“Fashion is a Battlefield”
January 27th, 2009
[If you’re looking to view the episode online, you can do so at Global’s website, but only if you’re in Canada. If you’re outside of Canada, well, be patient!]
My first experience with any sort of Project Runway was, for a brief moment, stumbling upon an episode of Slice’s Project Runway Canada wherein they were making dresses out of umbrellas. I only watched for a few minutes, but it looked intriguing enough. Eventually, I decided on a few recommendations that I should give the show a try, and I ended up going through three seasons of the U.S. edition during the first half of last year. The show is simply a strong reality competition series: there’s a reason it won a Peabody, after all.
But Project Runway Canada, which I went back to and completed as I was waiting for new episodes of the fourth U.S. season to begin, was in itself an entertaining project. Done on a fairly small network but featuring high production values, there were even things about this particular import that I preferred to the original version. It has a supermodel host (Iman, Mrs. David Bowie), it has a mentor who is respected in fashion circles and quite affable (Brian Bailey), and it has judges that, while not particularly famous, still have those kinds of quirks that make them the right people to be judging these contestants. The show at no point felt like a low-rate ripoff of the original, for one, but more than that had its own identity that kept me engaged until, eventually, Biddell walked away the winner.
It’s been a long time since that finale, and Project Runway Canada has made it to the bigtime with a primetime slot on National network Global. The parts are more or less still the same, but the location has been altered (the show moves from Toronto to the nation’s capital in Ottawa), and the new contestants have not yet really emerged with any sort of identities. The show had some lucky casting last time around, and while the jury is still out on that the things that made the show stand out for me remain: this is a no nonsense, straightforward, well-produced and entertaining piece of reality competition programming, Canada or no Canada.
And apparently, it’s also a show that was designed to break people both mentally and physically, as fashion really is a battlefield in the show’s first episode.
Yes, things are tough in the land of Project Runway Canada when, after an anxiety attack quells Jaclyn and complications from seven years of fighting cancer leave Danio unable to physically remain in the competition, they are down to 12 designers before Iman said “Ciao!” It appeared that both of them had been cast knowing that there would be challenges, but I think that they were hoping for different results in both instances. Jaclyn’s inability to handle stress certainly would have been an interesting challenge for her moving forward, but she couldn’t even get through night one before being taken off on a stretcher. Danio got through one day, at least, but his skin ulcers were too extreme for him to handle the sitting and standing and movement required. I understand where they are both coming from: this would be a tough competition both mentally and physically, so going into it with a deficiency in those areas is not going to make your life any easier.
The problem with the episode is that most people seem to have something approaching a deficiency. Even with two people culled from the herd, I still don’t have a good handle on who has potential as a designer, but there are some who are starting to get on my nerves. At the top of my list is young upstart Brandon, who thinks he’s the next Biddell considering he is young, “different from everyone else,” and because he has his own catchphrase (“Hey HEY hey”). But his dress was ugly, suffering from the old “pooping fabric” cliche that is one of the various terms the judges on Runway use that isn’t actually a fashion term, but that I now use as a fashion term because it’s more fun than what the actual term probably is. Regardless, he’s going to have to stop sucking, or else I will not put up with his stupid, stupid catchphrase much longer.
Similarly, Jason is the worst kind of designer: while the episode decided to paint his attitude as just him being defensive, it was there from moment one, and with no offense intended the combination of the attitude with that facial hair is what gets to me. His portfolio actually looked moderately interesting, but he has come into this competition with such a bizarre attitude (thinking that his personal appearance somehow tells everyone that he’s going to be an amazing designer which…no?) that it’s hard to root for him. The same goes for Margarita: I recoil at anyone who defines themselves as a designer with attitude, because it means that they aren’t capable of describing their style in any unique terms.
I’d be fine with this kind of frustration if any of them had really shown me something unique or interesting in this first challenge, because this was actually built for it. While I understand the value of going with a gimmicky first challenge, here the show dangled a carrot in front of them: show us who you are as a designer, but do it while incorporating the theme of war using this camouflaged fabric, and present something groundbreaking that will separate you from the other designers. It’s a great task because it plays to their psychological approach to the competition: are they there, as Christie was, to display how much they love love lasers and saturn dresses and thunderbolt shoulder straps, or are they like Adejoke, who used her knowledge of fashion to craft a dress inspired by military garb? It’s not that the competition needs to be entirely like the latter, but it helps to separate out those who are capable and those who are really excited to be there but are really, really out of their league.
One of the downsides of having a one-hour premiere is that we didn’t get to spend much time with each designer. However, it was clear as soon as we saw Brian discussing her dress that Camille was probably on the way out. Jason’s cape contraption was a bit of a nightmare in execution and in form, and Christie’s dress was kind of awful, but Camille was so caught up in her story that she failed she realize she had proven unable to meet any of the criteria. There was nothing about it that expressed her as a designer, nothing about its shape or silhouette that said war or anything close to camouflage, and there is nothing groundbreaking about two solid colours with a dark, almost unnoticeable camouflage belty-section (I am such a high fashion consultant, it blows my mind). Her elimination was a foregone conclusion: this early on, you can make something ugly and survive but making something wrong is going to get you nowhere.
But what I love about this show, in particular over the work done on Project Runway, is the way the judging process unfolds, which is why I was disappointed that two people quitting ate up time that could have been spent on their critiques. I like it because the judges actually disagree: I don’t know if the American judges are given a strict edict not to directly contradict themselves, but in terms of who was going to win this challenge I really didn’t know. Rita seemed to downright not like Adejoke’s dress, while Shawn and Iman were head over heels for it, whereas Rita and our guest judge Joe Zee thought Sunny’s construction work was superior despite that skirt…thing. It might just be that it is week one, and everyone was rushed and all over the place and so created divisive fashion, but it makes for a more complicated final process. If it had come down to Christie and Jason, had Camille not sucked so badly, I really don’t know where they would have sat on those two garments either, especially with Iman’s concern over the theatricality. There’s just a lot of debate between them, something that could be mostly editing but seems inherent to their judging process.
The show’s move from Toronto to Ottawa, while technically away from what one would probably consider to be the center of the nation’s fashion industry, reaped awards immediately with the setting at the Canadian War Museum. It was really interesting to see them with an audience show right off the bat: it was probably done mainly for publicity purposes, but it also gave the episode a sense of grandeur and pressure that places more of the onus on the designers. There’s a lot of history in Ottawa, so I do think that the change in location could benefit them, but I’ll be curious to see what the show does from here (although I’m concerned about whether or not Ottawa has a real depth of models – okay, concerned is the wrong word. Curious?). Next week indicates that Elisha Cuthbert will be heading home to Canada to have an outfit designed for her, so I look forward to seeing how the show handles its biggest celebrity yet.
For the most part, it’s a nice return to form: a different network, but the same entertaining hosts, judges, and production values (I always did like their goodbye music, I won’t lie). I’m looking forward to seeing how the season unfolds, and continuing my unintended but nonetheless quite beneficial resolution to watch and blog about more homegrown television. Plus, with Project Runway proper on hiatus thanks to the Lifetime/Bravo debacle (which is somehow going on longer than the Watchmen fiasco between Fox and Warner Bros.), this is a good way to tide us over, and might just be the better alternative in the end.
- Margarita was kind of bitchy all episode, with her middle finger about the whole tube top thing, so it seemed fitting that her model more or less walked like a newborn foal. It was kind of entertaining to watch her grimace, and to see Iman’s face: I wonder if they thought she had been instructed to walk that way. Needless to say that she is going to be out as soon as they’re able to pick their own models.
- I swear, having only really seen it from the back, when Camille described her outfit as “guerilla” I really thought she meant “gorilla.”
- Great to get our requisite David Bowie name drop of the night, as Iman compared Christie’s model and her design to the image of Ziggy Stardust – I don’t think even Bowie could pull off thunderbolt shoulder straps. Okay, he totally could.
- As for the designers I didn’t discuss above: Jeff is 41 and has made no name for himself in fashion, so it was neat to see him actually moved by seeing one of his own pieces on the runway; I still don’t really know anything about Baylor but his dress seemed well constructed and he is not objectionable as a human being; Kim made the Top Three but apparently not by much considering they all felt it was too many good things piled into one dress; Genevieve is a total non-entity whose dress was simple and hooded, so make of that what you will.