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Runway Recap: Sizing It Up

If you’re going to design clothes for a bigger woman, you need to use a bigger dress form. And you need to showcase them on bigger models. Period.

I mostly liked this episode. I think the “teams” concept is working out well, way the hell better than I’d expected. I was worried that when the designers got split into two-person teams, the co-operative love-fest would wither on the vine; but they mostly seem to be getting along and working well together, and it’s paying off — both in the quality of their designs, and in how much fun the show is to watch. The “performance outfit + red carpet look for Miranda Lambert” challenge was a bit limited in terms of creativity — any time you’re designing clothes for one particular person, you’re working in a pretty narrow window, especially when that one person’s aesthetic isn’t all that creative or interesting — but it is the kind of challenge that designers have to face in the real world, and it’s always interesting to see how the PR contestants work their personal visions into someone else’s style. (Or laughably fail to do so.)

So I was trying to put my finger on what it was that was bugging me about this episode… when I read this comment from Qitkat, one of Tom and Lorenzo’s Bitter Kittens commentariat, in a discussion of how the challenge would have worked better if Lambert had done an in-the-workroom consult during the design process:

A consult, absolutely. When a challenge has been *make a dress for Heidi or Nina*, they have always come into the workroom. SJP came to the workroom for a consult for her line; I’m positive there have been other consults. At the least, a video conference.

Along with models who more resembled Miranda’s size.

Emphasis mine.

Along with models who more resembled Miranda’s size.

miranda lambert project runwayMiranda Lambert is a pretty average-sized woman, from what I can tell. Probably smaller than average. But she’s not an average-sized celebrity woman. She’s bigger and curvier than most high-profile actresses/ singers/ models/ celebutantes. And when the designers were given this challenge, they were specifically told that Lambert loves her curves, and embraces them. (The look she had on the PR judging panel was doing her no favors, IMO: but in general, she’s a nice-looking woman who seems to love her body as it is, and seems to have fun with it.)

So why the hell were the designers designing for the same damn rail-thin model size they always do?

Speaking as someone who has been many different sizes over the course of her life — hell, someone who’s been many different sizes in the last few years: You cannot — repeat, CANNOT — just design an outfit for a Size 0, and expect it to work on a bigger woman simply by expanding it in all directions. Different cuts and styles look good on different-sized bodies. What looks good on a size 18 isn’t generally what looks good on a size 12; what looks good on a size 12 isn’t generally what looks good on a size 6; what looks good on a size 6 isn’t generally what looks good on a size 0. And you can’t always tell which is which just by picking up a dress and looking at it. At various sizes in my life, there’s been many a time when I’ve picked something off the rack that I thought would be a disaster but that caught my eye as being worth a shot; tried it on; and fell head over heels in love. And of course, the opposite is true: there’s been many a time when I’ve picked something off the rack that I was sure would be hot shit, tried it on, and couldn’t shudder out of it fast enough.

(This principle doesn’t just apply to weight, by the way. Different clothes look good on people of different heights, different body structures, different skin colors, different hair colors, different ages, etc.)

So if you’re designing an outfit for Miranda Lambert, you really need to think about questions like, “What would look good on Miranda Lambert?” Not just, “What is Miranda Lambert’s general sense of style?”: that should be your starting point, of course, but you also need to ask, “What will make Miranda Lambert’s curves look popping and voluptuous and hot, and what will make them look boxy, or cheap, or just out of proportion?” And you bloody well need to showcase it on a model who looks at least vaguely like Miranda Lambert.

So given that we had to look at outfits made for a curvy, voluptuous woman, showcased on standard rail-thin models… how did the designers do with this concept?

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Richard 1

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Richard 2

I think Richard killed it. He got Lambert’s “little bit country, little bit rock and roll” vibe, and nailed it. Country = fringe; rock and roll = chain; make fringe out of chains. There was enough chainy fringe that it would read loud and clear from a distance (which performance wear needs to do), without overwhelming her frame. (More on that in a sec.) And the underlying dress had a good structure: nothing super-exciting, but it’s structured enough that it could work on an hourglass shape, and it’s simple enough to let the fringe do the talking.

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Amanda 1

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Amanda 2

Amanda, on the other hand, made a gorgeous, “glam plus wild child,” “country plus rock and roll” dress… for a Size 2. Solid, torso-covering, chest-to-knees, flapper-style fringe is almost impossible to make work if you have big boobs. Richard’s fringe was less dense, and let the shape of the body underneath show through: I think on Miranda Lambert it would showcase her body, and her motion on stage, without hiding it. Amanda’s fringe on Lambert’s body would, I’m guessing from my own experience, make her look like a lampshade.

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Benjamin

Note to Benjamin: Strapless is really, really hard to do if you have big boobs. If for no other reason, it’s hard to find a strapless bra that gives you enough support… and even then, it often tends to look crass. Or else you have to be strapped into the dress so tight, it makes the poor girls look like they’re mummified and struggling to breathe, which kind of defeats the purpose. You pretty much need major architectural corsetry built into the dress to make it work. Which this dress doesn’t have. And the sparkly pocket protector over the one boob would, I think, swing this dress over hard into the “crass” side. It already looks somewhat crass on this small-breasted model: on someone with big boobs, it’s going to look like her breasts won a blue ribbon at the county fair. I do like the ruching around the waist and hips, though: that’s a good look for a curvy girl.

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Stanley

The judges were right about this, Stanley. Lots of full, drapey fabric around the hips is a bad idea for a curvy woman. If you’re proud of your size and your curves, and want to show them off, it looks apologetic, like you’re hiding. If you’re not comfortable with your size and curves and want to downplay them, it makes you look bigger. And this neckline just made me think of what Joanna Coles kept saying in Project Runway All-Stars: Will designers please remember that most women wear bras? Especially curvy women. (On the other hand, Lambert herself wore a super-plunging neckline to the Grammys this year, so maybe I shouldn’t complain.)

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Kate 1

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Kate 2

I was skeptical about Kate’s look at first… but the more I look at it, the more I like it. Leather corset? Hell, yes! It can go a little “Ride of the Valkyries” if you have curves, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think the proportions of the long-line, over-the-hips corset look a little off on this model… but I think they could show off Lambert’s hips and curves beautifully. It brought a nice, rock-and-roll edge to a glam dress. And it was one of the few Red Carpet looks this week that didn’t look either boring or vile. I would have liked it better with princess seaming instead of straight seaming, though.

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Layana

Boring, but fine. And actually, it’d probably be a lot less boring on Miranda Lambert. That neckline is beautifully designed to showcase substantial cleavage, while giving it support and looking elegant. Not very imaginatively designed… but it seems that Layana heard, “Miranda loves her curves,” and took it to heart. Give the woman a gorgeous diamond necklace, and she could work this all the way.

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Patricia

Are you fucking kidding me?

Patricia’s thing wouldn’t look good on anyone. You could put Patricia’s thing on the most conventionally beautiful A-list actress or model in the world, with the most fashionable body of the week, and she’d end up in Fashion Police. As for how it would work on Miranda Lambert… see above, about both “strapless” and “chest-to-hips fringe.” Shudder.

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Tu

Tu: A very nice look for a slim New Yorker. Totally wrong for Miranda Lambert: both in terms of what works with her body, and what works with her aesthetic.

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Michelle

Right, Michelle. Because what every girl wants is a giant shredded lump of leather hanging around her throat, like she got attacked by a mountain lion while wearing a lobster bib. See above, re Patricia: This would not look good on anybody.

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Daniel

And what every girl wants — especially every curvy girl — is lots of tortured leather piled onto her bodice, so you can’t actually see her torso, and yet can’t stop staring at it. Like a road accident. Not to mention a skirt that bunches tightly around the hips, with a center slit and seam up the front like an arrow pointing to her coochie. And that tablecloth fringe. Shudder. Daniel, Daniel, Daniel… what were you thinking?

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Samantha

Okay. Samantha’s is a hot mess. That skirt looks like curtains, and cheap curtains at that. But I’m going to give this one an A for effort. The concept is actually pretty good: leather vest with a V-neck and a little shape built into it, short fringy skirt. Very “country plus rock and roll,” very flattering to curves, and I bet it’d be comfortable to move in on stage. If she’d actually pulled it off, this might have been in the top for me.

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Matthew

I don’t know what to say about Matthew’s look. Which maybe, by itself, is a good enough reason for him to have gone home. The structured bodice and A-line skirt is okay; but again, strapless is hard to pull off if you’re curvy — and if you’re curvy, strapless plus a short skirt can look tawdry if it isn’t done just right. Which this wasn’t. This was just boring, without the virtue of elegance. I’ll always respect Matthew as the man behind the PR kilt, and I strongly suspect he got sent home this week because the others on the bottom have more personality and make for better TV… but I can’t work up a huge head of outrage about it.

Comments

  1. laurie says

    I didn’t like Richard’s dress. Having detail on the front only makes it look cheap, but covering it with fringe would make her look like a yeti. Benjamin’s dress was a terrible choice for someone with Miranda’s curves. That bit of fringe on one side didn’t add anything other than confusion for me.

    I thought both Kate’s and Layana’s dresses were nice, and I agree, Layana’s was kind of boring. The modified princess seams on the leather bodice were impressive; that is a really difficult thing to do well.

    I look forward to Daniel’s work each week, but this week really fizzled. I think he got caught up in trying a really interesting sewing technique and lost sight of what he was trying to accomplish. For someone whose work has been pretty great so far this season, it was disappointing.

    I used to own a skirt like the one Samantha presented, although it was sometime in the distant past, maybe the early 90′s or so.

  2. says

    I’d have put the red leather dress on the top. I think it would have scaled up well, and there’s enough coverage that Miranda could actually wear a properly supportive bra underneath.

    Michelle’s jacket was nice, and without the necklace and with a dressier skirt I think it had some promise. I just don’t understand putting in all the work of creating a nicely finished garment, and then adding a huge accessory that covers up half of it.

    But oh dear, oh dear, Daniel. At first I thought he was going to use his leather trim as trim, which could have looked rather nice. I think his dress fits right in with what Tim says about the monkey house. Spend too much time in it and after awhile you get used to it and forget that it smells like monkey crap. Daniel fell in love with his leatherwork, and forgot to step back and notice that it was not even close to flattering.

  3. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    Thank you Greta for pointing out the abject failure of these designers to think about the client. The whole time I was almost screaming at the tv, “why are they using stick-skinny models?” Of course with that as a given (I assume the show made that decision) wouldn’t something designed for an “average” or curvy gal, ended up looking bizarre when placed on one of these models?

    The other thing I never get about this show is, why the designers so rarely don’t just play the odds based on logic. Assuming they are allowed on Google, just look up Miranda images and make a mental note like “hey, she doesn’t seem to wear red very often” or “she really likes fringe” etc., and do a design that is in the client’s wheelhouse. On a similar note, you always get these designers who say “oh this not my type of challenge…I don’t do dresses/gowns/whatever” and end up driving themselves mental trying to do something that is still in their own area of expertise, potentially risking a low score for not following the parameters of the challenge. I mean, they know they’re gonna be on PR, they know they’ll need to be able to do multiple styles that may not usually be their cup-o-tea. I would think that a decent designer could at least fake it well enough to get the basics right even on something outside of their usual style. They also know who the judges are and what they like. I’m surprised that more of them don’t say “I’m gonna do this because Nina will like X, Zack will like Y and Heidi will like Z.” It could backfire or get predictable, but when faced with a challenge that is really difficult for them personally, why not just cobble something together with some strategic guidelines.

  4. laurie says

    I don’t think the designers are allowed to google, I’m thinking of the designer who was sent home for having pattern books a few seasons back, and allowing even limited internet access would make it difficult to enforce the no outside help of any kind rule.

    They were allowed to see what kind of things Miranda prefers, however, so making dresses in keeping with her personal style shouldn’t have been as difficult as some of them made it.

  5. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    Good point Laurie. That makes sense for keeping the contest interesting.

    “They were allowed to see what kind of things Miranda prefers, however, so making dresses in keeping with her personal style shouldn’t have been as difficult as some of them made it.”

    Exactly. And even just common sense would tell you not to design things that are unflattering to women of an healthy/average/curvy frame. I mean I know nothing about design but I found myself frequently saying “that’s nice, but it would look terrible on a bigger girl.” It sometimes seems like PR contestants are totally oblivious to the design-needs for real people.

  6. buddhabuck says

    Red is a hard color to pull off if you don’t have the right coloring. As nice as the red outfit looks on the red-headed model, I wouldn’t have chosen it for Miranda. Perhaps a different color than red for the same concept. a mustard? an umber? those may be too muddy. On the model, it would seriously rock in greens, but on Miranda? How about indigo?

    In general, the dresses were designed for the models they had, not Miranda. The red-headed model is much smaller-breasted than Miranda, and the bodice is cut flatter than would work on Miranda. The armscyes are too big (in my opinion) to easily wear a bra under it (I’d be concerned the band would show), but the bodice could easily be designed (and lined) to be supportive enough to wear without a bra.

    I don’t know what it says about me, but the first thing I noticed about the models were their expressions. Amanda, Stanley, Layana, Michelle and Samantha’s models look decidedly unhappy. Most of the rest look, at best, bored. Only Kate and Matthew’s models look confident (although I can see a bit of “I don’t care what you think, I’m doin’ it!” vibe with Patricia).

  7. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    PR could have done something really admirable by using this episode as an opportunity to promote something like Healthy Is The New Skinny, and use some of their (GORGEOUS) models. Would’ve been a really positive gesture to women, would have challenged the designers more and probably resulted in better outfits for Miranda.

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