Project Runway Season 10: Avant-Garded

It was an avant-garde “electric fantasie” on last night’s Project Runway, and if you don’t know what that means don’t worry—the designers had no clue either.

the five remaining designers standing in a fancy garden
This is not our beautiful house.

The challenge: Create an avant-garde look for your “muse” based on a type of L’Oreal Electric Fantasie makeup. Also be inspired by a rando castle for no reason.

Guest judge: Zoe Saldana

The winner: Dmitry—no one knows what a “wise mystic” looks like, so why not put her in a tailored suit?

The auf’d: Sonjia. NOOO! Her “Adam & Eve” gown was kind of a mess though.

Sonjia sketching under a tree
Miss you already, girl.

Electric Fantasie? Really?
Ah, the avant-garde challenge, the inevitable episode on each season’s Project Runway where we’re reminded that while both judges and contestants really like to throw that phrase around, no one seems exactly clear on the meaning. There are those who interpret it as “more costumey than the Met Costume Ball, but less costumey than a Vegas-Disney mashup” (hellooo, Chris March!), and those who take it to mean that one part of a dress should be wildly exaggerated and make it difficult for the model to perform at least one bodily function (see: Christian Siriano, Kenley Collins). And then there are those who go with what I tend to feel is the definition that hews closest to the fashion world’s version of avant-garde: Namely, they make shit angular, severe, and, most important, hella ugly.

And while obviously I will take all the Tim I can get, his hovering presence in the workroom this episode and queries about whether this or that was really flying the avant-garde flag high enough didn’t really help matters. I fully agree that at this stage in PR’s evolution the designers really should know what the phrase denotes, but, Gunn, write the definition on a sandwich board and walk it around the workroom if you’re so concerned.

The real puzzle for me this episode was just how much the looks were really supposed to tie in to the product placement, L’Oreal’s special-edition “Electric Fantasie” makeup collection. (Side note: Really? I feel like Electric Fantasie was the house band in one of the lesser, non-Purple Rain Prince movies, and if it wasn’t it definitely should have been.) With the Enchanted Queen look assigned to Fabio and chosen by Chris, the outfits reflected their conception of the whole look, rather than just the colors. Melissa’s Artsy Muse was artsy all right; she looked like a circa-1980 Patrick Nagel print come to life. And Sonjia clearly took to heart the brief on her redundantly named Seductive Temptress, even if she was working from the Harlequin/Dynasty playbook of Seductive Temptresses…

Which is why, much as I love Dmitry, I did not buy his winning Wise Mystic look. Wise Executive Assistant, maybe. Wise Hot Stockbroker, almost definitely. But that structured, pointy suit, which elsewhere would have had Michael Kors screaming some combination of the words “Mugler power bitch fierceness insaaaaane!” did not say Mystic in the least. (Fabio’s pants? Total Mystic-wear) Which suggests that, much like how the judges always say they judge each look on its own merits but judged this episode cumulatively, they are playing fast and loose with the episode’s criteria with no regard for how inconsistent it makes the show look.

Like I can really muster much of a flounce here, though. I’ll pour one out for the awesome and delightful Sonjia, who would have done better if her gold lamé hadn’t gone missing, but other than that, bring on the final four!

Assorted thoughts:
Fabio won this episode, if not with his outfit, than with his whole vibe. First of all, how clearly could you picture Fabio wearing his button-down shirts as pants? And second, his “stages of Tim Gunn’s silence” reenaction could well unseat Santino Rice for the top seat in the Annals of Respectfully Spot-On Tim Gunn Mimickry.

Next week:
Home visits! Yes! Can Swatch ride shotgun?

- Andi

Sonjia and Fabio on the runway together
Sad Times at Parsons High.

Allow me to take a page from Jonah Lehrer and quote myself, circa seven months ago:

I love me an avant garde Project Runway challenge, but we were reminded again last night that none of the designers (or judges for that matter) have a clear idea what the term means…

Before we blame the designers for not knowing enough about fashion terminology, remember that the judges didn’t appear to have a shared definition of avant garde either. Couldn’t you have worked this out before the challenge, folks? Because your lack of clarity resulted in some looks that were kind of all over the place.

A Disney villain in a power suit, a dancer of the seven banquet napkins, a model dressed as Edie Sedgwick for Halloween, a fortune teller in an upside-down jacket, and a steampunk goth lounge singer walk into a bar, and HOW WERE ALL OF THESE WACK LOOKS PART OF THE SAME CHALLENGE? I know how: No one has a clue what the phrase “avant-garde” means. Apparently it just means “new,” but that’s like saying it means “fashion” or “good”: Everything these designers put down the runway is supposed to be unexpected and new—how was last night’s challenge any different?

The lack of direction resulted in some of the worst looks we’ve seen this season. Seriously, bring back the babies! The wonky “muse” instructions muddied the waters even further. (I’m with Andi—what the hell is a “wise mystic” and what would she wear on a runway?) I am a little worried about the final runway show because, without clear guidelines, the designers turned out some sub-par looks. Which reminds me…

Why is everyone pretending like it’s only the final three designers who show at Fashion Week?! We all know that at least the final eight designers get runway shows, it’s just that most of them aren’t eligible to win. I get that it’s kind of a letdown to have to make a collection knowing that you won’t get that HP tablet they’re always reminding us of, but when Sonjia says knows she’ll “show at Fashion Week someday” my only response is, “Duh! You are going to show there in two months just like the final four designers!” It takes a little of the drama away, but at least I feel better knowing that my darling Sonjia will go on to sew once more.

the judges on the runway
Killing it.

Assorted thoughts:
How great was the judging last night? I don’t mean the part when they threw out the rulebook and decided to judge everyone cumulatively—that was bogus—I mean before that, when Michael Kors was saying things like, “It looks like Nancy Kerrigan skated through a banquet hall,” and Nina Garcia dropped awesome truthbombs like, “When in doubt—don’t go there!” Zoe Saldana was one of the best guest judges I can remember, too. She had real constructive criticism for the designers and a very clear point of view. Great job, judges.

Next week:
Things I am looking for in the home visits: Freegan sculptures, ballroom dance trophies, and a secret hoarder. Fingers crossed!

- Kelsey

The Gunn Show: As PR devotees know, this is Tim Gunn’s world and we just live in it. Each week we pick our favorite Gunn moment (tell us yours too!). This week? When Gunny Sack looked upon the shitshow of a workroom and sagely declared, “This doesn’t look it’s going to happen. But it needs to.” Wise words.

Previously: Dressing Up Baby, Origami Rose and Disco Turkey on Stage for One Night Only!

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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