...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, racked.com), 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.
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