Sunday, October 31, 2010

In Defence of Project Runway

...Or rather its winner, I wanted to say a few words. I thought Gretchen Jones delivered a disappointing collection, based on her first looks and what I've seen of her line mothlove online. But she deserved the win--all three collections were badly flawed or spotty and hers was, overall, the most promising. Maybe I want her to be more like Rachel Comey, or No. 6, or Isabel Marant than she really is--but the lines, shapes, textures all suggested a designer who was working in 2010-11, not one who made fun but somewhat 80s clothes (Mondo) or made a Chicos meets upholstery fabric line (Andy).

Reading a few posts across the blogosphere, including some from portals I thought were more connected with fashion (NY Magazine's The Cut,, has only made me more aware that the viewers for fashion-themed reality shows know little about fashion. And, really, why should they? The Food Network has made a celebrity of Sandra Lee, who clearly doesn't like cooking and whose taste in table decor runs to broken chairs sprayed gold, covered in fringe and upended on table tops. I liked Mondo too--and would probably have a lot more fun hanging with him and Michael C. But that doesn't mean that he should have won PR. Close call, yes. Online tantrums and name-calling from his fans when he didn't win, no.

The winners for Project Runway are often not the ones anybody in fashion would pick and while this season may have bucked the trend with its winner, I'm not sure that it was her best work. But the lack of knowledge about fashion that drives these comments irritates me, fashion snob that I am. No, Mondo's work isn't cutting edge, nor was Seth Aaron's, nor virtually any of the collections that have graced the show's stage. The girl Alison from a few years back, Leanne and Gretchen have been about the only fashion forward designers I can remember, the only ones with some kind of finger on the pulse who didn't make pretty dresses, costumes or dull department store wear. If you don't know anything about fashion, don't critique on that ground--you can say you don't like it, but not that you think it is old fashioned, lacks style, or draw invalid comparisons.

Season one may have got it right with Jay McCarroll, but largely because the show was still underneath the radar at that time and wasn't thinking about pandering to viewers who wanted a reality soap, nor to advertisers wanting satisfied consumer-viewers to buy cat food, cosmetics or car insurance. Chloe Dao's clothing made her models look like badly upholstered couches but showed that a nice face, inoffensive designs and recognition of audience tastes had already shifted the formula. Subsequent seasons may have delivered few recognizable winners outside of the PR fan circuit because fashion was not the primary objective in picking a winner. With two exceptions--Christian Siriano and Leanne (to my mind the most talented winner by a wide margin)--the winners have been anything from mediocre to comically bad--take, for instance, the tasteless fur-centric Eastern Eurotrash collection from Irina (painted as the show's bitch with some talent) or the tacky and dated Seth Aaron collection. Not surprisingly, these two returned to the anonymity from whence they came once the memories of their seasons ended, Henderson held dear only by the fans that loved his screen persona.

I preferred the first season of Project Runway when talent held firmer sway and the marvels of the workroom were center stage. Not that these figures weren't without personality--to pretend that was the case not only overlooks the marvelous Jay and Austin Scarlett,  the supreme villainy of Wendy Pepper and the already well honed conventions of reality TV. These shows are watched for their characters, something Bravo and Magical Elves knew long before the first audition for Project Runway. And, yes, I will admit to loving some of the show's characters, particularly Austin, Jay, Santino Rice and Chris March. Were they all good designers? Not necessarily, although their batting average was higher than most (including most winners).

As most reality shows now unwind in a convergence economy where devoted bloggers hold sway and can become important, even instrumental, parts of a show's reception, the worst tendencies emerge. The character-centered discourse I can understand and accept--it is the larger part of the rationale behind reality TV and most people wouldn't watch a group of quiet or dull talented workers sewing and sketching away, regardless of their disclaimers. Maybe I'm a total fashion snob, but I get more upset about the strange selections of winning collections. This time, as with Leanne, Jay and maybe Christian, the show got it right. If all three finalists hadn't failed to deliver, I'd celebrate more, but until then, I hope Gretchen Jones has a good career and would love to find a couple of her dresses from this fall--that is, if the collection was ever produced.


Cindy said...

so funny, david and i had a long conversation about this... i basically made the point that i wished project runway had more genuine fashion cred and i felt that choosing jones was a step back in that direction, as you say. plus, i just loved that team nina & michael stuck one to heidi, who has been insanely irritating all season!!

joyce said...

I agree with everything you've said, Moya. The comments have been really harsh toward Gretchen, most of them written by people who equate "fashion" with floor-length, red carpet gowns.

The dress with the Aztec cutout back was my favorite look!

Marti said...

I did like gretchen's collection though it would have been nice to see some other color. It was a bit Rachel Comey and would fit in at Barneys Coop. As long as you have guest judges with no taste in fashion like Jessica Simpson involved and Heidi Klum who just likes everything short and tight very good designers who are modern may not see the light of day.

I think Lifetime owns the designs so I am not sure that they will be produced.

Moya said...

I'm thinking about the dresses that weren't on the runway but were designed before PR. I like the velvet mini dress that she wore several times on the show but I read that her line went under so it's likely that it wasn't produced.

louise or valentine said...

i actually didn't watch this season but read recaps on jezebel that were horribly slanted towards mondo and even then, i liked gretchen and ivy the best. they really seemed to be making clothing that could fit into boutiques or barneys as opposed to mondo whose clothing was probably expensive to make and it looked like it belonged at strawberry or forever 21.
but i am biased...b/c i'm obsessed with rachel comey. and i think thats what the problem was- perhaps it's people who like fashion but aren't in fashion love mondo's stuff- b/c it's "funky" (pulling from ghost world here) and it looks "unique."
but does that make it good?
well no. but then what is the definition of good?
i think gretchen deserved to win b/c it ws the most marketable collection (i think as michael kors pointed out) and i know we all like it b/c it fits into our aesthetic.
but it's not reinventing the wheel.
and i still loved leanne's stuff the best.
she has an etsy shop. but hasn't really made a line in a while. i wish she'd get on that. i loved the aesthetic. it was so clean, so mimialistic, it reminded me of the ocean.

so after my wee essay, i am essentially agreeing with you.
but i feel so over project runway,its not even funny. it's like american idol-when's the last time a real pop star came out of that competition?

sarah said...

I very much agree with you, too. I even argued with some people on Jezebel over it. Gretchen's clothes pertain to a definite fashion community that many people aren't aware of--for example, yes, there is a context for and a thought process behind her "granny panties." Her detractors got a lot of milage out of saying her briefs/hot shorts were ridiculous.

Why apologize for being a fashion snob? It isn't snobbery, it's simply a matter of being informed. Why shouldn't they apologize for being ignorant of fashion and trend?