Whom do I thank for the awesomely entertaining mix of designers this season? Even with Casanova gone, the quips were flying around the workroom and the Atlas apartments -- especially the Heidi impressions. (My favorite, when April tied a strip of black lace over Michael D.’s eyes while he worked on his cowgirl skirt: “Michael Drummond! I can’t tell if I should be harvesting wheat or smacking you with it. You’re in!”)
But oh, this challenge. I have to agree with the designers on this one -- it was too many challenges in one. Create your personal take on classic American sportswear and use Jackie Kennedy as your muse. OK, first of all, it has to reflect your design aesthetic; Tim Gunn emphasized that criterion. But it also has to be classic. It has to be at least a “take” on American sportswear. (Is that how Michael C. slipped through, not with sportswear but with a back-baring “take” on it?) And it has to reference Jackie O somehow, but of course not in a literal way because this is your take and it needs to be now and fashion forward and ... ow, my head.
At least early on in the workroom, the designers seemed to be succumbing to the failure the producers were setting them up for. Lead, but be classic. Be Jackie, but be yourself. So everyone flails about worried that they’re either falling into their old patterns or deviating from them too much. Except Ivy, of course, who is so excited about her color palette: “Either white and black, or white and navy.” Thrilling! Mondo grabs a huge herringbone print with purple stripes, a pattern that was probably named “Mondo Chanel,” then predictably second-guesses himself and wishes he’d gone a different way.
By the time of Tim’s walkthrough, if you could see Jackie Kennedy anywhere in that workroom, you were probably accessing the spirit realm through your television set rather than watching the show. There was Christopher’s one-shoulder thing that only needed Greek key trimming to serve as a costume in a high school production of Julius Caesar; Andy’s alarming draped cargo jodpuhrs, Valerie’s almost hot pants, Michael D.’s Annie Oakley skirt, and Michael C.’s electric blue eighties singles bar number that begged for some retro L’Oreal teased hair and glitter eyeshadow.
And then came the twist: Make a piece of outerwear to accompany your look. And here comes Valerie trying to carve out some kind of exemption for herself: “If the garment we made is similar to a jacket already, can we use it as our outerwear?” “No!” replied Tim without the slightest hesitation, before pointing out that making a jacket initially probably wasn’t the best interpretation of the original challenge.
Say what you will about Michael C. -- and by this point, everything that can be said about him probably has been said -- the man can really churn out the garments. By my count he made five different pieces in two days, three dresses and two jackets. The other designers snipe at him for it in the confessional, but it’s clearly just his way of working. He doesn’t make patterns, he makes garments. He doesn’t edit before constructing, he constructs, then edits by eliminating completely realized options. It’s a strategy, and it seems to be working for him, sorry haters. (On the other hand, Michael C., much as Gretchen, Ivy and April’s seething, irrational hatred makes me want to defend you, your confessional about lying about respecting Gretchen’s garment to her face made you look like a real bitch. Don’t make me hate myself for standing up for you.)
Despite the early chaos, however, by the runway show -- and thanks in part to the addition of the outerwear pieces in some cases -- almost all the designers had pulled it together and managed to succeed at some part of this zillion-dimensional challenge. April made a version of her winning look from last week with more coverage. Ivy came roaring back from near death with, to my mind, the most stylish look of the night; somewhere in this mess of a challenge she found the home that has so far eluded her on the show. Michael C.’s look showed way too much skin for sportswear. I really liked Gretchen’s relaxed look, but then I nearly always like what she makes, which is perturbing because she’s so annoying personally (Her confessionals this week made me wonder if she believes she is competing on Project Project Runway Judge.) All of them safe.
For highs and lows we have Michael D.; my notes read simply “too junior,” but the judges pounce on him for almost every aspect of this bizarre monochromatic costume. Valerie gets almost as harsh a treatment, and I agree with the judges about the wearying color palette, but I thought the vest was a great solution to the outerwear problem and that the knit top was wearably casual. Where I departed most with the panel was with Andy, whose crazy pants I ended up liking in motion, but whose form-fitting top and cropped vest looked cool as heck coming down the runway. (Standing still for the critique, though, the whole outfit did come off as “unfortunate.”) And as soon as I saw the silhouette that Mondo had cut his wacky fabrics into at the first model fitting, I knew we had a winner. He managed to hit more of the notes of this crowded, contradictory challenge than anyone else: Jackie’s there in the boatneck and skirt shape, a nod to 60’s Paris in the stripes, and Mondo in the print.
Thankfully for my ego and Andy’s too (he’s flabbergasted that the judges hate his outfit so much), Andy’s non-boringness saves him from elimination, and Michael D.’s unmitigated disaster goes home. But not before January Jones single-handedly rescues the concept of the guest judge with an off-camera zinger that, I confess, made me fall in love with her. Speaking of Andy’s look, Michael Kors asks, “Why is she wearing Nicole Kidman’s boots from Cold Mountain?” And without missing a beat, Jones adds: “And her hair from Far and Away!” If you can pull that out of your ass, January, you don’t need to be a fashion icon. You can judge my reality show anytime.
- Many thanks to John Teti, who had owned this space with intimidating panache and flair all season, for letting me sit in this week.
- If you want to move pictures of Jacqueline Kennedy around with your finger, HP Touchscreens are the monitors for you!
- Who needs Casanova’s amusing cluelessness when you’ve got the Christopher and Mondo show? “Mondo, would you tap dance for a second?” “No.” “C’mon, I’ll give you a dollar.” “All right.”
- Ivy feels like shapes are timeless. Polygons know no season.
- Michael D. gauges Tim Gunn’s horror by how far up his concerned hand goes over his mouth.
- Heidism of the week: “Boobhole.”