Friday, November 11, 2016

Project Runway: S15 E9 "Life is Full of Surprises"

I've been watching and writing about this show for a long time. It's not often that an episode leaves me not knowing what to say. I know what I want to say going forward, but I don't know where to start--how to really sum up the major point of the episode or remark on its ultimate place in the grand scheme of the show. That's just a long way of saying that this week's episode isn't as good or interesting as last week's. In the wake of Cornelius' save and Dexter and Erin's evil, you'd think we'd see more fireworks, but aside from the opening moments which check in with all three of those designers, the episode is free of anger. It's not lite on emotion though.

The Challenge

The pathos comes from the reveal that loved ones are playing a part in this challenge. The AARP challenge sees the designers' mothers, friends, and family serving as clients and models. In what has become the norm for this season, this challenge just piles it all on. There's family, designing for a real woman, clients, and $50,000 in prize money. The winning designer and their loved one each get $25,000 from AARP. It's a staggering amount, and it adds an interesting element to the everyday woman challenge. 

PR has gotten this challenge wrong in so many ways for so long. With designers either openly or covertly calling their clients fat, telling regular women that they need makeovers, and just generally being shitty to people. The moment mothers made their way into the workroom, I can't be the only one to have been transported to a cringing moment in Season 3 with eventual winner Jeffery making another contestant's mother cry, right? But if there's one thing I feel somewhat confident in saying about this show it's that they do tend to learn from their mistakes. So this time around designers are paired with their own loved ones to avoid those kinds of hurt feelings, and to top it all off the loved ones have a shot at winning $25,000 just to sooth any potential pain and suffering that could occur. I'll commend the show for this. 

Now onto the two things I want to talk about this time around. It's time to bring up a topic that's been present on Project Runway for many years now but it didn't get it's proper name until Dmitry coined it back in season 10: The One-Way Monkey. For any new readers, the OWM is a fabled creature specific to Project Runway. He's like a one-trick pony, but more fashionable. He's only got one tool in his toolbox, but he uses it to grand and flashy effect. At least he does at first. The OWM is so elusive specifically because of how long it takes to draw him out. It can, and often does, take weeks to expose a designer for being the OWM, but once they are exposed, you'll never be able to unsee it. 

Here's where things might be a little tricky this season: I think we've got two One-Way Monkeys on our hands. However, the two of them make up a kind of fascinating study of contrasts. On the one hand, there's Laurence. We all agree that she's brilliant. She hasn't been in the bottom yet all season (remind me to double check that for accuracy), and she already feels like a shoe in for NYFW. She put her stamp on the season early on. It took no time for Nina to start pointing out that seeing her signature leather coat was an easy tip off as to who's look it was. But for Laurence, that's a good thing. She sends looks down the runway that are always clean, well tailored, interesting and chic. Do 90% of her looks feature a new take on the same old leather jacket? Maybe. But seeing them each week feels like a breath of fresh air. Laurence is a good kind of OWM.

And then there's Erin. She bounded out of the gate with two of the first 3 wins of the season (interestingly enough it was Laurence who took the second win, though Erin was in the top for that challenge too). Her future looked bright and she had all of the makings of one of the contestants to beat in those early weeks. And then she was exposed as a OWM and she fell. After what appeared to be a stumble in episode six, even I expected she'd figure out a way to right the ship and get back to her winning ways. But Erin's found herself in the bottom three every week since that sixth episode. Why is that? Because once the novelty of her embroidery and big jacket aesthetic wore off, it became clear that she doesn't have anything else up her sleeve. 

So what's the difference between Erin and Laurence? If I had to guess, I'd say it's construction and vision. Erin has a trick, and for awhile she employed that trick well and dazzled us and the judges into thinking there was more talent there than there actually is. But what she lacks is a clear vision of who her woman is. Laurence on the other hand knows exactly who she's designing for. At some point I think it would be a good exercise to look back over all of her designs and see if the same woman could be seen wearing each of her looks. My gut tells me she is. And in a season that's already seen cocktail dresses, ready-to-wear, and swimsuits, it's quite a feat to find looks in all of those genres that are just so fit for the same woman. Laurence has the vision to be able to pin down who she's designing for, and she has the tailoring skill to pull it off each time. Erin doesn't. They might both be One-Way Monkeys, but one of them will be going far and the other shouldn't be long for this world. 

The Runway

Roberi: That’s OK. Cute, not great, but OK.

Jenni: Get the fuck away from me! The fit on those pants is horrible, the jacket is just wrong on so many levels, and I’m guessing it’s a blessing you can’t see more of the shirt, because how could it be any better? I really hate the cuffs on that jacket. It feels like a nitpick kind of a thing, but the cuffs are immature and unfashionable and somehow just don’t go with the rest of the jacket. 

Dexter: This is a look that I hate purely because I hate Dexter. It’s not bad, and I’m sure the judges will fawn all over it, but I think it’s every bit as boring as Tim said it was in the workroom, and the little gold studs he added do nothing to make it less boring. I do like the little glove like things on the hands though, that’s cool. 

Rik: I’m in love with this. The black and white of it, and maybe something about the pattern of the jacket, reminds me of his swimsuit look from earlier in the season. Everywhere there’s a pop of red makes this entire outfit sing. It’s adorable and fun but also age appropriate. I love it. 

Erin: I honestly don’t know what to say. The color of the blue dress is pretty. That’s all I got. I hate it and I hate her and I want her gone. 

Cornelius: hm…If you got rid of the rope pattern on the fabric, I think I might like this more. Although the burnt orange stripe thing doesn’t really speak to me nearly as much it should. I don’t really see this look and think of travel or jet-setting, which I think should have been more in line with his inspiration. It’s not great, but it’s not horrible either. 

Laurence: This look is cute, but it does seem to be a little bit undersized and it feels a little too much like a mother designing for her daughter. The tightness of the outfit not withstanding, I thought it felt like an attempt to keep her more covered than is needed. I thought the look would have been cuter with like a little keyhole cutout at the cleavage area, but what mother is going to design something like that for their daughter? It’s nice and well put together, but it’s not great. Also, why does it look like a safety pin is holding the jacket together?

Mah-Jing: The pop of purple at the boot was really nice. I like this jacket a lot but I thought some part of his design was supposed to be about transformation and unfolding. Should she have taken the jacket off? Or did that element get scrapped because he took too long on the jacket? I guess if I’m just looking at what we saw as she walked, I like the cut of the jacket a lot, but a part of me thinks he took the ninja thing a little too literally. There's something very special about the sleeves of the shirt he designed though. 

Nathalia: The jacket is cute but it isn’t age appropriate and it doesn’t feel like it goes with the outfit underneath it. Ultimately, I find this look to be confusing. Those pants aren’t special, in fact they look like weird ill-fitting bell bottoms. And you only get a quick glimpse of the blouse when she forces the jacket open, but it does look like it’s probably cute. She might have been better off killing the jacket and just going with the blouse and pants. 


Mah-Jing, Rik, and Roberi are in the top. Erin, Jenni, and Nathalia are in the bottom. I have to say the more I heard about Roberi's dress the more I liked it. The moment he said it was intended for a cocktail party, I fell in love. It's a far more interesting take on the cocktail dress than his last cocktail dress. And to be clear, I liked that dress but didn't love it. This is fun and cute and fits his client's personality and her body exceptionally well. Nina is quick to praise the silhouette and the fit. The judges like the pattern matching a little bit more than I do, but I do agree with them that he matched them up nicely. I just tend to think mixing patterns is always a little jarring. 

The judges can't stop gushing over Rik's dress. The actual cooing that happens when he reveals that little heart on the inside is too much. But it's all deserved, this look is perfect. It looks expensive and new and fashionable, and it fits his mother like a glove. She looks confident and powerful in it, and it's fairly obvious he's running away with this one. 

Mah-Jing's mother, whose name I will not attempt to butcher here, takes the cake for confident and powerful though. Mah-Jing is not a contestant that I think has what it takes to win or go too much farther in this competition, but this is easily the best thing we've seen from him. The judges mostly compliment how great his mother looks in the outfit, and how perfectly he seems to have created something that's all her. Mah-Jing mastered that tough part of the client challenge where he gave her what she wanted while still producing something interesting and fashionable. Rik's dress might be more realistically wearable (which is important in a real woman challenge), but I honestly think Mah-Jing's would be at home on a runway in Milan.

Conversely, Jenni butchers the task of giving the client what she wants but still being fashionable and practical. She said early on in the challenge "At the end of the day, the challenge is to make something for the client," and while she was right, I think we've all heard those words uttered on this show during this challenge before, and they almost always spell doom. Her mother didn't really know what she wanted, so it was up to Jenni to decide for her and give her something that was great but that she maybe didn't even know she wanted until she had it. Instead she tries too hard to give her everything she wants, and then on top of that she constructs it poorly. The judges say, multiple times, that they simply can't take this woman seriously. For a director of a preschool, there's nothing professional or directorial about her and it's a problem. 

Nathalia's mother is drowning in that huge ass jacket and it's tragic. The saddest part is that when she takes the jacket off, everything underneath it is just as tragic. Heidi points out that there's simply no excuse for her outfit to be so unfinished after two days, but I'll get back to that point later. 

One-Way-Monkey Erin doesn't actually get blasted for making the same damn Jacket once again. She does however get criticized for creating what amounts to two different looks. Zac says that the jacket is deep winter but the dress underneath is summer. And that's not even taking into consideration just how juvenile the dress is. The color of it matched with that stupid lace just screams little girl's church dress. In the end, Heidi points out that it looks like Erin designed something she'd want to wear but not something her mom would want to wear. So she also missed the point of the challenge. 

And yet, Jenni goes home instead of Erin. In fact, Erin isn't even in the bottom two this go around. Let's get practical for a moment: are Jenni and Nathalia's looks worse than Erin's? Yes. So the bottom two does make sense, but the fact still remains that this is Erin's fourth consecutive time in the bottom three. And yet has she even been in the bottom two once? Not that I can remember. So they keep scoring her low, getting to the point where they see that she created this bad look, and then backing off and giving her a pass. Should she have gone home before now? No, but she does need to be held more accountable for her consistent failings. She might have won early on, but that was too long ago and her failings have already outnumbered her successes to such a point that I think the judges need to be sterner with her. But that's just me. 

Rik wins the challenge and all of the money. The question before the court now is who's likely to join him and Laurence at NYFW? I thought I was more sure of who'd be there a couple weeks ago, but now I'm less certain. 

Loose Threads

--As I mentioned briefly, this is the season's first two day challenge. I can't help but to think this is a massive mistake on the show's part. It comes nine episodes in with a top nine group who shouldn't need two days to do anything other than maybe the Haute Couture challenge if that happens. The show was seriously better when they started with two days to weed out the talent and then scaled back to one day challenges. Now you've got an issue where the contestants haven't seen a two day challenge and they don't know what to do when they get one. The amount of scrambling around at the end to get looks finished is simply unacceptable at this stage. Especially when you factor in that no one seemed to need to start all the way over on their design. 

--I was really hoping Laurence would be in the top in this challenge so as to better justify my One-Way Monkey narrative. The best payoff would have been a Laurence win and an Erin loss, but the fates weren't so kind. If Laurence does win on the episode when Erin finally loses, I'm going to be so happy and so full of myself. 

--How silent do you think the green room was with only Cornelius, Laurence, and Dexter in it? 

--I honestly don't think Tim likes Erin or Dexter very much. His critiques with both of them compared to his conversation with Cornelius was interesting. And likewise to the general split in the workroom. Every time you see either Erin or Dexter consulting another designer, they're only ever talking to each other. 

--Bonus points to Mah-Jing at the beginning of the episode as he listens to Dexter complain about Cornelius and just kind of rolls his eyes like "Yeah OK, bitch!"

--With two top three appearances in a row, I'm starting to think Roberi might find himself in the finale. I named him as a wild card a couple weeks back, and now it's starting to look like he's getting hot at just the right moment. I may not love his particular aesthetic, but I am curious to see how his collection might possibly play off of Laurence's and Rik's. 

--A little housekeeping notice, next week Friday I'll be leaving to spend a week in Italy! I'm super excited as I need a serious boost after the month I've been having. I lost my job last month, looking for a replacement has been really quite taxing, and then the election happened and I just kind of want to die, so getting far away for a week with my friends is much much needed. With that being said, I intend to watch next Thursday's episode and I'm going to try and get the review up before my flight, but no promises. Preparing for a flight out of the country can be time consuming. Furthermore, I won't be back home until the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I'm guessing the show will take a week off during the holiday, but if I'm wrong and there is an episode on Thanksgiving day, I won't be in a position to even watch it until I get back. So if someone else wants to tackle reviewing that episode, that's doable, or if you guys don't mind waiting a while, that'll be cool too. 

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