Project Runway Season 6 – “What a Woman Wants”

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“What a Woman Wants”

September 10th, 2009

Just as I checked in on Top Chef yesterday, I figured it’s about time to revisit the sixth season of Project Runway currently airing on Lifetime. After much hullaballoo about the move to a new network, this season has been the precise opposite of noteworthy: there’s no real standout personalities, and to be honest no one is really setting the fashion world on fire either. There just hasn’t been a real sense of innovation at play, and the design aesthetics in that work room are not standing out as they’re supposed to in a competition like this.

There’s a few reasons the show has been lacklustre this season, and in some ways I thought “What a Woman Wants” helped things at least to some degree. We got to see contestants handle a challenge that combines the client-designer relationship (always good for bringing out the best/worst in designers) and a chance for them to test their own aesthetic in terms of presenting something the judges are going to enjoy and also please their clients.

At the same time, it also highlighted why I think the season is ultimately struggling. While I think there were some issues with casting, I think the real problem is that the show seems to be finding more personality in its models than it does in its designers, and even in their guest judges more than their normal ones. I actually like what these changes have done to the show in some ways, but it seems as if they’ve diverted our (and the producers’ attention) away from the designers themselves and onto elements of the game. They came into this season with the challenge of distracting us from the lawsuits and production changes, and yet the problem is that they’re ignoring the designers themselves.

Which, you know, is deserved in some cases, but needs to be handled a bit more carefully.

Having three guest judges on a panel is perhaps one of the strangest things I’ve seen on a reality show in a while, and I found it interesting to see it then repeated on this week’s penultimate episode of the second season of Project Runway Australia (where four new judges took control for a pre-finale challenge having never seen their work before). So much of this process is about seeing people grow, and watching as their aesthetic begins to slowly come to the surface or fail to amount to anything in the weeks ahead. We just saw Mitchell go home last week for being part of a winning team, so it’s clear that previous week’s actions are going to play a role in what happens.

This week, however, it was only Heidi who was sitting on that panel who had been there the week before, and it was interesting to see how the discussion went. I don’t think it would have changed the decision to have Michael or Nina present on that panel, but I do think that it should be seen as an eye opener for these contestants. Producers ultimately have a pretty substantial hand in terms of who goes home (or so the inner reality television cynic in me believes), but nonetheless we were hearing some pretty frank observations from the judges. There was no “Well, he was great last week,” or “I think he’s done better work” – this was just blunt, in your face responses to garments. When the “guest” judge (not filling in for anyone) was particularly snippy to Qristyl and her model Valerie, it was clear that they weren’t pulling any punches, and thus far there really hasn’t been that spark from the usual panel.

And change really can improve on things. I like the idea of giving the models more of a personality so that a challenge like this one is possible. However, at the same time, I am at that crossroads where I don’t actually want to watch Models of the Runway, the show that it’s designed to promote. I don’t have time to watch another half hour of the show, and yet I do feel as if I’m missing something by not watching it. The issue I have mainly, though, is that I feel as if the show is missing something in spending so much time with its focus elsewhere. I think that we’re not seeing the designers’ personalities come out, and the only place where they do is when we see the models interacting with them on a more individual level. It’s as if the humanity of the show itself, which some feared would overwhelm the show when it moved to a slightly more sentimental network, has been boiled down to token moments (like Epperson’s family moment in this week’s episode) and entirely drained out of the rest of the show.

I just don’t particularly like any of these designers. I don’t hate any of them either (although Nickolas’ negativity has me on the edge), but it just makes me uninterested in watching week by week. When it was clear that they’re doing a newspaper challenge next week, my immediate thought isn’t how exciting it will be to see certain designers play with this new material (like it would be with, say, Christian and Chris and Rami (Draped Newspaper?) in Season 4) I’m simply relieved that something (if not the designers) will feel interesting and fresh. I’m desperate for the show to really surprise me and wow me, and right now it’s failing to even register.

It is true that I’m watching Top Chef (where there are clearly some very talented people doing some amazing work) and Project Runway Australia (which both features a lot of talent and is at the end of its season and as a result in a more exciting period) simultaneously with this show, creating a somewhat unfair comparison. But, for all of the talk about this season’s struggles, they’ve manifested in ways that I wouldn’t have predicted and that might have been as much of a problem if they hadn’t changed networks and there hadn’t been that controversy. Perhaps these people are just too uninteresting to sustain this many weeks of competition, simple as that.

Cultural Observations

  • I’ve got a thing for Shirin, so I guess I’m rooting for her: she’s very young, and she has a real sense of responsibility to her. She’s not a pushover (she ended up steering her model away from a jumpsuit), but at the same time she’s going to make it work in the end. I do fear, though, that she’s not enough of a risk taker for the judges.
  • Because, really, I think that’s the only explanation for Althea winning this challenge: she made three pieces, one that was particularly interesting to the judges, and thus stood out from the crowd. I felt it was a somewhat undeserving win: yes, I think she did go out on a limb, but hearing Nickolas eviscerate her construction and seeing her model’s poorly supported chest makes me wonder just how she won over Epperson (who seemed to have made a very effective garment both as a statement of himself and a translation of his model’s insanity).
  • For those fellow Project Runway Australia obsessives like myself, I’m a bit worried about the finale: my heart is, admittedly, with Lauren on this one, but I think Anthony is very much the equivalent of Christian where I don’t think there’s really any scenario where his “innovation” (I put it in quotation marks not because I don’t think it’s innovative, but because the show likes to check that box) isn’t going to be selected. She seems to have gone out on a limb in the way that often gets people in trouble in finales, and I’m anticipating a lop-sided victory.
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