Saturday, October 31, 2015

Project Runway: S14 E13: "Finale Part 1"

I've long wondered about how everyone feels towards the first part of the PR finale. Getting to see Tim meet contestants parents and loved ones is always fun, and there's a practicality to meeting with Tim and getting a critique on your collection, but does it really add much to the overall proceedings of the season? In the past, there were "challenges" in this episode whereby the contestants who made it this far were asked to show a mini-collection and the person with the lowest score would go home. It added a healthy level of drama and raised the stakes of the episode. Who can forget the year Chris March made it this far, showed off a collection featuring looks made of human hair (looks that I personally found beautiful and fascinating) only to get cut and miss out on showing at NYFW? But when that element is missing, what you're left with is an episode going through the motions and a runway that's more obligatory than organic and only exists for the judges to sure up the final product to be shown at NYFW.

On the one hand this makes sense. PR has become so big and such a staple on TV as well as within the fashion scene that making sure they're not putting a total shit show down one of the biggest runways and most important fashion events of the world is only natural. Far be it for them to allow the contestants to sully their good name. And NYFW is something that's bigger and goes far beyond Project Runway itself. But on the other hand, does it make for a compelling hour of TV? Or more importantly, as is the case for this episode, a compelling two hours of TV? I didn't realize the episode was a full 30 minutes longer than usual when I went to watch it after How to Get Away With Murder went off, and when I did realize it, instead of turning it off and going to bed like I should have, I stayed up to watch it all. So you can imagine how miserable my Friday was. So that's the question I want to try to answer here: was this episode worth the 120 minutes the producers thought we needed to invest in it?

First there's the beginning which happens exactly as we all knew it would. I found it funny, and ultimately anticlimactic, the way Tim hemmed and hawed around it for so long, milking the moment for every drop of drama there was before finally announcing he was saving Edmond and he'd get to show at NYFW after all. You're not fooling anyone. And since we all knew it was coming, it struck me as a scene that we could have fast forwarded through to save a bit more time. In other words, it felt like a waste of time. Even the other designers can't bother to feign surprise over it. Tim walks in and says something about expecting to see sadder faces, and everyone's just like "Yeah right, buddy!" I do, however, think that needing to use the save here in the final episode is yet more evidence of the lack of talent for this season.

The first moment truly worth the price of admission comes on the runway as Heidi tells the contestants they're getting $9,000 and seven weeks to design their ten look collection. It's $900 a look for any math challenged people out there (I used a calculator. As I've always said, I was an English major for a reason), and suggests an ability to make really expensive looking outfits. It's here that Heidi actually turns to Ashley and tells her that they're hoping she'll consider doing a plus-size collection. Tim affirms that they'll get her the models needed for such a thing, and Ashley is all over it. OK I want to get one small quibble out of the way early here: I don't think it's "fair" to dictate to a designer what you think their final collection should be. This is about them, and their creativity, and I'd hate to hear that Ashley felt at all pressured or hemmed in by this suggestion. With that out of the way I'd like to say I loved this moment. It's not often that Project Runway actually surprises me, but at this moment, my jaw dropped, my eyes went wide, and I got all kinds of excited. Not only were we getting the plus-sized collection we all hoped for, it was being sanctioned and supported by Heidi and Tim from the outset. I can't help but to feel like this is just huge!

Ashley is the first visit on Tim's trip, and it comes five weeks into the challenge. She says something about worrying about not having much on the rack to show Tim and I panicked a bit at the thought that she hadn't done much and only had two weeks left. But in her workspace, you can see she's actually got quite a bit completed. She says she's drawn from 1950s era Mexico City for her inspiration. While I don't know what that means in a practical sense as I never really thought of 1950s Mexico City as a hotbed of fashion trends, it at least means she's going to her roots and tapping into something that's important to her for her collection and that's meaningful.

I'm not in love with her color selection for her pieces, but I do love the fact that she hand dyed all of them. I think soft and pastel colors, or black, tend to be expected on plus-sized women, and I would have liked her to amend that and open it up to more colors and prints. But there's a beauty and a sophistication to what she's doing. This stands out all the more when you factor in her use of lace which always either looks too old and matronly or too young and precocious. I feel like she's hit a sweet spot with it that just works. Tim's impressed, I'm impressed, and he gives her some sound advice about including more deeper jewel tones to make the collection pop, and it's off to meet the family.

Ashley's family is ADORABLE! Her father is hilarious, her mother is sweet and endearing on a ridiculous level, and her abuela is just so special. They all clearly love her so much and are so proud of her that I defy anyone not to get teary eyed during their dinner. But more importantly, the issue of her designing a plus-size collection is brought up, and everyone says exactly the right thing. It's not often that Project Runway gets it "right" when it comes to normal women, but they are really nailing it here. Dare I say it? I'm actually quite proud of these moments, and horribly excited to see Ashley's collection.

Candice is next, and her kids are just too cute for words. They start with a meeting on the beach, and there's more talk about Candice's mother's drug addiction, which I had forgotten all about. But it makes for some compelling viewing. And all throughout it there's Candice's kids just being adorable.

At her studio, the first striking thing to notice it the use of color in the collection. Specifically, the use of red. I don't think she's got any colors other than red, but baby steps. So she's got a white, black, and red collection that she says is inspired by her continued time in New York and spending time in China Town and some Asian inspired exhibit she saw. Whereas Ashley went into her own roots to find inspiration, Candice looked outside of herself. I'm not saying one is better than the other, it's just two different and equally valid ways to find the spark of creativity.

For what it's worth, I love what we see from Candice here. It's big and bold and makes a statement, but it still feels like her. The wood pieces she's created to add volume and dimension to her collection feel innovative and look interesting. Her collection says "High Fashion" and "Theatricality" to me. Tim, however, thinks it's a bit too busy and heading into the realm of Drag Queen. Which I don't think has to be a bad thing, but I've been to more than my fair share of gay bars and drag shows and I know what goes into such things. Either way, he reminds her to be editorial.

Kelly is next, and there's no easy way to say this so I'll just say it: Kelly's collection is a hot fucking mess. I hate it on a level that I can't remember hating anything in quite sometime. She had $9000, and claims to have spent all of it, and yet her clothes all look cheap, simply designed, and right off the rack. They also look ugly, did I mention ugly? I should have mentioned ugly. There's fanny packs, for some fucking reason, a lot of shiny sparkly looks that come off more as $5 hooker wear than NYFW, and there's a decided lack of cohesion unless the cohesion is in how tacky it all looks.

Kelly's come on strong these last couple weeks. Need I remind you that she's won the last three challenges in a row? So how does she go from here, to here, and even here, to the things she's showing Tim? And for that matter, why does Tim not have stronger things to say about what he's seeing? First of all, her entire collection is done in all of five weeks depending on how long it took him to get to her from Ashley, and it clearly looks like it's been slapped together in no time at all. But he only uses the word cheap to talk about one of her looks when it could be used on all of them. Someone please point me in the direction of an outfit here that appears to have cost $900 to make.

Her family is fine if somewhat typical. It's all at least what I expected from Kelly's life. Her cousin, whom I suspect of being gay, is totally adorable. And her boyfriend looks exactly like what I always assumed and imagined her boyfriend would look like. The deli where she works creates a sub named for Tim and it's a cute moment, but none of this is as good as what came before it. Kelly's a sweet girl and I'm happy she's got a support system, but her section lacks the weight of Ashley's and the touching heartstrings of Candice's, and the talent found in the collections of both. This is a low point in the two hour slog that is this episode.

Edmond's got the least amount of work done on his collection at this point, and the work he has completed is the most quizzical. Not because it's not beautiful, though that can be said for a couple of the pieces, but because it feels the least like him. Say what you will about collections we've seen thus far, those designer's signatures were all over those pieces. That's not the best thing in Kelly's case, but still. Edmond's collection is elegant and well put together, but it's not Edmond. The word sexy gets thrown around a lot in relation to him, and there's no sex appeal to the pieces we're seeing. And to make matters worse, the silhouettes of those dresses do not look new, creative, or innovative at all. There's nothing really special here.

Edmond talks a lot about being happy Tim saved him and how hard he's going to work to be worthy of that save, but is he? Tim saving him was expected, but was it deserved? Based off of what we see of him in this episode, my gut is telling me no. It's not that the looks he's got now would make for a bad fashion show, it's just that nothing I'm seeing from him bespeaks "winner" to me, or is even at the level of his better looks from the season. He's also still got three looks to complete, so I guess I can reserve judgement for a bit, but I certainly think he can pick it up a notch.

Back to New York where everyone is happy to see each other and eager to get back to work. Tim tells them they'll be showing a mini collection to the judges for some last minute remarks, and one of those looks has to be created today. This is where we get to the show trying to interject some drama into the proceedings. As I said earlier, this pretty much exists so the judges can offer feedback in the interest of ensuring the final product is up to snuff, but I don't understand the point in forcing everyone to make a new look. For someone like Kelly who has all of her looks done, why not give her the option to either make something new, or to just take the extra time and money to enhance what she's already got? If you've already got ten looks you spent seven weeks on, and are happy with, what are the chances that the one look you create in a day and with a $250 budget is going to be the one that makes it into your collection? It reeks of false and manufactured drama and I'm not a fan of it. On the other hand, Edmond still has three looks to make, and this strikes me as being a good excuse to use this time to just start on one of those three looks. It would mean he wouldn't have to sketch out something new since he already should have plans for those last three looks, and it would give him an extra bit of money and some supplemental fabric. I don't know that he used it that way, but that would have been his best course of action.

I'm not a fan of this particular development, and I feel like I've rattled on for more than enough of our time, so I'm going to move on to the runway. No guest judge because no one's going home.

The Runway:

Look 1: Why does it feel like we’ve seen more pants on this season than before? It’s a good thing whatever the reason. I think it’s interesting she started with her red look, I might have put it in the middle. It’s cute and well made as we come to expect from her, but I’m not blown away by it. 

Look 2: Who doesn’t love a fabulous church hat? Whereas the last one looks well made, this one looks like it was made in a day. Which is fine since that’s the challenge, but it stands out for all the wrong reasons from the rest of the collection. I'm not impressed with anything other than the hat. 

Look 3: Separates, separates, separates! That fucking jacket is to die for. There’s something about the lace and sheer aspect of it that I simply love. It’s clearly the statement piece of this outfit, but I like the rest of it too. 

Look 1: My oh my. I realize I might be in the minority here, and I also realize there’s a clear cut ready to wear aspect to what she did, but I fucking hate it. It looks simple, easy, and cheap to me. I can’t see much innovative design in it. It certainly feels like her in a lot of ways, and the long shirt / skirt look is certainly something, but I’m not impressed with this at all. 

Look 2: I’ll say this about it, I think the short shorts are more sexy than tasteless, which is a good line to walk. I don't think they're exceptionally well made, but still. As for the rest of it, I’m bored. And about the fanny packs, if Kelly’s dream is to dress a modern girl, then what young modern girl does she know who’s wearing fanny packs? If she’s looking to single handedly bring back the fanny pack, I’m out. 

Look 3: Those bell bottoms fit her like a glove. The back of the top is the one element that sets this look apart as something that I don’t think you could go to any store and buy right now. But the rest of the outfit just bores me. And cohesion in a collection is about more than just using the same fabric twice. 

Look 1: This I like. I think it’s sexy and sophisticated and expensive looking. It fits perfectly, and it at least whispers Edmond. It's sexy in a refined and toned down way instead of a bombshell way and I like that. I can’t get passed her styling though. Her makeup is way too noticeable and not in a good way. 

Look 2: I hate it. I can’t quite put my finger on why I hate it, but I hate it. Maybe the judges will hate it too and better explain to me why I hate it, but either way, I hate it. 

Look 3: I like this, but I don’t love it. There are little things about it that pull focus in an odd way for me. The details around the hemline are noticeable, but I don’t know if I like them. The way the bunching detail that trails down the dress isn’t connected to the body of the dress at the bottom looks cool but also looks like an odd afterthought. One thing I do like about these three looks is that they seem to go from sexy and showing more skin to being more covered up in a way that tells a story. I also think the same girl could be said to be wearing these looks, so there’s cohesion here, but I can’t say for sure that these three looks make me want to see more from him. 

Look 1: She’s worried about the bra being visible, and I don’t know what kind of bra she needs to make to be happy with this look, but in all actuality it’s the bra being visible that makes this look for me. Admittedly, I like the bar being seen through the lace a million times more than the bra strap in the back which looks a bit wonky, but still. Without that detail, it feels a bit matronly. But with it, with the amount of skin showing, there’s something youthful and sexy about it. There’s also something about that feels more like a celebration of her full figured girl. Whereas other people would want to cover up as much of their plus-sized model as possible, I respect that she’s going the other way. But that’s more political than anything else, the point is I like this look. 

Look 2: I love love love love this. I could do without the glimpse of panty under the skirt, but the rest of it is gorgeous. I hope that doesn’t make me a hypocrite. But I do think there’s a difference between some bra showing and some panty showing. I’d also point out that it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of difference between the cut of this top and the top from the first look, but I’d have to see them more closely to know for sure. The color is fabulous though!

Look 3: Immediately, I hated it, but then I looked at it more and I realized that I like it a lot just not on this model. The fit is all wrong and it makes it look like the fabric is doing weird things. There are details in the top that are striking though when they catch your eye. She worked hard on this look and it shows. The skirt is just wonderful though. The fabric is perfection and I love the length a lot. It’s well designed and only the zipper leaves something to be desired. She just needs a bustier model to pull it off perfectly. 

The judges don't hold back in their critiques and it's a bit liberating. They complain about the lack of Edmond's signature sex appeal in his collection, and Heidi says she thinks three different girls are wearing his looks. We disagree on that last part, but it's not the first time I've disagreed with Heidi and it won't be the last. The constant complaints about the lack of sexy in his collection makes me wonder is the judges just expected him to send down ten Bombshell looks one after the other. I don't disagree that Edmond's collection doesn't really look like him, but I also don't think we want to see ten variations on the theme of sex appeal either. So while I can agree with their remarks, I also think they could tone it down a bit. 

Where Heidi and I are in more agreement is on her comments about Kelly's looks. And thank God someone said it because Tim didn't seem willing or able to. She points out that they all look like they could be store bought right now, and they all look like she created them in a day. Nina's remarks read like someone trying with all their might not to actually use the word "cheap" but clearly thinking that cheap is the only word to use here. Zac's got the most helpful advice when he points out that on this kind of ready to wear collection the tailoring either needs to be impeccable or the styling needs to be extreme and over the top. Kelly's looks have neither of those things going for them. 

They hound Ashley for construction issues that I admittedly missed initially. And Zac's points about making the exposed bra on the first look seem more purposeful is a good idea. I like the peaks of bra and skin on her looks because they are totally not what you expect from a plus-size collection. They also mention the fit issues and how perfect they have to be. This is accurate of course, but I also think Ashley might have been at the biggest disadvantage of everyone else. Did she meet her models and get their measurements before she started work on the collection? Was she able to design her looks with specific women in mind? If not, don't you think she's just kind of flapping in the wind and hoping she's got models who can fit each of her looks? The others can make clothes in standard model size and be sure that each of their girls will fit them, but Ashley's models are far more likely to be different sizes and she's more likely to need more information. 

The all seem to hate Candice's looks and I have to say I'm honestly shocked by that. While I wasn't as impressed by the three looks Candice selected for this mini collection, I still left it thinking I'd be interested in seeing more from here, which is always the core point of this episode. The judges on the other hand want her to scale way back and I'm left wondering, given how much work she's done and how little time she has left, is that really possible? Everything she's done seems to be so intricate and detailed that I don't see how she can parse it back without losing a lot of what she's trying to do.

Either way, that's her task. Given the comments, I think Kelly and Ashley have the least amount of tampering to do. Ashley can easily go back and clean up the construction on her zippers and hems and such, and Kelly can just change the styling on her models and have hit the main marks given to her. But I don't think that that automatically marks them as the favorites. Or at least not Kelly since I got the impression that even the judges viewed changing the styling of the models to be akin to arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. In the end, everyone has a lot of work to do, and I don't know that we learned anything new about any of the designers. I don't think the first part of the finale is a total waste, but I do think they could eliminate the "make a new look" challenge and just have them show off three of their pieces to the judges and shave off a solid 30 minutes. It was good, but the episode was still just way too long. 

Loose Threads: 

--Nina was on fire this week. Her and Heidi go back and forth about Ashley's flower crown things. Heidi likes them and Nina shoots off a quick "In the end, do you want people talking about the dresses or the flowers?" to Ashley and then has the most smug look on her face with Ashley says dresses. Nina's face says "Take that you skinny German bitch!" and I love it. 

--Nina to Candice: "Alexander McQueen can do Alexander McQueen, you cannot."

--On the trip to Mood for their last look, Edmond spends way more money than they were budgeted and has to do the totally embarrassing thing of putting stuff back instead of buying it. It's funny but also interesting that this is the only time this season that we've seen that happen. Given the scant trips to Mood, you'd think this would be a more common occurrence. 

--In the latest edition of Ashley vs the mean girls, Kelly gets a stain on her dress and Ashley offers to help her get it out and Kelly proceeds to treat her like shit and doubt her abilities. Really?

--Tim talks a lot about proportion in Ashley's and Kelly's looks this episode and it made me realize that that's a specific something my eye isn't really trained to notice. I'll do my best to catch it more often from now on and try to get it included in my reviews. Look at Tim Gunn helping make me a better reviewer for the show. If only he could actually help make the contestants better too.... (burn!)

--Still no word on Swatch! I am seriously about to write a strongly worded letter to Mood!

--I'm wondering if Ashley's ability, desire, and encouragement to do a plus-size collection doesn't maybe open the door for more unique collections in the future. For instance, if someone is more at home in menswear but makes it to the finale on the strength of their dresses, would they be able to request making a menswear, or better yet a gender mixed collection? Point being I'd like to see PR using this as a jump off point to keep pushing its own boundaries.

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