Project Runway: “It’s Fashion Baby”
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Project Runway: “It’s Fashion Baby”

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Project Runway

“It’s Fashion Baby”

Season 10, Episode 11

I would have liked to watch this episode with Dan Quayle. Twenty years ago, in the midst of a presidential campaign, Quayle cited fictional TV magazine reporter Murphy Brown as one example of crumbling family values in America, explaining that the single-mom character was “ignoring the importance of fathers by birthing a child alone.”

I think it would be fun to watch Quayle squirm and fidget as we screened this installment of Project Runway together. It’s an episode in which a newly divorced European fashion model announces her intention to clothe millions of American children; in which a robot baby is cared for by a man whose personal style is a cross between Father Guido Sarducci and an Amish drag queen (this scenario is presented as a reasonable approximation of parenthood, no less); and in which a toddler is sent down a catwalk in a dress that strives to accentuate her hips. That dress, by the way, instead ends up exposing her crotch. Modern Family, eat your heart out.

This week’s adventure in liberated social standards begins at the Union Square branch of Babies “R” Us. If you’re not aware, Babies “R” Us is an infant-clothing wonderland of pallid fluorescent-tube lighting and sticky, gray-speckled linoleum that occupies the eighth circle of germophobe hell, right below, well, Toys “R” Us. (“The ‘R’ is for ‘rhinovirus’!”) Heidi and Tim are there to greet the designers, and while I’m distracted by the jet-black ninja stars she’s sporting around her eyes, I gather she wants them to create a look for her Babies “R” Us clothing line.

“It’s like you’re making an outfit for a cat,” Dmitry says. Now that would have been a good episode.

Six cute toddlers and their mothers have signed up for the challenge. The designers pick their partners at random, so that the baby picked last is not saddled with the implicit title of Ugliest Baby. Heidi reveals that the winning look will be manufactured and sold at Babies “R” Us, and then we see some dubious shots of the designers looking excited—presumably because the cameraman is shaking a ring of colorful plastic keys above the camera.

The designers confer with the moms—don’t call them “clients,” because Heidi is the client this week, and frankly she does not give a shit what these moms think is stylish. Fabio’s client wants him to make an outfit like little JFK Jr. used to wear. Fabio decides to do exactly this, shrewdly calling it “my idea.” Christopher’s client wanders around the store sneering at all of the merchandise, which is endearing, at least until we discover later that this woman simply hates everything, so her appearance of good taste is just that.

Heidi says there’s a surprise back at the workroom. The surprise is that a producer thought it would be hilarious to spice up the show with a bunch of Made In Taiwan electronic voice chips, each screeching out their monstrous renditions of a baby’s cry. These noise boxes are contained within simul-baby dolls. The designers greet their babies with some horror but mostly resignation, since all vestiges of dignity have long since left their weary spirits.

“They’re the screaming, crying babies they give to teenagers before you have sex,” Elena says. Tim reinforces the point. “These are like. Real. Babies,” says the avowed non-breeder. His voice carries the same level of sympathetic disgust I imagine Tim Gunn would use to introduce a Fear Factor challenge where the contestants had to eat raw horse testicles. His mouth says, “This will help you understand the experience of making clothes for babies,” but his eyes say, “We are completely just messing with you, and I am so sorry.”

Way too many grating squawks and screeches ensue—as if Kenley Collins is back on the set, or maybe Kenley Collins’ cat. Most of the designers react with annoyance, but Fabio dotes on his child. “Sonjia says my baby is making all the other babies in the room cry, which is bullshit. My baby is polite,” he says. If you’re wondering why old people hate the Millennials so much, it’s because sometimes it seems like all the Millennials were raised by parents like this.

Tim arrives with Heidi for his check-in. Heidi tells the designers that they “needed to know what it’s like to have a baby, so you could know how to make functional clothes,” but this second verbal fig leaf only compounds the embarrassment of Project Runway’s naked gimmickry.

Heidi is a little more forthcoming with suggestions and explicit direction than Tim usually is, sometimes recommending entire garments to the designers. (Looking at one particular fabric from her line: “What about a skirt made from that?”) Both mentors are dubious of Dmitry’s firefighter-esque jumpsuit, but Sonjia takes her disdain a step further: “I really don’t see myself ever putting my kid in Dmitry’s firefighter jumpsuit. A little ‘homeless,’ in my opinion.” Umm…oh! That reminds me. Have you seen this?

Melissa is working on a pair of pink zebra-print Zubaz pants. She’s going for that classic “Mommy’s Little Carl From Aqua Teen Hunger Force” look. Heidi does not approve. “Where’s the fun fact gonna be?” she asks. Kids love fun facts, after all, and this outfit will be up against countless Burger King Kids’ Club placemats out there in the marketplace. Think commercial, Melissa! (Fun fact: The bodice is a great place to put a fun fact.)

Heidi reveals another twist. “The moms were so nice to bring their babies to be models, so you will each do a companion look for the moms.” And what a marvelous thank-you present that will be. I’m pretty sure that on the old Queen For A Day, the grand prize given to the put-upon housewives was, likewise, an afterthought frock hastily constructed by a sleep-deprived amateur fashion designer. It was either that or a refrigerator-freezer, I forget.

The designers get an extra day to work on this companion piece. On the morning of that second day, Dmitry packs up his baby-bot and remarks, “Let’s go and embarrass ourselves.” (His grim realism does not get old. He and Elena are so amusingly bitter in this episode that they make a strong case for the On The Road With Austin & Santino-style spinoff that has been proposed in the comments.) Luckily, the designers’ humiliation is abated—somewhat—when Tim gathers all the squealing faux infants in a red wagon, trucking them all off to Trite Contrivance Heaven.

The moms show up. The mother paired with Christopher hates the flowery dress that he has made for her daughter. “You don’t like it?” he asks. “No, not under any circumstance,” she says. Now, I can understand when something’s not your style, and it’s not like I’m terribly excited about baby fashion, far from it. But I do have to say that if there is no circumstance under which you could like a little girl in a dress with flowers on it, you just don’t like things. For pete’s sake, it is a little girl in a dress with flowers on it.

Christopher’s pseudo-client also hates the mom look he’s made from a lush Oscar De La Renta fabric. “I like the shape of it, but I think it’s very simplistic,” she says as her torso explodes in a rather un-simplistic textile fireworks display of impressionistic plant life.

The morning before the runway show, the fellas make a pact not to help Melissa, whose inability to plan has left her facing another frantic finish. I guess they realize that, unlike Ven, they do not need a last-ditch effort to make themselves appealing before being eliminated. All of these guys are pretty likable, or at least, in the case of Fabio, indifferent-able.

In the workroom, Christopher’s mom-client tells him, “I worried that you were upset.” She calculates that he is needy enough to interpret this as an apology, and indeed he does just that, freeing her from the undesirable task of offering an actual apology. You can tell she’s done this before.

Melissa’s still at the sewing machine working on her mom-dress when Tim pokes his head in and says, “I’m calling time now.” (Fun fact: If you stacked every time the network aired this clip, end to end, it would stretch all the way to the moon.)

At the runway show, Heidi—clad in a dress whose neckline is the spitting image of upside-down Eddie Munster—introduces the guest judge, “actress and new mom” Hilary Duff. They preside over a show that is largely free of disaster. Melissa and Elena do come under some criticism, though. Melissa’s look consists of a trim white dress and a navy blue vest jacket with a goofy monster-face design on the back. That Muppet-like flourish lends the outfit some personality and almost distracts the eye from the gravity-defying dress, which fights a losing battle against the baby fat on the toddler model’s thighs. “You don’t really want to expose the diaper,” Heidi notes.

Hilary Duff is worried about the “dangerous!” zipper on the side of Melissa’s dress—but are zippers a greater peril to our nation’s youth than the mildly revealing dancing-girl outfits that Debra Messing feared last week? Concerned parents need to know, Project Runway! But Duff’s not done laying down wisdom. Nina tells Melissa, “You cut the dress too narrow. It’s just not very practical.” A sage and wise Duff interjects, “But until you have a baby and a kid, you don’t know these things!” As if it requires a human skull passing through your birth canal to understand that a slim A-line cocktail dress is inappropriate wear for a 2-year-old child.

Elena makes a very specific mistake two weeks in a row: Chest area too shiny. Her blue jacket, with its boisterous ruffled neckline, is lively and fun. And while the pale green sweatpants don’t add anything, it’s the pink sequined top that pushes this look over the line into “mess” territory. Nina doesn’t even like the jacket, saying it has no practicality. “You’re going to need to dress and undress her at the drop of a hat,” Nina says. Elena emits a low snarl that sounds like words. It may very well have been words, but if so, they weren’t discernible to these ears. Even the closed-caption people—yes, I checked—threw up their hands and wrote “[Mumbles under her breath].” My best approximation of The Noise is, “mentominmanabana.”

The great part is that Nina isn’t sure what just happened, either, and she’s momentarily thrown. Usually this is the kind of designer backtalk that would set Nina’s demoralization lasers to the Destroy setting, but she cannot fight what she does not understand. In the end, Nina can only offer a flustered “Well, that’s my opinion.” Holy moly, Elena found a weakness! No wonder they got rid of her after this.

Christopher’s mother is still in perma-pissed mode when his turn comes around. She won’t even let him make eye contact with her. Heidi may or may not notice the mom’s irritation, but as noted above, this challenge offers her the luxury of not pretending to care what the Plebes Of The Week think. All the judges lavish praise on Christopher’s flowery dresses, and the mom just stands there pursing her lips tighter and tighter.

Fabio’s look is a sort-of nautical-looking jumpsuit with a pocket in the back. It qualifies as one of the more interesting outfits on the runway, and that says all you need to know about this deadly dull challenge. When I first watched the episode, I thought the looks were boring because baby fashion is inherently boring. But no, on second thought, a baby challenge could have been amazing. I mean, next week, the designers have to create an avant-garde look. What if Project Runway made them design an avant-garde look for babies? That would be fantastic. So I apologize, babies. You are not the problem. Babies “R” Us is the problem.

The longer I looked at Dmitry’s red overall/hoodie outfit, the more I liked it. The hood is a strange shape—it makes the kid resemble one of those big-headed dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. (Fun fact: There is an entire Wikipedia for Jurassic Park.) Nina has a different interpretation, which is spot-on: She says that the boy reminds her of a “crayon,” which only makes the look more adorable.

The hood unzips down the middle and turns into a cape. Kors is all set for this one. He consults his mental card catalog, pulls out the drawer marked “Capes, Withering Derision Of” (this category actually spans two drawers) and prepares to select a zinger. Hold on! The women converge on him and insist that little boys love capes. He’s very gracious about it and remarks that it must be a “trend.” But you just know that Little Michael Kors was the kind of boy who loved capes, and back then it wasn’t socially acceptable, so he let his pain fuel him, and he fought and fought until he was in a position where HE could be the cool person and HE could make fun of capes. THEN HE’D SHOW THEM. Only now, these mean ladies are telling him that it’s hip for kids to rock a cape. O, the tragedy of being Michael Kors!

The standout garment is Sonjia’s gray suit, which is just great. It’s got navy accents on the lapels and the pockets—heck, it even has elbow patches! Sonjia’s kid is stylin’. And the kicker is that the whole thing is a sweatsuit. The boy looks completely comfortable in the outfit. The judges have to pretend for a while that Sonjia might not be the big winner, to keep up appearances. But she is. Along with Christopher, who wins for best girls’ design, she will enjoy the honor of having her work featured alongside spit-up rags and rectal thermometers in the aisles of Babies “R” Us.

In the bottom two, Melissa is in, and Elena is out. I think Melissa should have been the one to go for that useless white dress, but it’s not like Elena really deserved to stay, either, so okay. After Tim gives Elena the “you lost, go clean up your crap” hug, he says, “What are we going to do all day, every day, without fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck?” It’s very funny—and also very bleeped. After all, this is a family show.

Stray observations:

  • The mom outfits really got lost in the shuffle, didn’t they? Even Nina said, “This is not a mom challenge. This is a baby challenge.”
  • I liked when Heidi criticized Fabio’s mom dress for being “too momsy.” So it’s good to be a mom, you just don’t want to look like one.
  • I fully expect Elena to be “in the lead for Fan Favorite!” again next week.