Runway Recap: Team Players

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

Project Runway Season 4 DVD
When 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 Teams
So 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!

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 1 Daniel

It’s hard to see this in the still photo (note to Daniel — black is hard to photograph!)… but this was freaking gorgeous. Especially given the pointlessly tight time constraints. It’s not the most original design on Loki’s green earth… but you can’t get originality, plus flawless execution of a difficult structured style, in one day. And if you go for originality, chances are excellent you’re going to end up with a hot mess. (One of the reasons so many PR fans hate one-day challenges.) I have no problem with Daniel getting the win. He is clearly one to watch. (Of course, we said that about Ven the One-Way Monkey in his first episodes…)

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 1 Patricia

But I also would have had no argument if Patricia had won. Again, you can’t really see it in a still photo… but that’s not a print. That is hand-painted fabric, which Patricia then cut out into pieces and attached to a blue under-dress, giving it this subtle and interesting motion when the model walked. This really was innovative — at least, I’ve never seen it before — and it worked. Not quite as lusciously dramatic as Daniel’s, though. Kind of a toss-up. I’d have been happy either way.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 1 Richard

Did not agree at all with Richard’s thing being in the Top Three. It looks okay in the still, but when the model was walking, it looked bunchy and weird. Asymmetry has to be flawless, or else it looks like a mistake.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 1 Samantha

I probably would have given the Number Three slot to Samantha. I liked this a lot. It’s basically just a pretty dress with some embellishments… but it’s a well-made pretty dress, and the embellishments are neat. I like how they’re all angular around the neckline, and floaty around the hips. (Ingrid didn’t like the floaty fabric around the skirt, but I thought it worked.)

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 1 Stanley

And I will admit to a ridiculous soft spot for Stanley’s disco jumpsuit. I can see in the still photo that the proportions and fit are off, in a way that I couldn’t see on the runway. But it’s a disco jumpsuit. What’s not to love? And I liked how it moved: kind of both fluid and sharp. Just what you want in a disco jumpsuit.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 1 Matthew

I don’t know why exactly this one caught my eye… but it did. Something about the blend of “sexy secretary” and “naughty schoolgirl,” but crisp and put-together and adult. Almost authoritative, even. Not worth Top Three, I don’t think… but a definite Honorable Mention. Matthew may be one to watch.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 1 Cindy

Okay. I get it. I see why every single sentient being, including the judges and Tom & Lorenzo and the Bitter Kittens and probably a small slug on Alpha Centauri 5, despised this look. But — and I realize I am endangering my credibility as a fashion person here — I sort of admired it. You sort of have to admire the ovaries of a designer who grabs a print that looks like a blend of leopard print and Hubble space telescope pictures, makes it into a maxi dress so you can see as much of the print as possible, and pairs it with a red checkerboard belt to clash wildly with the print and make it stand out even more. In the cold light of day I can see how very wrong I was… but I kind of loved this one. I suspect she won’t, but I hope Cindy sticks around for at least a couple more weeks.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 1 Emily

And not one nanosecond of argument with the loser. Rarely has cosmic justice been meted out so perfectly. As TLo said, ” We doubt anyone watching last night screamed “NO!!!! NOT THE UNFINISHED TACKY LOOK FROM THE BITCHY GIRL!!!!!!” in rageful disagreement.”

Pics of all the designs can be found on Tom and Lorenzo. I don’t have it in me to write them all up.

Runway Recap: Team Players

11 thoughts on “Runway Recap: Team Players

  1. 1

    Maybe I’m too unsophisticated, lack any sense fashion, or just hate on “reality” TV too much, but I’d rather burn my own eyes out with a hot poker than watch such drivel.

  2. 2

    Great to see you back to writing about fashion. Good for you (and us!)

    I am only familiar with the past two seasons and most recent All-stars, but I actually have felt that even in the recent seasons, PR is generally alot better than most reality shows with the unending emphasis on drama. I have a pretty low tolerance for that sorta thing, and as such really only can stomach a couple reality shows. That said, my one complaint time and again, has been that I would like to see more from the creative side. I also would be far more interested in seeing more of the technical side of how these things are put together. We typically go from a vague sketch, to a stressed out trip to Mood, to hair-pulling I’ll-never-finish-in-time lamentations, to catty interview knocking their competitors, to the runway featuring something that looks amazing/horrible. I often wonder “how the heck does somebody even put that amazing/horrible thing together?” And I would be far more interested in seeing more behind-the-scenes from that perspective. I’m glad to hear that earlier seasons were better in that regard. I’ll have to dig some of those up and twist my wife’s arm into watching them again.

    On this episode: pretty much agree. Patricia’s idea seemed like it could be really terrible early on, but I thought it was pretty awesome when it came down the runway. I could have totally seen it as the winner. I also was not nearly as enthusiastic about the 3rd place asymmetric thingy, as the judges were. And good riddance to the last place girl who was really obnoxious, in addition to presenting a complete mess on the runway.

    The worst thing about this season is that Michael Kors (who I think is just about the funniest person on television) will only be showing up for the finale.

  3. 3

    What’s important about the distinction between hand-painted fabric versus a print? Please excuse my clothing design ignorance. I don’t watch this show but I enjoy your reviews!

  4. 4

    My wife and I have been watching PR from almost the beginning, even though neither of us knows jack about fashion. It’s (stealing John Rogers’ term) “competence porn” – seeing people who are really good at something going about it. The shift away from that to the ‘drama’ is my second biggest problem with the show- even with a 90m show it still doesn’t seem like we see as much of the work. My biggest problem is, of course, the blatant fixing, especially in the All-Stars series. (The first was “The Coronation of Mondo” from day 1, and Uli was just robbed blind in the second one.)

    The teams idea worked ok on “The Fashion Show” so I suspect it can work on PR.

    The only other ‘reality’ show we watch is Spike’s “Joe Schmo”, and that’s *supposed* to be all about stupid drama and mocking the whole concept. (For those not familiar, each season has been a stereotypical reality show, except it’s actually fake- except for one real person. When it’s on target, it’s hilarious.)

  5. 5

    What’s important about the distinction between hand-painted fabric versus a print?

    nonnie @ #3: Hand-painting your own fabric — doing it well, anyway — takes a great of talent and skill. Especially in the short time frame the designers have. Anyone with a good eye can pick out a good print in a fabric store. Not everyone can create a good print themselves, by hand.

    Maybe I’m too unsophisticated, lack any sense fashion, or just hate on “reality” TV too much, but I’d rather burn my own eyes out with a hot poker than watch such drivel.

    TGAP Dad @ #1: Did you miss the part of the post where I talked about how, for the first several seasons, Project Runway was a freakishly smart and thoughtful exploration of the creative process, one of the best things on television that critics were raving about? What makes you assume that it’s drivel? Reflexively hating on all reality TV makes about as much sense as, say, reflexively hating on all comics books.

  6. 7

    Scott @5: I love the notion of “competence porn”; can I (re)steal that? All of the “reality” shows I’ve ever loved have been about people doing things (usually) well, whether it was cooking (Top Chef), building custom motorcycles (American Chopper), designing clothes, or (dare I even admit it?) modeling (America’s Next Top Model). Even in apparently frivolous endeavors like the latter, I always find it fascinating to learn about the elements of craft involved. (There’s probably craft involved in teaching kids to dance, too, but I’m damned if I can find anything but borderline child abuse in Dance Moms!)

    Sadly, as Greta notes, they tend to drift away from focus on the craft and toward silly stunts and manufactured drama as time goes on. Last season was my final straw for ANTM (probably way late, but as long as Nigel and the Jays could hang in, so could I), and I thought the team concept might be my last straw for PR.

    But like you, Greta, I have hope after seeing that first episode. I wonder if they’ll keep the same teams together for a while (a la Survivor), or reshuffle into different configurations (pairs, trios, etc.)?

  7. 9

    I actually watched a couple seasons of Project Runway after reading your episode reviews a while back and I loved the show(and will watch more). Thank yooou <3

  8. 11

    I used the losing dress/designer from the challenge as an opportunity to blog about overconfidence. She was a really good example of the common problem of less competent people hugely overestimating their ability,

    But, as much as I love PR, what really annoys meabout the show is the lack of actually showing us the details of construction on these outfits. Watching Top Chef, and similar shows, you actually can pick up some techniques for food preparation. But we never seem to get any sewing instruction or tips from PR. Instead of all that drama, I’d love it if they gave us some advice on how to set a sleeve smoothly, or take in an outfit that almost fits, or finish a hem quickly. Something useful, that might inspire us to be more creative and actually pull out the old sewing machine.

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