Monday, December 14, 2015

Project Runway Junior: S1 E4 "OMG! That's Michelle Obama"

OK there's only one thing to say about this episode: SWATCH IS BACK AND HE'S OK!!!!!! Well looking a little old and sluggish, but alive and OK all the same! So there, we can all go to bed now and feel relaxed; all is right with the world. Or is it? Because given our "no one goes home" decision of last episode, we're left with two people going home this week as everyone is ready to remind us time and time again. This means either that the show is going to chicken out from this monumental moment either by not sending two people home or by letting Tim save one of them, or it means one designer who probably isn't so deserving, who probably would be safe in a regular week, is going home. So the stage is set for a naturally dramatic episode of PR JR; probably the most dramatic episode we've seen thus far, but will the challenge and everything else deliver?

Well the challenge starts things off in the right way. The designers are tasked with creating a modern look for a fashionable "girl on the go." To give them a jolt, Michelle Obama shows up on the screen and, not going to lie, I knew it was coming and I still screamed like a little girl with excitement when I saw her. Because she's Michelle fucking Obama! No shame!

The lovely and resplendent (angelic too much? No, I'm going with angelic) First Lady talks to the designers about Let Girls Learn, a White House initiative that is really exactly what it sounds like. She also tells them that the winning designer will be given the opportunity to partner with Lands' End to create a backpack the proceeds of which will go towards Let Girls Learn. So this brings me to something else I'm enjoying about PR JR thus far: the rewards beyond immunity simply feel bigger, more interesting, and more important that the rewards for that other show I can't remember the name of at the moment. This is because the rewards here are less about giving the designers stupid swag and more about giving them a way to leave a serious impact on the world or the world of fashion with their young brands. If your look is getting produced and photographed, or the pattern you use is being mass marketed online for other designers, or you're getting a hand in creating something for a good cause, that's so much cooler and more important than getting a 3D Printer for your own personal use.

But anyway, there's a big spinning gameshow wheel on the stage and the designers are spinning it to see what kind of girl they're designing for. Categories available are School, Work, Travel, and Party. And the breakdown of who gets what:
  • Maya: Sporty
  • Zachary: Party
  • Jesse: School
  • Victoria: School
  • Matt: Travel
  • Zach: Party
  • Samantha: Work
  • Peytie: Travel
  • Bridget: School
  • Jaxson: Sporty
First things first, "Travel" is a weird category. Or maybe it's just a weird one for young people to be given. Is there a specific look that you see someone wearing and say "Oh she must be traveling?" I know I don't, which makes me think from the start that Matt and Peytie are at an odd disadvantage here. Or maybe since they can literally interpret it to mean whatever they want it to, they have an advantage? We'll circle back around to this later.

Jaxson is the most worried about his category seeing as how he doesn't feel much like his design aesthetic is sporty in the slightest. He decides to do a kind of Jersey inspired dress which reminds me of something we've seen before but I don't feel like looking for it at the moment. At Mood he gets this stark white fabric the likes of which seems to be used on basketball jerseys. Sadly, he would have been better off with a kind of jersey knit fabric, but that's neither here nor there. Peytie finds a print that speaks to her typical hippie/tribal aesthetic. On the roll, this fabric is an eyesore and everything about it says stay away, but since it was Peytie grabbing it, I honestly didn't feel worried. 

Back in the workroom, Tim shows up with some chick from the Peace Corps, and I honestly have no idea why. She talks about the fact that there are girls working with the Peace Corps, which is a surprise to no one at all, and then she leaves. That's the kind of moment they should have had for the designers and then left on the cutting room floor since it adds nothing to our viewing experience. 

Early on in the design process, shots are fired from Zachary at Victoria when he comments that she constantly makes the same top over and over again. She takes offense and isn't shy about telling him he should worry about his own look and leave her's alone. Everything this season has been pretty copesetic between the designers often verging on lovey. And I've remarked multiple times that I like that about the show, but I'd be lying if I said this little exchange didn't make me giggle a bit. To his credit, I don't think Zachary's comments were meant to be mean-spirited so much as observant and maybe even constructive, but his statements lacked tact and hit at a worry Victoria was having anyway. 

Tim's visit a little bit later shows me what I've been missing in a Tim Gunn visit lately. He talks to Jaxson who is missing the mark, he tells him he's unimpressed, he questions why the look has to be a dress and Jaxson responds that he doesn't want it to be shorts. Tim returns with, "Are those the only two options?" at which point Jaxson's eyes light up and he says Romper like it's the magic word that will breath life into the entire look. Tim nods and points out that Jaxson was the one that said it as if to point out that the potential for the idea was there all along, and now he's got a road map going forward. And it's that back and forth that was missing last episode and from a lot of what we saw last season. "Mentor" is Tim's job title, and you can see him doing and being that most when we get to hear some of this back and forth. He's stern when he doesn't like something, but he sticks around and gently leads the designers to where they need to be. 

Or, as is the case with Victoria, maybe he does a bit too much and over plays his hand. Tim says, much like Zachary before him, that Victoria's becoming a bit of a One Way Money™ by making the same look over and over again. So the two of them stand there and he tells her to remove the skirt leaving the look with a pair of short shorts, and then tells her to use her other fabric on the top to make it pop. Zachery, away from Victoria's line of hearing, comments that Tim basically designed her look for her and now she's little more than a seamstress. I don't know why this intervention by Tim doesn't bother me, but it doesn't. I'm guessing if these weren't kids, it would bother me more, but in this situation, I'm honestly OK with it. Also, I don't feel like we've seen him doing this with only one designer in the way we saw him working with Ashley last season, so at least it's not favoritism. 

The only thing left is the model fitting and yet more of Jaxson working til the last minute to turn his look out and be runway ready. This portion of the show has become perfunctory and kind of pointless. Some contestants have looks to try on, some don't, and that's all there is to it. So I think from now on unless something important happens, I'll start to go right from Tim's critique to the runway. 

The Runway:

Samantha: I like it more on the runway than I did on the dressform. Does it scream “Work” to you? It says more “Travel” to me. It’s not professional attire, but it looks like the kind of perfect match for someone who might be traveling between two places with different weather. The looks underneath seem more warm/cool wear, and then you throw the coat on overtop of it all and you’re ready to go into somewhere a bit colder. It’s a long way of me saying that I like this look but I don’t know that it fits her category. 

Jesse: NO! I do think the skirt is too school uniform which can take this a bit costumey, except that those uniform skirts would never be paired with that top. I don’t like this, but I will say that I can see how someone might. To someone else, those two elements might not be as discordant as they are to me. But either way, I’m not a fan. 

Bridget: I love love love this. The fit is breathtaking, the flannel shirt tied around the waist is a kind of ingenious 90’s throwback but the fact that it isn’t actually just a shirt (or is it? I can’t fully tell) and is just a specially made tie is so smart and creative. I love the look and the styling so much. And it totally says “School” without being too obvious about it. 

Victoria: OK nothing at all about this says school. I don’t know what school Victoria is attending, but when I was a kid, this girl would have been sent home before she even got off the bus. With that being said, I like the look a lot. It fits like a glove, it’s super sexy, and it’s something different from her without feeling like she’s totally lost herself in the process. I like it, but it doesn’t fit all challenge parameters. 

Peytie: I like this a lot more from the back than I do the front which I find boring except for the print. And here we see the problem with the "Travel" category. Do you dress for where you’re going or where you’re leaving? It’s this weird liminal thing. But to those ends, Samantha’s look feels more like travel wear to me than this does. This feels more at home in “Party” if you ask me. It’s cute, but again not 100% what was asked for, but in this case I think that’s not her fault so much as the fault of the stupid category she had. 

Matt: Same thing here. This is beautiful beautiful beautiful. But no one is getting on a plane in a ball gown. I’m still blaming this on what is a stupid category, but I also don’t know which category this would go in. It can be “Party” if we’re talking about an after hours Oscar party. Maybe “Work” if you work as a fashion model for an elegant designer. But that’s it. I don’t want that to detract from what is easily the best thing we’ve seen from Matt thus far and totally serves as justification for keeping him around last week, but still. 

Jaxson: ……… I’m happy he likes it. I don’t hate it, but I can’t like it either. I do think there’s something “Sporty” about it in a lot of ways beyond just the type of fabric he used. But the cut of the neckline is really distracting, as are the seams in the romper. And the combination of the metallic fabric and the this spaghetti straps makes it almost look a little trashy. Maybe I do hate it a little bit.

Maya: Perfection! The top, the asymmetry, the zipper, the fit on the pants, all of it is just great. It does say “Sporty” and without screaming it in your face. My favorite so far. 

Zachary: Color and movement and the cut of the top and the train are gorgeous. This is a kid who really knows how to dress a woman’s body. I like the skin showing; it’s one of the only high waisted pants I’ve ever really liked. The neck reminds me a bit of Maya’s from last challenge in how stirking it is if not in the cut of it, but I like it all a lot. The seam on the back of the cape is a bit distracting, but that could be purposeful. “Party?” I guess…

Zach: I’ll praise the cut and the fit of this which I think works out well. That print is all wrong though. You walk into a party like that and you’ll get laughed out. The print is too busy for how designed the whole thing is. I don’t think he needed a flat color for it, but maybe two solid tones that complimented each other? Or at least just a quieter print or a simpler design.

The judges' critiques go quicker than last episode, but they're also highly informative. Zachery, Maya, and Peytie are in the top, Jesse, Jaxson, and Victoria are in the bottom. The key points I responded to were Aya's statement that Jaxson's look was more costume than fashion and Jesse's look was clothing and not fashion, and Kelly's point that seeing something different from Victoria almost exclusively means color at this point and not just the cut of an outfit. I thought, and still think, that the change in the cut of Victoria's outfit is enough to suggest the ability to present something else from her, and I liked that she was able to change that while at least keeping her usual (read: Black) aesthetic, but Kelly's point is valid too. 

Over on the top side, Christian has a lot of great things to say about Zachary's intelligence in creating something that could be either a cape or an overlay and yet it just works both ways. Kelly's compliment to Peytie that she chooses prints and works with them in a way that makes Kelly love her looks in spite of the fact that they go so much against her own typical tastes is really great. But the winner here for me is Maya since I didn't hear anything they said to her after I saw her zip up the zipper and transform her look into something else entirely. My jaw dropped at the turtleneck she created by zipping that zipper. They might as well have been two totally different outfits and both of them are breathtaking. 

And yet Peytie wins the challenge. I've been a bit more forgiving on the last three episodes' winners; I haven't agreed with many of them, but I've at least understood the decision. And to be honest, I love Peytie's look (from the back) and I can see how this would be a winning look in another challenge that doesn't feature Maya's outfit. The fact is that Maya's look is ready to be manufactured and sold right now. Girls everywhere would spend a lot of money on it, and rightfully so. Maybe the judges thought Peytie's backpack design for Lands' End would be stronger than Maya's were she to win, but getting to see the finished product of the bag at the end of the episode, I have to wonder at the wisdom behind that. Either way it's not the first time I've questioned the decision on the winning look, and I'm guessing it won't be the last. 

Meanwhile, Jesse and Victoria are the two designers sent home, and true to their word, the show allows them both to go. No backing out, no Tim Gunn save, just a quick and sad goodbye to them both. Jaxson gets the save because again bad ideas, or even good ideas executed poorly, are better than no ideas. And Victoria seems to only have one trick while Jesse decided to make clothes instead of fashion. I don't know how much I agree with this decision so I'll leave the conjecture on it to others. My biggest take away actually has more to do with the decision from last episode in connection to the decision from this week. 

Roll with me for a minute here; these were the looks that were in the bottom two but were saved from elimination last episode:

Now look again at Victoria and Jesse's looks from this week which were sent home. Now, I'm not saying that Jesse's look specifically isn't bad enough to be in the bottom and even sent home this week, but is it really worse than the two from last week? Couple that with Jesse's exceptional unconventional materials look and you've got one misstep in an otherwise strong body of work. Conversely, this week is the first time we've seen something "strong" from Matt, and yet it doesn't really fit in with the girl he was given and it was ultimately only safe--not in the top. And Samantha's look this week was a lot better than last week (in my opinion) but it's also not something that's wholly unique from her; certainly no moreso than Victoria's look is. So as much as I'd hate to bring up the "f" word, is it really fair that we lose Jesse and Victoria this week when we could have lost Matt and/or Samantha last week and avoided this? It was unavoidable that someone undeserving would be going home. Or at least someone who otherwise wouldn't have gone home had we just been getting rid of one contestant. But it's looking to me like we might have lost two contestants who may not have deserved to go. Couple that with the fact that I think Jaxson's look really is the worst of the three (impressive innovation not withstanding) and you've got a bit of a quagmire here. But I guess time will tell and that should be a conversation for another week. 

Loose Threads:

--So clearly these reviews are coming later than the regular PR reviews did, and I apologize for that, but this week there was at least a better reason for it than usual: I was all set to write the review on Friday after work, but my day at work ended with me losing my job along with a few of my friends in an unexpected layoff. So as you can imagine, my weekend was a lot more stressful and hectic than originally planned, and that's why I didn't get around to watching the episode and writing it up until tonight. My days for the foreseeable future will be spent applying for every job I can find in order to get back up on my feet as quickly as possible, but it's safe to assume that reviews will be late on a regular basis from now on. That's assuming my roommate and I don't have to cut out the cable all together and I start missing the episodes. Fingers crossed everything's OK soon. 

--This episode saw Maya's 14th birthday and that was cute and sweet. I was wondering if they didn't give her the win specifically to avoid looking like they were giving her a b-day gift in the form of immunity. Either way, wrong decision.

--I feel like this was the most colorful episode we've seen thus far, but I could be wrong about that. It felt like they ask them to design for a young girl and out comes the color. 

--Jaxson dominates this episode in a way that made me feel sure he was going home. Meanwhile, Jesse and Victoria are there but not as much focus as Jaxson got. It was a nice little misdirect on the part of the producers. 

--Seriously though, Sundaynightaddict, did you see Swatch was back?!?!?!! I literally screamed and cheered at that moment. 

--Back to my thoughts about the elimination this week: I feel like I should say that I don't think given everything we've seen that Jesse or Victoria honestly had a shot to win the whole thing, so I don't think losing them but keeping Samantha and Matt is a huge loss for the show as a whole. But on the other hand, I don't think Matt realistically has a shot to win either and the more I see from Samantha, the more one note I find her to be. She plays her note well, but it's still the same note over and over again and I'm bored with it. I don't want her to lose her aesthetic as I think it's beautiful and important in a world with complicated gender politics to begin with, but I do want to know that she can do something other than questionably made oversized coats. And if she can't, I'm going to get more and more upset over the fact that she didn't go home last week. </rant>

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