Friday, October 28, 2011

"Finale part 2" - Project Runway Recap

It's finally here!  Last night's Project Runway saw the four finalists achieving their dreams and showing at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week - now in the Lincoln Center?  Silly me, I kept referring to the tents of Bryant Park all this time!  I'm so behind - not only am I not up on fashion, but I'm not even up-to-date with where Fashion Week is.  Embarrassing!

Truly, the only contestant who seemed even remotely prepared last night was Viktor, who had his collection almost completely in place, to the point where he was basically just nitpicking design details and making editing choices.  (Meanwhile, Anya was still constructing entire garments.)  The sense of incompletion must have been apparent to either Tim Gunn or PR's producers, who gave each designer $500 and one last trip to Mood to get anything they needed.  

Really, Anya was the one who benefited the most from this gesture, and I'm sure Anya haters (and Josh McKinley) are quick to point fingers at some sort of favoritism and lenience with the crisis she's had the past two weeks.   And I confess, it is odd to see a Project Runway finale wherein the Powers That Be give them more money and resources at the last minute without any 11th look strings attached. 

But even though Anya needed it most, all four designers gained from the extra shopping trip, and, in Kimberly's eyes, it ended up evening the playing field.  She set about fixing her bubble skirt - by doing it in black instead of hot pink, and trying to tie up all the loose ends on her garments.  Viktor wanted a cleaner look on his ethereal gown, and chose to construct something entirely new with a sheer animal print.  Josh McKinley ran around like a chicken with his head cut off, trying to do too many things at once - including a redo of his catsuit.  After making a pair of lace-up neon green shorts (well, sure) Josh broke down and cried from exhaustion, and Anya was there to both comfort him and identify with him.  Because homegirl had entire new garments to make - but this time she was relying on instinct, and had some divine black and white patterns picked out... if only she had time to construct!

Indeed, Anya was in a pickle this week, and once she got over her identity crisis, she seemed to embrace two ideologies: she was doing everything she could to get her shit together, but she was also preparing herself for the shoe to drop, because she was having to get her shit together at the eleventh hour.  How heartbreaking was that speech to Tim?  It ain't over til it's over, Anya!  Drape zebra prints like the wind; you can do this!  Whip out that crazy magic!

Time marched on, though, dragging all four contestants along, and before they knew it, it was time to head to the tents of Bryant Park Lincoln Center!  Cue my favorite moments in every Project Runway finale: that moment at 5:00 in the morning, when the designers have done everything they could, collections completed, with the calm before the insanity that is backstage at a runway show.  They're just so precious, walking together in the dark streets of New York City, all bouncy and grinning and disbelieving!  And it's here where I usually get struck with a sense of what Kimberly voiced later in the finale: they're all winners.  They all made it this far, they all get to show off their creativity at Fashion Week - what more can you want?  Their dream is rarely winning Project Runway, it's to show at Fashion Week; and all four designers accomplished their dreams last night.  Group hug!

But, someone still has to win, so let's talk about the collections, shall we?  I don't know if I could pick a favorite, personally.  There were a lot of things I liked about each one, and it seemed as well that the judges didn't have a clear favorite or frontrunner, either.


It seemed like Viktor would be the clear frontrunner, just based on his construction skills, and the fact that he had a complete collection before anyone else did.  His inspiration was marrying Mexico and New York City - the beach girl, and the city girl.  I'm not sure that synthesis was strong in all pieces; Heidi pointed out it looked like two collections: the sheer black pieces, and the pieces that used Viktor's own designed fabric.  In general, I'd agree.  The only outfit that seemed to synthesize both ideas was the one that had the sheer top with the mirrors, matched with the pants in that print.  Nina Garcia hit the nail on the head when she said that using the print and chiffon together seemed like a missed opportunity.  Maybe Viktor could have had the first three more city girl, the next four the synthesis, and the last three more beach girl, like an evolution.

It's undeniable that Viktor had some amazing individual pieces, though.  That white leather jacket continued to impress, and stood out even more paired with simple black leggings and a black top.  The blue mini-dress was one of my favorites, and Nina and Co. loved the other little dress, with the severe sleeves.  There honestly was a bit too much black for my taste (why is it designers always seem to rely on this for their collections?) but it didn't feel drab - just dark, with all the leather and the sheer.  The judges didn't love the sheer, though, and it seemed like Viktor came up short in terms of concept and cohesion, no matter his stellar construction.


Sometimes I actually think Kimberly's collection was my favorite.  Everything was wearable, but still upscale and interesting.  The color palette gelled much better than it did before, but still had variety to it.  It was definitely urbanwear, but it wasn't inaccessible - it took basic ideas and made them interesting.  Indeed, Kimberly described it as urban meets fashion-forward glamor, and I think she made that work.  The judges commended her on the fact that she listened to their critique and channeled it correctly, which is something I've loved about Kimberly all along.  Kimberly can course-correct without self-destructing!

My favorite piece was the all-ivory piece (worn by ANTM's Teyona - did anyone else notice?) and I agree with Heidi that I would have loved to see a bit more of that aesthetic in the collection as a whole.  I love the idea that Kimberly can merge urban girl and working girl, with her chic and polished secretary-esque looks, and I wanted to see a bit more of that, truthfully.  Also, some of the pieces were perhaps too quiet in their presentation - Michael Kors flirted with this idea by saying they were great clothes, but maybe not a great collection.  I don't know if I necessarily agree with that, because I quite like the collection as a whole, but certain pieces it took me a few moments to really appreciate the design work.  Nothing took my breath away when it rounded the corner, but a lot of the pieces I really liked once I took a closer look at them.


On an intellectual level, I can really appreciate Joshua's collection.  I think he managed to synthesize his two ideas more convincingly than Viktor and Kimberly - his tailoring meets draping effect really worked, and came together beautifully.  And some of the quieter pieces, I would definitely wear!  The little black dresses and the tank tops, and the skirt he paired with the neoprene top?  I dig!  Even disregarding the difference in our tastes, it was clear that Joshua put forth a show that was signature to him without alienating his audience.  While I'm not sure if I agree with Michael Kors that he made neoprene and plastic desirable to all women, I do think he used them tastefully and interestingly.  And Nina was right - those neon green corset shorts actually did photograph well!  Consider me impressed with the editorial level that Josh pulled off.

But I didn't love that fabric he chose (you know the one) - I just don't really grasp how the fleur-de-lys is a design symbol you want to use, except on the bedazzled t-shirts with Paris cityscapes in sepia that they sell for middle-aged women.  (Ouch.)  But his styling was flawless and uniform, and really supported his clothes.  In the end, Josh made good decisions without sacrificing his identity, and I can get behind that.


Anya really pulled her shit together, didn't she?  Honestly, I know that there were a lot of v-necks and no sleeves, but I really did like almost every piece she sent down that runway.  And the Caribbean thing isn't really my style!  (Look to Viktor or Kimberly for design aesthetic more up my alley.)  The prints!  The colors!  The movement!  It was all very appealing.  And while some were simply a flowy dress with a deep V, others were actually constructed interestingly, especially for a fabric that doesn't hold a shape.  

The judges seemed to congratulate Anya most on a) simply getting her shit together, and b) having a marketable brand.  Queen of the "Make it Work" moment, she managed to design with both instinct and precision, and came out with a collection that had a cool, cohesive vibe from start to finish.  But is that a bad thing?  Is that a result of Anya being unable to do anything else other than the Caribbean Cool Girl because of lack of sewing experience?  It's a tough call.  And the judges warned against that - Michael Kors said it would have been nice to see a variety, and Nina Garcia wanted it to reach a broader market in terms of retail.  But it was still clear branding that had potential for a serious business, and in the end, Nina even said she was proud of Anya for doing clothes that reflected her own aesthetic.  

All of Anya's strengths can also somehow be subverted into criticism, so in the end, I guess you either like her or you don't.  I like her.  I like her clothes, I liked her collection, I like her as a person.

Of course, this works out well for my state of mind post-finale, because the winner turned out to be Anya herself!  Were you shocked?  I was, a little!  I thought that between Josh and Anya, it would be Josh, but in the end, Anya's raw talent and branding got her through, no matter her sewing skills.

I loved to see the other contestants be so gracious about their runner-up positions.  Kimberly graciously said she already felt like a winner, and Viktor continued his streak of weirdly extended metaphors by saying winning would only be the cherry on top of a sundae he'd already gotten to eat.  Or something.  (I can't judge, though.  I'm the Queen of the Mixed Extended Metaphor, and we all know this.  Sigh!)  And they all declared themselves proud of each other, and held hands.  Aww!

So, another season of Project Runway is behind us, and overall I'd say it was a good one!  I'd like to look back at this season and not remember it as fraught with drama surrounding Anya's sewing skills and Josh's temper problems - and I don't think I'll have trouble doing so.  There were good contestants, from Olivier's bitchy mumbling to Bert's transition from grumpy outcast to beloved workroom dad figure.  I still wish my Double Named Southern Charm Wonder Twins, Laura Kathleen and Anthony Ryan, had made it further, but honestly this Final Four deserved to be there.  And if you want to see the other decoy collections, check out Tom and Lorenzo's full coverage:
This wraps up the Project Runway write-ups here at SHE BLOGGO, and I only let two episodes pass me by!  (Sorry, Olivier and Laura Kathleen - I didn't give you a proper sendoff.)  Any suggestions on what to blog next?  I might do another reality show, or maybe delve back into scripted TV... In the meantime, tell me: did you think Anya deserved the win?  Whose collection was your favorite?  And, as always, thank you for reading!

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Finale pt. 1" - Project Runway recap

Project Runway friends!  I missed last week's episode, but I'm back for the two-part finale, rarin' to go!  Of course, in Project Runway tradition, "Finale pt. 1" is also known as "The Tim Gunn Home Visit Variety Hour," but I must say, this season's visits weren't nearly as lively as some in the past.  Remember when Tim rode a two-seated bicycle with Leanne?  Or when Laura Bennett's kids showed him turtle poop?  Or when he got to see the inside of Chris March's friend's apartment, decked floor-to-ceiling in Rococo-inspired extravagance?  Ah, the good old days.

It's not that Tim's visits were boring or underwhelming, but that they presented a somewhat tragic common thread that stitches through each of the final designers' lives: the loss of loved ones.  Anya and Viktor have both experienced the premature death of a brother, and Josh and Kimberly have both lost their moms.  And all four of them talked very specifically about designing for that purpose - to make their moms proud, or fulfill the dreams that their brothers never will.  Goodness!  Bring back the turtle poop; I want to stop crying!

It was all very touching, though, and it made it very easy to want to see all these kids go to Fashion Week.  Luckily (spoiler alert!) - that turned out to be an option!  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  

The remaining four designers gathered on the runway, presumably as Laura Kathleen was still sniffling in the wings, and were greeted with Heidi Klum's vaguely terrifying Joker smile, as she sent them home for five weeks.  They had $9000 to create 10 pieces in that time, and were required to come back and show three of their looks to the judges to determine which three designers would go to (Mercedes Benz) Fashion Week.  (On an aside, does anyone miss when it used to be Olympus Fashion Week?  I get that sponsors change from cameras to cars, but damn if "Olympus" didn't make it sound like some sort of apotheosis takes place under that tent.)

So, Kimberly went home to Maryland, Anya back to Trinidad, and Viktor and Josh trekked the harrowing journey on the subway back to... Manhattan and Queens, respectively.  Is there any argument against wanting to go home with Anya, though?  Josh and Viktor may live in the Big City, but their workspaces were tiny.  Meanwhile, Anya's cruising around on a boat with some seriously beautiful blue ocean beneath her.  One ticket to Trinidad, please!

Tim visited Kimberly first, who had a substantial collection assembled by the time he arrived.  Her inspiration was very specific, in the synthesis of "old Brooklyn" and "new Brooklyn," and what that means for a woman from Brooklyn, much like Kimberly herself.  It was nice to see Kimberly have such a strong point of view, because it seemed like she was somewhat lacking in that area during the competition.  All I could ever say about Kimberly's aesthetic was that she played with structure and could make a mean pair of pants, and I was worried that her final collection could be too one-note or even commercial.  But she shook it up!

I must say, though, I am not sold on the color palette - which Nina Garcia apparently had similar reservations about.  But, I don't think Nina was bored, which Tim Gunn warned against in his home visit: he encouraged Kim to take some risks, and she definitely did.  I'm interested to see the rest of Kimberly's looks, and I hope she casts some models with more flavor than the ones she currently has.  While I think the pieces would be marketable to all women, the collection might play better if there were a variety of skin tones wearing the clothes.  The three models last night were all fairly generic-looking white ladies, and to me, it did a disservice to the garments.  

In Maryland, we got to meet Kimberly's support system - her sister and two best friends, who have been there for Kimberly in the wake of her mother's death and through the pursuit of her dreams.  It was very touching to see Kimberly cite her mother as actual design inspiration, and not just emotional inspiration - it reminded me of when she designed the 70s secretary outfit because of her mom, a few episodes back.  Throw in some vintage pictures of her mom effortlessly rocking some 70s style, and you've got me reaching for the Kleenex.  

To Trinidad!  Tim Gunn looked wary walking down that little gangplank, and confessed to Anya that he almost thought about dressing casually for Trinidad.  Giggle!  Of course, I imagined something like what Merlin wore on vacation in the cartoon The Sword in the Stone, with a loud Hawaiian shirt and little shorts - but I doubt Tim's islandwear would be so gaudy.  He'd probably still find a way to work in a pocket square, and I'd love him for it.  

Regardless, Tim was suited up, and got a mini-tour on a boat, with Anya as a guide.  But then she took him by her workspace, where all she could show him was... fabric.  Ack!  Did anyone's heart immediately sink when they saw this?  I was instantly nervous for Anya.  There's a very specific attention paid to her by the fans and other designers, I think, owing to the fact that she's done so well with so little experience.  We all expected the shoe to drop at some point, and yet, she skated through the competition fairly easily - even when the going got tough.  

Honestly, I'm a bit exhausted by the controversy surrounding Anya's place on the show, especially after it's ramped up a bit thanks to the competition's escalation, as well as those damn "After the Runway" specials they're airing after every episode.  I get that Anya's been designing for four months, and Josh paid an arm and a leg for schooling!  I get that she hasn't made a sleeve!  I get that the judges may treat her differently than the others, based on her inexperience!  But you know what?  She's a damn good designer, and I want to see her collection.  To me, that's the end-all, be-all.

But of course, Anya barely had her fabric assembled at Tim's visit, and bemoaned that she just couldn't draw any new shapes.  SOS!  Honestly, while I think that her lack of experience probably didn't help this situation, I don't think it really contributed to the issue - she just began to overthink things, which happens to all creative people at certain points.  Tim advised her to just make, and work with whatever came out of that process.  Luckily, Anya is the resident "make it work" poster child this season, and this episode was just a series of "make it work" moments for her, from start to finish.

After her critique, Anya introduced Tim to her brothers, and spoke about how they lost another brother when he was 18, and how it affected them.  All three siblings cited it bringing them closer, and Anya very poignantly pointed out that she felt compelled to live out her dreams in respect for the fact that her brother would never have that privilege.  Another tissue moment!  It was also terribly sweet to see her one brother say that it's been rewarding to witness the shift in people's reactions to his one-time beauty queen sister: it's gone from "she's so beautiful" to "she's so talented," and my feminism-loving heart swelled instantly at that thought.

After his island sojourn, Tim returned to NYC, first to visit Viktor.  Turns out Viktor's inspiration comes directly from the death of his brother - specifically from pictures Viktor took when he returned to Mexico after his brother died.  Oh, my heart!  With the words "urban coast" guiding him, Viktor put together a collection that was the most complete of any of them, by far.  Tim loved everything except the gown, which could end up being the "flat note in a WOW collection."  "Let your viscera dictate," he advised Viktor, and of course, I laughed, because I pictured a small intestine telling Viktor where to put pleats.  

In New York, we got to meet Viktor's boyfriend David, which was darling.  I was wondering if we were going to go the whole episode without meeting any significant others!  This foursome seems to be so particularly tireless and hardy sometimes, and honestly it showed in their home lives.  There wasn't a lot of frivolity!  (Turtle poop, where you at?!)  But it was sweet to see David so proud of Viktor - I hope I see that boy's face in the crowd at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week!

Finally, Tim shuttled over to Queens, to meet Joshua.  First, he had lunch with Joshua and his sister, where they talked about Joshua's secret past as a track-and-field star.  Turns out he gave up several scholarships to be able to pursue his dream of design and fashion.  (Who else giggled at Josh's hair in those old photos?  Surely it couldn't have been just me!)

Josh's collection wasn't quite to the place he wanted, but he at least had some garments constructed.  The hiccup, though, was that Tim disliked about 80% of his fabric choices - and I daresay, I agree.  As it sometimes goes with Josh, it bordered on gimmicky and cheap-looking, and Tim even threw in the random adjective "sherberty."  (Josh does love a good sherbert, though, and in a strictly culinary setting, I'd have to agree.)  But after Tim's critique, Joshua only had 2 pieces left that didn't need overhauling.  Yikes!

I must say, I have mixed feelings about Josh's aesthetic and the criticism he receives for it.  It's an interesting question to ponder, because his time on Project Runway has largely been defined by the need for him to examine his natural instincts of bedazzling everything, and scaling them back.  I don't want to say that Josh's designs aren't him, because they clearly are, but at the same time, if you left Josh alone in a room, he'd come out, unedited, with some crazy-ass stuff.  Which is his own aesthetic!  So by self-editing so much, is he sacrificing his love of bright and crazy, or is he just refining it to be a more marketable designer?  It's an interesting question in self-expression and design identity, and as much as I don't necessarily share Josh's love for glam and sparkle, I don't want to see him lose his point of view as a designer.

When the five weeks was up, the four contestants returned to New York, to their swanky penthouse, and geared up for polishing their three looks for mini-runway.  They all got another round with Tim, and each of them except Viktor had their work cut out for them.  Josh's three looked a bit "schizo," Kimberly needed to center herself, and Anya was told it seemed she'd retreated into her comfort zone.  Oh.  How do you fix that?!  Poor Anya.  It was heartbreaking to see her finally crying, and realizing how much she wanted this - only to psych herself out because of it.  Honey, don't worry about what Trinidad will think of you, just be yourself and make the clothes you're good at making!  

In the end, each collection had high points, but still needed work.  The judges actually derided the styling on each of them, except Joshua, who hit the right notes in that department.  Kimberly's styline was overworked, Anya's wasn't doing her any favors (especially those bad newscaster shoes!), and Viktor didn't pair the right pieces together for maximum effect.  

It was clear, though, that the boys were going to Fashion Week.  Viktor made some great individual pieces, and Heidi even wanted to try on his white jacket.  If anything, Viktor overdesigned a little bit, with the leather zipper skirt, and details on the jacket (Heidi would have liked smaller baubles).  But his aesthetic was there, it was strong, and the judges liked the pieces.

As for Josh, Nina was impressed with his ability to pull it together cohesively while still keeping that fresh and crazy Joshua McKinley style.  Sure, Michael Kors hated the back of his half-dress-half-catsuit, but on the whole, it was clear he had a ticket to the tents as well.

The girls?  The girls were definitely the ones in trouble.  It was interesting, parsing the judges' arguments, and in doing so, I do actually think they made the right decision, in the end.  They liked the ideas behind both Kimberly and Anya's collections, but took issue with some of the execution.  They loathed the styling for both, and weren't behind two of the three looks.  Nina disliked the color palette on Kimberly's, Heidi did not like the "bubble butt" skirt, and all three expressed disappointment at Anya's confusion in terms of her point of view.  But these hiccups are things that the ladies can change, especially considering their impressive track records in editing and redirection, and it was clear the judges still wanted to see what both collections could be after the criticism.  I was right there with them!  I still wanted to see what Anya and Kimberly could pull together, even after the issues.

So it turned out that this challenge was like a little trial run for their work, wherein they were able to receive helpful advice for editing.  Especially because all four of them are going to Fashion Week!  Wee!  I love that Project Runway is so stringent about some rules - Anya's lost money, using outside help, gluing models into their garments - but when it comes to determining the designers to show collections, they easily and willingly bend tradition.  This is not the first time that four designers have competed, and it will not be the last.  From a logical standpoint, all four designers made something unique and interesting, and if the judges want to see all four show, then so be it!  And, I feel compelled to point out to Joshua in particular (who thought that neither Kim nor Anya should show) that it's not like these issues don't carry over!  Next week does not start from scratch; Kim still has to deal with her color palette, and Anya still has to figure out how to "untorture" her aesthetic.  But they at least have the chance to, and if they can pull it off, doesn't that say something about their abilities?

Whatever.  I, for one, am happy that all four are attending, especially after hearing so much about their personal tragedies and how they channel that into inspiration.  All four collections piqued my interest, and no matter how many times Josh or Viktor sneer about how Anya can't make a sleeve, I'll still want to see what she can put on the runway.  So, next week!  We'll see who's crowned the winner, and if these designers can course-correct their errant choices for complete, cohesive, and interesting collections!

Friday, October 7, 2011

"This is for the Birds" - Project Runway Recap

How is it there are only six designers left?  It seems like just yesterday I was trying to remember who the hell was who, and scoffed at people like Bert and Anya making it past the first few challenges.  But here we are!  It really is down to the wire, and this week, there were three different birds sitting on it: an Amazonian Parrot, a Cockatoo, and a Raven.  The challenge: design a look inspired by one of these three birds.

At first, the contestants thought they were working in teams selected by chance: Laura Kathleen and Anya, Viktor and Kimberly, and Bert and Joshua.  At first they bemoaned another team challenge, but all six of them were content with their pairings - even Bert and Josh, erstwhile antagonists, were okay with the outcome!  But then - psyche!  Turns out the pairs were going head-to-head instead.  Oh.  How sad was it to see Laura and Anya's elation drop quickly into disappointment?  Honestly, this was one challenge that I would have loved to see in partnerships, simply because the pairings were so interesting.

Alas, it was not to be, and so each duo set up about inspecting their assigned bird for any signs of artistic inspiration.  The goal: a high fashion look, which, if selected by the judges, would be the focus of an "advertorial" (if there is such a thing; I'm dubious) in Marie Claire - and the winning designer would receive $20,000.

To me, it was kind of an odd challenge.  It was plainly obvious that the producers were trying to put as much pressure as possible on the contestants at this point in the competition.  Another team challenge, seemingly?  Stressful!  Just kidding, it's a head-to-head competition... even more stressful!  Then, they raise the stakes by tacking a hefty cash sum onto the prize package, and before we knew it, all the designers were hawk-eyeing each other in the workroom.  If that weren't enough, halfway through, Tim Gunn told them they had to design a second high fashion look inspired by the same bird (what gives?) and then three hours before it was all over he told them that no, never mind, they'd only send one look down the runway.

What gives, Project Runway producers?  I felt emotionally exhausted at the end of this episode, and I didn't even make a garment!  In fact, I don't even think I got up off the couch at any point, even during the commercials.  This should tell you something!  I mean, other than the fact that I'm lazy.

Poor Kimberly seemed to be struggling the most during the challenge, as she tried to break out of her comfort zone but couldn't manage the chutzpah to make it happen.  I felt badly for her, and it honestly seemed like one of the worst funks I've seen a designer slip into, barring actual illness.  "It's just one of those days," she told Tim, and it really was.  Her fabric had stains on it, she somehow managed to get hot glue on it too, and she sewed through her finger.  Between her listless demeanor, persistent bad luck, and the talking heads where she spoke about losing her mother, stepfather, and brother... I was seriously worried for Kimberly's livelihood last night (both in the show, as well as her emotional state!).  

Luckily, Tim Gunn was there to support her, and I'm not gonna lie, I teared up when he gave her a hug and called himself her biggest cheerleader.  How wonderful is that man?  I love that Project Runway is a show that acknowledges how taxing it is, creatively, physically, and emotionally, and I love that Tim Gunn is there simply to support them through the process.  And really, let's face facts; I just love Tim Gunn, full-stop.

Of course, Viktor was side-eyeing Kimberly all episode, keeping track of his competitor and her seemingly inevitable spiral into self-destruction - even claiming that she nicked some of his ideas.  To be fair, all of the designers kept careful watch on their competition, and through the comparisons, some interesting discussions emerge, about Kimberly and Anya in particular. 

For once, the Bert-Joshua interaction wasn't the most attention-worthy part of the episode; it was obvious from the start that these two have polar opposite aesthetics with comparable skill level and therefore it was simply up to the judges' taste.  With Viktor and Kimberly, and Laura and Anya, though, there's an acknowledged divide in construction ability.  Kimberly even stated herself, that Viktor had the upper hand in terms of constructing garments.  And, of course, Laura and Anya have a more exaggerated version of the same thing: Laura's been sewing since she was eight, whereas I have food in my pantry that's older than Anya's sewing experience.

And, according, to Joshua and Viktor, this means that Anya and Kimberly shouldn't be rewarded for their inexperience - not when Josh paid $100,000 for an education and Viktor puts in so much effort on the construction of one garment while Kimberly scraps her original and makes a new one in three hours.  He even stated: "This is a sewing competition," and Josh basically echoed the same sentiment when he was repulsed by Anya's lack of consideration for how the model would get in and out of her garment.

This wouldn't be an issue, except Anya and Kimberly won their matchups, and the truth comes out: this is not a sewing competition.  Michael Kors reminded us: Project Runway is about design, and while, sure, you can't send clothes down the runway with loose threads and uneven hems and hot glue everywhere, the merit of the design almost always takes precedence over the construction skills that went into it.  And at the end of the day, Anya had a better design than Laura's, even though she had to sew her model into it.  And Kimberly had a better design than Viktor, even though she made it in three hours.

It's a tough pill to swallow, if you're not Kimberly or Anya, and I'm bracing myself for the conflict to escalate between now and Fashion Week.  But from a fan perspective, I see it similarly as the judges.  Both Kimbo and Anya tried to do something different, and successfully put well-designed and interesting garments down the runway.  As contestants and designers, they made good choices.  And both Laura and Viktor's outfits, no matter how impeccably constructed, had feathers on them, and were deemed too literally interpreted.  The judges gave them both credit, though - Viktor for his "fascinating, unique, and romantic" feather technique, and Laura Kathleen for stepping out of her comfort zone to try something new.

As for the Bert v. Josh showdown (the tamest we've seen!), the judges almost loved both outfits entirely.  Bert's fell short for the lack of exuberance and being generally uninspired by his bird, and Michael Kors hated the flower detail on Joshua's joyful number, calling it the "drunk-in-the-Caribbean party corsage."  But in the end, the overall refreshing tone of Josh's dress beat out Bert's well-made but uninspiring piece.

So, Anya nabbed the win for this one, and presumably they figured out a way to get her model in the dress before they shot the "advertorial."  That $20,000 could probably have bought a well-placed zipper or something, right?  Josh, however, was not happy about this decision, and his declaration that Anya was "playing [the game] well" made me think that Josh has his suspicions about Anya and some sort of Trinidadian beauty queen witchcraft.  Perhaps the secret is in a Caribbean party corsage?  Only a drunk trip to Trinidad and Tobago can tell us.

Frankly, though, I appreciate both Anya and Kimberly in particular for their ability to make it work.  How many episodes have these ladies appeared to have been in trouble, with either a workroom calamity or a bad critique from Tim Gunn - only to pull their design together and put something good on the runway?  Not only do these two have an eye for editing, but they also can clearly, if you pardon the phrase, fix their shit.  That's impressive to me, and I'm behind both of them going to Fashion Week, for sure.

Who isn't going to Fashion Week, though, is dear old Bert, who has been in a revolving door in and out of my heart this entire competition.  I am sad to see him go, though, just because it's been rewarding to see him finally fit in with the other designers.  He and Josh went from bitching at each other to acting like the married couple of the workroom.  (Josh cooed, "Beeeeeert, see you at home tonight!" and Bert just replied, "Yes, dear."  Adorable!)  I also love his and Laura Kathleen's awkwardly amiable father-daughter dynamic, and it hurt my heart a little bit to see them both in the Bottom 2.  But even Bert confirmed that the judges made the right decision, and it was thus that the self-described 102-year-old made a classy exit - leaving behind good friendships with the other designers, finally.  It felt like closure!

So, next week is the last challenge, where the Final 3 are chosen and the contestants can start to smell the tents at Fashion Week!  Right now it's looking to me like a shoo-in for Viktor and Anya, with the third slot up for grabs between Kimberly and Joshua - if they have more faith in Joshua editing himself, or Kimberly putting forth some showstoppers.  Unfortunately, it seems that unless Laura Kathleen pulls something amazing (and I hope she does, frankly), she's going to be sitting this one out.  How about you guys?  Who do you want to see a collection from?  Who do you think will break down next week?  Only time will tell...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The RBI Report: "Asian F"

Before "Asian F" even hit our TV screens, it was already being proclaimed as one of the best episodes Glee has ever done.  So, did it hit that mark, or miss it completely?

"Asian F," written by Ian Brennan, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejón

"Asian F" saw several characters rotate through to the forefront that don't normally get the spotlight: mainly Mercedes Jones, Mike Chang, and to lesser degrees, Emma Pillsbury and Brittany Pierce.  On paper, this sounds like a certifiable way to win me over!  I love all four characters dearly and the lack of screentime for Mercedes and Mike in particular has been both befuddling and aggravating, considering the talent levels of the actors portraying them.

When it's all said and done, though, this episode belonged to Mike Chang.  Mike got an A- on his chemistry test, which is, of course, an "Asian F," and his overbearing and academically-oriented father insisted that he quit glee club to focus on his studies.  Firstly, this worked because we've never seen Mike have to choose between his passion and what he "should" do; whereas most of the other characters have confronted it at least once.  With Mike, this felt fresh, and it fleshed him out in a realistic way that simultaneously allowed him to shine.

Secondly, we got to see Mike's relationship with his parents, which was, of course, designed somewhat around Asian stereotypes - his father finds little value in the arts and has high expectations of him.  But finally, Glee let the storyline transcend the stereotype, and presented a situation where Mike's mother stepped in and supported his dream.  If this weren't a fantastic choice enough, we were also treated to the notion that Mrs. Chang gave up her own dream once upon a time - and it was the same dream as Mike's.  Cue heartwrenchingly sweet mother-son dance scene, and me needing a box of tissues.

In the end, Mike made a choice, to try out for Riff and show off his singing skills as well as his dancing skills, and embraced his future as an artist instead of a lawyer or doctor.  Hugs all around!  Mike's participation in "Asian F" was excellent.

Unfortunately, Mercedes' storyline wasn't nearly so well-handled.  There are several problems working against the writers' decisions in this arena, and it's a bummer because they really came close to hitting the right notes and just missed them, and bringing Mercedes into the spotlight therefore just results in clunky writing and double standards.

Mercedes' participation in "Asian F" was largely defined by her inferiority complex towards Rachel Berry, who, rather unfairly, hardly had any part in the episode.  This is the first problem, which of course spawns several other little problems.  If you're going to claim that Mercedes is in Rachel's shadow, then actually place her in her shadow.  I'm not buying that it's the Rachel Berry Show when Rachel's hardly in the episode in any real way, and when she is, she keeps trying to hug Mercedes.  (How dare she!)

Secondly, characters with inferiority complexes are tricky, and they tend to be much more likeable when they silently bear that burden and thus shift into tragic territory.  Because when they get petty about feeling inferior, they lose likeability.  No matter how much Mercedes can belt against Rachel, if she's petty about the situation, I'm less likely to be on her side.  In the case of Mike, his storyline was about his identity, which rings genuine.  But Mercedes' was about ambition and attention, and those are double-edged blades.

The third issue with this is the nagging thought that no matter how much Mercedes complains about being second to Rachel, I will always immediately think that it's the writers who made it that way.  Mercedes hasn't had a decent storyline handled even remotely well, and her character has been reduced to sassy black girl stereotypes, complete with a catchphrase.  The only reason that Mercedes has ever been in Rachel's shadow is because the writers neglect her.  So when they try and play up Mercedes' inferiority to Rachel, I can't help but think: Well, you wrote it that way.  And truthfully, they've also unwritten it by making the girls friends, and it's annoying to see them "diva-off" and disintegrate their own friendship.

The choice to make Mercedes and Rachel go diva over Maria irks me as well because we had three competition-based conflicts in "Asian F" - one between Kurt and Blaine for Tony, one between Kurt and Brittany for Senior Class President, and one between Mercedes and Rachel for Maria.  Which one resulted in the most conflict?  The one with the two diva girls.  Kurt and Blaine's conflict fizzled out completely as Kurt supported Blaine for the role, and Kurt and Brittany's competition played out in isolated instances without any bitchy direct conflict.  Yet, Rachel and Mercedes were burdened with some serious antagonism and pride issues, and the latent sexism and also the fact that we've seen this before made me tired of it before it even began.

Finally, the last issue I take with Mercedes' storyline is that it was it was motivated by her boyfriend, Shane.  Yes, I like that he wants her to be the best and supports her, and blah blah blah.  But here's the thing.  We barely know this guy.  It'd be one thing if it were Finn supporting Rachel or Kurt supporting Blaine, or Tina supporting Mike (and all three were represented in the episode) because we know enough about these relationships, and for the most part they're composed of main characters in equal part.  But Shane?  Shane's a new guy, and a new supporting role.  For New Guy to stroll in and say, "Baby, she's your arch-nemesis; you should stand up for yourself," and for Mercedes to therefore switch gears from "It's not like that," to "Hell yes I think I will!" is, well... it doesn't make me love New Guy.  It weakens Mercedes' decision entirely, because New Guy didn't provide encouragement so much as the reason for her storyline.  And this does nothing to convince me that this is an effective attempt to give Mercedes the spotlight in a thematic and character-driven way.

Okay, now that it's clear how I feel about the choices for Mercedes in this episode, I will say that there were some great moments with her arc, in execution.  I absolutely loved that Mercedes now has a running thematic connection to Dreamgirls in the way that Kurt does to Gypsy and Rachel does to Funny Girl.  "It's All Over," as a sequence, was fantastic.  Perhaps if Mercedes' arc was more in keeping with this scene, it would have played better - perhaps if she was less concerned with Rachel specifically, and more so her place in glee club as a whole, this would have worked better.  Because I loved seeing all the Glee gang interact with Mercedes in "It's All Over," and it was a great musical-style cutaway to a fantasy sequence.  Wonderful!

In the end, it was ironic that Mercedes felt she was second to Rachel Berry, because the writers wrote her exactly like they wrote the original, pre-development Rachel Berry.  She bitched about not getting what she wanted, and cut off her nose to spite her face, refusing to share a role and walking off the club to join Shelby's group.  While I can't say I'm not interested to see what this will bring about, I wish the writers had chosen a better way for Mercedes to get to this point.  

"Asian F" also gave us a continuation on Brittany and Kurt's campaigns for Senior Class President.  Brittany, with Santana's backup, is putting forth a pro-lady campaign, completely with a seriously kickass group number to Beyoncé's "Run The World (Girls)."  Sure, it didn't really fit in this episode, but who's going to complain about Heather Morris leading a giant troupe of dancing women in an expression of female empowerment?  Not this moi, that's for sure.

In that vein, though, I do think that this episode had a bit too much on its plate.  The conflict derived from the West Side Story auditions, as well as the rather intricate fallout with Finn, Kurt, and Rachel, really could have taken up the entire hour.  As it was, Rachel didn't get much investment in the episode, other than to be desperate about accomplishing something her Senior Year, acting as both an antagonist in Mercedes' and then Kurt's storylines.  It's something of a shame, especially considering that Rachel specifically cited being affected by Brittany's "Run The World" performance, and I felt such a pang of sympathy for her when she said she was inspired by it that it would have been nice for that to come into play at some point in a plot, either to mend bridges with Mercedes, or build one with Brittany.

Not only that, but the Will/Emma storyline in this was seriously out of place.  It's hard to deny this storyline its due, mostly because of Jayma Mays' stellar performance in it, but for that reason I also think it could have fit better in another episode, given a little more room to breathe.  Will invited Emma's parents over to meet him, and it turns out they are Ginger Supremacists (WTF?) who nitpick every little thing (Emma included) and flare up Emma's OCD.  I'm a little on the fence about this one, largely because of the redheaded racism (seriously, WTF?) and also the backtracking over Emma's original early experience with OCD, which was that she fell in a vat of unpasteurized cow's milk (as stated in "Showmance.")

But, Jayma Mays seriously rocked out this storyline, playing just the right amount of endearing avoidance (telling Will her parents are dead, and her phone call was to her ghost parents; trying to use a burst ovarian cyst as an excuse to send her parents away - "Works every time!") to pave the way for a real and true moment of her trying to cope with her stresses.  The line about God hearing her better on her knees (something about the acoustics of the linoleum) just killed me.  Even if it felt jarring with the rest of the episode, the dialogue in Emma's storyline was superb - by far the best in an hour that teetered dangerously on verbally heavy-handed.

In the end, the West Side Story audition arc came to a close, with Santana winning the role of Anita, Blaine getting Tony, Rachel defaulting to Maria, and Mike winning the part of Riff.  Bring on the next part of the process!  Because, really, the conceit that they're putting on a school musical as a multi-episode arc is a great way to keep characters involved in the same thing, with plenty of opportunity for conflict along the way.  Smart move, writers!  I'm game!  (Even though West Side Story is really not one of my more favorite shows.  But I'll live.)

Final note: Alfonso Gomez-Rejón continues to impress me with some solid creative directing.  He last knocked my socks off for the shot direction in "Born This Way," and "Asian F" was actually a little gem in cinematography and editing.  The scenes with Mike interacting with spectral versions of his father and Tina were ridiculously well done, and the transition to "It's All Over" was divine.  Not only that, but the "Maria-Off" was sharply assembled, and I must say - this man knows how to construct a sequence.  Hats off!

On the whole, "Asian F" wasn't the best episode Glee's done, being somewhat overstuffed and hallmarked by some confusing character choices, but at the same time it provided meaningful moments and its fair share of great character work as well.

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A+
Dance Numbers: A+
Dialogue: C
Plot: B
Characterization: B
Episode MVP: Mike Chang.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Sew 70s" - Project Runway Recap

Project Runway friends!  Firstly, I must apologize for the lack of recap last week - real life overwhelmed me and I couldn’t find a spare minute to look down my nose at the gaggle of 70s-era atrocities that paraded down that runway.  But it seems I have a second chance, because this week’s challenge was to take a 70s look and update it, making it sophisticated and modern for a chance to be sold on

The designers viewed this as a second chance as well, especially Anya and Kimberly, who had received unusually cold critique for their lackluster menswear designs in the last challenge.  But it was also painfully evident throughout the entire episode that we are really getting into the competition.  Laura Kathleen decreed that all seven designers left can make good clothes - it’s just a matter of who makes good design choices with a sophisticated taste level.  Indeed, everyone seemed to be full of slightly cliché (but no less true) bon mots about the competition: Anya said there’s no room for mistakes, and Josh echoed a similar sentiment: “no excuses.”  Viktor perhaps summed it up best (and most colloquially?) with a sassy, “The game is on, bitches.”  (Did he do a neck roll?  I can’t remember.  In my mind, he did.  A neck roll and a waggling index finger.  Because in my head, Viktor is a cartoon.)

What’s funny about these four early statements is that they each turned out to hold particular ironic relevance to the person who said them.  LK talked about taste level, and come Tim’s critique, was warned that Nina Garcia thought hers was lacking.  (Please read the word “lacking” in Nina’s pointed tone of voice - you know the one.)  Anya said there was no room for mistakes, and then made the biggest mistake of all in losing her money at Mood - a Project Runway first!  Then there was Josh’s declaration about no excuses, which he must have forgotten about when he got on the runway and kind of… made excuses.  Finally, Viktor’s “game is on, bitches” attitude came along with the worry that people would get nasty - when in reality, he was the only one that played the game seriously.  He refused to help Anya, got pissy over Josh’s similarly constructed back pleat, and busted out a seriously sassy shout-out to Driving Miss Daisy

Meanwhile, Bert’s just surprised he’s still there.  And bless you, Bert; I think everyone watching is a little surprised too. 

Bert had a little advantage this challenge, though, simply in that he lived the 70s and was theoretically less likely to construct something cliché.  Whereas Viktor bemoaned that he was “never born in the 70s” and Josh lamented that he “never lived in that time.”  I don’t know what it is with these boys and their “never” statements about the 70s, but both times they made me laugh at them.  “I was never born in the 70s,” “I never lived in that time,” - both sentences are ridiculously hilarious to me because, really, who phrases them like that? 

It was obvious who didn’t have an advantage for this challenge, though, and that would be dear, sweet, mohawked Anya.  Apparently her bra strap was not the best place to keep her money, and the floors of Mood devoured the dropped envelope without a trace.  This was a Project Runway first, and the rules were quickly established that unless her competitors were feeling benevolent with their leftover money, Anya was stuck with muslin only. 

So, as a fellow competitor, do you help Anya out or leave her to her cornflakes-fabricked fate?  It’s a tough question, because, as Viktor noted, it is indeed a game (bitches).  And yet, Anya was giving away her extra fabric last week with hardly any hesitation.  The same question came up when Laura Kathleen questioned Kimberly’s “JC Penney” design choices - the girls had made a pact to tell each other when they felt one of them was going astray, but… do you really want to help out your competition?  The dilemma’s fingerprints were all over this episode: are you friends, or are you competitors?  As Laura Kathleen noted: they can’t all stay until the end.  They can’t all go to Fashion Week.  (Even though they do.  Shhhhh!)

Turns out Anthony Ryan, bless him, gave his extra eleven dollars to Anya so she could buy at least some fabric, and all the designers (except Viktor!) chipped in the scraps they weren’t using.  It felt a little bit like Anya was Tiny Tim in a soup kitchen, but even so, it warmed my heart to see the other designers be so generous.  Competition or not, I appreciate more when contestants help each other out in the pursuit of their art, instead of the prize.  (I’m the unusual reality TV viewer: bring me fuzzy moments of human interaction!  Begone, backstabbing bitchiness!)

It was clear early on that Anya was either going to be eliminated for her blunder, or work some sort of magic with her circumstances and pull out an amazing garment.  As if her measly four months of sewing experience weren’t enough to make her an underdog!  Then Tim Gunn delivered another blessing/curse combo halfway through: the designers were required to make a second one-piece garment, with a second trip to Mood, and a second budget - even if just $50.  Sure, it doubled Anya’s already-backed-up workload, but it also gave her a chance to buy more fabric.  So she safety-pinned (and hot-glued and staple-gunned) that money to her dress and bought as much with the $50 that she could manage.

As for the other contestants, they struggled conceptually with designing for the 70s without specifically looking retro or vintage.  Kimberly rather sweetly took inspiration from her mother, who was a secretary in the 70s, and Josh McKinley rather hilariously took inspiration from 70s glam disco.  Bless you, Josh.  Where’d the Village People idea go?  Actually, both Josh and Anthony Ryan’s designs bordered dangerously into 80s territory, although Bert described AR’s fabric as something he’d “go to the mall in, or bury something in the woods.”  I guess the range of Bert’s wardrobe really can span some light shopping as well as covering up a murder.

In the end, Anya did indeed rock it out, with a damn solid look for just $11, even if the top was “Dentyne gum” pink (quip courtesy of Michael Kors).  Her second design was even better, a flowing maxi-meets-jumpsuit with an understated but gorgeous pattern.  Say what you will about her sewing experience, but homegirl knows her prints and has style for days.  Heidi, Nina, and guest judge Olivia Palermo all wanted Anya’s jumpsuit, and even Michael Kors said he’d get one to match! 

At this point in the competition, it’s difficult to imagine a final 3 without Anya in it, unless of course it’s not too late for her inexperience to catch up with her.  But unless she blunders on a challenge, I think the judges would rather see what Anya would put together for a show, more than most of the other contestants.  Nina praised her for her ability to solve problems and adapt to less-than-desirable design circumstances (like losing all your money in Mood, say) - and Heidi called her style quietly showstopping.  High praise!

The other seeming shoo-in for Fashion Week is Mr. Tiger himself - Viktor, of original back pleat fame.  Viktor shared the top with Anya, with a very sharp-looking jacket and tee-shirt that felt very reminiscent of his workout wear a few challenges back.  I confess, as well-made as Viktor’s looks were, from concept to execution, I didn’t think they were terribly 70s-esque.  I imagine he wanted to do something not too on-the-nose in terms of print or color palette, but I think maybe Viktor erred too conservatively away from 70s and strayed too far from theme.

In another surprise, Bert took the third slot in the top, for a balanced duo of glam transparent pantsuit and a simple two-colored dress.  Turns out Bert’s experience of having ever been born in and/or lived in the 70s helped him out, as well as the knowledge that apparently women love to show their shoulders.  (Thanks, Michael Kors!  I hadn’t really thought about it.)

Kimberly snuck through in the one gap left for complete safety, in what is perhaps Kimbo’s true place in this competition: sneaking through.  She hasn’t gotten a lot of attention despite her impeccable construction, and I’ve been particularly impressed with her ability to reroute a potentially catastrophic design.  Both Anya and Kimberly seem blessed with the know-how to take a bad critique and thoughtfully redirect the misgivings into a well-executed design.  At this point, I’d like to see a full collection from Kimberly as well, although I fear the judges won’t be as wowed by her chic everyday looks.  Would they hold up on runway?  Who knows.  But Kimberly’s got a job making pants somewhere, so I’m not worried.

The bottom saw the fall of Anthony Ryan and Laura Kathleen, the Southern Charm Double-Named Wonder Twins who started so strongly in this competition.  It was looking less and less likely that these two would make it to Fashion Week, which is a shame because I rather like both of them.  Tonight, Anthony Ryan’s 3-piece casual look and kimono-style maxi were derided by the judges, and Nina Garcia in particular was horrified by AR’s take on the weed-smoking days of the 70s.  (Anybody else tickled by Nina’s cutaway reaction shots this week?  They seemed more pointed and hilarious than usual.  Thanks, editors!) 

According to Nina, Anthony Ryan’s look just wasn’t “luxe,” and Michael Kors thought they looked like “hippie sister wives” or “boring cult girls.”  I confess, I cracked up.  I did not crack up at Olivia Palermo’s dumbfounded question: “Why not make it a skort?”  I’m sorry, Olivia Palermo, but I just don’t get how skorts are fashion-forward.  Perhaps it’s the residual effects of my late 90s/early 00s bad fashion teen years kicked in, but skorts to me are like the sporks of the clothing world: cool in theory, but a bit tacky in practice.

Laura Kathleen fell victim to Nina’s contempt of her taste level.  It was so strange to me that Tim warned LK of this outright, that Nina specifically is not taken with Laura’s taste, which Laura, bless her, sometimes thinks is too refined.  But she tried to cater more towards Nina’s style, and still came up short, with a top and skirt that didn’t quite go.  I feel badly for Laura - there's specifically a video on Lifetime's website called "Nina Garcia hates Laura Kathleen!"  What the hell?  It doesn't help matters that every time they cut to LK this episode, she always seemed somewhat despairing.  No, it seems Miss Barbie Burner’s chances at Fashion Week are becoming, well… assy.  Sadface.

The final bottomdweller was none other than Josh McKinley, whose trips to the top and bottom happen almost as extremely and as frequently as his mood swings.  I definitely said, “Oh!” out loud when his look turned the corner, but I’m not sure it was a good thing.  Nina decreed his fabric choices “tragic,” and Michael said they went against the laws of fashion nature.  Did anyone else catch Nina’s powerfully disdainful eyeroll when discussing Josh’s outfit?  Magnificent.

In the end, Anya pulled out the win with her maxi pantsuit, and, along with Bert’s mini dress, is going to be featured on  I must say, I’d definitely buy Anya’s, but I’m not sure Bert’s would look flattering on me, even though I liked the details in the tie and the two-color blocking.  But Bert's is sold out on the website!  Go figure.  

And, poor Anthony Ryan got the axe.  I was sad to see Anthony Ryan’s star fade out when he had so much potential, and it was even sadder to see him talk about being close with the other designers, hair styled in Anya’s signature mohawk style as they hugged goodbye.  Sniff!  I’ll miss you, Anthony Ryan, and I can’t wait until I’m not scared of spoilers so I can see your runway collection.

Lastly, I do want to confess that I had a fashion epiphany this week, and that is in the fairly obvious juxtaposition of the “mini” skirt and the “maxi” dress.  I don’t know why this wasn’t plainly apparent to me in the first place, but all of a sudden the two words were used in conjunction and it was enough for me to finally realize that “mini” and “maxi” are indeed opposite types of skirts in both name and style.  Duh.  Placate me, friends - was this a first-time realization for anyone else?

Anyways, are you all as sad to see Anthony Ryan leave as I am?  Are you like Bert, and surprised he’s still here?  Would you have given Anya your money, or protected yourself?  Who do you think is destined for the Final 3?  And did you shudder as much as I did when Olivia Palermo used the phrase “I would have chose?”
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