Project Runway: “A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock N Roll”
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Project Runway: “A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock N Roll”

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Project Runway

“A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock N Roll”

Season 11, Episode 5

So it’s official: Michelle is cursed.

The pattern is so consistent I’m surprised the designers haven’t discussed it yet. Michelle is an anchor. If she’s on your team, you’re going to lose, and someone—not her!—is going to go home. Poor Matthew gets the brunt of that this week, after suffering from an acute attack of low self-esteem, and even though the outfit he puts out is passable, it’s certainly neither interesting nor unique, and so he goes home, in tears, taking his fabulous blue pants with him. I do like Michelle’s designs, but teamwork is clearly not her forte. (She’s kind of like the Rogue of Project Runway, apparently sucking the talents of each team for her own work, leaving those around her scrambling. And Wolverine is—oh, never mind.)

“A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock N Roll” is not the best episode of Project Runway, but it’s not the worst, either. It’s a solid mid-competition episode, but it feels a little less fun and a little more stressful than is entirely enjoyable. The team thing is briefly set aside this week to pair everybody up into mini-teams, and each duo has to create a performance dress and an awards-show dress. For once, the designers feel evenly matched—no one’s going out with a glued-together jacket or a tied-on top. Everything is finished and expressing some sort of vision, with the odd exception here and there. And because the teams are so small, no one feels like they are floating by unfairly or getting ousted even after contributing a great deal. Even Benjamin gets it together this week, putting together a beautiful structured evening gown that almost wins the challenge. That honor instead goes to Richard, for pulling together what is nearly a disaster into something that’s pretty chic if (to my mind) relatively cliche.

This week, the designers are tasked to dress country music star Miranda Lambert, a person I have never heard of, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t suitably important. She’s very nice during the judging—using her position as an opportunity to provide Matthew with some runway therapy, among other things. Miranda has a relatively obvious style—“a little country, a little rock ’n’ roll,” i.e., what a country-ish pop star needs to wear. She’s also “curvy,” the fashion euphemism for “not model-sized,” so she is concerned with “enhancing” and “flattering” her shape. For once it feels like the designers are given adequate guidelines to work with—though they all interpret the guidelines with the same few ideas. Perhaps this is just me, but does country-rock really need to mean fringe and leather and navy blue everywhere? It seems to me like pop music must have offered more to fashion instead of merely fringe, but you wouldn’t be able to tell, looking at the top four dresses.

Because the judges love the fringe. Amanda’s and Richard’s performance dresses are both fringe-y and cocktail length, standing out for their ease of movement and and showiness. They’re certainly the best-tailored of the performance dresses—and Richard pulling that lining out of nowhere with those T-shirts is really quite impressive—but I thought they were a little too on-the-nose. Anyway, who cares, because Miranda’s going to wear the dress, and she loves the fringe. 

At least the awards-show gowns offered a little more space for going couture. Out of the top two teams, Benjamin’s is easily the winner—I, in fact, hate Stanley’s weird gown, which somehow manages to look extremely unflattering on even the model. I also liked Kate’s, though. The red leather contrasting with the airy fabric of the gown is a cool idea. Both Kate and Tu have great designs, actually. I think they get knocked down because they’re both at the same level of talent, while clearly Benjamin and Richard outshine their teammates.

But overall, I’m not blown away by the quality of the fashion in this episode. Nothing really strikes me as something totally beautiful. Even though last week’s flower-hardware episode had a few weird judging calls and over-the-top product placement, the great dresses, when they came down the runway, were absolutely gorgeous. This week, I have to admit, there are few to no dresses that speak to me in the same way.

If anything, the episode largely serves to remind the audience how hard Project Runway is, and how much work the designers do off-camera to make their designs even passably good. There’s a few quiet moments in the workroom where it’s suddenly abundantly clear just how frantically these designers are working to churn out their visions. Tim comes in and greets them cheerily. Their responses are so listless and weak, a ragged “Good morning” that belies their fatigue. Benjamin, who had crumbled under the pressure a few weeks ago, creates a timetable this week to keep himself on schedule. It’s both touching and a little pathetic—like, oh honey, it’s just a game–but of course, this is an environment of tremendous pressure with high stakes for these designers who are looking to make it big. Anyway, if you were ever going to feel sorry for reality TV contestants, you could start with this episode.

Stray observations:

  • I’m loving the subtext between Michelle and Nina in this episode. Talk about polar opposites. Nina is expensive, chic, tasteful, contained; Michelle is trashy, punky, unconventional, and unrestrained. I wonder if these two are going in for a showdown. Michelle’s detailed impression of Nina’s voice and opinions is so funny it nearly redeemed the character for me. Of course, Michelle’s outfit is a little cray-cray. I like the idea, but wow, mermaid skirt made out of black denim? For the red carpet? Are these people listening to themselves? Her extended defense of her “hair-metal” aesthetic does not help. Nina remarks after she leaves the runway: “I really question Michelle’s taste.”
  • Another nail in the coffin for Michelle and Matthew comes early on, when the two decide to scrap their navy-blue idea because everyone else is doing that color, too. So they go with… black. Right. Okay.
  • A little too much “designers saying mean things about each other’s work” in this episode, especially considering they clearly all get along really well.
  • I have to admit that Daniel’s gushing about his soutache gets super-grating. His dress is heinous and I am happy he gets a bit of a reality check. Meanwhile, I do not think Samantha’s outfit is nearly as bad as everyone else seems to, though it did seem like something she’d done before.
  • Amanda using the word “dichotomies” to an audience of Nina, Zac, Heidi, and Miranda Lambert made me laugh out loud.

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