Sunday, September 4, 2011

"The Art of the Matter" - Project Runway Recap

Friends!  I'm back with another delinquent Project Runway recap.  After last week's team-challenge-slash-bloodbath, all the designers seemed to be happy to call a truce and play nicely this week.  Bert and Anthony Ryan shelved their "you're lying/no you are" confrontation, and Anya declared a clean slate was good for everybody.  Which was particularly welcome for this week, because if everybody kept their claws out I would have been likely to shriek "Not in front of the children!" at my screen.  Because this week involved kids!

That's right, Heidi announced to the designers that they were going to go back to the classroom for this challenge, and honestly all I could really wonder was if Heidi sits in front of a mirror and practices being mysterious and coy.  Because her vague, "I know something you don't know" eye-twinkling charm is practically an art form.  Which, as it turns out, connects strongly to the actual challenge she twinkled about.

This week, the designers teamed up with young art students from the Harlem School of the Arts to create an avant garde look inspired by their kids' paintings.  Normally, on Project Runway, kids are a death knell in almost any challenge.  Designing for them, designing with them - it's usually a disaster, and everyone knows it.  Especially Viktor, who declared, "Working with children! cute is that," with the most deadpanned monotone he could muster.

But even Viktor couldn't resist the charms of these adorably artistic teenagers, most of whom spoke with such genuine thoughtfulness it was hard to believe they were anywhere from 11 to 17 years old.  Laura Kathleen in particular got sage words from her partner Kai, who, when told about LK's disastrous performance last week, simply offered the bon mots: "Failure is opportunity in disguise."  Now, I'm pretty sure Kai wasn't the first person to say this, but hell, even if she read it on the inside of a chocolate wrapper, I was still damn impressed she had the wisdom to retain it and offer it up to Laura honestly with actual helpful intent.  Turns out Laura was too - she asked the eleven-year-old if she could have her phone number so Kai could talk her through her problems.  Hee!

Meanwhile, Viktor's partner Skyy, an open-minded and free-speaking self-declared New Yorker, completely disarmed Viktor with her forwardness, and then won him over by episode's end.  How adorable was it to see Viktor go from "I'm never having kids" to his little fist pump when he found out Skyy would be at the runway show with him?  What a cute little transformation.

In truth, every single one of those kids was absolutely delightful, and I loved that they got to be involved in a collaborative creative process - and taken seriously.  No kid was made fun of or marginalized, and every designer seemed to have a significant amount of respect for their younger counterparts.  But really, it'd be hard not to.  Each piece of art was well-done and fascinating, and each kid understood artistry enough to give thoughtful criticism while still letting their designer interpret the original work the way they thought best.  

Of course, some interpretations were too literal, which is always the risk when it comes to interpreting an art source and applying it to a dress form in fabrics and stitches.  In the instance of Josh Christensen, he was given a rather raw and feral depiction of a wolf, which begged the question: to faux fur or not to faux fur?  (I ask myself this very query every morning when I consult my wardrobe.  No, I'm kidding.  I don't.  I go straight for the faux fur without any hesitation.)  Or in the case of Anya's and Kimberly's birds, how many feathers takes it from avant garde to full-blown Halloween costume?  (I hear Heidi wants to be a hooker this year!)

These were tough decisions the designers had to make, and most of them navigated these treacherous waters with panache.  And there seemed to be a certain leniency in the fact that this was art and interpretation, not just design choices and taste levels.  I mean, how else could Bert get off with a "kudos, but meh" for an outfit that Michael Kors deemed fit for a party-going Teletubby?  Actually, I got a text from my sister that claimed the pants in particular looked like "Humpty took a dumpty in them" which, I must say, may out-quip Mr. Kors this week.  My sister, ladies and gentlemen.

Actually, Michael Kors got some quality onscreen co-snarking with the addition of Zanna Roberts Rassi to the panel, filling in for Nina Garcia, who I'd like to imagine was frolicking around Central Park in Kimberly's outfit, waiting for the sun to set so she could verify that it does indeed translate well from day to night!  (Shh, don't ruin this image for me.)  Zanna actually proved to be just as verbally adroit as Michael - Kors declared wearing Bert's outfit would "look like you're having Baby #5," and Zanna sharply returned, "No, you are Baby #5!"  I thought Michael Kors was going to topple over in his director's chair from the pure giddiness of interacting with someone who could keep up with him in the Snark Department.  

In the bottom with Bert this week was Olivier, who, poor thing, seems to be deflating faster than Bert's pants in a cactus garden.  Describing himself as "lost" and "confused," Olivier used two colors where his painting used at least five, and tried to glue his bodice to his model, which is actually against the rules.  Oh dear.  Michael Kors summed it up perfectly - not in describing Olivier's style as "Valium clothes," but in describing Olivier as too "afraid to be powerful."  I found that incredibly sad.  I want Olivier to come back next week and knock one out of the park!  It's so upsetting to see designers lose their identity and creative spark over the course of the competition, and I don't want sweet little Olivier to fall victim to that pattern.  

Of course, there was really no saving Josh Christensen, who was back for a second go of things, and still seemed to make some questionable design choices.  From what I can tell, Anthony Ryan is right: this guy's design process is just not refined enough.  He understood the source material perfectly, but seemed to lose it in translation and couldn't really find his way.  I felt bad for the guy, to be eliminated twice, but he handled it with grace and charm, and really, his garment was just not representative of the animalism of that wolf.

In the top this week were Josh McKinley, Anthony Ryan and Laura Kathleen, the latter two I might have to refer to as the Double-Named Southern Charm Wonder Twins.  It was nice they were Comeback Kids this week too, after they basically imploded in tandem during the last challenge.  Laura Kathleen's dress mixed hard and soft beautifully, and flowed well on the runway.  Plus, she taught us about burning the edges of silk to stop it from fraying - and informed us, a bit too casually, that she used to burn her Barbie dolls.  I worry that this could be some sort of self-loathing ritual because, well... Laura Kathleen kind of looks like a Barbie doll.

Josh McKinley had trouble with the challenge this week, very gracelessly exclaiming, "What the hell is inspiring on this canvas?!"  Josh McKinley likes shiny and bedazzled, and that organic tree just wasn't doing it for him.  But he definitely made it work, and found elements he could translate with genuine emotion, from the burnt tree to the fiery top to his mom's initials "carved" on the skirt.  I agree with Michael Kors (so much this week!) that a slicked-back 'do and little makeup would have sold the look even more, but I definitely commend the outfit.  And Josh's readjusted attitude this week!  He plainly told Bert that his look was one of his favorites, even after last week's little tiffs, and I was glad once again that the drama was on the shelf for this go-around.

The win ended up going to Anthony Ryan, who, as he put it, is "finally a bride."  His interpretation of an expressive but simple double self-portrait was unique and chaotic, but put-together.  I was so glad to see AR get the win (I still think he and his birdseed dress were robbed!) after the work he's done so far, and last week's stumble.  

Rounding out the middle were Anya, Becky, Viktor, Bryce, and Kimberly, the last of whom I think may have also been robbed of a place in the top.  I loved her asymmetrical look that combined soft feathers with hard leather, topped off with a severe drama about the whole thing.  I say Kimberly is this year's dark horse contestant.  She's won a challenge, yes, but there's still not a lot of recognition there despite the one-two punch of creative design skills and smart editing choices.  Kimbo and her talent are flying under the radar for sure!  I wouldn't be terribly surprised if she made it to Fashion Week.

Alright gang, which kid's painting was your favorite?  I found myself partial to Wu Qing's self-portrait for Anthony Ryan, and Tonyalee's creation for Olivier.  I only wish Olivier had done it more justice - it was so vibrant and energetic!  Maybe next week Olivier can embody that attitude and exert some power on the runway.  Meanwhile, I hope everyone continues to play nice, and oh - keep Laura Kathleen away from your Barbie dolls!

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