Project Runway: Congratulations!
Look, don’t start with us. We’re not feeling the exclamatory title of this post any more than most of you do, but if we gave any indication of our disappointment in the title the “DON’T SPOIL IT BECAUSE I HAVEN’T WATCHED IT YET” crowd would have our heads. Suffice it to say our first impulse was to just title the post “Oh, fuck you.”
But to whom would we address that? Some people are going to read this as us “defending” the show, but in all honesty, our takeaway is that the outcome of last night’s finale had nothing to do with Bunim/Murray or Lifetime. It all came down to Nina and Michael. Say what you will about the ways the show has declined since it left Bravo, we wouldn’t disagree with you, but if the producers really wanted to exert control over the outcome, we’d all be congratulating Mondo this morning. Any television producer with an ounce of common sense could see which of the designers would be the most embraced by the public. Gretchen made for great television (at least as far as a producer would define it), but she doesn’t inspire that “rooting for the plucky hero” feeling that makes for reality television gold. We can see the idea floating around already that Lifetime or B/M might not have wanted an HIV positive gay man promoted too heavily on the network but to that we say hogwash. Lifetime has been promoting Mondo all season long, especially in light of his HIV confession. Not to make light or diminish what he’s gone through, but his struggles fit in quite well with the Lifetime brand. “Overcoming the odds” is a particularly strong theme in their programming.
No, this was about Nina and Michael and in many ways that judging session was representative of an ongoing conversation in the fashion industry in light of the collapse of the economy. Namely, should the industry move away from a focus on theatrical high-priced luxury goods and fantasy clothes and should it embrace a more downscale, less complicated point of view? It’s a discussion worth having and there are points to be made in favor of each side, but the bottom line is, this is a design competition and something of a game show. There’s a reason why American Idol winners tend to be loud-mouthed wailers with ceiling-crumbling vocal styles. Quiet, thoughtful singers with discipline and control simply aren’t what anyone’s looking for in that venue. And while it pains us to compare the two shows, Project Runway has similarly always awarded the main prize to the designer or collection most likely to generate press and excitement.
This is what was so appalling about Nina and Michael’s constant refrain of “ON TREND, DAMMIT!” Jay McCarroll wasn’t on trend. Neither was Chloe Dao for that matter. Neither was Leanne Marshall or Irina Shabayeva or Seth Aaron. You could even argue that Christian Siriano wasn’t (if anything, he was recycling trends with his finale collection). In all those instances, the prize was given to the designer whose collection made the strongest statement and was able to garner interest from the press and the public for their unique points of view. You could argue that Gretchen’s collection was equally as strong, but THAT’S NOT THE ARGUMENT THE JUDGES MADE. Despite the fact that they literally could not describe Mondo’s collection without using the kind of language reserved for winning designers (“He’s incredibly creative and talented.”) the ONLY arguments made in support of Gretchen by Nina and Michael were “It’s on trend” and “I can sell these garments.” Pardon us for being purists, but what appalling arguments to be making. This is what happens when a show goes from ELLE Magazine and the Banana Republic accessories wall to Marie Claire and the Piperlime accessories wall. Project Runway was never cutting edge even on its best days, but the dumbing down of the brand has been a distressing thing to witness.
And another thing: Nina and Michael have a far better understanding of the history of fashion than we do. The list of designers who happened to hit it big because their aesthetic tended to intersect with the whims of the industry at the time (i.e., it’s on trend) who then crashed and burned because the industry moved on when they couldn’t is a MILE LONG. It’s one of the most common stories in fashion. We’re not saying Gretchen’s a flash in the pan. We’re just saying that trendiness is a piss-poor criterion in a design competition.
And who knew that of all the people to understand that best and to speak for seemingly the majority of the viewers was none other than Heidi herself? We’ll grant you, when Heidi Klum and Jessica Simpson (who wasn’t at all bad as a judge) are the spokespersons for your argument, then you need to reconsider your argument. And we did, in all honesty. We listened intently to what Nina and Michael had to say and they made a lot of good points. For instance they were right to point out that Gretchen has an easily definable customer. You can “see the girl.” They were also right to point out that Mondo’s styling hurt him terribly. On the other hand, “We’re not here to restyle his collection” was a particularly bullshitty bit of bitchery coming from the Duchess because he and Nina LAVISHED praise on Gretchen for styling her collection EXACTLY THE WAY THEY INSTRUCTED HER TO. In fact, this whole “He didn’t listen to us/she listened to us” argument strikes us as awfully petulant.
And speaking of which, what crawled up their asses? That was, despite the jaw-dropping outcome, the best judging session we’ve ever seen. That wasn’t playing to the cameras; they were genuinely in disagreement. Kors isn’t such an actor that he can fake the red-faced, stuttering near-outrage he was feeling. “HELLO? READ A MAGAZINE!” was downright obnoxious. Like we said, it pained us that Heidi and JSimp were speaking on our behalf, but Nina and Michael were thisclose to being dismissive bitches. And what was with that weirdly defensive dig against Galliano that Kors made? “What I show I make! And women wear!”
As for the argument that Gretchen’s collection was “What’s happening NOW” and Mondo’s wasn’t …
At the exact moment Nina and Michael were attempting to make that point, the biggest movers and shakers and trendmakers in the industry were preparing their Spring 2011 collections, with bold, saturated colors, theatrical styling and presentation, mixing of wildly different prints, whimsical elements and simple shapes and silhouettes. Now, does this mean Mondo automatically should have won? Of course not. And given time, we could put together a collage of concurrent looks from big name designers that owe more to Gretchen’s aesthetic. Marc Jacobs’ deeply literal ’70s collection as well as Kors’ own breezey, flowey collection in deep greens, golds and earth tones are much closer to Gretchen’s work than Mondo’s. Our point is, Nina and Michael, you didn’t choose Gretchen’s collection because it’s what’s happening now in fashion; you picked it because it’s what’s happening now in fashion that you tend to like. Which, fine. Judging is subjective, after all. But we think they spewed a ton of bullshit to justify that preference and they did Mondo a disservice by trying to paint his equally as on trend collection as somehow inferior. “Seth Aaron’s collection was last year.” Actually, no Nina. It was six months ago. And while we take your point that fashion moves forward, your rush to cast aside what you praised earlier the same year only serves to highlight the capriciousness of the fashion industry.
We think Gretchen is a talented designer and we think that there is a market and a customer for her work. We just don’t think she’ll be able to excite the public and interest the press the way that Mondo will. And we don’t buy that she’s got her finger on the pulse any more than he does. We will, of course, be examining every single one of the looks in the finale collections in great detail (including poor Andy, who got short shrift), as well as a look at the lamest fucking reunion in the show’s history, so we’ll have more to say about that coming up.
We hear a lot of people declaring that this is it and they’ll never watch the show again. To be honest, it’s something we’ve heard after every finale. That doesn’t make it an idle threat, however. The show did well this season because it engaged the viewers with some very colorful personalities who provided some high drama. On that level, we enjoyed it immensely. But after all the onscreen drama and offscreen drama from the move to Lifetime and then the assembly line banging out of three seasons in short succession, we can’t commit to saying we’ll never watch again, but we sure are glad Project Runway is going away for a while. This is akin to doing a rain dance, but we implore the people involved with the creation of the show (and that includes the judges and Tim) to take a step back and remind themselves of what made the show great in the first place. We’re actually looking forward to see Bravo’s next attempt at The Fashion Show, which should tell you how tired we are of Project Runway.
As for Gretchen, in a way we feel sorry for the shitstorm that’s going to come her way. We honestly wish her the best and congratulate her on her win. Like we said, she’s definitely got the chops. We just didn’t think she was the winner here.
[Screencaps: projectrungay.blogspot.com - Photo Credit: style.com, Barbara Nitke, myLifetime.com]