensibilities and sewing skills.
In the morning, the designers get to see their final work space at 1407 Broadway. Now, instead of pictures of the designers who won seasons past, they find pictures of themselves and their season on the walls. Nice touch, producers. Also, each work space has a rack of clothes. As the garment bags are unzipped, I find myself relieved that each designer has gotten their own work and not someone else’s. What? On this show I firmly expect that to happen one day.
Designers check out one another’s racks, as it were, and dish about the collections. Melissa is starting to doubt herself again.
Tim fabulously enters the room and informs the designers that they will be showing three look mini collections to the judges the next day. These three looks should be among their strongest pieces and demonstrate range, because they will determine who goes on and who goes home. Fabio’s eyes bug out hilariously at this. They have until eleven pm to figure out what they’re showing and prep it for the runway.
A while later, Tim returns to see where people are in the process and offer advice. Fabio still has the pants and the shoes Tim hates so much. I can tell he still hates them, but I think Fabio did something smart with the ugly shoes: he painted them cream colored, so the tan isn’t as aggressive and has given them all different colored laces. I don’t know about Tim, but I think this helps a lot. Now the shoes aren’t fighting the collection so badly, but look like a part of the concept. As for the pants, I never had a problem with them, though I don’t find them terribly inspiring, either. I keep waiting for Tim to bring up the plastic canvas, but he still doesn’t. He just says the judges will either love or hate what Fabio has done, but it’s very him. I think a heart-to-heart about plastic canvas needs to happen.
Tim is pleased to see that Christopher has taken his advice about the bleached leather. So am I. Tim asks Christopher which three looks he plans to show. Christopher has decided to wait and see what fits each model. In other words, he’s going to be trying combinations on randomly to come up with his three strongest looks to show the judges. Tim and I are both dubious.
Tim can see how nervous Melissa is and asks her about it. He tells her that she needs to stop doubting herself and be confident in a strong collection. After all, he says, nobody else in the room could have made the collection she did. It’s all her. She feels better, but I worry about her decision to hold back her showstopper evening gown in case she makes it through to the end. The judges want to see the best of the best now, not the safest of the safest.
Tim asks Dmitry if he’s sure he wants to show nothing but black and white for the mini collection. Dmitry is sure, even if the judges might not like that. He feels the pieces he’s showing are strong and will indicate a powerful collection. Looking at them, I get more of a sense of a chaotic collection. Any one piece viewed individually may be a masterpiece… but the only thing holding them together is the color story of black and white. In three looks, he’s showing sheer and opaque, ruffles and fringe and metal, floating panels… it’s an awful lot.
With a final reminder to work hard, Tim leaves the designers to their own devices and their fates.
At last the day is over and the designers repair to Yotel to commiserate and panic.
Morning. Everyone is panicking wildly as Tim fabulously enters and tells them they have three hours to dress and fit their models, and then just one hour to get all three models through hair and make up. Remember the halcyon days when they had two hours in hair and make up to get one model done? Yeah, not so much now.
The models arrive and Christopher is immediately in trouble. None of the models fit the clothes he’s made, it seems. He doesn’t have time to make the alterations he needs to, so he’s just going to send those girls out in whatever happens to fit their bodies. Melissa and Fabio both make unfortunate wig decisions.
Eventually, Tim arrives and calls time. Yeah, that’s not happening today. He has to keep calling and calling designers and models. At last even Christopher scampers out the door and we’re off to Parsons for the runway show.
Runway. There is no guest judge this time. It’s all up to Heidi, Michael, and Nina.
First up is Dmitry. His first look is a white dress of floating panels. It’s got some pretty lines that echo Frank Lloyd Wright really nicely, but I’m concerned that it’s so tight at the knees that the model seems a bit hobbled. I don’t know. I love Dmitry and I love his floating panels, but I feel like there’s something just a little off in the proportions on this one.
Look two consists of a sheer black blouse with heavily ruffled cap sleeves and a cascade of silver beads depending from the graduated shallow u neckline. The neckline is reinforced with a more opaque fabric for structural stability, and there’s another bit of it at the bustline creating a visible bra effect. I kind of wish the sleeves had been on one top and the metallic cascade on another. As it is, it feels overly busy, somehow. This is worn over a pair of really kind of awesome white pants. There is no waistline to them, per se, and they’re slung just a bit low. The legs are quite narrow. The really interesting detail – and the one where I can see the inspiration his collection was based on – is a pair of tucks that come out of the waist at a higher level than the very front of the waist and then take a dive down the front of the pant legs. These pants don’t look like they ought to be able to stay up, but they do. There’s a real grace and a level of unobtrusive construction that would make Wright proud. This is the sort of piece that will grab attention and launch careers.
Look three is the short jacket in the geometric print with the fringed sleeves. I adore the shape of this jacket, but that print – as much as I love the effect like Greek Keys set into diamond shapes rather than used as a border – is hurting my eyes in collaboration with the sleeves made of black leather fringe. The jacket is paired with a simple black leather pencil skirt, which is fine. It’s beautifully constructed, and while it’s not a wow factor in terms of unique and progressive design, it’s still a cool, thoughtful piece. Unfortunately, the blouse he’s finished the ensemble off with is another sheer one – this time with diamond-shaped panels – with another of those big black bras underneath. The panels and the fringe and the print and the bra… it’s a lot of look. In fact, this look sums up where Dmitry is going wrong. He’s trying to show too much in too many different directions and winding up managing to make a black and white collection look like the circus came to town. Like minimalism, there are those who do maximalism well and those who don’t. Dmitry is a minimalist at heart and forgets this at his own peril.
Next is Christopher with… what fit on his models with almost no alterations. First up is a bleached leather vest worn with a tank top that looks like it’s made of cheesecloth and a pair of tiny brown shorts. The tank and shorts have zero interest to them. You could pick them up on the sale rack in any mall. It’s not that they’re necessarily bad, but they’re really, really ordinary. Unfortunately, all of the interest to this particular vest is in the back. From the front, it’s just a nicely cut leather vest with a narrow tuxedo lapel and a pocket tucked at an odd spot at the waist. There’s subtle distressing on the bottom half. Cute enough, but not show stopping. All of the drama happens at the back where you can see a couple cool, subtle tiers of asymmetric leather protoruffles. Seriously, he ruffled distressed leather and it works. I want this vest.
Next up is another pair of shorts. They’re black leather and higher waisted this time, but still pretty ordinary shorts. They’re worn with a vee necked tank top in the x-ray print. It’s simple, it’s pretty, and it shows off the print nicely at a rakish angle. Again, though, that’s all you can say until she turns around. The back of the top is completely bare except for a pair of silver chains that hold up the front but don’t come together until midback where they fall free side by side to the waistband of the shorts. It’s not a very practical top, but it is pretty for a runway fantasy. The shorts look less like they belong on a bargain table, but the only detail of note is an ostrich leather waistband.
For his final look, Christopher sends out the x-ray print pencil skirt and the now much improved bustier of bleached leather sans sweetheart neckline. Now the neckline is straight across, which I do think works better for this design, with an interesting little jut upwards in the center. This outfit is mostly about the print and the embellishment, but both are so cool that it makes a statement.
And the problem here is that what Christopher has shown is pretty one-note and that note is uninspired shorts. He could be in trouble here. If he is, I really hope he doesn’t then blame everything on his models, because that excuse makes my slapping hand mighty itchy.
Fabio’s first look is the one with the pants Tim hates so much. They’re simple cigarette pants in cream and they fit well. They aren’t the important part of the design, but they’re certainly no disgrace. On top there’s a tiny sky blue colorwashed crop top with spaghetti straps. That isn’t the important part, either, which is good, because I’ve seen it at the tie-dye booth at nearly every crafts fair I’ve ever gone to. The important bit is the magnificent vest over the other pieces. It’s cream colored with wide openings at the arms that drape into sort of cap sleeves, but freer. On the left, it’s fairly constructed from there and hangs to just hip level. On the right, it’s lavishly draped and goes to the knee. It’s simple, but wildly unexpected with the proportions (unless you’ve been watching Fabio’s work), and unconventional but entirely wearable. The thing that kills this look for me is that dratted plastic canvas necklace. If he could have had it manufactured in acrylic, I think it would win piles of praise. It’s huge and shaped like a great big arrow pointing down and embroidered in pink and pale blue and lavender. Imagine that in acrylic with the color suspended in each layer. It wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s something you’d see in a boutique for beaucoup bucks. Unfortunately it’s very obviously plastic canvas which is going to make the judges think of summer camp.
The second look Fabio has chosen is one that was created in its entirety after Tim’s visit. There’s a knee-length skirt in cream that’s mostly structured, but also has a touch of draping to it. At first glance, it’s an ordinary pencil skirt, but the more I look at it, the more interesting it becomes, which is, I think, the genius of Fabio’s work. It doesn’t scream. It frames. It presents a woman, but has layers of interest that – while not immediately obvious – slowly reveal themselves to you. Anyway, over this is a more structured crop top that snaps in front. There’s a four-pointed star cut right at the bustline allowing a peep at the blue colorwashed crop top underneath. Alas! there’s not only another huge plastic canvas neckpiece, there’s a matching plastic canvas mini-tote, to boot. Seriously, that bag is all about PBS having their pledge drive gifts made at summer camp. Stop it! When the model turns around, the back of the vest is also embellished with a layer of cloth that almost looks as though a very cool spider wove a web there.
Look number three is a rather spectacular draped pink dress. On the right, it’s completely sleeveless. On the left, the fabric drapes down to mid-bicep. There’s a low scoop neckline. In front the skirt is slit to mid-thigh. In the back, it falls to a point just above the left ankle. It moves like a dream. And while it doesn’t emphasize any part of her body, it’s an extremely feminine and elegant look. I really appreciate the way that Fabio has of never fetishizing the female form. Now, about that blasted plastic canvas neckpiece you insisted on adding: GET RID OF IT! It looks painfully cheap, and it clutters the look.
And so we come to Melissa and her awful fright wigs on her models. That was a mistake. As for the clothes, the first look is a pair of very short slouchy white shorts worn with a belt of tiny narrow strips of black leather. They’re interesting enough to make me look twice, and completely believable, but they aren’t the point of the outfit. The point is a black silk top with a heavy, huge cowl and a body that opens up like beetle wings just below the breasts. On closer look, the shorts are the perforated material, which makes them more interesting. In back, the top shows a classic yoke construction up top and the shirttail hem falls nicely over the buttocks. The accessories consist of a red leather cuff on the right wrist, and a perforated clutch bag held in the left hand. Maybe not the look of the century, but cool on the runway with no end of commercial possibility.
Next up is Melissa’s signature giant-collared white leather jacket faced in black. There are huge matching cuffs that win my heart because I’m a total sucker for a dramatic cuff. Underneath, there is a black tank which doesn’t seem to have much to say for itself and a pair of skinny black harem pants that… just no. The proportions are too timid, giving the impression more of an overfull diaper than a cool design statement. Still, the jacket is cool and very Melissa.
As for the third look, it’s a simple sleeveless black sheath dress with a huge standup cowl neck. It hits mid-thigh. There’s another red cuff and another clutch purse, this time in the crackle leather. It’s nice, but unfortunately, there’s not a lot more to say about it. I think Melissa would have done well not to save back that show stopping evening gown she promised.
So. The judges had both good and bad things to say about all four.
What the judges loved about Fabio: Color!, originality, OMG! Heidi loves those summer camp project necklaces and purses!, Michael Kors likes the ‘demented shoes,’
What the judges hated about Fabio: the bowl cut wigs, Nina says the ‘c’ word, as in ‘cheap,’ Heidi jumps on that bandwagon, Nina hates the pants as much as Tim does.
What the judges loved about Dmitry: everything looks polished and expensive.
What the judges hated about Dmitry: Michael reads my mind about the lot of look, everyone agrees he styled things too old.
What the judges loved about Christopher: the print and the bleached leather.
What the judges hated about Christopher: no wow factor, the little top and shorts shown with the leather vest, too similar looks.
To his credit, despite plenty of opportunity to do so and barn door openings from the judges begging him to explain why he didn’t show something more interesting, Christopher does not blame his models for being the wrong size. Good on you, Christopher!
What the judges loved about Melissa: There’s no question who designed these clothes, the jacket and handbags, Nina loves those pants even though I’m waiting for Michael Kors to ask what’s in them that shouldn’t be.
What the judges hated about Melissa: pedestrian designs, the black fright wigs, the black and white palette, Nina hates the cuffs on the jacket.
Judges deliberate. Designers are called back out.
Guess what? Everybody’s going to Fashion Week!
Dmitry carries Melissa backstage, where all four have a great big loving group hug. Awww.
Next week will not end with the same warm fuzzies all around, though, because that’s the big finale and three of these designers are going to go home badly disappointed. Frankly, though, I think it could turn out to be anyone’s game, so I’m excited to see the full collections.