Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Project Runway Junior: S1 E2 "An Unconventional Carwash"

After two episodes, I can't tell if I think PR JR is finding a rhythm or if I think I'm becoming used to its hectic fast pace. In a lot of ways, I think PR JR is a purer more distilled version of it's senior partner. There's significantly less product placement and wasteful filler interludes. Gone are the extended hair and makeup consultations for every designer. Gone are the long scenes of designers eating lunch so we can make sure the sponsor's fridge is somewhere in the frame. And since the kids are all adorable and seem to love each other with the reckless abandon that only kids tend to find in these cases, gone is the silly manufactured drama and squabbles that tend to crop up. At least that's the case so far, maybe after teams are formed next episode we'll be seeing a different side of everyone. But for now, PR JR is relying on the genuine wonder and talent of these young contestants (and a very natural and organic kind of pathos that comes of simply working with young people) in a way that makes me feel like this is PR at it's best. The scant amount of time we get to spend with Tim's visits and on the runway not withstanding.

This week's challenge hits the ground running with the contestants being told to get ready for a limo ride the following morning. No telling where, or for what, but everyone gets dolled up for a fun and unique experience. And here's the wonder I mentioned before. These kids are honestly excited and interested in being in this large limo. And that's without the aspect of a limo that we adults like most: getting wasted while someone else drives you around! There's a fun and a beauty in watching them get wide eyed at something as simple as being in a limo. It's a reaction that extends to them going through a carwash, and admittedly that can feel a bit put on in ways, but still. They're cute and precocious, and it seems like the producers understand that that fact alone is enough to carry a portion of an episode. I enjoy it.

Thus begins the group's first unconventional material's challenge. It's a PR staple, but something about it feels all the more daunting because you just know that it's going to be so far outside of these kid's wheelhouses. Granted, I don't think contestants on PR Senior spend much time working with Hallmark Greeting Cards, or Outdated Technology Hardware, but you tend to assume that they've worked with multiple different kinds of fabric and materials in their time and they have years of experience and creativity under their belts. So you assume a PR contestant should be prepared for anything that gets thrown at them while maybe a 15 year old will be significantly more out of their depth. Either way, they have a small span of time to grab as much stuff from the car wash as they can and then just create a look from it. It's pretty standard, and for all of the "I want to grab stuff so no one else can" talk, the materials snatch is pretty simple and everyone seems to leave with much of what they wanted.

In the workroom, my concerns about everyone being out of their depth came up again as we see a lot of people creating looks that mostly consist of materials being glued to the muslin base. It's something that maybe we can give these kids a pass on, and the looks they end up with are still pretty stellar, but it's something that could never fly on Project Runway.

Tim doesn't mention it on his visit, which suggests that it's something they're more than willing to overlook here. Instead, Tim steps into his role as mentor in a way that I feel like we rarely saw him do in this last season of PR. When he meets with Bridget, it's clear that both he and her have reservations about her look. Tim expresses them, but then after a commercial break is quick to offer the kind of guidance and advice that pulls her look together and gives her a path forward with it. Same goes for him telling Matt to cut the tubing he's using for his skirt in order to make it more cooperative.

The next big event is of course the model fitting, and I have to say I was very unimpressed with seeing these looks on the models. There were still a couple hours left in the challenge, and clearly the time they'd have before the runway, but everything we saw being fitted seemed to be horribly underdone. Samantha's dress was a good idea, but the way the orange crept up onto the shoulders made it look like she was wearing an orange cape. Of everything we see during the fitting, Jesse's is the only one close to being worth it. Which leaves us in a position where they'll all have to pull it together and in some cases (such as Jaxson's) actually finish their looks before the runway.

The Runway:

Zachery: On the one hand, this is just pinwheels glued onto a muslin base, so I don’t want to get too excited over it, but it’s also really freaking gorgeous. The movement is nice, the use of the floor mats is really intelligent and well done, and the color on the top pairs well with the silver and black of the skirt. 

Peytie: Kelly’s reaction to seeing this walk is close to my reaction too. That movement is stunning, and the top is so well made and intricately wrought that you can’t help but to be wowed by it. I do think the top is better than the bottom which she clearly didn’t have time for and amounts to little more than mops hanging from the model’s waist, but still. The two of them together work. It’s enough to make you wish she had a little more time for the bottom. 

Victoria: There’s something about this the moment it turns the corner that’s stunning. I think the black and blue go super well together, I love the length of the skirt, and I love what the belt (tie?) is doing in the back. I do not, however, like the cut of the bust. The material she used is unforgiving, and so I think on the top, less would have been more. Maybe a V neck kind of cut would have hidden the inflexibility of the material more? Or at least it would have been sexier. But still I like this more than I dislike it. 

Ysabel: The first thing I notice as she’s walking is the way the back of the skirt flares out like a little ducktail. It’s horribly distracting, and the rest of the look is seriously unflattering. Her materials are not the best, but even so, the color combination strikes an odd note to me, and the top isn’t something anyone would want to wear. This look is neither wearable nor fashionable.

Bridget: I honestly love this. Not so much the red, white, and blue color scheme, but I like the tiled top a lot, and I think the skirt is cute when you ignore the way the material stiffens and doesn’t really move properly. But I find that to be a material problem and not a construction problem, so there’s no big deal there. I like the black tiles on the back of the top, but the back of the skirt is a bit of a problem. Too much muslin showing through. 

Maya: I think I want to like the cut of the top more than I actually do. But I also don’t think it detracts from the rest of the look at all. The skirt is fun and really fabulous. Maybe a little too short? But I don’t mind it. And I do think the stark contrast of the business of the skirt and the simpleness of the top works very well. So I’m a fan. Maybe pair it with a necklace? (Addendum: I didn't see the back of it when I watched the episode, because again they aren't showing the looks turning around on the runway, but having seen it now I can say it makes me like the top a lot more!)

Matt: She can’t walk in it, and the back of the skirt where you can see so much muslin is really bad. With that being said, I like the top. You can tell he thought about this and had a plan and then the materials didn’t behave like he thought they would. 

Jaxson: I love him, but this is a miss for me. The skirt I like a lot, and the top I think could have worked if it weren’t so ambitious, but as is I’m not impressed. The top just looks messy and haphazard. If he got rid of the strips hanging down, it would be a lot better, but it doesn’t look purposeful. The shorts are cute though. 

Zach: I like this. It’s a massive improvement from his previous look. And this is one of the few that doesn’t seem to have relied too heavily on a muslin base, which I’ll always appreciate. I also think the necklace he chose was 100% the way to go, so great styling. I could do without the clutch, but I’m generally not a fan of clutches so hey. 

Samantha: I like this mostly because I think it’s a vast improvement over what we saw during the model fitting. Scaling the shoulder’s back the way she did was the right way to go. I still think bringing the orange around makes it look a bit like she’s wearing an orange cape from the front, but the mostly monochrome front paired with the color blocked back is a win for me. The specific colors she chose go wonderfully together.

Jesse: Sheer perfection. Constructed well, the key chain bits on the arm add movement that attracts the eye, and you can tell that the placement of each of the colors is well thought out. And that’s not even to mention the beauty of the rest of the outfit. That open back! Oh man! I love everything about this.

The judges are so impressed that they say there are four tops (Peytie, Samantha, Zachery, and Jesse) and only two bottoms (Matt and Ysabel). Typically when this happens it's easy to see where there's at least one look in the top that they are just lukewarm about and could probably have been safe in favor of putting another look in the bottom. But here, I don't think that's the case. The judges honestly have solid compliments for all of the top designers and really it would be hard to pick one of the safe looks that would be honestly deserving of bottom three honors. To be fair, once the closer looks happen, it's clear that the win is between Zachery and Jesse, so the stratification of this episode is really just about two really bad looks, two really great looks, and a bunch of looks that are mostly in the middle. 

In the end, Zachery wins, which I can understand but I also think Jesse's look is overall better than Zachery's, and Ysabel loses. It's this decision that brings in the natural pathos I was talking about earlier. These kids have honestly connected in a way that their adult counterparts tend not to. We've seen friendships develop on this show before, and even outpouring of emotions over a designer getting sent home (who can forget Jeffery Sebelia crying when his friend was auf'd?), but there's something about it here that's heightened. And it's clear that some large part of this is because everything is heightened when you're a teenage, but also because you can think of these relationships a lot like summer camp relationships. These kids met and within a day or two became really good friends because that's what kids do. Anyone who's spent any kind of time around young people, or who remembers being a young person themselves, knows that this is the case. And these relationships hit hard and come on fast. 

But there's another part of it as well: Ysabel mentions in her last confessional that she's said to being going back home because there it's just her and her sewing machine, but here she got to be surrounded by a group of cool and likeminded peers. This is an experience that most of these kids have never had before. They're passion isn't the passion of their contemporaries. Even amongst other young artists, their interests are probably unique. It's been a long time since I was in high school, but my guess is that kids who are into painting, drawing, photography, or sculpting will easily be able to find people at their schools who are into the same, and even clubs that cater to those interests, but will the kids who are into fashion design? And so we see that this is important to these contestants in a way that it doesn't often feel like it's important to the adults on Project Runway. There's a good chance that most of the people on PR have already gone to design school, or fell in with a crowd of likeminded people when they were in their 20s or so. This is the first such experience for these contestants and so when someone goes home and everyone cries and hugs them goodbye, it feels genuine and we understand it in a way that I haven't felt it in the other show. On the one hand this could get taxing after too long; someone should be going home each week until we've got a final three or four finalists. But on the other hand, PR JR brings an emotion and a pathos that PR has long been lacking in its dealings with jaded, cynical, and overly competitive adults, and that's enough to set it apart in a good way. 

Loose Threads:

--Jesse’s statements in the carwash about how the other kids need to get a grip were pretty on point really. 

--One other aspect of Ysabel going home that hurts so much is just how kind and perky and just all around good she is. She was smiling and happy throughout her critique and just a ball of sunshine, and seeing her face crumple as she falls into tears upon hearing that she's out was just heartbreaking. 

--Also in the great personality category is Samantha. She's so personable and quirky when they come to her on the runway that it brought a smile to my face. That girl is going to go far in life and hopefully this competition. 

--It's only been two episodes but I'm still wondering about the overall collection of talent here. Don't get me wrong, I think all of these kids are good; as evidenced by two weeks of pretty glowing reviews on their final looks. But I'm wondering if it isn't that a select few (Samantha, Jaxson, Jesse, Maya, and Zachery) aren't lightyears ahead of the rest of the pack. 

--Though to be fair, Jaxson's stumble here might call into question his placement on this list. I think he was just a bit too ambitious, and I do think it would have been great if he'd been able to finish it all properly, but I think the others have been more consistently good through this small sampling. 

--In keeping with my comments about how close these kids are, Maya finishes her look early and offers to help Jaxson finish his as well. It's adorable! Zach points out that he wasn't going to help because it's a competition, and his points aren't incorrect, and they're what we'd expect to hear from an adult on the other show, but something about them here felt discordant to me. Maya's far more the example I'd like others to follow since it gives me a higher esteem for this show than for PR.

--Sorry for the extreme delay in getting this up, the truth is I totally forgot it was even on last Thursday, and by the time I remembered it this week, I was already busy with holiday plans and such. But here, my Thanksgiving gift to you. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Project Runway Junior: S1 E1 "Welcome to New York"

I have not watched a single PR spinoff since the very first All Stars. If I'm remembering correctly, it wasn't a season, but like a one-off episode where some of the previous loser got to come on and try to get a kind of gratis win? The only thing I remember is that Korto was on it and I really wanted her to win because I thought she got shafted in her own season (the fifth) and I wanted her to finally get her due. She didn't, and I never watched another PR Spin-off again. Mostly, this is because I don't feel like the shows ever really justify their existence. I'm not a big fan of people coming back and competing again on a reality show. Contestants getting a second chance at Survivor has always been a pet peeve of mine. And I think that the judges, Heidi as the host, and Tim Gunn are seriously important elements to the show. Clearly, these things can change for the better (getting rid of Michael Kors in favor of Zac has proven to be a massive upgrade for the show), but the consistency is important to me. After watching the first episode of Project Runway Junior however, I'm a bit on the fence but leaning way more over into the plus side than the negative.

There's a fairly straight forward and simple reason for that: These kids are way more talented than they have any right to be! But let's get to that later. I want to start with the first thing about this episode that leaves me feeling more ambivalent than I thought it would. PR JR is working with an hour long runtime. If you guys have been following us for awhile, you know I tend to lament PR's current 90 minute timeframe, and I always hate it when the show crosses into the two hour mark. I've written ad nauseam about how well and poorly the producers have used their ever fluctuating, but generally increasing, runtimes over the years. So the assumption would be that I'd unreservedly  praise the shorter time here. But I'm not so sure. On the one hand, the episode is clipped and sparse and taken down to its bare essentials in storytelling. We get brief introductions to some of, not all of, the designers. This works in part because PR grownups has worked to introduce these kids to us a bit during commercial breaks in the last couple episodes of its previous season. But even if you hadn't been paying attention to those, it's fine because you get everything you need to know in this episode and the rest will come later. When PR edits a first episode to only showcase a handful of designers, namely the ones likely to be in the top or bottom of that particular episode, it stands heads and shoulders above an episode trying to introduce you to everyone.

But then there's Tim's mentoring, the runway, and the final judging which crack through at a breakneck pace. I was taking notes, so it makes sense that I had to pause and rewind multiple times just to get an impression of the looks coming down the runway, and I didn't even try to remember what all the judges were saying about the top and bottom looks. I can't imagine if you watched it in real time that you got the ability to have a lot of that portion of the show stick to your bones. I don't want to blame the hour long runtime for this because bad editing is bad editing, but the producers have to find a better place to shave time than in the final moments of the show. We didn't even get to the see the backs of most of the dresses because the catwalk was edited so it was one look walking towards the camera and then a jump cut to the next look walking towards us. At least give us a quick glimpse of the turn around, guys!

This blends in with another problem I had (the execution of the first challenge) to make me wonder how invested the PR producers are into this show and, by extension, how invested they want us to be. So the first challenge is a simple introductory challenge. The kids are brought up onto a roof top in Manhattan(?) and told to get inspired by New York to create a look that tells the judges who they are as a designer. It's fine, and it's not the first time PR has pulled out this kind of challenge, but they don't actually give the kids an opportunity to get inspired by New York city so much as being inspired by this one particular skyline view of this one particular place in New York city. And if you rewatch the episode, please don't take a shot for every time one of the kids says the skyline because you'll die of alcohol poisoning in no time flat. Don't get me wrong, the skyline is a very important and iconic aspect of NYC, but if the title of the episode is "Welcome to New York" and the point of the challenge is to be inspired by New York, then maybe (just maybe) you should take them around to actually see New York? To her credit, Sami looks down instead of up or just out and she sees the taxi's all in a row and is inspired by that, but pretty much everyone else just sees the tops of buildings, and makes a go of it.

But that's enough about the bad or the uncertain. The majority of the episode was fun and enjoyable so I'd rather talk about that. They're given one day and $200 to spend at Mood, and seeing these kids be overwhelmed by Mood, which again is a freaking warehouse of fabrics, is so touching. I think I've gotten so jaded by seeing designers just kind of in Mood like they own the place that there was something refreshing about this shopping trip. Zach remarks that $200 sounds like a lot of money, but at the end of the day it really isn't. Which as anyone who has bills to pay can tell you, is totally true, but ultimately not everything in Mood is $50 a yard like the fabric we saw him looking at, and the truth is it would be easy to find something more or less equivalent to it but at a lower price.

Jaxson, who is just cute as a fucking button, goes straight for the neoprene and I cringed. It's a great fabric as it has a very specific weight and texture to it, but I had no faith at all that he'd be able to work it into the flattering shapes he'd need it to be. It's not the only time I doubted these kids abilities given their ages and I doubt it'll be the last time this season, but I think these potentially low expectations are something the show has going in its favor. It'll allow us, or at least me, to be blown away more regularly each episode.

Tim's visit shoots by in a blur, but I was really happy to see he wasn't pulling his punches with these kids. His critique of Victoria's look isn't as mean and ugly as we've seen him get in the past, but neither is it the sugar coated gentle letdown I was worried it might be. He tells her in no uncertain terms that the leather strips are too much, need to be paired down or at least look way more purposeful, and then leaves her to her devices. Personally, I'd like to trade in the multitude of checkins we see here for just a handful of more in depth meetings with Tim, but again the editing is something they'll have to figure out as the season rolls on, or not at all, what do I know?

There's a cute moment the morning of the runway where Tim tell Zach who's scrambling around to get his dress finished that the look would give him a lot less trouble is the dress were shorter. I think whether or not this feels like favoritism is a point that will be uniquely subjective, but it was fine for me. It felt like a kind moment where a mentor simply provides the small push and a shift in perspective that someone would need to get their look over the hump. Not that it would make the look either better or worse, just that it would ensure something finished went down the runway. I loved it.

The Runway:

Bridget, 15: Ok, it’s simple, and maybe a bit boring, but I think it works for here. I’d make it safe. 

Peytie, 15: She made that print work a lot better than I expected it to. I’m impressed. It’s still a fairly simple dress though. 

Zach, 15: Making the dress shorter took this out of being elegant and into being cute. But with that being said, I think it’s cute. The free-standing top is nice, but I think it could be sexier. The whole thing, except the belt which I hate, is cute to me, and I can’t tell if that’s good or bad.

Victoria, 17: This is the first solid miss for me. The strips on the bottom never really were incorporated into the design as a whole. The fact that they don’t even go all the way around the skirt is a problem and looks tacky. And there’s something about the zipper in the back that I find horribly distracting. The top is at least OK, but I’m worried about the proportion here. I feel like the skirt comes up too high and the top doesn’t come down low enough so it makes her midriff look all wrong. 

Ysabel, 17: That top is to die for really. Those darts look good, but there’s some puckering on the right side that I don’t think is purposeful. The back took my breath away. I love this. I think the skirt is a bit more simple and paired down, though her fabric choice adds a lot to it all. But yeah, this is all wonderful to me. 

Matt, 17: The movement of the gold chain in the back sells this for me a lot more than anything else. I don’t think the velvet adds much to the overall look, though I can understand it adding a lux element to the design. And the gold on the front is something I find tacked on and distracting. The black velvet doesn’t photograph well so I can’t see anything special in the cut of the dress itself, which makes me think the selling point is the fabric and the gold chain, which isn’t enough for me. I like it, but I can’t love it. 

Samantha, 16: YES! A million times yes! Esp when you take into consideration the fact that she had to remake the pants in the 11th hour. The tie in the front is a very unique and innovative detail, the neckline on the top is just fascinating, I can’t stop looking at it, and there’s something wonderful about the baggy fit of the pants that I love. And she kept the color scheme simple in a way that makes this feel elegant to me. This is the most innovative and well thought out design so far, I think. There are some fly-aways on the waistline of both the top and the skirt, sadly, but that can be forgiven. 

Jesse, 16: The first thing I notice is how clean his lines are. I respect that. And the little details at the neck are a nice touch to set this just to the right of “simple little black dress.” I also like the slit in the skirt which is tasteful. But this whole thing isn’t wowing me. 

Sami, 16: Hm…. I like the fabric. The simple truth here is I like the top, and I respect what she went for with the back, but I don’t like the skirt. I think the skirt is both poorly constructed and conceived, but I’d need to see an example of that kind of skirt done well to know for sure. 

Maya, 13: I think the color, the movement, and the back are all fabulous on this one. I don’t like the detail on the belt. I think it would stand out more if it was only done on the back instead of on both. The belt just looks messy to me. But other than that I love this. 

Jaxson, 15: This is the other really smartly designed look out there. I was worried about him working with that fabric, but clearly he knew what he was doing. It’s got a weight to it that works, and the flatness of the color is really remarkable. And I think the cutouts on the bottom, both in front and back, are striking. I’m impressed. 

Zachary, 16: This is great too. I like the two fabrics and the transition from the heavier one into the lighter more flowing fabric on the bottom. I also think the amount of skin showing is perfect. it’s not a sexy look, but the cutouts go a long way towards making it one of the sexier things we’ve seen. 

Ok so Sami, Zach, and Victoria are on the bottom, while Jaxson, Samantha, and Maya are on the top. I don't recall the judging as clearly as I should because, like I said, it went by way too quickly. After all the pausing and rewinding I had to do just to get something to write down about each look on the runway, I was too tired to keep up the trend for the judging. But from what I remember the judges chastise Zach for poofiness of his skirt making his model's butt and hips look big. They say the same thing to Sami while also pointing out that her look is poorly constructed, but they don't hate the taxicab influence. Victoria is told that the strips are tacked on and lazy since they don't go all the way around the skirt. 

For the top looks, they compliment Maya on the color and the movement and the guts it took to make a jumpsuit like that. The truth is I had forgotten she'd made pants when I watched it on the runway; the fabric moved so well that I thought it was a dress. They do call Samantha out on her poor finishing of the hemlines on her garments (though I think Christian mentioned liking those elements), but ultimately can't limit the amount of good things they have to say. Kelly hits on the intended androgyny behind the whole thing, and there was something refreshing about it being noticed. Christian's points about the belt being big but not functional, and great because of all that were also really nice to hear as I loved that belt. They also all love Jaxson's look and the amount of thought that went into it. Someone points out that he didn't really intend to use the grey fabric on the front until he saw the back of the colored neoprene he bought and realized how well it would work, and how you can still see some of the color just peaking out on the front adds dimension to it all, and it pointed out just how much this kid was thinking in the moment to be able to create that look. 

In the end, Samantha wins and Sami goes home. Personally, I would have sent Zach home this week because I think Sami's look at least told us a bit more about who she is as a designer and I tend to think that the holding of ideas is better than no ideas, and that's the difference to me between these two looks. But I think Tim might have saved Zach with his comments to the judges that he whipped out that skirt in like an hour. It wasn't a good skirt, but he was at least capable of doing it quickly, so maybe that was worth keeping him around for another week. But either way, my main impression of PR JR is that it stands to be able to justify it's existence in a way that no other PR spin off has. Certainly, it's still Lifetime trying to squeeze every dime out of this series that it can. But these kids are all adorable and talented. They're personalities are bigger than the contestants we just spent the last couple of months watching, and the show has kept enough of the strong PR elements that the transition shouldn't be jarring. In short, I'm watching this until it gives me a reason to stop, and I'd love it if you guys watched along with me. 

Loose Threads:

--Let's get this out of the way early: Hannah Davis does not have Heidi's stage presence at all. She's beautiful, and she at least delivers her line as well as can be expected, but she's not charismatic or compelling. I don't remember having a problem with her criticisms at least, so she might make a better judge than host. But still, she might be the weakest link of the show. 

--I'm curious to see what the biggest flaw and drop off is between this show and the regular PR. My early guess is in construction issues. The number of darts that were off center and Samantha's messy hemlines were some of the early warning signs, but we'll see. 

--What I don't expect these kids to have a problem with is a lack of ideas and creativity, but we'll see about that too. A lot of these first looks were fairly simple and straight forward dresses and silhouettes we've seen before. I'm hoping that has more to do with first challenge jitters than anything else.

--If this isn't just jitters though, I think there's a big gulf between the talent levels here. Seeing how Jaxson and Samantha seriously thought out their designs and executed them well compared to just about everyone else's simple dresses was striking. 

--The winner will get a full scholarship to FIDM and $25k! Not to mention a spread in Seventeen magizine and some sewing stuff. It's a great prize since it's age appropriate, has the ability to seriously change these kid's lives, and shouldn't lead to nearly as much stupid product placement. 

--Samantha spent like $40 on her entire look! I'm seriously impressed by that. I said it looked elegant to me, and I stand by that even though I wish she had cleaned up the hems. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Project Runway: S14 E14 "Finale Part 2"

I honestly can't wait to hear what everyone thinks about this episode. I'm tempted to just say "Ok, Ashley won, Now go!" and have that serve as the review. Not that I don't have thoughts of my own, because I do, but because I honestly think the discussion over these last couple episodes has been stellar and I can't wait to get to it on this final episode. Because honestly is there a more rote and simple episode in Project Runway's run than the final episode? Here is where you do away with typical drama and challenges and get to the meat of it all. It's the closest thing to an all runway all the time episode that we get, and I don't know if that improves or decreases the overall appeal of the thing.

If there's one thing I feel is totally true here, it's that this final episode is honestly a solid encapsulation of what this season was, for better or worse. There's no big drama, no big personality, and the outcome isn't even surprising. The talent seen in the final collections is on par with the talent level we've seen all season, and somehow that's both gratifying and a bit sad at this stage in the competition. I think what most viewers want is a situation wherein the final collections blow us all away. This is supposed to be the best of the best. If you'll allow me to make yet another one of my patented sports analogies: the Pros of any sport is meant to be a distillation of the best talent available. Colleges and minor leagues feature a bunch of players who, ostensibly, aren't good enough for the Pros. The people who end up drafted to the Pro level tend to be the top 2% of the talent available. Thusly, they tend to turn out a better product than their lower level counterparts. Likewise, that's what we expect for the finale of PR. I've said it before and I'll say it again, these are the four best and most talented designers this season had to offer. So isn't it fair to expect that every look of each collection will be a WOW? Even if they aren't looks you'd want to wear or buy, they should be looks that move you and allow you to see why they're worthy of being at this point.

I don't think it'll surprise anyone when I say that I don't think these collections do that, but I also don't think it was possible for them to given what we know about these designers. At the end of the episode during the judges' deliberation, Nina says something that reconceptualizes the season for me. She says that this feels like a season about identity. The question for these final collections, therefore, is who kept their identity and who lost it?

So we start where we left off with Ashley and Kelly having very small and easy things to do based on the remarks from the judges, and Candice and Edmond needing to rework most of their collections at this point. They have about two days, but also a lot of consultations and fittings to get in there as well. Tim asks everyone if they want another Mood trip. Ashley and Kelly are the only ones who bite, but both say they'd only get small things, so Tim offers to go to Mood for them and let them keep working. I was only half listening when this happened and had to rewind to see what I had missed because when Tim offered to go shopping for Kelly and Ashley I nearly jumped out of my seat and yelled about favoritism. But no, it all seems fair and on the up and up, so we can move on.

The major take away from these last couple days of work is that Candice seems to be handling her critique and tasks better than Edmond is. They're both changing a lot and creating new looks, but by the time Tim comes in to meet with them, Candice at least looks like she has a direction carved out while Edmond is still waffling on major decisions. We know he can sew like the dickens, but still. When Tim tells him these choices on where he's going should have been made already, he's right and a sense of doom encapsulates all.

I have a confession to make, Runaways: the pre-runway scramble before NYFW is one of my very favorite aspects of the show. I don't tend to like it much before each individual runway, but there's something about it on this episode that I love. We've had models showing up late, people spilling coffee on dresses, and all kinds of drama happen here. It's hardly ever very long lasting, and most often something happens off camera to resolve it, but I love it anyway. Such is the case when Ashley busts a zipper while dressing one of her models. I didn't think it was going to stop or delay her from showing, and indeed since she showed last that wasn't really an option, but it was still a remarkable moment. And the only moment of drama before the runway that we got, so I guess let's move on. Carrie Underwood was the guest judge this week, and apparently she just released her own fashion line, so good on her.

The Runway:

Kelly: Is it just me or does this look a million times better than what she showed in the last challenge? Is it just that the sparkle factor has been kicked up a few notches? I was worried it’d make a cheap collection look even cheaper, but I don’t think that’s been the outcome. I think Kelly has a very unique and specific perspective and point of view and it comes through well in her designs here. I still think the full wood panel look is a bit off. And there’s a more elegant look towards the end that strikes a discordant note too, but for the first time I can say that I fully see who she is as a designer and I can accept that there’s a legit place for her in the market. I’m far more impressed than I expected. 

Edmond: “Failure” is the only word that comes to mind here. The first look is a simple and boring black dress. And the ruffles are indeed overdone. The ninth look reminds me of toilet papered house, and the last look is nice but I felt like it was diminished by all the ruffle looks that came before it. It could have stood out and been more of a statement piece if he had allowed it to be unique. The second look in the collection becomes a silhouette that we see in the collection over and over again and it gets boring. Or maybe it's just bad in general as I hate all three of those looks. There are some stand out pieces here, but I am ultimately unimpressed. 

Candice: Good, not great. I think they did Candice a disservice by telling her to pair it down, the collection needed volume and drama. The first three or four looks I found boring and forgettable, but I think it picks up more towards the middle starting with that great jacket which I still love. The red leather look and the dress with the sparkly red skirt with all the right amounts of skin showing are statement pieces. And I like the final looks as well, though it's easy to argue they're dressing two different women. The collection reads like her in the sense of bringing her own personal style to the runway, so that’s good, but I think it’s a shame that she lost all of the bigger standout pieces which spoke more to her design aesthetic.  

Ashley: The thing to me about Ashley’s collection is that the lows are really low and I don’t know that I think the highs are quite high enough to circumvent that. There’s a full teal look that feels last minute and thrown together and way too covered up. And I don’t know what I think about the last look which is pretty and moves well, but also looks a little arts and crafts to me. But the purple look we saw last week is still really good, and the pieces that show some skin in this collection are always the best. The fact of the collection and the importance of it is never lost on me, but I’m not sure where I fall on the execution of it. 

So as is expected, the collections are too close to really call and none of them offer any kind of standout from the pack pieces that we've seen before. Compare this to last season's finale when I couldn't stop gushing over all of Sean's looks while everyone else's except Amanda's left me a bit stagnant. Granted, I was biased towards Sean for awhile, and PR has taken last season's pics down so the links in that review are dead and I don't feel like looking up all of their respective collections, but still. The fact remains that we've seen collections in the past that were clear statements about who deserved the win. We don't really have that here and I don't think we expected to. 

The judging goes along those lines we've been used to for the last few weeks. They loved some things from each contestant, and hated some things from each as well. Everyone compliments Kelly's voice and point of view and justify her place in the fashion world. This is something I agree with fully as I can totally see a number of girls excited to wear her looks. I don't think her's is a name we'll hear on red carpets too often, but her strength is clearly ready to wear, and that's where she can make an impact. 

They also commend Ashley's bravery for creating a collection that was so her. I've said it multiple times, but the sheer existence of this collection on this show is super important. And Ashley's ability and willingness to helm this ship is great and says a lot about her. Heidi points out that the dresses look expensive, and Zac points out that her girls all looked really happy and comfortable in her looks, and those things go a long way for me. In short, Kelly and Ashley are praised for keeping their identity within the challenge. 

Conversely, Candice and Edmond are chided for not doing so. Candice admits later on that she allowed the judges to strip her identity out of the collection in an effort to give them what she thought (and what they said) they wanted. Meanwhile, Edmond is kind of scrambling to explain that what he wanted to convey with some of his looks, the toilet paper dress for example, which Heidi hates as much as I do, is that he wants you to feel something when you see it. Whether that something is love or hate doesn't matter to him so long as he's brought on a response. I want to say that I think that ideology is perfectly valid for a piece of art that might hang on a wall or sit on a pedestal; it is not, however, acceptable for a piece of fashion that an amateur (because let's be honest, that's what PR contestants are) designer is going to send down the runway at NYFW. There's been a lot of talk about whether you should keep the identity you've had all season long to this point, or ditch it and show the judges something new, but I think what most of us should be able to agree with is that you don't send something down you know people might hate and be OK with the fact that they might hate it. That's not winning anyone the PR crown. 

I like Nina's statements about this season being about identity because they harken back to the very first episode to me. Remember my cute Ginger Bear and that draped gown he sent down the runway? I loved it, but the judges sent it home because they felt it didn't tell them anything about who he was as a designer. When they questioned him, he didn't seem to have much of an answer about who he was yet, and said he's still trying to figure it out. Nina's statements pull us back to that moment and to the possibility of a season long arc for these contestants. Kelly found a strong identity and point of view in the later weeks and rode that to more wins than anyone else, as Heidi points out. Candice and Edmond found some amount of success and then lost their identities at the end either because the judges didn't like what they saw in their mini-collections, or because they tried to get too artsy and lost an essential part of themselves. 

But Ashley's is the story of a girl who starts out with an identity and a point of view that she maybe doesn't know she has, or at least doesn't fully know if she believes in. It's there though, and it propels her to a win in the first episode with this breathtaking look. She gets another win later on before she starts to falter and lose faith in herself in the face of some Mean Girls bullshit from the other designers. But then she rallies, finds herself again, and turns out a collection that marks a great first for Project Runway, and earns her the ultimate win. I don't think the entire season was edited in such a way that it could get at the heart of this story, or this theme of identity. Indeed, every season of Project Runway can be said to be about identity in some way or another. But I think this season featured the least talented group of designers we've seen in awhile, and therefore it lends itself to this reading more than past seasons might. These people had to go about finding themselves over the course of this competition, and acknowledging that journey and the stumbles along the way (and the stumbles at the end here) somehow makes this entire season feel a lot more purposeful and generally better than it felt in the middle of it. 

Loose Threads:

--OK I've been holding this in for a long time but I have to say it: Guys, I'm REALLY REALLY excited for PR Junior. I'll detail all the reasons why in the first comment, but yeah, I'm in!

--Kelly's tears and disappointment at the end make perfect sense as she made it to the top two and really wanted to win. She even says that she's happy for Ashley and these are mostly happy tears. But given the Mean Girls behavior from her all the way up until the last freaking episode, I'm calling bull shit. I think she was mad that Ashley, whom she has no faith in, beat her. Prior to the episode, I said I'd be happy with any win other than Kelly, then I saw her collection and changed my mind, and then I saw her reaction to losing and changed it back. Sorry, but Kelly can go fuck herself!

--Looking at Candice's pieces all laid out at the beginning of the episode as she decided what to keep, scrap, and edit, was heart braking to me. 

--Thanks to everyone for joining in for another year with Project Runaways. It's be a pleasure writing up these episodes and engaging with you guys in the comments as always. I might actually watch the reunion episode this year, which I don't generally do. But if I do, I doubt I'll write it up for the blog. Instead, if you watch it, and want to say something about it, feel free to come back to this post and leave a comment and we can get a thread started there. Other than that, I'm thinking we'll certainly be back next year for another season, so be sure to check back in, and I might even keep going and writing up PR JR when that get's started, so maybe we can spend even more time together.