Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Vast Fashionable Conspiracy

This Thursday, Project Runway crowned it's eighth winner for the show, second on Lifetime. The Lucy and I, sadly, did not critique the entire season because as it turns out, grad school programs take up a lot of your time (and bee tee dubs: congratulations to the lovely and amazing The Lucy on her newly minted MFA in Creative Writing!), but both of us were Team Mondo more or less from go. Gretchen Jones' collection was picked at the winner, and the world went apeshit.

First and foremost, here are the collections, courtesy of NY Mag.

Mondo Guerra
Gretchen Jones
Andy South

I was surprised throughout the judging process. I freely admit that I assumed that Mondo would win because he was such a complete competitor: a talented fabricator with a strong fashion point of view tempered by an openness to evolution in design. When I saw the three collections, I assumed it would be between Andy and Mondo. Andy's was not as various a collection as one would have hoped, but it presented a clear statement and was masterfully constructed. He made excellent use of texture in his fabrics and despite minimal color, the collection was never boring. Gretchen's was...more Gretchen. All season, she's been making the kind of stuff you'd expect on a resident of Taos, New Mexico who talks about crystals a lot and lives in an adobe house, but vacations in Aspen and drives a Land Rover, all in baby-poo colors. It was very cohesive and Gretchen is a great clothesmaker, but it was a snooze. AND it featured some kind of weird granny panties repeatedly, in the guise of pants. Mondo's collection was a blast. He used the over the top imagery of the Day of the Dead and old Mexican circuses but somehow wove it into a sophisticated, fun collection awash in his wonderful prints. It was spectacular and distinctive.

Then Gretchen won.

Project Runway, at its current level, features designers who are talented. This is an important thing to remember, because a lot of invective has been hurled at Gretchen that takes the form of accusations of incompetence. This isn't the case. She is a talented dressmaker, she is a talented designer, and she has original ideas. I personally would not let 95% of her stuff come anywhere near my body, but that's different from a lack of talent. No one is going to win Project Runway without a base level of talent, and Gretchen absolutely has it.

However, there is a larger question of What The Point Is. The stated goal of Project Runway has always been "finding the next great fashion designer." For the past several seasons, I think that the selections have been appropriate, even if they didn't go on to dominate the fashion world (which, incidentally, I don't think is possible or positive in fashion, so I actually count this as a good thing, even if I wish some of them would have made more of a splash in runway fashion). But this year, Gretchen won because she was "on trend" and basically because she was mass marketable, and that poses a real problem for Project Runway. I agree that Gretchen's collection was marketable...Nina Garcia and Michael Kors weren't wrong about that, as many people have been whining. The problem is, it looked like a goddamn Chico's. But there already is a Chico's, and frankly I'm not sure that Gretchen improves on the genre. If they wanted a unique, new voice, Mondo was the clear choice, as demonstrated not only in his final collection but throughout the show.

This all feeds directly into a conspiracy theory that The Lucy touched off a while back, which has now grown exponentially in my mind as evidence mounts. The idea is that Lifetime wants Project Runway shoehorned into its specific formula, the same one that brought the world all those classic Lifetime movies and various sexist-stereotypes-dressed-as-empowerment offerings. The first season that aired on Lifetime had been filmed before the switch from Bravo had been finalized, and thus had retained much of its original feel. This is the first season completely filmed under Lifetime's auspices, and it shows. The switch to the Bunim/Murray editing crew brought the jumpy feel of the house's other shows to Project Runway, which made this year's runway shows wildly irritating; the constant cuts and weird camera angles made it all but impossible to actually see the clothes completely. I also feel that Tim Gunn has been edited into a "safer" and more stereotypical picture of a gay man - a fey gay stereotype operating mostly on quips and light on seriousness, rather than the spectacularly knowledgeable, intelligent and unique human being that people have responded so well to from day one. This is not to say that some of the latter doesn't shine through - you can't take the awesome out of Tim Gunn - but I have noticed a specific and dramatic shift, and I find that deeply upsetting.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this is how Gretchen's win fits into the gradual Lifetimization of Project Runway. The discussion of the collections focused for the first time mostly on mass marketability, rather than creativity and big fashion. This fits right into the trend towards removing everything gutsy and challenging about Project Runway. Rather than watching the way aspirational fashion is created, we are now watching how shit you can buy at the mall gets produced. I fail to see either the benefit or the appeal of such a show. It's not that Gretchen is untalented, as I have said before - it's that she's not making fashion and she's not bringing anything new to the table. I am concerned about the future of Project Runway, and I think it would be a great loss for it to decay into cancellation.


  1. Well obviously I agree with everything you have to say here. It really is a shame that the show has deviated so far from it's place of origin. Watch the first season and it will become apparent.

    If Gretchen's stuff is fashion forward then it's a sad day for fashion. Her color palette was dismal and I didn't think there was anything special about what she put on the runway. These clothes have been around for a while, and they have sucked for a while.

    And I still think they punished Mondo for not bowing to their demands to leave the slinky polka dotted number out of the show.

  2. After having looked through the three collections I can see why Mondo should've won but I would've been rooting for Andy. I have a thing for grey/silver and a thing against patterns that even remotely resemble that crappy southwest thing that was going on in the late 80s early 90s.

    Gretchen definitely sucked. I liked exactly one piece out of her collection and that was just because the structure reminded me of a sari. The pattern was shit. Like literally it looked like brown pellets of shit on a brown background.

    I discovered PR on Netflix but sadly not on instant play. You might get a rant in three months or something when I catch up.