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!

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