“Re-Fashioning the Houses”
February 17th, 2009
One thing that Project Runway Canada has been good with this year is designing challenges that are actually just that: a challenge. This week, the designers are placed into teams of three in order to complete quite the task: not only do they have to design a three-piece couture collection, but it has to be a collection inspired by a famous fashion design house, and their looks need to be made out of vintage clothing from Preloved. As a result, it’s the ultimate challenge: they need to work together, they need to make something high class out of not so high class fabrics, and they have to show a knowledge of the design world in which they desire to operate. Oh, and they have to present themselves as a designer, because they always have to do that.
Unfortunately for Project Runway Canada, their aspirations for these designers are quite considerably higher than their actual talent level. Only two designers seemed to really earn a passing grade from the judges out of nine, and the other seven were varying degrees of epic failure when it came to meeting the multiple requirements of the challenge. It was like there was one requirement too many for all of them: either they didn’t work well with the other designers, or they failed to make their own stamp, or they didn’t know who their famous designer was (yes, someone failed even this part of the challenge). I admire the show for its high expectations, but I really wish that they had a crop of contestants that was all living up to that potential, as opposed to a bunch of also-rans fighting for the scraps of the top designers.
At the very least, though, one feels as if the judges make the right decision in the end: while they take into account all of the challenge’s factors in the end, it’s the person who most married poor design with poor perspective who got sent home.
When the teams for this challenge were made, there was little question that Sunny, Genevieve and Adejoke were going to be the winners. There isn’t a fundamentally bad designer amongst them, and while Genevieve has some serious attitude issues (in this case flipping out at her model behind the scenes in the last episode, and dumping her this week for talking back to her) she usually delivers something when it comes to the runway. The show never focused on the actual designs with these three: Sunny was at one point critical of Genevieve (who doesn’t take, well, social interaction very well), but for the most part the three of them were winners from the word go. They went with a diverse but Versace-inspired colour palette, with greens, purples and blues, and delivered three looks that felt like different takes on the same theme. While I’m not sure they particularly “re-invented” anything, which was a part of the challenge that didn’t really make any sense and I felt was a bit too strange a task considering what else they were asking, they delivered three looks that were going to keep them safe, and eventually win Sunny the challenge with his flowing dress that had no business being constructed of a polyester bridesmaid’s dress.
Most of the episode’s drama actually centered around the J Team, consisting of Jessica, Jeff and Jason, wherein team lead Jessica more or less had an emotional breakdown over a dress that eventually didn’t even make it into the Bottom Three. You could sense that the judges wanted to say a lot more about this collection, each look ultimately falling apart when it came down to the details. Their reading of Valentino was about as broad as it can get: “Uhh, he used a lot of red so we, you know, used red.” They each suffered from a fairly major problem, some more fixable than others. Jason’s fabric stretched, which he solved by taping an enormous amount of padding to his model. It made for a bulky look on the runway, but at least he had something to stand on by the end of the episode. Jessica, meanwhile, was very lucky that she wasn’t put in front of the judges: her dress was mediocre and uninteresting from the word go, and she was so emotional during the episode that one has to wonder if she’s actually suffering from some sort of chemical imbalance. After being so perky in weeks past, she just become an emotional wreck here, and I’m convinced she would have gone home had she been put in front of them.
To be honest, though, Jeff has the biggest problem of all three designers. At one point in the episode Sunny and Adejoke have a whisper-conversation about Jeff, and more or less say that he’s too old to have a real point of view, and that he’s just one of those people who’s destined to work for other people the rest of his life. This seemed a bit harsh when he was right there and probably heard part of it, but his dress this week was his fourth straight boring, uninteresting, and uninspired garment. There’s no sense that Jeff is really stretching himself, or trying to represent himself as a designer: not only did he not seem to capture anything couture in this challenge, but there wasn’t even anything there that the judges could latch onto as a reason to keep him around. If he’s going to keep struggling with things like execution (last week’s brown mess) while not having a vision to back it up, he’s going home sooner rather than later.
This week, though, the mediocrity and emotional instability of the J Team was no match for the people who fundamentally ignored the two major components of the challenge, failing to capture their designer of choice and not delivering something approaching couture. Kim, Brandon and Baylor were operating at a handicap as soon as Kim, the group’s leader, realized that Brandon had no idea who Yves Saint-Laurent even was. Now, here’s the point where we have this discussion: multiple designers, and eventually the judges, more or less threw Brandon under the bus for not knowing who YSL was, and in retrospect he might have actually been safe if he hadn’t admitted this to the judges (which Kim had more or less told him not to do). At a certain point you have to wonder whether or not that’s really a fair criteria in this competition – he’s self-trained, clearly trying to be progressive, so it’s clear his industry knowledge isn’t to the degree of the other competitors. On its own, I don’t think that’s enough reason to get rid of someone.
Unfortunately for Brandon, that wasn’t his or the team’s only problem. The bigger problem was that their actual designs eschewed the couture part of the challenge, creating something approaching ready-to-wear as opposed to something elegant or sexy. This blame ultimately falls on Kim, who was the one who was hyped about picking YSL and who was so convinced that latching onto his androgenous phase would be enough to claim to be inspired by him. Kim did know who Yves Saint-Laurent was, but unfortunately she didn’t actually seem to capture that with her look, which she admitted was very much her style given a YSL twist as opposed to her twist on the YSL style. Baylor, meanwhile, delivered something that had some elements that the judges seemed happy with, but the guest judge in particular felt that it had been done before. Baylor is going to have some trouble with a lack of vision, as while his tailoring is very impressive he hasn’t really put forward his own style yet.
But Brandon ultimately went home because, unlike Kim who actually delivered something that was a consistent and moderately interesting design, he sent down the Runway a pair of pants that, in Iman’s own words, nobody would ever wear, male or female. Tbey were half-stripe, half-solid, and were actually the first pair of pants that Brandon had ever made. It was at that point that his lack of knowledge of who YSL even was became something that was a much more fundamental problem: it’s one thing not to follow the industry in terms of your inspirations, but it’s quite another to not have even dabbled in a pair of pants before the competition began. Brandon is young, inexperienced, and his departure was ultimately the right choice for the judges.
And I was very happy they made it, in the end: getting rid of Kim as team leader would have been an easy decision to make, considering that her team was only in the bottom thanks to her decision to let the team operate on their own definition of couture (which she even admitted was probably wrong), but I don’t think anyone would argue that Kim is an inferior designer to Brandon. If you have a task like this one, you’re going to get people who fail to capture certain aspects of the challenge, so I’m glad that the judges didn’t harp too much on those and focused on who will have more potential for the future as opposed to who was the most off-base in this particular challenge. With a group that more or less failed to grasp most of the challenge, they need to make sure that they don’t weed out the half-talented designers and leave people who are just barely making it to the next week.
I do admire them for trying to get more out of them, in the end: sure, only Sunny and Genevieve seemed to get much in the way of praise, and only their team even got any compliment for their makeup/hair/accessories, but everyone else may have at least received the memo that they’re being expected to pick up the pace next week. And considering that it appears they’re about to give them non-fashion clients, and combine it with a very challenging task, methinks that the trial by fire strategy is not over yet. Not by a long shot.
- One of my favourite things about Iman and this set of judges is that they’ll call people out faster than their American counterparts, especially for things that are more of a nagging problem than a substantial once: it took Heidi and Co. a lot longer to call Rami on his draping than it did for Iman to take Genevieve to task for using the same silhouette in multiple challenges.
- Dude, Baylor actually had an opinion this episode. He was ultimately wrong that Jason was going to be sent home, but considering the dude was taping padding to his model’s thighs I can’t really blame Baylor for prognosticating as such. It was nice to here something close to objectivity from Baylor, and I just wish he’d bring some of those opinions and things to the runway, and to his garments.
- “WHAT MAN WOULD WEAR THOSE PANTS?” was quite a fun outburst from Iman, although I may have been partial to her idea that if she squints maybe she could see the YSL in their collection. MAYBE.
- Kim seems like she turns on Jeff next week, and you could see that start to come out here when she started to question Sunny’s decision to use the same basic design elements each week: corseted top and “stuff on the bottom.” It’s true that he could probably diversify a bit, but at the same time all of the challenges have worked really well to this setup, and he’s actually shown a lot of versatility with week one’s jacket and even this week’s use of flow. He presents well, regardless of the baseness of the foundation.
- “Preloved” can’t be happy with the press they’re going to get from this episode when Sunny found a crotch stain in one his garments.