Anytime Project Runway starts throwing around the term “avant-garde” I get nervous—they never seem quite sure what it means, which means they can use the challenge to tie in any old corporate sponsor that seems interested.
So I was surprised to find myself enjoying tonight’s episode, “The Art Of Fashion,” which asked designers to create either ready-to-wear or avant-garde pieces based on the art of the Guggenheim. Though the challenge has a lot of moving parts, the writers manage to keep everything moving. In part that’s because the challenge itself is legitimately interesting, and in part that’s because the judges choose the pairs again this week, putting together three uniquely volatile combinations. It’s a smart move. Now that there are only six designers left, the writers have to bring out maximum drama to have enough to film.
So not only do they focus on the pairs, they also raise the stakes tremendously—a $10,000 prize for the winner of the competition plus a free fancy Hewlett-Packard computer. (And as everyone keeps reminding us, HP computers are wonderful and magical and lovely!!) The other tactic they take is to add layers to the competition—which is necessary if only because they have to fill 90 minutes of airtime with something, after all. What ends up taking up some space in this episode is the added stipulation that the designers create a textile pattern and have it printed. I didn’t love any of the patterns the designers come up with, but it’s a good idea, and it certainly demonstrates the range of the designers’ aesthetics. (Patricia and Richard: Predictable and maybe ugly. Daniel and Layana: Boring but passable. Michelle and Stanley: Predictable but interesting.)
I don’t normally find the opening segment of Project Runway particularly entertaining, but for what it’s worth, this week I enjoyed watching the designers make their way around the Guggenheim. It seems that for once they find material to work with and respond to, as opposed to some of the largely nebulous prompts this season. I particularly liked the way Michelle and Stanley talk about their work. Now that Michelle has shed the mean-girl edit I have found myself enjoying her on-camera presence more and more; clearly she thinks a lot about her pieces, and in this challenge with Stanley, she’s dynamite. After last week’s undeserved booting of my girl Samantha, I found myself paying attention to expressions of artistic vision, and the opening sequence demonstrates how easily it comes to some of the designers—Stanley and Michelle both have it, and Patricia has it, too—and how difficult it comes to some of the designers who seem to approach fashion from a more crafted, tailoring point-of-view—Daniel and Layana, in particular. No judgment, because both approaches are necessary and valuable, but this challenge certainly tilted towards the former.
Richard is the odd one out in this challenge right from the start—seemingly unmotivated, refusing to sketch until he can be inspired by Patricia’s creation, and rather passive throughout the design process, spending the entirety of the first day making a bracelet that ends up not being used. It’s unsurprising, given how weak his performance was last week. As irritating as I found him this week, it seems like he’s suffering from reality-show burnout, kind of phoning it in until he gets kicked off. It’s hard to imagine any other excuse for that poorly conceived white pleated skirt, an abomination if I’ve ever seen one. He’s the obvious elimination this week. Even though Zac Posen isn’t present again, the judges are able to make the right call. (Guest judge Tracy Reese is refreshingly cogent, too.)
They also manage to get the win down, easy. As much as I enjoyed Michelle’s handpainted coat/train, Stanley’s vision is what catapults them to the top—that multilayered bubble wrap ends up looking fabulous, and echoing that silhouette in the ready-to-wear with that strangely off-putting print somehow ends up working remarkably well. As Stanley points out with pride, “Nina smiled.” High praise, indeed. Michelle’s is a bit too over-the-top, with the weird neckline and hairpiece, but I get that it works for the challenge, so we’ll let it go for now.
Patricia and Richard are a mess, but even without Richard dragging them down, Patricia’s outfit struck me as a bit below her usual standard. I love the veil and the idea of handpainting the print on the top, but the execution felt a little too messy. It still had a great museum quality, though. Daniel and Layana’s collection somehow misses the museum entirely. I think Daniel gets way too much praise for his outfit, which is very neatly put-together, but is essentially a regurgitation of everything else Daniel has put on the runway this season. Layana’s dress is, I mean, a total Monet. From afar I did like it, but the more I saw of it, the more I disliked it. I like that Layana finally gave herself permission to play with her work—she has a very constrained approach to dressmaking—but playing with that creativity is very different from learning how to harness it and channel it into a coherent vision. No one on that runway had that today but Stanley, and I’m glad that’s obvious to the rest of the judges.
Aside from what is at times preposterous HP product placement, “The Art Of Fashion” is a good episode of Project Runway. It’s a little shy of great, but with the season winding down, we are around the corner from some juicy drama.
- WHERE IS ZAC? I MISS ZAC.
- One of the reasons this episode is so strong is because this is deja-vu; in season four, the challenge was the same, except with MoMA instead of the Guggenheim.
- Stanley is a powerhouse. I am so excited to see his Fashion Week collection.
- Also: “If I had one of these computers at home, I would be designing fabric all the time!” Oh Stanley, my eyes can’t even roll back that far.
- Patricia confessing to the camera that she’s “sad inside” made me laugh.
- Layana has a particularly emotional episode, struggling with her vision the entire time. It’s interesting—it’s a case study in perfectionism going astray when the challenge calls for working outside the box. I’m glad she was challenged, but it leads to lots of tears, and turning against nearly everyone, including her own partner. Daniel offers his garment to the judges as the stronger of the two in the collection, and later Layana bursts into tears, telling him: “But it’s not your garment, it’s our garment,” which heaven help me, made me think of this.
- Next week: the rejected designers come back! The return of Tu and Samantha, hooray!