Watching last night's Project Runway was not terribly unlike watching a disaster movie: you knew exactly how everything was going to fall apart, and yet you couldn't stop watching in abject horror as it all unfolded before you. There were tidal waves of emotions, crumbling resolves, desperate citizens trying not to panic, and even a Godzilla-esque terror stomping around in Joshua McKinley.
Actually, only half of last night's Project Runway was like this. The other half was like watching a children's show on PBS - maybe one where Bob Ross gets six kids together to paint a mural with him, as Mister Rogers calmly supervises. And afterwards they do trust falls and eat cupcakes. Meanwhile, across the workroom, the townspeople are scattering from the eruption of Mount McKinley. (Note: the real Mt. McKinley is not actually a volcano.)
This weeks' madness was all in the quest to put on a mini runway show, comprising five pieces that were all cohesive around an idea of the designers' choice - but that was also manifested in three original prints. Not only that, but they had to choose music and shoot a video to accompany their runway show, making sure everything synchronized behind their theme.
Phew. It was a doozy. But nothing was more terror-inducing than the discovery that they'd be in two teams of five to complete it. Becky put it best perhaps, in the most hilarious offscreen reaction I've ever heard: "Hooooooh boy."
Yes, Becky. Hooooooh boy indeed.
Since Anthony Ryan won last week's challenge (even though Josh McKinley vehemently declared that he should have, in the first of his many crazy moments this episode) he got to pick first - but not actually lead the team. Heidi was very clear that technically there was not to be a leader, which is silly considering she asked at the end of the episode that one person needed to be responsible for the win or loss. But maybe she just wanted to make sure that Josh, being first picked for the other team, wouldn't go all Auteur Visionary on everyone's asses again.
Anthony Ryan picked Anya, and I cheered. Two of my favorites on the same team! Then Josh picked Laura, and my heart sank a little bit. Because what viewer doesn't want to see all their faves on the same side? But alas, both Laura and Kim went to Josh, with Becky and Bert in accompaniment. Anthony Ryan and Anya rounded out their team with Viktor, Olivier, and Bryce.
It was instantly apparent that there were going to be Problems of a Disaster-Movie proportion, and I loved how everyone knew it. The entire episode was just like watching a trainwreck in slow-motion, because you knew that Josh's team was just surging haphazardly towards a brick wall and everyone was just bracing themselves for the impact. It really was a "disaster waiting to happen," as Anya put it. With Josh, Bert, and Becky on one team, the disaster was inevitable. That shoe was going to drop.
The teams got together to brainstorm, and, sure enough, the prophecies began to be fulfilled. Anthony Ryan was giddy with the opportunity to incorporate graphic design, and put out the idea of using ink blots as a pattern. (Technically, guys, it's called the Rorschach Test... except nobody on PR turned out to be as big of an egghead as me to actually call it that. Sigh. Carry on, non-nerds!) Everybody loved the idea, and I think even everyone watching at home let out a collective "Oooooh" of intrigue as well. The concept eventually turned into the idea of chaos, with the mirror-image technique of ink-blotting helping to take random marks and turn them into an actual design, so that it wasn't actually, well, chaos.
The more I think about Team Chaos' approach, the cooler - and more intelligent - I think it was. At first, I was a little hesitant about something that could seem so trite; chaos is hardly anything new or revolutionary in terms of thematic delineation. It also seemed like an easy way to throw anything on the dress form and call it a day, with the built-in excuse that it's "chaotic." But AR & Co. took the chaos and made sense of it, using their prints to make patterns out of the madness. In the end, it wasn't so much about the concept of ink blotting, but rather using the ink blotting as a means to an end - chaos was the concept, and ink blotting was their execution. And what exactly does the ink blot test do? Gives you a random smattering of black shapes and asks you to make sense of it. Seriously, hats off to Team Chaos - they successfully took a rather ho-hum theme and executed it freshly and intelligently.
The other team... well, they weren't nearly so well-developed. I mean, there was no way this could end well when Joshua immediately wanted to do five female glam versions of the Village People. I'm pretty sure somehow, somewhere, Chris March, former contestant who designed parade costumes for plus-size drag queens, was like, "Oh, honey, even I know that's tacky." But other ideas offered up were sea amoebas (would the love child of Betsey Johnson and Oscar de la Renta really design around sea amoebas, Laura?) and clocks. So there wasn't a whole lot to choose from.
In the end, Team "Nuts and Bolts" chose to find inspiration in clocks, which was just the next problem in their domino line of issues. They spent so long trying to settle on an idea they could all get behind rather than actually brainstorm the implications of their theme. So instead of designing around fascinating concepts like the transience of time or impermanence of life, they instead designed as if they were looking at the arrivals board at a train station. Becky made a print out of cogs, Laura made a print out of the numbers of a clock, and Joshua made a print that just repeated the words "cancelled" and "delayed" and "on time." It was so literal, and so on the nose, that there was no way to infuse any sophistication in their clothes after the design process had been so clunky.
Tim Gunn expressed immediate concern for Team Nuts and Bolts, and even if the look on his face weren't enough, he used some variation of the word "trouble" three times during his critique - and that's pretty damning. Of course, we all knew the team was in for trouble from the get-go, and the fact that Josh objected to Tim's advice didn't bode well. "Where is she going?" Tim asked of their designs, and Joshua replied, "Why is she going anywhere?!" Well, Joshua, I hate to tell you, but I don't get dressed up unless I'm going somewhere. When I watch Project Runway, for instance, in the comfort of my own living room, I wear shorts and a t-shirt, that hopefully don't have food stains on them. Because I'm not going anywhere, and there's no criteria for my ensemble. If you could even call it that.
While we're here, let's talk about the notorious "Head Nut" (as deemed by Kimberly). I felt emotionally exhausted just watching Josh McKinley, so I can't even fathom what it must be like to actually be Josh McKinley. He was pretty much a terror this episode, initially sulking after not getting his way, then yelling at Bert for making comments under his breath, then lashing out at Bert for swearing, then questioning Tim Gunn's critique, apologizing for his outbursts, and finally breaking down on the phone with his father. Turns out it had been his mother's birthday, and all of a sudden Josh because the most tragic tyrant on television. Sure, he was annoying all episode, but when it was revealed that he hadn't been able to see his mom before she passed away because he was so focused on his dream of designing? Cue the waterworks. Especially when he phrased it as just wanting to know that his tunnel vision on his dream was worth it; that missing his family was worth it. Yeah, I needed a tissue or two; I felt absolutely awful for Josh at that point.
Of course, even being able to sympathize for Josh McKinley doesn't undo the crazy he subjected his team to, and the damage to Nuts and Bolts was done. It was interesting to see how each team member reacted to the obvious toppling of their union. Becky and Bert resigned themselves to simply going with the flow and trying to avoid another smackdown with Josh, Laura tried to be a team player and appeased Josh at every corner, critiqued their designs in the hopes they wouldn't completely screw themselves over, asked Bert for his input to make him feel involved, and still used some of the god-awful fabric on her own garment in a demonstration of solidarity - even though she scoffed at the idea of clocks as their theme. Meanwhile, Kimberly tried to stay as far away from the other designers and their designs as possible, completely ignoring every fight, every discussion, and every original fabric, hilariously stating, "I am not using any of the textiles because... I do not like them." Yep, Laura Kathleen and Kimberly were definitely the two bolts in this group - Laura bolted into the fire and Kimberly bolted away from it.
In the end, Team Chaos put together a cohesive and visually interesting collection that was well-constructed both thematically and technically. Team Nuts and Bolts assembled a haphazard collection with a weird color palette, three bad prints, and about as much cohesion as disassembled puzzle. It was amazing how drastically polarized these two groups were both in process and product. Their videos even reflected their differences. Chaos made a video that was well thought-out in both purpose and theme - they chose isolated images of movement and disorder and then mirrored them in a kaleidoscope effect that a) mimicked the original idea of ink blots, and b) made it so that the video didn't draw focus from the clothes. It was sophisticatedly given second fiddle, as it should have been.
Meanwhile, Team Nuts and Bolts, under the helm of Joshua, had repeated images of a woman's legs getting out of cabs in fancy shoes. Poor Laura had to act it out over and over again, before realizing that hey, maybe filming a clock would be a good idea. Putting those two images together just tried to create a story out of the wrong part of their fashion show, and ultimately drew focus from the garments walking down the runway. There were legs walking everywhere, and everything on the video screen was much too literal and upfront to be a background. They'd have been better off just getting extreme close-ups of clock hands moving, which would have created an interesting tension or anxiety, even if it probably would have resulted in more "bad energy" (as per Michael Kors) considering the clothes they had made. There was no poetry in their design, only inquietude.
As for the garments themselves, the judges basically raved for all but Bryce's and loathed all but Kim's - even though the length was too short. Viktor created an interesting ink blot gown with a high slit, which honestly garnered more praise than I expected. I think I have a subtle bias against that kind of silhouette on the torso, though, because it reminds me of the late 90s, what I would wear as a sixth-grader who needed to dress up for something. (Going somewhere, obviously, Joshua.) But I did love the ink blot detail as well as the drama of the slit. Bryce's shorts-and-shirt combo wasn't nearly the weak link the judges made it out to be - the shorts were super cute, and I appreciated the construction of the two fabrics together, with the solid black line on the pockets. I also didn't gush over Olivier's masterpiece jacket as much as the judges, but I recognize totally that it was ridiculously well-made. The design just wasn't my cup of tea, from the leggings upward.
I particularly loved Anthony Ryan's design, mostly in that it combined the really interesting three-hash print with the ink blot print and threw in a little color in the form of an ascot. It was fresh and unusual, but not unwearable. But I think my favorite of Team Chaos was Anya's. She mixed the two prints together flawlessly, without putting any breaks between them, and the two bits of entropy merged harmoniously. I loved the detail on the black cap sleeves, and the square back that echoed in everyone's design - and that it was edged with a little strip of black fabric as well. I was glad Anya won, even though it seemed like she nabbed the victory because Bryce was the only one who didn't vote for himself. (Oh, Bryce. I wanted to hug you in that moment. I'd wear those shorts! Don't let the judges get you down.)
Team Nuts and Bolts was a disaster down the line, and I'm not sure what possessed Laura Kathleen to make a royal blue jumpsuit. Bert's dress was mostly terrible due to the unwieldiness of that cog print, but it really was an awkward length and tired design as well. Becky's was pretty basic, even if she did make the skirt three times, and Kimberly's suffered from simply being associated with the rest of them. Joshua's was messy looking, and chaotic in a bad way. And, as Michael Kors noted, "Not a lot of women want 'canceled' on their crotch." Y'know, "delayed" and "on time" aren't really great either, mostly in that it brings to mind the worry of wondering whether or not you may be pregnant.
But, truly, all three prints were bad. (Thanks Nina, for laying it out so bluntly!) I mean, you know it's not good when Rose Byrne says that she would "run in fear" from one of your textiles. But still, I just don't get why Team Nuts and Bolts designed off the most basic, literal concepts - numbers! Words! Symbols! I don't want to watch a runway show where I'm trying to read the model's pants because there are very clearly words on them, and yet my attention is being drawn to the very blatant video that I'm pretty sure is trying to tell me a story. But in the end neither the pants nor the video are telling me anything and I'm using a lot of brain power trying to figure out this lackluster concept that's swallowed its own tail and dead-ended. It's ironic, because there was no mystery to the straightforwardness of the design, yet it was a complete mystery as to what they were actually trying to suggest with all these choices.
After the Nuts and Bolts bloodbath, it was down to Josh and Becky as most culpable for the collection's shortcomings, and Becky got das boot. But honestly, it seemed as though another in-perspective decision were made about Josh and Becky as designers. Because Josh completely disrupted his team this week, whereas Becky simply tried to make it work and do what she was told. Joshua has just performed better than Becky at this point, and was kept around to continue to showcase his designs - er, deliver his product, as he put it. Regardless, I felt bad for Becky leaving, and hope the experience of working under Josh's thumb hasn't left her bitter. As for Josh, I'm banking on him putting a swear jar in the workroom next week. I expect great things from Bert's first uttered f-word!