Friday, November 4, 2016

Project Runway: S15 E8 "Project Pop Up"

I said it during the last team challenge on this show: Project Runway's take on the group challenge is often crass, manipulative, dirty, and it totally freaking works. I mentioned last week that I thought there might be a lack of personality on this season. So much of these episodes have been boring and lackluster, and this episode was no different. While Tim was in the workroom, my notes read thus: I'm going to need someone to blow up or have some kind of meltdown because I'm just sick of these people. Someone heard me because by the end of the episode, we got exactly that. And it was the shot in the arm that this season has needed.

The Challenge

This week sees the designers divided into three teams of three to create three-look fall collections inspired by color pallets from Sally Beauty. The colors are Red, Blue, and Neutral. Neutral seems to be at an early disadvantage because who's ever been inspired by neutral? But whatever, the groups are split up and Dexter and Erin are immediately paired together with Cornelius tacked that's a thing. Jenni and Nathalia are grouped with Mah-Jing who once again complains about being the odd man out. And Laurence, Rik, and Roberi all join forces without any complaint. 

Each collection will be displayed at a Project Runway Sally Beauty Store Pop Up in SoHo where regular people will vote on their favorite collection. The collection that wins the vote will get a 20% bump in the final judging. 

During the work, there are two main sources of drama. First there's Mah-Jing who is complaining in confessional moments again about being grouped in with a couple friends who will surely throw him under the bus at their first chance. Remember this song and dance from the last team challenge? Remember how it ended with him complimenting his team on making him feel welcomed? 

OK, I'm just going to say it, I think Mah-Jing is either insane or somehow predisposed to feeling like the odd man out. Let me explain: far be it for me to play the race card, but there are certain times when it just seems to fit. Mah-Jing came clean a few weeks back on his heritage and upbringing. His father is of Asian-American descent; his mother is black. Ultimately, he looks more black than mixed, which leads to him automatically being seen as a black man with an oddly Chinese name. This could easily be the kind of thing that would put him on his heels throughout life. Where might he have fit in? Other black kids would think his name was strange and would possibly disrespect his Asiatic background, and Asian-American people might just view him as black. 

Being a minority is hard in this country. And speaking as someone who grew up black and gay, being a double minority is a lot harder. The idea that you don't fit in with mainstream culture nor do you fit in with either of the minority groups to which you belong can have an odd effect on someone. So enter Mah-Jing who, every time he's asked to work within a group setting, automatically starts complaining that he won't fit in, they won't accept him, and at any given moment he'll be thrown under the bus. After two team challenges, his fears have proven to be completely fabricated, but that's not to say that there isn't a seed for them in his history and upbringing. All of this is conjecture on my part, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to find out this is the real reasoning for his paranoia. 

The other source of drama of course comes from Team Red. Over here, Cornelius actually is the odd man out. All of his complaints and criticisms fall on deaf ears, Erin and Dexter are seen constantly paling around and not working while Cornelius works to get all of their looks cleaned up and finished, and no matter how many times he says there's too much red in their looks, no one seems to hear him. 

But Team Red's problems don't stop at construction and conceptual issues. At one point, Cornelius sees that he has a $9.99 sticker on his butt, and when he complains about it, Dexter and Erin laugh and make fun of him for not seeing it sooner. What we're supposed to take away from this moment is that Dexter or Erin played a prank of some sort on Cornelius and put that sticker on him as if to say he's only worth $9.99. And when he finds it, as opposed to being at all shamed or even just playing it cool, Dexter makes a snide and mean-spirited comment about Cornelius' worth. And then on the second day, as everyone files into the workroom, Dexter seems to purposefully let the door close in Cornelius' faces and then offers a snickering half-hearted apology. It's a very mean, nasty, and childish display that I simply can't understand. 

There's never been any love loss between Cornelius and Dexter. Early in the season, Cornelius made some comments after Dexter found himself in the top, and Dexter has hated him since then. It was surely childish and shadey AF for Cornelius to do that, but it seems like Dexter's reaction to it now is to become even more childish in his actions towards Cornelius. And even that might be something that you could forgive or overlook if these two weren't on the same team. But instead, they seem uninterested in working together at all. Or to be more specific, Dexter and Erin seem totally uninterested in working with Cornelius. Anyone who's watched this show before knows this is all going to come to a head on the runway. 

The Runway

Team Red

Look 1: Poor construction on the top not matching up. The skirt Is it asymmetrical? If so, it doesn’t really work for me. If not, then there’s something else odd about it. 

Look 2: There’s a way to read this as being like a robe, and the woman in the voting is right that there’s no realistic wearability to it, but I still think it’s really sexy and cute. I like the sleeves, and the open front, and the shortness of the skirt which I find to be tasteful and titillating. 

Look 3: Those pockets can go get fucked. But it seems like a weird kind of Erin thing that the judges will like more than I do. Maybe if they were just a different color I’d like them more. I do actually like the way Cornelius’ skirt goes with the jacket, but I do not like it paired with the top as much. I don’t hate this outfit as a whole but I don’t love it either. 

Team Neutral

Look 1: I like this a lot more than I expected. The fit and tailoring are quite impeccable, those pants are great and I love the little cut out at the knees. The jacket is really quite cute and the turtle neck isn’t bad. I don’t love the fabric around the neck, it looks itchy, but that’s ok. I’m guessing the high level of realistic wearability of this collection is why it played so well with the crowd. 

Look 2: Oh those are pants? Hm…. I want to like this more than I actually do. The popcorn shit is distracting and I hate it. I don’t hate that she tried to do something to make the sweater a little more impressive, but I don’t think this was the right choice. I do, however, like the lighter colored cuff on the sleeves, and the pants are certainly interesting. There are elements here that I want to love a lot but I’m left just kind of liking them.

Look 3: I honestly love the jacket. I think it’s cut well, those slits in it are great, and there’s something chic and special about it. The rest of the look falls apart for me though. I think it’s a good thing she doesn’t take the jacket off while walking because I don’t think anything underneath it would really withstand scrutiny. 

Team Blue

Look 1: Yeah I don’t know about this. I think the skirt is cute and fun and smart. It combines Roberi’s aesthetic with Laurence’s leather in a way that I think is smart. But I was never a fan of what he was doing with the top and I don’t think the weird patches are in any way a step up from the weird shapes he was rocking earlier. 

Look 2: This is also just a little off. There appears to be some issues with the construction, and I don’t understand the point of the cape like thing in the back. The slip dress is simple on purpose, and I get that, but I don’t know that it’s a good thing. He wanted the jacket to be the major selling point here, and I certainly think it's special and a lot of fun to look at, but I'd love it so much more if it was better constructed. All of those little flyaway strings are distracting the hell out of me. 

Look 3: I love love love the jacket tail in the back of this one. It’s special and unique. It’s clearly a Laurence look with those shoulders again. I like the pants too, though those aren’t as good as the jacket. It’s good, but not her most standout piece of the season. 


First things first, Team Neutral won the the 20% bump from the pop up voting earlier in the episode. It's easy to see why when you factor in how rack-ready all of their pieces are. There's more here to appeal to a real woman than there is in the other two collections which feel more fashion forward. But while that factor will appeal to the people on the street, it doesn't really fly with the judges. In spite of their 20% lead, Team Neutral is safe, leaving Blue in the top and Red in the bottom. 

And this is when the gloves come off. For starters, the judges are quick to point out that there isn't really a bad collection out there. Red is just the lesser of the three. They're mostly complimentary of the looks, but they clearly don't like Cornelius' pleated skirt. Kelly Osbourne, who you know is my all time favorite guest judge, is quick to point out that Dexter's claims of punk rock as their inspiration is complete bullshit. Nina points out that there's way too much red and they needed something to break it up a bit. Cornelius says he wanted less red, but he should have spoken up louder. They don't have anything clearly negative to say about Dexter's samurai robe look, and they love Erin's jacket, but Cornelius' admission that it's his skirt on her model gives them some pause.

And then comes the point we all knew had to happen. Heidi asks who should go home from this team and almost without missing a beat Dexter and Erin say Cornelius. Erin's reasoning is something I have a serious problem with. She simply says that she and Dexter work well together, and it feels like a total cop out. Neither of them can really point to a particular design element that leads to Cornelius being the person to go. Their outlooks both break down to "We're friends, and we like each other, so get rid of him."

What can't be ignored is the fact that Cornelius' pleated skirt is the worst look of the collection. When asked who concepted the skirt, Cornelius points to Erin. It was her idea, but his execution, so who's fault is it? And it's only necessary because he offered to give up his skirt to serve her look to begin with. All things being equal, Erin should have been responsible for contributing the skirt to Cornelius' look, right? Without him, her model would have been walking out bareassed. But to what extent does that matter in the long run? Cornelius created the skirt, the skirt was ugly; in a design competition, that's all that matters, right?

The judges ultimately seem to think so no matter how much Kelly argues against the kind of bullying towards Cornelius that they saw. In the end, it's between him and Dexter for the loss, and he gets the short straw. The moment I heard the judges talking about who to send home between the two of them, I knew they'd pick Cornelius and that Tim would use his save on him. We've pointed out before that Heidi's speech about Tim Gunn's save has been spotty at best this season, but it gets a spotlight this episode. That was the first hint that it would be used here. But more than that is the fact that Tim Gunn is quick to point out that Erin and Dexter were just mean girls to Cornelius for this entire challenge. He doesn't have much to say during the closer look inspection of the outfits this episode, but he's quick to say that as he comes to Cornelius' defense. 

So of course when Tim says Cornelius isn't going anywhere, I wasn't surprised in the slightest. Even so, I think it was an acceptable call. In this case, it's not a statement about Cornelius' abilities so much as it's an indictment of Erin and Dexter's behavior in this challenge. If I have one complaint it's that I don't think Tim went far enough to shame them to their faces for their actions. The problem is Tim Gunn is everyone's mentor equally, so complaining about Dexter and Erin's less than kind and totally unprofessional actions isn't really his place. But I say to hell with that. Either way, the show of emotion and the open hostility of this episode was exactly what this season needed. The Dexter/Cornelius rivalry could add a spark to a powder keg of tension and make the next few episodes quite interesting. 

Loose Threads

--Roberi gets his first win of the season here. I probably should have made time to mention that before now, but Team Blue simply wasn't as interesting.

--Speaking of Team Blue, it's interesting and telling that most of their complements have to do with their use of black and white to break up a lot of the blue in their collection. In a lot of ways, they're the inverse of Team Red.

--Another aspect of the feud between Dexter and Cornelius is their friendships with Erin and Nathalia respectively. Nathalia pointing out that she knew Dexter and Erin would throw Cornelius under the bus because of their friendship with each other was yet another snide moment of shade from her directed at Erin. 

--Speaking of which, Erin's bullshit hug to Cornelius at the end and her happy "I didn't want you to go home" simply didn't sell to me. I'll give Dexter this much, at least he didn't pretend to be happy that Tim used his save. 

--This doesn't happen often, but I'm starting to rethink my ranking from the last couple weeks. It's not that I think Cornelius being saved means he'll stick around much longer, but I'm starting to wonder just how fed up with Erin and Dexter the judges are getting. They haven't been as strong lately, and yet their confidence continues to be through the roof, and it doesn't seem like they're doing much to take in the criticism. If they don't settle down and stop walking into each challenge like it's already in the bag, both of them will be out of here sooner rather than later. And after what I saw this week, I honestly would like for that to happen. 

--I don't think Tim would have saved Dexter had the judges decided to get rid of him. And there's an interesting point here when Kelly points out that Dexter is trying to present himself as being all punk rock and yet he isn't that at all. Dexter has been claiming to be weird, strange, out there, and punk rock all season, but he doesn't actually design that way. I think it might be time for someone to point out that some portion of his problem might be that he doesn't actually know himself as well as he thinks he does. 

--As for the people voting aspect of this challenge, I actually kind of liked it in execution. It mattered without being strong enough to sway the entire outcome, and it was fun seeing what regular people are likely to think about the designs. Often I think a part of the problem with reviewing the runway on this show is that I'm not a high fashion guy, and so all I can talk about is whether I like the clothing from a practical standpoint or not. Seeing a bunch of people voting based on those lines as well was a lot of fun. 

--We're eight episodes in and we've only had one unconventional materials challenge: the first one. I'm just going to leave that fact there and let you do with it what you will. 

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