Feb 27, 2013

Project Runway — What Did We Learn This Week? Season 11, Episode 5

This is the debut post in a new weekly feature wherein I recap all the lessons I learned from this week's episode of Project Runway. 

The challenge in Episode 5 of Season 11 was to create both a stage outfit and red carpet look for country star Miranda Lambert, a curvy (we are told MANY TIMES) blonde bombshell whose image is "a little bit country, a little bit rock n' roll." Nearly all of the contestants opted for leather, fringe or navy with varying degrees of success. (I know: Navy? Huh? The "dossier" must have said Miranda likes it).

I find Project Runway to be instructive in many ways — for example, fabric choice is always a hot topic during critique with Tim Gunn, and styling is nearly always a factor in judging. Last week's episode was no exception. There was plenty to glean from the double-pronged challenge that saw everything from a goth cheerleader get-up to a gigantic dirndl skirt on the runway.

Lesson 1: "Stinkpot" is what qualifies as crass for Tim Gunn.

This season of Project Runway is all about the team challenges, and in his charming way, Tim cautioned: "You could have the most stunning look on that runway, but if you're paired with a stinkpot, it doesn't matter." While Tim Gunn's words contain an important lesson for the contestants, I think the way he delivers his warning is instructive to people like me, who have a tendency to be crass (I reign it in on my blog because I don't want this site to be pulled up on Google using certain search terms). His anachronistic sentiment (a "stinkpot" is actually defined as an unpleasant person) is characteristic of his special brand of refined grace. He stands out as from another era in this shameless age.

I just love Tim Gunn. He's high on my list of "Celebrities I DON'T Want to Meet Because I Am Afraid I Will End Up Embarrassing Myself By Crying." Michelle Obama and Mr. Dress-up (Canada's Mr. Rogers, essentially) also rank high on this list (and yes, I am aware that Ernie Coombs went to the great Tickle Trunk in the sky many years ago now).

So what's the lesson here? Unusual epithets make you seem interesting.

Lesson 2: "Soutache" is a technique of decorating fabric with narrow braided trim manipulated into shapes.

Daniel, the quirky Texan with the Salvador Dali 'stache, used this technique to embellish a halter-top bodice with what appeared to be squished up pieces of metallic leather that he gleefully snaked all over the poor torso of his grimacing model. This technique likely died with the last Confederate soldier because it appears to be as outdated as the hoop skirt. (Though searching for more info on it, I did discover it makes an appearance on Downton Abbey, so perhaps some of you more vintage-minded sewers would beg to differ).

The judges, meanwhile, were not happy with the result:

I actually didn't think Daniel's look was all that terrible. Nineties beauty queen, yes. Awful hem finishing that resembled a flea market napkin, sure. But did he deserve the proverbial spanking he got from Nina? That brings us to:

Lesson 3: If you produce incredible work (like Daniel has in previous challenges), don't ever think for a moment that you can coast on that. You will be eviscerated 10 times worse than the consistently mediocre (Cough, cough, Stanley). You're only as good as your current project. Nobody cares anymore that you made this a month ago:

The judges like to keep us guessing by praising both simple, flattering designs and intricate, unwearable weirdness like Patricia's Native American-inspired fringe apron (on the left), while bashing the equally odd "linguine bib" (on the right) by Michelle (actually one of my favorite designers this season, if only for her spot-on impression of Nina Garcia, which had the exact cadence of Project Runway's most withering judge):

Which leads us to....

Lesson 4: Just because you botch one project doesn't mean the next thing you make/create/undertake won't be a masterpiece. I really thought Benjamin dodged a pair of sharp Ginghers when he wasn't eliminated for this dress two episodes ago:

This painful-looking, flesh-colored monstrosity is among the garments that my husband has said he could make — on "Project Dumbway," a fashion competition show in which regular dudes like my husband attempt Project Runway-style challenges. (It doesn't exist. We just like to imagine the outcome of such challenges when attempted by people with no talent or experience. And whenever we see something like this come down the runway, we yell "Project Dumbway!" in unison. Married life is fun).

But then Benjamin went and made this stunning gown, which I thought was just as lovely as anything on the red carpet the other night:

So remember: We are not as bad as our worst project. We are as good as our best work. (Which, I am aware, totally undermines Lesson 3, but this is Project Runway — and what the judges like is an enigma wrapped in a paradox concealed under seven layers of silk organza.)

What lessons did you learn from last week's episode of Project Runway?


  1. I just wanted to say that your post made me laugh. Also, I wish Project Dumbway was a show. I'd totally watch it. :) I've been working my way through old Project Runway seasons, and I know it's old, but the one thing I've learned about that I adored and can't wait to do was lattice smocking (Shirin Askari, episode 2 of season 6). Who knew smocking could be so beautiful? I immediately sought out a tutorial, and there are really lovely instructions here: http://katafalk.wordpress.com/2010/02/20/lattice-smocking/

    1. Oh wow! I checked out that link and the smocking is unreal. I have to see how Shirin used it. I can't remember.

  2. agree, agree, agree, agree, agree!!! poor daniel's dress was pretty bad, i think it falls into the category of "it looked waaaay better in my head!" i adored that black suit he made, so clearly the guy has talent. i also thought benjamin was just a big talker not much of an executer until last week. and project dumbway needs to be a thing!

    1. I would love to see what it looked like in his head....

      And yeah, Benjamin: Ryan and I were laughing at his crazy confidence in this episode. Like, if I made something as ugly as that strappy dress and anyone other than my immediate family laid eyes on it, I would probably have a hard time saying something like, "I'm just so blown away by what I have done!'

  3. A 'stinkpot' is what sailors call a motor boat, back when I sailed...

    1. My dad's a sailor too...and he loves to rip on motorboaters! ;)

  4. Love this recap... I still can't believe that Benjamin made both of those dresses. At least he knew the first dress was crap tho - Daniel didn't seem to get how mother of the bride circa 1988 his dress was...

    1. Yes, so true! Daniel loved it right up to the moment they tore it to shreds! I can't wait to see what he does this week though!

  5. Please, please, please continue with this feature. I love to watch Project Runway, but since I have to watch it alone I really enjoy finding out what other people thought of the creations and judging. The main thing that I have learned so far this season is that I don't understand Patricia or her appeal. Everything she has made, even when it was in the top, got a huge question mark from this end. I like to think that even if something isn't in my style I can still appreciate it, but maybe I am not actually as open-minded as I like to think I am.

    1. I was SO surprised they liked that dress she made with the little squares of leather. I thought it was a major fashion DON'T for the red carpet especially. It looked unfinished! I think the producers just want to keep her around for wacky appeal.



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