overthinking the idiot box

March 13, 2006

The Hot Look This Season

Why Project Runway Is the Best Reality Show on TV
by Erin O'Brien

Full disclosure: When I was a teenager, I had secret ambition to be a fashion designer. I bought Vogue and Marie Claire with my allowance money and made scrapbooks out of the looks I liked the most. I kept sketchbooks full of my own designs. I even took a fashion and advertising art class where I learned how to do fashion drawings, but my teacher decided my aptitude for watercolors would be better suited for painting a travel poster, so I never got to see any of my designs come to life, and thus ended my design career.

I kind of relive that every Wednesday night. I mean, I own a sewing machine. I know about fabrics and thread and color. I could totally compete with these crazy characters on Project Runway, right?

Yeah, not so much. Maybe I just have a mean competitive streak, but my default position when watching most reality television is, "If I were on this show, I would totally beat the pants off these clowns!" Whether I have the requisite skills is irrelevant. I probably wouldn't last more than a day on whatever deserted island Survivor is taking place on this season. I can't really sing, so becoming the American Idol is unlikely. But reality show contestants are generally sort of ridiculous and lacking in the common sense department, so I feel like I'd have the edge, you know?

Even if you don't like the designs, there's clearly a lot of creativity there. Also, dude, sewing is hard. These guys are all clearly skilled.
So here comes a reality show about something I actually know a few things about. Maybe it's because of my knowledge of fashion and sewing machine operation that I continue to be impressed week after week with what the designers send down the runway. I mean, the cast has been awesome during this second season, but I get a little giddy before the runway show portion of the episode. Sometimes I don't like what comes down the runway. Sometimes I'm just in awe that someone would think to make an evening gown based on a photo of water in a gutter or that someone thought drop-waist dresses were totally the thing Banana Republic should be selling or that someone thought a pair of jeans would make a neat jacket. Even if you don't like the designs, there's clearly a lot of creativity there. Also, dude, sewing is hard. These guys are all clearly skilled.

And on top of all the great fashion moments is the cast: sixteen designers from all over the country (and South Africa) with wildly different backgrounds and ideas about design. I'll talk about the finalists and the winner in a bit, but first, let's do a recap.

The Designers: The Good, the Bad, and the Creepy
In the interest of space, I'm not going to talk about all of the designers at length. We never really got to know some of the earlier eliminated designers, although I think Raymundo would have been a lot of fun if he'd stayed around longer. I mean, his Barbie challenge outfit was horrendous, but he would have brought the snark.

Then there's Daniel Franco. Oh, Daniel Franco. No doubt he's a gifted designer. He was such a blip on the Season 1 screen, I thought it was great that he came back and hung in there for a couple of episodes, but his perfectionism proved to be his Achilles' heel, which, at the time, I thought was too bad. I thought it was noble that he blamed himself for defeat, acquitting Chloe and Kara during the lingerie challenge. I thought he should have won over Santino, who acted like an asshat and sent his models down the runway made up like deer wearing lederhosen. This was about the time I started rooting for Santino's elimination, by the way, but knew deep down that he'd make it to the end. But we're talking about Daniel Franco, right? So. Clearly gifted, kind of a control freak, etc. But then during the reunion show? Creepy. Uh, Daniel, you know they were kidding about auditioning for Season 3, right? And he seems frighteningly obsessed with Heidi. Like, during the lingerie challenge when he met with Heidi one-on-one to discuss his line? And during the reunion when he was all, "I love you, Heidi," and Heidi made a face like she was contemplating a restraining order? Yeah.

Guadalupe lost her marbles somewhere, which led to a bad haircut and some bad designs, but awesome television. I feel like we never got to know Emmett much beyond, "I'm a menswear designer, I've never clothed women before," like, yeah, we get it, thanks, but the hot pink skating outfit was pretty hilarious. Was that a little glitter "E" he added to it? I thought Marla was pretty cool, albeit matronly, in the beginning; her designs were indistinctive, but to me, she seemed like the type of woman you might find in a continuing education class, like she'd seen what life had to offer and opted for a career change. I liked her maturity, but she seems more suited to, say, design gowns for a bridal boutique than to have a show during Fashion Week.

I was sad to see Diana go; I love how contrary she is, the science nerd with the wild side. She looks so sweet with her meek voice and her glasses, and then she sent bondage-inspired undies down the runway for the lingerie challenge. Zulema annoyed me to no end, like her inner personality meter was forever stuck on Aggressive and Abrasive. And her insistence on referring to all materials as singular ("I've never worked with sequin," etc.) was highly problematic to my editorial ears. I loved Nick at first and had him in my final 3 prediction, but right around the time Zulema stole his model, he started wearing on me. Okay, so Tarah rocked, and I know he liked her a lot, but he acted as though Zulema killed his sister. And then the fishtail skirts and the "Paris Hilton on vacation" theme to most of his designs started getting old. And of course Kara, who nearly made it to the end but never won a challenge, whose explanations for her designs were more elaborate than the designs themselves, who had a cool accent. She actually grew on me as the competition went on, and I loved the design she created for Santino, but final 3 material she was not.

Andrae! Oh, I loved Andrae to bits. I love the faces, the expressions, the overreactions, the crying, the prancing, everything. And he was a great designer to boot! His was the first elimination I was really bummed out by. I hadn't thought he'd make the final 3, but I thought having him on the show really added a lot. You can imagine my delight when Santino chose him to be his assistant in the penultimate episode.

More on the finalists in a moment.

I'll let the viewers make the call, but I will say that one of my favorite moments of the reunion show was when Rachael met Zulema's BS "I wanted you to grow with another designer" speech with a big raised eyebrow.
Grave Injustices
So that whole walk-off thing. Do models really have walk-offs, or was that something Ben Stiller made up? Has Zoolander inadvertently ruined the fashion industry forever? Putting that aside, was Zulema justified? Sure, she was, I guess, but it felt like a cheap move. Rachael would have been a perfectly good model if you hadn't forced the L'Oreal people to put so much dark eye makeup on her. But it was Zulema's prerogative to choose a new model. Nick took it too personally, and Zulema couldn't have predicted that she'd lose and therefore end up sending the lovely Tarah home. I'll let the viewers make the call, but I will say that one of my favorite moments of the reunion show was when Rachael met Zulema's BS "I wanted you to grow with another designer" speech with a big raised eyebrow.

Although Daniel V.'s design was rich and gorgeous, Andrae should have won the inspiration challenge, if only for really embodying the challenge: he made a lovely gown based on a photo of dirty water in a gutter — hence turning something ugly into something beautiful — and the dress looked like the photo, so he really rose to the challenge in the way none of the other designers did.

And Santino's continued catty remarks cannot be forgotten, but, more than that, the fact that he repeatedly created completely impractical designs with little regard for the client he was designing for and yet remained in the competition continues to baffle me. Nina Garcia told him during the evening gown challenge that his dress was "the most editorial," and yeah, a gold dress with lots of shiny things hanging from it looked much different from the other three dresses — all of which looked like something one might find during prom season at Lord & Taylor — but "different" is not always "good." Santino may be a genius, but he missed the mark a lot and yet remained. Then again, maybe he deserved his chance at Fashion Week.

Awesome Moments
Love him or hate him, Santino was good with the impressions. His Tim Gunn was dead on, and the whole made-up story about Tim and Andrae at Red Lobster? Comedy gold.

Project Runway: The Musical. Again with the Santino — and this is why you can never really hate him as much as you want to — but the songs were awesome. The sequence during the reunion show featuring Nick and Santino singing "Daniel Franco: Where Did You Go?" was just awesome.

Other favorite moments: Daniel V.'s workroom games; Nick's wigging out over Sasha Cohen; Kara helping Chloe glue leaves during the flower challenge, showing it's not always all cut throat; the sequence of the designers taking photos during the inspiration challenge; Kara losing her doll's hat during the Barbie challenge and staying behind to fish it out of the Toys R Us escalator. And on and on. Have I mentioned that I love this show?

And Now, the Finalists
I had these three pegged as the finalists pretty early on; the season didn't contain many surprises in terms of eliminations. Well, at the season's halfway point, I was guessing Chloe, Daniel, and Nick, but that's because I was hoping Santino would be eliminated. Alas.

I've already said a lot about Santino. I hated him through most of the show, but he was such a personality that it's hard to contemplate this season without him. Imagine if he had been eliminated during, like, the lingerie challenge. How would the show have turned out? And then, during the first finale episode, suddenly he found a way to make me like him a little. I don't know if it was his hardships, or the images of him with adorable small children, or the fact that he and my mother share a home state, but I didn't hate him anymore. And I kind of loved that first dress he showed us, and it somehow erased the lederhosen and the spangles and the feathers. It's crazy. How did that happen?

Daniel Vosovic, on the other hand. I loved him and rooted for him and I thought most of his designs were chic and elegant and wearable, but then, he got cocky. And then I liked him a lot less. All of his humility seemed to have fled during the first half of the finale, when he was shocked shocked that Tim wasn't heaping on the praise. It looks like he got that cockiness back in check, but it was not an admirable quality.

Chloe was my early favorite, although I wonder if she really does want more than her boutique in Texas. She seems more comfortable designing for clients than for Fashion Week. Then again, she is very cool, and her family survived a work camp in Laos, and she seems worldly and smart, if a little too in love with the color turquoise. Her designs are simple without being boring. She's great. But it's like all the air went out of her right before the finale, like she'd already given all she could. Maybe that made the end result that much more surprising.

The Finale
First, the collections! These were my basic impressions as the finale aired:

Daniel: I love the printed fabric. I love the white coat! I want it. I love the outfit with the brown vest and the glen plaid pants, I would totally wear that. The collection looks luxurious, full of soft fabrics, but it also looks very simple, not that imaginative. (Don't get me wrong, it fits very nicely with my personal style, but there wasn't anything that looked like something I hadn't seen before.) And then poor Rebecca tripped at the end of the show! The collection is very preppy chic, but not so much a reflection of the alleged Asian/military theme.

Chloe: I like Chloe's prints, too, the green with the flowers, but I'm not crazy about the shiny pink or the gold fabric. I do like the brown pantsuit. I like the other pants outfit, with the lace shrug. And I like the blue dresses, particularly the last one, the long one with the short sleeves and the interesting back (that's really lovely). Chloe's collection is much more interesting and imaginative than Daniel's, less wearable but maybe more creative.

His collection is not at all what I was expecting, and seems to be lacking some of the things that make Santino dresses Santino dresses. Where is the fringe and the ruffles and the feathers?
Santino: Santino's outfits are much simpler and elegant than I was expecting. I like the first shirt/skirt outfit, and I like the pink dress he did with Andrae. I really like the colors he used. Didn't like the leather corset/big sleeves outfit. I love the green sunburst-pleated dress, the first one we saw in the previous episode. His collection is not at all what I was expecting, and seems to be lacking some of the things that make Santino dresses Santino dresses. Where is the fringe and the ruffles and the feathers? It feels like there's not much cohesion here, and there are a couple of pieces (the leather corset outfit in particular, and his red dress) that don't fit with the general mood of the other parts of the collection.

And the winner is Chloe! I have to say, I'm happy with this choice, although I hear from some quarters that there was some outrage. And Chloe really was the designer I thought least likely to win going into the finale, so at least the Project Runway powers that be are keeping us on our toes. Ultimately, I thought Daniel's collection was more aesthetically pleasing, but Chloe's was definitely more creative. (And Santino's was elegant, but missing some key Santino elements, and I think the judges were right that not everything fit the models as well as it could have. I wonder also if the judges had some lingering resentment.) I'm happy for Grace, also, who I think was one of the more striking models in the competition. I look forward to the Elle magazine spread (I conveniently have a subscription) and I look forward to next season! It's great television.

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Return to Season 2, Episode 12.