Runway Recap: Team Players

To my great surprise, I’m willing to give this Project Runway “Teams” thing a chance.

Project Runway Season 4 DVDWhen I first started watching Project Runway a few years back, I evangelized about it to anyone who would listen. “No, really!” I’d say. “I know, it’s a reality competition show… but it’s one of the best things on television! Sure, it has its cheesy side… but at its heart, it’s a freakishly smart and thoughtful exploration of the creative process! No, I’m not high! Critics are raving about it! Really!”

But for the last couple of years, my enthusiasm has been fading. I was still watching it regularly, I still wasn’t missing an episode… but instead of telling friends, “OMLOG, you absolutely have to watch this!”, I was telling them, “Rent Season 4. That’s the best. If Season 4 makes you fall in love, rent Seasons 1 through 5. After that, don’t bother unless you feel a need to be completist.” Ever since the show jumped from Bravo to Lifetime, the focus has shifted dramatically: away from the creative process, and towards stupid interpersonal drama. And blatantly manufactured interpersonal drama at that. As recent seasons have churned on, this trend has become more and more pronounced… as less screen time is given to designers talking about their design process, and as the increasingly limited work time gives designers less chance to do genuinely interesting work, and as the camera gives crappier views of the actual clothes on the runway, and as casting decisions become less focused on talent and more focused on a capacity for kookiness or junior-high drama. (Also, as it become increasingly obvious that, when it comes to the final outcomes/ winners, the fix is in.)

Project Runway Season 11 TeamsSo I was expecting to loathe, loathe, loathe the new “Project Runway: Teams” season. I was prepared to have this be my “This is your last chance, if this sucks I’m giving up” season. In past seasons, team challenges have been notorious for producing crappy clothes and boring hissy-fits. (Season 4 being the exception.) I was expecting to despise it, to watch it play out as a shabby excuse for pointless, manufactured, scenery-chewing, “Real Housewives of Parsons New School” drama.

But it seems that maybe, just maybe, it’s the opposite.

Maybe, just maybe, the point of the “Teams” setup is to give the designers an incentive to help each other out — and a disincentive to indulge in petty backstabbing.

I don’t actually mind that the “Teams” concept is being interpreted in a more game theory/ Spanish Prisoner way (the week’s winner has to come from the winning team, and the week’s loser has to come from the losing team, so you can’t win if your team is the one with the least points), and not in a “design a cohesive collection” way. If every episode was “design a cohesive team collection,” we wouldn’t get to see enough of the individual designers’ visions. (Some of which are freaking hilarious.) And more to the point: The game theory/ Spanish Prisoner setup of this “Teams” season seems to be designed to minimize the bitch-fest, “I’m not here to make friends” factor (a myopically stupid strategy anyway — rant for another time), and to give designers a powerful, practical incentive to help each other out. The high helping each other out/ petty backstabbing ratio is one of the things I miss most from previous seasons of PR. If this “Teams” gimmick can crank it back up again — if we’re going to get genuine collaboration, or at least genuine camaraderie — I’m not going to argue.

We’ll see. As Tom and Lorenzo point out, PR first episodes are often pretty decent, and the crap factor doesn’t crank into high gear until later. But based just on this first episode, I am cautiously allowing my hopes to get up. Or at least, to not dwindle away just yet.

And now, to some actual designs! [Read more...]

Runway Recap: Boys Against the Girls

I wasn’t planning for this week’s Runway Recap to be about feminism. Really, I wasn’t. Usually my Runway Recaps are my “give it a rest” happy silly fun time. But the producers of the show sort of forced it on me this week, and I’m going with it.

So here’s what I was noticing this week. Lots of designers were hammering on about the “boys against the girls” thing. Lots of designers were pointing out that the men this week were calmly moving forward with their work, and the woman were falling apart. Some designers were speculating that the top was going to be all men, and the bottom was going to be all women. And lots of designers were gassing on about how very different male and female designers are, how men designers are from Mars and women designers are from Venus. In particular, Ven “I Have For Some Reason Decided To Promote My Design Career By Making American Women Hate Me” Budhu could not shut up about how male designers are “stronger,” more edgy and innovative, and female designers are more “practical.” But he wasn’t the only one: even Sonjia was going on about how men design for what they think women should be, and women design for who women actually are.

And yet it didn’t play out that way on the runway. Not even in the slightest.

Top four? Two women, two men. Bottom two? One woman, one man. Safe in the middle? Two men, one woman. As even a split as you could get with nine designers.

As for this “male designers are edgier and more innovative” thing? Bullpucky. Especially coming from Ven “Put a Rose On It” Budhu. In a field largely devoted to perfectly adequate snooze-fests, the two women in the top had by far the artiest, most imaginative, most high-concept, most risk-taking looks of the week. Neither look was entirely successful in its execution. But with a little more time to play, to experiment with different fabrics and cuts, to toss out bad versions of good ideas — you know, like you have in the real world of fashion design, where you generally have more than one day to take an idea from “whole new concept” to “walking the runway” — both of them could be turned into stunners. Both of them had edge to spare. And both of them had ideas that I’ve never seen before — not in a cocktail dress, for damn sure — and that I would absolutely love to see again.

So was there a difference between the women and the men this week? [Read more...]

Runway Recap: Quote Unquote “Real Women”

Sorry for the delay in getting this out! Yesterday was a bit, shall we say, challenging. Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers about last Thursday’s episode of Project Runway: Season 10, Episode 6, “Fix My Friend.” If you’re a fan of the show and you haven’t seen it yet — you stand warned.

So what’s this ridiculous business of designing clothes for women who aren’t fashion models, anyway? How could anyone expect a serious designer to stoop to such a level?

m-/

Project Runway Fabio and clientIt’s become a Project Runway tradition. In one challenge each season, designers have to do an outfit for, quote, “real women”: the very unfortunate term of art in the fashion industry for “women who don’t have the bodies of fashion models or A-list celebrities.” It’s a terrible term, with all sorts of ugly implications… including the implication that fashion models and A-list celebrities aren’t real people. I guess they’re androids or aliens or something, or maybe ethereal angels, far above the messy human business of digestion and respiration. (Ingrid and I have been trying to come up with a better term. “Regular women,” maybe? That’s not great, either. “Women who aren’t built like fashion models” is the concept we’re trying to convey, but it has way too many syllables.)

I actually have some compassion for designers trying to do this. Especially in the world of standard clothing design and manufacturing, where you’re not doing custom work for one person whose measurements you can take precisely.

When I was fat, I used to get very angry about clothes shopping: I’d go into a clothing store, and find that maybe two percent of the clothes fit me and looked good on me. (A totally legitimate anger: there isn’t nearly enough in the way of good clothes for fat women, and manufacturers tend to just take the stuff designed for smaller sizes and embiggen it, instead of making different designs that look good on larger bodies. When they’re not just making crappy boring swaths of fabric for fat women to hide in, that is.)

And it is easier now. Now that I’m about a size 8 or 10, when I go into a clothing store, I find that maybe five percent of the clothes fit me and look good on me.

That’s not a trivial difference. But the reality is that there is literally no way to make an article of clothing that looks good on every woman. Fatness or thinness isn’t the only issue. Height is an issue. Basic shape — busty? angular? pear-shaped? hourglass? — is an issue. Muscles are an issue. Age is an issue. The person’s individual style is obviously an issue. It’s something Ingrid and I have been both frustrated and entertained by: she and I have very similar bodies, with very similar heights and weights… but some pieces really do look great on her and crummy on me, or vice versa. My theory is that it’s because I’m long-waisted and short-legged, and she’s short-waisted and long-legged. Which gives you an idea of how impossible this is, if a distinction that fine can make the difference between a dress looking great and looking like ass.

So I do have sympathy for designers trying to do this. It can’t be done. All you can do is make clothing that will fit some women and look good on them, and do your best marketing to get those women into those clothes.

However. That being said. [Read more...]

Runway Recap: Working It

Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers about last Thursday’s episode of Project Runway: Season 10, Episode 5, “It’s My Way on the Runway.” If you’re a fan of the show and you haven’t seen it yet — you stand warned.

Awesome! I’ve been wanting to write about fashion and work/ professionalism for a while, and this week’s Runway gives me the perfect chance.

“Appropriate work wear” is obviously a pretty flexible concept: it depends on what kind of work you do, what part of the country/ world you live in, whether you’re ambitiously climbing the ladder or are happy to stay in the job you have. But in this challenge, “workplace” was being pretty universally defined as “urban office.” And in most urban offices, the qualities most people want their workwear to express are: Competent. Organized and put-together. Powerful, but also approachable. Conscious of the prevailing social standards. Professional (obviously).

And with the exception of a few very specialized workplaces, one of the main qualities of successful and effective workwear is “not too sexual.” In most workplaces, and certainly in most offices, overt sexuality is seen as a distraction. Women especially have to be careful of being seen as “sleeping their way to the top.” It’s a fine line (and one that’s pretty much impossible to walk): women who dress too sexy are seen as sluts and bimbos and aren’t taken seriously, and women who dress too primly are seen as unfeminine, ballbusting killjoys. So while some degree of feminity for women’s officewear is accepted and indeed encouraged, it has to dial way back on the va-va-voom.

And it was fascinating to see how this week’s contestants — and judges — interpreted these concepts…. or failed to.

First, let’s snark about the failures. That’s always more fun, right? If you’re putting together a professional yet fashion-forward work outfit, here’s what not to do. [Read more...]

Runway Recap: On Giving Up

Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers about last Thursday’s episode of Project Runway: Season 10, Episode 4, “Women on the Go.” If you’re a fan of the show and you haven’t seen it yet — you stand warned.

So if you were on Project Runway, and you realized you were in over your head and couldn’t cope with the pressure… what do you think you’d do?

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this week’s winners and losers. Yes to Sonjia winning. Yes to Buffi going home. Yes to Fabio: at first I was puzzled about why this was on the bottom and not Melissa’s “friar of the Jawa monastery” look, but the judges made a good point that, at this level of the competition, you should be doing more than making a decent dress in a pretty print. And no, I don’t care how well-made it was: Christopher’s thing with the weird dangly asymmetrical handkerchief hem did not look like a “woman on the go.” It looked like Stevie Nicks dressed as a Goth pirate. Gunnar’s brown dress with the petals was way better, I thought: elegant but also sporty, and somehow magically both structured and soft. I’d wear it in a second. [Read more...]

Fashion Friday: Money

Marion-Cotillard-in-the-August-2012-Issue-of-Vogue-US-Alexander-McQueen-ankle-cuff-stilettosI was flipping through the new issue of Vogue the other day. (Yes, I read Vogue. In fact, I subscribe to Vogue.) I saw a pair of shoes that made me stop dead in my tracks, a pair of shoes that made my heart hurt and my clit throb: a pair of tall black stiletto pumps, with ankle straps that looked like bondage cuffs. Teetering on that knife’s edge between fashion and fetish. Exactly where I like my shoes.

I flipped to the “where to buy this stuff” index in the back, to see if there was even a remote chance that I could dream of affording them. (Now and then, something does pop up in Vogue that I can afford.)

Alexander McQueen. $885.

It’s not like I was surprised. I’ve seen shoes before in Vogue costing that much, and indeed much more. But it started me on a train of thought I’ve been riding for some time now, a tricky and delicate and complicated train of thought that I’m extremely unresolved about. I started thinking, not for the first time, about fashion and money.

On the one hand: To quote Lindy West in her review of “Sex and the City 2,” “SATC2 takes everything that I hold dear as a woman and as a human — working hard, contributing to society, not being an entitled cunt like it’s my job — and bludgeons it to death with a stiletto that costs more than my car.” * There is something repugnant in the fact that the kind of shoes Carrie Bradshaw wears in SATC, the kind of shoes I was eyeing in Vogue, cost as much as some people spend on their car, or a month’s rent, or a semester’s tuition for their kid.

On the other hand: If you look at fashion as an art form — which I do — then complaining about how expensive the high-end stuff is starts to be a little silly. No, I can’t afford Balenciaga or Alexander McQueen. I can’t afford a Kandinsky, either. And while I care intensely about social justice and economic inequality, my pinko conscience doesn’t keep me awake nights raging about the fact that the common worker can’t afford a Kandinsky.

Gauliter hooded capeAt the Gaultier exhibit we went to a few weeks ago, some of the gowns had placards in front of them, saying how many hours of work had gone into each one. Each one took over a hundred hours. Some took over three hundred hours. At an extremely conservative labor rate of $15 an hour, not even counting materials or overhead or years of training, that labor just by itself makes the dresses worth four figures. Again, you can argue whether it’s worth putting that much labor into a dress… but when I look at dresses like Gaultier’s, to me the answer seems obvious. Gaultier’s work is art. If you value art, and the time and effort that art takes, then it makes no sense to value that time and effort in paintings and sculpture, while reflexively despising it in dresses and shoes.

But on the first hand again: [Read more...]

Runway Recap: Shades of Mediocrity

Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers about last Thursday’s episode of Project Runway: Season 10, Episode 3, “Welcome Back (or not) to the Runway.” If you’re a fan of the show and you haven’t seen it yet — you stand warned.

In these Runway Recaps, I’m trying to focus on the designs and not the drama. But it’s going to be tricky this week. Having spent last week gushing over the shiny happy candy challenge and what an exciting batch of designers we had this season and how much I was looking forward to the rest of the competition, I now haz a giant sad. The designs this week were so vague, my eyes were having trouble focusing on them. The good designs were boring. The bad designs were boring. Only one of the middling designs wasn’t boring — and it was badly made enough to not really be worth commenting on. (Although, of course, I’m going to anyway.) This week’s designs were almost universally executed in shades of mediocrity. Like emptiness in disharmony.

Yes, I know: team challenges are tough, and it’s hard to get that blazingly unique vision thing when you’re forced to collaborate with someone who was randomly picked for you out of a hat. But then I think about Chris and Christian in Season 4, and that giddy, exuberant, magnificently artful, “made of silky sunset clouds and the essence of pure joy” piece they teamed up on, which years later people are still talking about. And I think about Jillian and Victorya, also in Season 4, and that lavish, bad-ass, magnificently elegant, “soldier in the army of awesome and every coat I’ve ever bought since has been an echo of it in my mind” coat they teamed up on, which would have won that challenge by a mile in any other season and only lost by the bad (and yet freakishly awesome) luck of being on the BEST SEASON EVAR.


Sigh. Sorry. Nostalgia for Season 4 over (for the moment, anyway). I think I’ve made my point… which is that “Team challenges are hard!” is a pathetically weak excuse. ([cough] Elena! [cough]) So let’s get back to the pathetic weakness. [Read more...]

A Parade of Weird Little Worlds: Why I Like The Olympics

I wrote this piece four years ago, and thought it would be appropriate to repost it now. I’d probably write it somewhat differently now than I did then (less star-struck about meeting PZ Myers, for one thing); but in the interest of not being a revisionist swine, I’m leaving it as is. Enjoy!

Ingrid and I are not, generally speaking, sports fans. To put it mildly. (I had a brief stretch of fairly serious baseball fandom in the late '80s and early '90s, but I fell out of the habit in the strike of '94, and never got back into it.)

And yet, we are getting completely sucked into the Olympics.

I've been thinking about why.

Yes, we're watching the gymnastics and a couple of the other big-ticket events (diving is always a good time). And yes, I'm watching women's wrestling, for reasons that should be obvious. But mostly I'm being a big old dilettante, and am watching bits and pieces of the largely unsung sports.

Archery. Fencing. Badminton. Table tennis. Synchronized swimming and trampoline are coming up later this week, and I can't wait.

I'm having a ball with this.

Some of it is that it's always a good time to watch people doing something — anything at all — really, really well. The look of pure concentration on a person's face when they're deeply immersed in something they passionately love and are extraordinarily good at… it's one of the most beautiful sights there is.

And, of course, some of it is the two-week parade of beautiful athletic bodies in tight, skimpy outfits. My libidinal interest varies from sport to sport (sky-high for divers and female wrestlers, almost nil for weightlifters and female gymnasts), but I can't be the only erotic connoisseur/ drooling pervert who's getting off on this.

But most of it is this:

One of the things I love best about human beings is the way we create these weird little worlds for ourselves. The world of competitive ballroom dancing. Of model train building. Of comic book enthusiasts. Show dog owners. Historical recreation societies. Contra dancing. Atheist blogging. These worlds always call to mind for me a line from Dave Barry: "There's a fine line between a hobby and mental illness." Yet at the same time, they call to mind that line from the teenage kid from "Trekkies": "People tell me to get a life. Well, I have a life. This is a hobby. And having hobbies is part of having a life."

There are anthropologists and neurologists and evolutionary biologists who think that the human brain evolved to deal with about 100 or 150 other people, tops, and I'm convinced that the forming of these weird little worlds is a way of narrowing down the dauntingly enormous and increasingly interconnected global village into something a bit more manageable.

I love that each of these weird little worlds has not just its own skills and trends and passions, but its own gossip, its own politics, its own scandals and controversies. I love how immersed people get in our weird little worlds: how the issues of historically accurate shoes at Civil War re-enactments, or gender- balancing at contra dances, can seem like life or death. I love how much time and care and passion people put into these endeavors that will never make them famous or rich or remembered in the larger world, the world outside of a handful of equally demented enthusiasts.

And I love that these worlds have stars and celebrities that nobody on the outside has ever, ever heard of. If you don't do English country dancing, you've almost certainly never heard of Bare Necessities: and yet they are a band with a rabidly devoted following, across the country and around the world. And when Ingrid and I met PZ Myers on a recent visit he made to the Bay Area, we told all our friends about it with bubbly excitement… to be met with almost universal blank stares. (Stares that got even blanker when we explained that he was "a famous biologist and atheist blogger.")

As thousands of pundits have noted before me, the world is becoming ickily homogenous, filled with depressingly interchangeable supermarkets and strip malls, processed foods and chain restaurants. But the weird little worlds of hobbyists and enthusiasts are a bulwark against that tendency. Whenever I despair over humanity losing its quirkiness, all I have to do is read the Carnival of the Godless, or go queer contra dancing, or turn on "Project Runway" and watch the contestants pissing themselves with excitement over some fashion designer I've never heard of.

And what I love about the Olympics is that, for two weeks every four years, I get a peek inside a dozen or so of these worlds.

I love finding out what the strategy is in weightlifting (yes, there's strategy — I know, it was news to me as well), and that it's forbidden in Olympic weightlifting to lubricate your thighs. I love learning that a round of play in archery is called an "end." I love discovering the existence of a triathlon-style sport that combines running, swimming, fencing, shooting, and equestrian… and learning that it was invented as a narrative of a soldier ordered to deliver a message on horseback.

And I love how intensely immersed the athletes are in their worlds, how hard they work to become so superbly good in them with so little in the way of obvious payoff.

I mean, it's easy to understand why you'd want to be a famous gymnast or a multi- medal- winning swimmer. If you succeed, you actually get a fair degree of fame and fortune in the larger world. But if you sacrifice years of your life to become the absolute top of your game in archery or fencing or badminton, nobody is ever going to know about it but your immediate circle of family and friends, a handful of other archers and fencers and badmintonites… and every four years, some weirdos like me, who could care less about Michael Phelps's eight gold medals but get intensely sucked into the women's saber competition for about fifteen minutes.

I love that they do it anyway.

(P.S. Tivo helps with this a lot, btw. I can't believe I ever watched the Olympics without it. Tivo lets you watch all the weird events you want to watch… and skip the ones you think are boring.)

Ballroom dance photo by Petr Novak, Wikipedia.

Runway Recap: Did The Wrong Awesome Designers Make the Top Three?

Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers about last Thursday’s episode of Project Runway: Season 10, Episode 2, “Candy Couture.” If you’re a fan of the show and you haven’t seen it yet — you stand warned.

So did the wrong awesome designers in the “make clothing out of candy” challenge make the top three this week?

In last week’s Project Runway recap, I was definitely on the snarky and bitchy side. For which I won’t apologize: being bitchy and snarky about laughably bad designs is part of the fun of being a Project Runway fan, and in any case, bitchy snark is my birthright as a queer American. I could easily go there again this week: wondering rhetorically if anyone in the known universe had even a microsecond of doubt about who was going home this week, or declaiming with horror and dismay about why Andrea’s shapeless paper smock thing irrelevantly slapped over the nightmare bustle didn’t catapult her to the bottom three.

But I don’t want to go there this week. Like Mr. Darcy, this week my mind was more agreeably engaged. I’ve been meditating on the very great pleasure which an unconventional materials challenge in a group of talented designers can bestow. The guessing game this week wasn’t, “Given what should be the easiest challenge of the whole damn season — make any design you want, inspired by a piece you made at home on which you had no time or money constraints — which crappy designer is going home?” The guessing game this week was, “Given what is typically one of the more difficult challenges of the season — make an outfit out of unconventional materials, in this case candy — which delightful, imaginative, surprising, freakishly beautiful design is going into the top three?” [Read more...]

Runway Recap: Did The Wrong Crappy Designer Go Home?

Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers about last Thursday’s episode of Project Runway: Season 10, Episode 1, “A Times Square Anniversary Party.” If you’re a fan of the show and you haven’t seen it yet — you stand warned.

So did the wrong crappy designer go home this week?

Ingrid and I have been debating this question at some length. We don’t have any doubt that both Beatrice and Lantie should have been the bottom two designers. (I disagree about the third slot: I actually had a certain amount of respect for Kooan’s original look, especially for its roots in Japanese “fruits” street fashion, and thought Buffi should have been in the bottom. Ingrid disagrees: she has a soft spot for Buffi’s shiny, candy-colored ’80s style.)

But the big question is: Of the two truly appalling sets of work, did the wrong crappy designer go home? [Read more...]