Friday, August 19, 2011

"All About Nina" - Project Runway Recap

How do I even begin to describe Nina Garcia?

Nina Garcia is flawless.  She's a goddess, and a god.  She's a queen.  She can slice through steel using simply her glare.  She can also cut through bullshit like a hunter hacking a swath in the jungle.  She wears clothes that are classic, but edgy.  She uses the word "no" more than any other human being.  She will also use three words where Michael Kors uses twelve.  And when you design something she really likes, there's a proud little twinkle in her eye that lets you know you've done well, and that she's not going to destroy you.  (Today, anyways.)

In case you hadn't noticed, Nina Garcia fascinates me.  She's a formidable lady, as evidenced by the contestants' collective "oh shit" reaction when they heard they were going to be designing for her.  But even though Nina's a bit sharp and intimidating, she's also a successful working woman who's living her life according to the best policy (honesty) and sometimes when she smiles I just want to pet her hair and feed her cookies.  (Surely she doesn't eat any old cookie, though.  Fig newtons?  A petit ecolier?  What kind of cookie is traditional, yet stylish?  A mint Milano?  This is my best guess.)

Anyways, the gang had a tall order in designing a look for Nina Garcia to wear that a) fit her style, and b) could easily transition from day to night.  And that's what was interesting in how they were judged - these outfits were really held up against the standard of a modern working woman, which Nina Garcia is, and that's something that I think is easily forgotten in the fashion world - or any world, really.  Especially when we see Nina Garcia, who makes it look easy, and we don't remember that she's working 12 hour days.  Women who work have to pay attention to what they're wearing to an almost absurd degree - more so than any working man.  And therefore, women's clothing designers have to pay extra attention to the balance of professionalism and sophistication in their work.  

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  First, the designers had to draw up a sketch and have a one-on-one meeting with Nina to confer on the designs.  I must say, even though it must have been nervewracking, ultimately I think it was good that the designers got so much feedback from Nina at all steps of the process.  Especially because Nina didn't mince words - she made it clear to the designers what her concerns were, and they could adjust accordingly.  And that became the true litmus test of who did well and who didn't.  

Of course, during the initial consultation, Nina said things like "Are you sure you can make this?" and "Do you have a plan B?" and, my personal favorite, "I hate cowl," as soon as Bryce offered up his cowl-neck drawing.  It was delightful.  Nina manages to be succinct in her criticisms without ever coming off bitchy, and sometimes I think I'd squeal with glee if she ever told me something I made was "tasteless."  Other times I think I might crap my pants, which is certainly what many of the contestants felt tonight at various points in the critique.  

It was obvious from the beginning which designers were going to coast through this week, based on the screentime they were getting: Olivier, Bert, Laura, Bryce, and Josh flew mostly under the radar, and, sure enough, turned in adequate designs.

It was equally as obvious from the beginning who was going to have some trouble: Julie rolled out of bed and said she was running out of second chances.  Uh-oh.  Cecilia had a less-than-successful meeting with Nina... and then she bought the wrong type of fabric at Mood.  Eek!  Anya took a risk with her fabric choice, only to have Nina immediately ask for a Plan B... which she didn't have.  Oh dear.  Kimberly was constructing some strange, all-blue navy pants suit with a gold neck that Nina didn't care for, but was offered a hopeful "good luck" as Ms. Garcia walked away.  Oof.  Danielle's blouse immediately came out looking soft, and when she tried to offer solutions to the problem, Nina shot them down with "no." after "no."  Yeesh.

(Other choice Nina reactions: "I'm very worried," "It's looking a little... sad," and, my other personal favorite: "Oh.")

Two of these critiqued ladies recovered, and the other three sputtered and came up short.  I love seeing designers adapt, though, because that was the true purpose of having Nina come and talk to them so much: so that they could redirect!  And Anya and Kimberly redirected.  It was a joy to see their designs get such positive feedback after their misguided beginnings, and for that reason alone, I think the comments are that much more satisfying. 

And how great was Kimberly's design?  I love that she worked it out.  I was nervous, though - we only saw her struggle, and never saw her recover.  And to boot, she talked about family tragedies, usually a telltale sign that someone's landing in the bottom.  But Kimberly's runway look was great!  That top was gorgeous - basic, but interestingly constructed with a unique fabric.  And the pants!  If Kimberly's not careful, the entire female population of the world is going to want at least one pair of Kimberly pants.  Even when she tried to present a skirt to Nina, it was, "No thank you.  Pants, please."  Because Kimberly's pants are magical. 

As for Anya, her silk fabric was just not cutting the mustard (rimshot!) and she opted to make it a more palatable color by dying it.  The resulting jumpsuit was interesting, even though it seems vaguely reminiscent of other things she's designed.  And while Nina's never really worn anything like that before, it was decreed (by Michael Kors) that she would, which I have to imagine is like striking gold in this challenge.  How do you make something for Nina Garcia that is both like and unlike everything she's ever worn before?  Conundrum.

Now, controversy: what do you guys think about the fact that Josh suggested that Anya dye the fabric, and that Laura helped her sew part of it?  Is Anya's extra help an issue?  Bryce and Becky seem to think that her lack of sewing skills will eventually catch up with her, and Viktor just got plain pissy that Laura helped a sister out.  Personally, I love when the designers lend each other a hand.  I like a Hufflepuff sewing room, not a Slytherin one.  It says something about both Laura and Cecelia that they helped out, just as much as it says something about Josh that he offered up an idea, and even as much about Julie and Anya that people would want to help them and not just let them flounder.  I ask you: if Bert were struggling, do you think people would have been as quick to lend a hand?  Probably not.  But is it Anya's combined lack of experience and charming demeanor making her sympathetic?  Or, is it just how Laura described: she'd hate to see someone's vision fall short simply because they couldn't execute it in time?  Or does that statement inherently go against the point of Project Runway as a design competition?  This situation raises some interesting questions.

Also in the top was Viktor, who did not appreciate the assistance given to Anya.  He designed a very sharp and well-constructed Little Black Dress, which was flattering and well-suited to the modern working woman.  But... it was a Little Black Dress.  I'm of the opinion that no one should win with a Little Black Dress, no matter how classic and appealing it is.  Plus, his model's walk was kind of awful.  She aped her way down the runway with a vacant frown, and I thought, "Madam, are you trying to mimic Nina's pokerface?"  If so, it was not working.  I did not want to feed that model mint Milanos and pet her hair.

Josh, Laura, Olivier, Bert, Becky, Bryce, and Anthony Ryan skated through to next week, as we all kind of anticipated.  I actually really loved Josh's design, and thought a bigger deal should have been made of the fact that he used hot pink in a Nina Garcia challenge.  But he was smart - making it a classic boatneck dress, and using color blocking to make pink an accent color instead of the overwhelming main course.  And the back was interesting!  I'd wear Josh's design in a heartbeat.  Look ma, no bedazzles!

Bert made a lifeless black dress, Olivier made some sort of Judy-Jetson-goes-to-the-office ensemble, Bryce had hem problems but a decent design, and Laura got her Christmas fabric together to make an interesting little dress out of it.  And how about Becky and Anthony Ryan's shared fabric?  Who used it better?  I'm an Anthony Ryan fan, but I think Becky took top spot for the speckled fabric.  The use of diagonal vectors and the yellow piping were smart and chic design details, whereas Anthony Ryan's simple construction was a bit underwhelming.  Plus, I preferred the fabric's spotted intrigue on the bottom half, and not up by the face where Anthony Ryan placed his.  

Now, the bottom.  Julie, Cecelia, and Danielle found themselves in danger of Nina Garcia's disapproval - and Michael Kors' biting quips.  He was on a roll last night, declaring that Julie's dress looked like it should have Kleenex in the pockets for a housewife to use while she dusts, and claiming that Danielle's blouse belonged at a "Joan Crawford St. Paddy's Day part."  You win this one, Kors!  Kerry Washington was far more subdued, kindly making it clear that she didn't hate Danielle's designing, and copped to simply not understanding Julie's.  As for Joanna Coles... mostly she just talked about imaginary scenarios where Nina would wear the designs to work and something about a 12-hour plane ride and a housewife making pureed acorn squash for her children.  (I didn't get it, either.)

I also don't get why Danielle chose to work with chiffon again.  Isn't chiffon a rather loosey goosey fabric?  And doesn't Nina like structure?  Lo, Nina deemed it "too soft" as soon as she saw it, and Danielle couldn't recover.  But, that's not enough to get her tossed out of the competition, especially when she worked so well with chiffon last week. 

Cecilia... oh, poor Cecilia.  She just hit roadblock after roadblock and instead of trying to bust through them, resigned herself to whatever she could throw together - and then decided to help Julie assemble her look when she finished early.  She had the strangest mix of good and bad attitude, taking her losses in stride, but not seeming to care enough to fight against them.  Honestly, I think she would have gone home if she hadn't had a good track record compared to Julie's patchy design history.  She also would have gone home if she'd expressed even an iota of her "I don't really care if I'm here or not" attitude, which of course should raise the hackles of any diehard reality show contestant - or viewer, honestly.  (Especially if you watch Top Model.  If a girl on ANTM even whispers something about not wanting to be there, Tyra will lead you right to the door without a single hesitation.)  But no, Cecilia kept her mouth shut, and Julie got the boot.

I feel like Kerry Washington's assessment of Julie's garment is actually a good assessment of Julie herself: I just don't understand her.  Like her design, she seemed to start off with such promise (having a fan in Michael Kors!) and then somewhere along the line losing the vision, and winding up with something decidedly underwhelming on the runway.  Julie herself confessed to being confused, and Tim Gunn replied, "You always say that!"  Well, I'm confused about Julie.  She decided to go to fashion school because she "sooooo over bartending and waiting tables" (I guffawed) and turned out to be rather good at it.  And Nina loved that orange!  But then she got in this competition and on that runway and everything fell apart.  Oh, Julie.  I just don't get you.  

I was kind of sad to see her go, though, simply because she took critique so well, and gracefully accepted her status as someone who everyone knew was bottoming out.  Julie had a good attitude, and I'm gonna miss her crazy imp face and bickering with Josh.  

As for Nina, she looked slammin' in Kimberly's outfit, and I loved that we got to see Kimberly's reaction to witnessing her look on the taxi advertisement.  But mostly, I love that we got to spend so much time with Ms. Garcia herself this week, as a judge and fashion editor, but also as a client and working woman.  I've got mad respect for the lady, but she's always been something of a mystery.  Thanks to Project Runway, she's something of a fashion urban legend, complete with a catchphrase about her.  "Don't bore Nina" is ingrained in every designer's head, and helps them reassess their creative choices for the runway.  Because everyone wants to please Nina Garcia.  And I can't blame them!  She gets that little twinkle in her eye when she really, genuinely likes something, and that's almost as good as the whole editorial in Marie Claire magazine.  Here's to you, Nina!  Would you like a mint Milano?

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