Wednesday, November 14, 2007

They sew, She cuts, and I blog...

Hose me down and slap me twelve times… Project Runway starts tonight! Seriously, my heart is beating faster… can you feel that… something may be wrong with me… but then, why does it feel so right?? This season is long overdue. What’s it been, a year and a half? That’s too long to wait for anything much less the best reality show on television (if not THE best show on television PERIOD!).

In celebration and anticipation and exultation of Season 4, I have busied myself with watching the first three seasons back to back to back, because 1. marathons get me in the spirit, 2. I need something in the background while I crochet the ripple afghan of death, and 3. this show just never gets old for me.

I discussed the show with a friend of mine recently, and we agreed that what makes Project Runway so great is the constant and unflappable focus on the clothes. Even with all the human drama (Wendy Pepper, Santino, Vincent, Angela (Jubilee Jumbles)), the show never wavers from its goal of promoting the creative, the driven, and the new. Thus, it comes as no surprise that after almost a year of seeing absolutely no episodes, old or new, I remember very little about the people on the show or the things they said or did to one another. Rather, I remember the amazing clothes they created.

And of course, I have my favorites. This isn’t to say that there aren’t other totally amazing garments, I mean, there was always at least one in each episode, but over the course of three seasons, some stand out for me as being truly inspired/creative/awesome. Let's bring out the models...

Season 1

Austin Scarlett won the first challenge ever on Project Runway, which happened to be the Innovation Challenge. This challenge has become my favorite part of every season because it forces the designers out of their comfort zones by asking them to use stuff other than fabric and sewing machines. You can’t prepare for something like that. Well, maybe now you could. The designers of Season 4 will expect a wicked curve ball for the first challenge, but the Season 1 guys had no idea what hit them. Heidi asked them to make a glamorous evening gown… with her groceries. While the other contestants picked up construction materials like rubber, plastic, and…brooms (?), Austin headed over to produce. The result was a truly inspired dress that, in a weird way, changed the world. This dress is still the most famous dress ever made on Project Runway, and I’m sure it will stay that way.

You would have to watch the episode to see this dress in all its magnificence because by the time it hit the runway, the corn husks were shriveled and dry. But, you know, the dress is still freakin’ fantastic. The dried out feel almost adds something; it makes the dress darker… sadder… like it actually has something to say other than, “Hey! Look at me. I’m a dress made out of corn!”

Season 2’s Innovation Challenge was the infamous Clothes-Off-Your-Back challenge, and Season 3 gave us the Wall to Wall Challenge (in which the designers used their apartments {furniture, bedding, fixtures} as source material) and the Recycling Challenge, but Austin set the proverbial bar incredibly high. You can tell by the judges’ reactions that this is what they meant by Innovation. My excitement about tonight’s premier has a lot to do with the fact that it will probably be an Innovation Challenge. In case you haven’t noticed, they’re my favorite.

My other pick from Season 1 would have be Jay McCarroll’s entry for the Banana Republic Holiday Dress Challenge. He explained that he was inspired by a picture of the Chrysler Building that hung in the workroom, and it was so neat (for lack of a better word) to see how the building translated seamlessly into a beautiful, wearable, impeccable dress.

Jay didn’t win this challenge, unfortunately (Damn you, Wendy Pepper), but this was the episode he broke out of his shtick and proved to the world he had the skillz to be the winner of Project Runway… which he eventually was.

Season 2

Season 2 is really special. Some of my favorite characters and challenges and TimGunnisms and just… sigh. Good times. Anyway, one of the things about the season that really made me warm and fuzzy was the friendship and camaraderie that developed between my gay boys, namely Nick, Daniel V, Andrae, and Santino. Their friendships fizzled as they were eliminated, but for the first few weeks they seemed to be having the greatest time ever, and I think I would have killed to have been part of something like that. Anyway, when the season first aired, I was Santino’s biggest critic. He struck me as obscenely arrogant and his clothes just made no sense to me. However, when I stuck in the DVDs and watched the episodes back to back, he came across as funny and self-deprecating and… even lovely… at times. Maybe when the show was airing, all that time in between episodes gave me and other like-minded people time to fester and percolate in our hatred, especially when the judges kept him over our favorites, so we demonized him on the daily until there was nothing to do but root against him with every fiber of our beings. I regret all that, and, personally, I consider myself rehabilitated. While I still don’t understand the clothes, I think the judges were right to keep him in almost every case, because even when his clothes were decidedly off the mark, they always had something new and unique to say. Santino always had his voice. It was just that sometimes… it was really unpleasant.

So, my favorite dress of the season, and maybe even my favorite dress of this show ever, might have to be Nick Verreos’s dress for the Barbie Challenge.

I mean, talk about nailing it! Barbie is a little fantastic; at least I’ve always thought so. I never really knew any girls that actually wanted to dress like her, even if they oohed and ahhed over her clothes. The clothes are like elves and fairies, really pretty (almost to the point of hypnotizing), but utterly impractical and unrealistic. That’s the whole point. Barbie IS a fantasy, and Nick captured that perfectly. I love everything about this dress: the print, the green, the head wrap, and the fact that it’s being walked by one of the best models in Project Runway history (Work it, Tarah!).

Even though he ended up the bridesmaid instead of the bride, Daniel Vosovic really was the true stand out of the season. He quite literally blossomed before our very eyes.

This was the outfit he put together for the Inspiration Challenge, in which the contestants walked around the city snapping photos, picked the one that inspired them the most, and crafted a garment that captured the inspiration story from beginning to end. Daniel V. snapped a photo of an orchid in a square vase in the lobby of their building. Now some haters out there gave him crap because it doesn’t seem like a huge leap to be inspired by a pretty flower, but to me, that just seems like they’re asking for someone to have inspired inspiration, which sounds really hard. He saw a pretty flower and it inspired him to create a pretty dress. That doesn’t seem boring or uncreative to me at all; it seems rational. Anyway, this outfit isn’t one that anyone could just wear, but I remember thinking that it captured the spirit of the flower so beautifully, and his inspiration story made perfect sense to me.

Maybe Daniel V. has a thing for flowers, or maybe I have a thing for Daniel V. and flowers, but my other favorite dress from this season is Daniel V’s Garden Party Dress. This challenge was sort of like Season 2’s Innovation Challenge Part Deux. The designers were taken to the flower district and informed they would have to create a cocktail dress out of flowers and shrubbery. All the designers seemed haunted by the famous Cornhusk dress and avoided anything too colorful, fearing that it would wilt and look dead. The result was a dazzling display of green on the runway. Now, I liked every single dress that came down the catwalk on this challenge, but the judges were right to pick Daniel’s for the win. It was the only one with an inspired splash of floral color.

The purple flowers dripping down the side of the dress and collected on the bust… it’s just perfection; understated, feminine, and gorgeous. The basket weave bodice ain’t bad, either.

Season 3

Ya’ll, Season 3 was really hard on me. I struggled the entire season trying to pick someone to love. I don’t know if it was the clothes or their personalities, but I spent the entire season feeling luke-warm about everyone. At the end of it all, I was mostly just pulling for anyone but Jeffrey. Jeffrey was so weird, because I found myself liking him personally towards the end, especially when he got stung by that cheating scandal. (Sidebar: I believe he totally cheated. But honestly, with the time constraints and the lack of oversight, I mean, I probably would have, too. I’m not saying he’s right or that I’m Ok with what he did. I’m just saying nobody could prove it, so if he did cheat, at least he cheated correctly… if there is such a thing). But my turnaround in personal feelings towards him didn’t change the fact that I hated his clothes. I honestly didn’t like a single thing he sent down the runway during the challenges. His runway show was a different story; it was fabulous… but that almost made me feel even more incomplete. Clearly, I can’t communicate these emotions well.

One of the few good things to come out of Season 3 was Michael Knight. I love him, still do. His clothes were sporty and sexy, and consistently so, and for a while he seemed to be the darkhouse, despite his inexperience. In fact, his lack of experience and personal style didn’t finally catch up with him until the very end, when he started to confuse his own greatness with that of the clothes. I’m not saying he got arrogant, not at all… he just knew he was doing very well and getting lots of praise. That tends to breed a sort of recklessness that can get out of control very quickly. I think we saw that recklessness in his final collection. He lost focus and, thus, style, so his collection came across as dizzy and, dare I say, tacky. But he had a good run…

This unheralded ditty from the Fashion’s Best Friend Challenge, in which designers had to design a woman’s wear look and a corresponding look for the cutest damn puppies you ever done saw, is lovely for so many reasons. The fabric and color are great, just to get that out of the way, but the top of the dress is just phenomenal. The criss-crossing above the bust is elegant and interesting, and most importantly, NOT OVERDONE! Michael seemed to have a sense of restraint in these early challenges.

And here’s his wonderful dress from the Black and White Challenge. I remember thinking that he had the perfect model for this dress, because ya’ll know a white girl would have looked a hot mess in it. But this model, whatever her name happens to be, is FIERCE! I particular love the belting… if you look closely, he did… something to it to give it this amazing three-dimensional texture. Plus, it fits her like a dream, and she was able to flaunt all of her business down the runway; the perfect example of model/garment symbiosis – they bring out the best in each other.

My other favorite from Season 3 would have be Kayne. Truly, he’s the gayest of the gays in Gaytown, but I really responded to his stuff when he wasn’t being completely campy and over the top. My favorite dress of his is the one he designed for future Cokewhore, but then-Miss USA, Tara Conners for her appearance in the Miss Universe pageant. I don’t know if the producers knew they would have a pageant designer on the show before they planned the challenge, but if there was ever a challenge that was so suited for one particular contestant, it’s this one. And like a true queen, Kayne delivered a truly beautiful gown.

An honorable mention just has to be given to Kayne’s gown for the Icon Challenge, in which the designers had to modernize the look of a famous fashion icon. Kayne got really lucky and wound up with Marilyn Monroe as his muse, but instead of just glaming and sexing all over the place, he took Marilyn’s look to a very dark, seductive, almost menacing place.

He used leather and sheer fabric to create a beautiful silhouette, and the finished product was very succinctly described as ‘Goth Marilyn’. Besides the impeccable fit and make of the gown, it showed Kayne’s ability to design for impact and surprise, without winding up with a fistful of tacky.

So there they are, my favorite dresses thus far. I hope Season 4 gives me just as much gleeful and wanton joy as the previous three. Let’s start the show!!

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