#fashionfriday: #ProjectRunway Thoughts

I’m almost done with Project Runway. Depending on the results of next week’s finale part two, I might end up parting ways with the new seasons and go hunting down older seasons on DVD. This is really difficult for me to write and say mainly because I went to school (at the Academy of Art) for Fashion Design. I love Fashion Design. And Project Runway actually put a flashlight into that world so people can start to understand what goes into their clothes. (I don’t care if you shop at Wal-Mart or Haute Couture, the process is the same.)

Personally, I’d never go on Project Runway. I know we should never say things like “I’ll never do this.” I said that I’d never publish an original book, but here I am. (Granted I’m self publishing so my reasons for not publishing aren’t exactly valid.) But I tried going the traditional route and querying agents (probably the wrong ones) and tried to get a book deal which was something I said I’d never do. But here is one thing I put my foot down on, I do not want and will not go onto a reality show like Project Runway or Fashion Star or 24 Hour Catwalk or Launch My Line.

These shows don’t do what they claim to do. Project Runway is “on the search for the next big American Fashion Designer.” I can name two people from Project Runway that have any sort of success, three if I include one that turned into a television personality and four if we include the teacher who just keeps showing back up in more Project Runway franchises. Christian Siriano, Austin Scarlet (wedding dresses at Kleinfelds), Santino Rice (television personality) and Nick Verreos (and let’s be fair, Nick was already a teacher at FIDM before he was on Project Runway.)  We’re at sixteen seasons with at least 12 to 16 fashion designers at the start of each season. Four “success” stories. That’s close to 200 designers. Siriano was from season four. Austin, season 2. So, it’s been 12 years at least since any “break out” fashion designer has made any sort of success for themselves from Project Runway that “matters” in the terms of fashion world expectations. That is a runway show every season and product in major distributors like Barney’s, Macy’s, Saks and so on. (Boutiques on top of those are nice too.)

The real success of Project Runway is Tim Gunn. And he’s not even designing clothes!

The prizes change my season but usually you get around $100,000, a new car, free makeup help from the beauty sponsor for your the show you do with the $100,000 (because that’s how far 100 grand is going to get you) and floor space/online retail space at the accessory wall sponsor. And you used to get a sewing and embroidery studio from Brother and a position as guest editor at a fashion magazine. But those two prizes (probably the most two useful prizes outside of the money) have vanished in recent seasons. These prizes honestly, don’t get you very far in the world of runway fashion, that is ready to wear.

Of course, this is reality television and what they claim and what happens really are two different things. But my point is that Project Runway isn’t the ‘magical’ gateway to success that they claim their winners are going to have. It’s not really a “once in a lifetime” opportunity (especially if they come back for All Stars, or three seasons in a row). It’s entertainment. Entertainment where 90% of America watches and goes “Who would actually wear that?”

At best, Project Runway is a platform, a platform to get your ‘name’ or brand out there. Then, it’s back to the grind. You have to do what Siriano did. You have to roll your product into Barney’s, sell the buyer on your product and be able to back it up with a manufacturer to produce your product. That is why Siriano was a success. He took his few moments of fame from Project Runway and kept up his courage and went after the big buyers and it worked. And it worked because he backed up his sales with good product and built good will. “Oh, he’s a new designer, but his product doesn’t have strings, comes pressed with the proper labels and tags and actually sells. We’ll buy from him again.” And many, many designers aren’t prepared to be able to take that platform and turn it into something marketable and make it really “big” in the industry.

And let’s face it, making it “big” in the fashion industry is really difficult. It’s an industry worth trillions of dollars and the major brands were established decades ago and bought out by LVHM or Fendi. You are swimming in a current against major corporations with billions of dollars of advertisement and marketing and production money to throw around (even when a lot of these brands didn’t make money for their first couple of decades) and designers are notorious to be sharks! I’ve had loving, well meaning friends and family go “I can’t wait to see your clothes on a runway.” Or. “You should go on one of those fashion shows.” And I have to quietly back up and be polite about how I explain the realities of where money goes in fashion and I don’t have that money or the desire to go on a reality television show.

That’s also not the type of fashion I do.

This season of Project Runway has been divisive. Between the twins being twins and then the cheating scandal and how it was unprofessionally handled by both the contestants and the producers and the really crazy designers in general. (I mean it, was there something in the Los Angeles water?) I wasn’t fond of the briefs either. It’s produced a lot of reactions. Then, instead of treating it like a contest and having a final three, there was a final five. (Which to be honest, all 5 were getting 10 grand to show no matter what but to string two of them along that much longer for an additional 100 grand is cruel and not worth it to the audience.) And we’re having the same type of edit that we’re having when Ashley Neil Tipton won. I’ve been getting a little put out and putting in plus sized models isn’t enough to make me overlook how scripted, over dramatized and downright biased Project Runway has become.

If Brandon wins, as much as I want to support a fellow designer from San Francisco/Academy of Art Alum, I’m done.

I’m on my last straw. And it’s not Brandon. It’s sadly, Tim Gunn. It’s Heidi. It’s Zac Posen. It’s Nina. And it’s about Margarita. I don’t like Margarita. I find her unprofessional. (I take it badly when you lie, are hypocritical or talk about other people in a foreign language right in front of them.) However, Margarita has a very specific tropical/warm weather style. It’s a valid style. And I liked some of her pieces. It’s been on Project Runway before. Uli and Anya managed to run with tropical styles all the way to the finales. Others got thrown off for having poor taste. Tropical style has been on Project Runway for years.

What hasn’t been on Project Runway is the sniping, condescending attitude about warm weather/tropical fashion. In the one model off duty challenge, they very snidely/condescendingly called Margarita’s outfit “very Miami.” (Margarita responded by lying about whose idea it was to make the look the way it was and threw the blame on the model instead of owning her look. One of the reasons, I don’t like her.) Apparently, Miami is now the armpit of American Fashion Centers. (I knew it was number three or four, not that it was smelly and the inbred cousin which the tones used in the show made it out to be like.) Now, normally, Tim Gunn is above this sort of nonsense. The reason why America loves Tim Gunn is not only is he honest, he’s fair and he’s encouraging. He does all his critiques out of a sense of love and desire to push the designers to be the best at what they do and not be anyone else.

Tim Gunn even used his save on Margarita because his advice was what got her sent to the bottom, so much, that they eliminated her. I understood his motivations even if I didn’t agree with the save.

So, you can imagine my horror and shock when Tim goes and visits Margarita in San Juan, Puerto Rico and is looking at her collection and tells her to “Take the girl off the beach and put her on the streets (of New York.)” Did falling down a flight of stairs do something to his brain? Where was the Tim that told Uli and Anya to embrace their tropical loving selves? What happened? Why the reversal of 15 seasons of precedent? Especially after he saved her because of her color loving tropical looks gone a tad bit wrong.

And then Heidi compounded the matter by telling Margarita during the project critiques that she needed to remember that she was showing in New York City and not Miami.

This is bullshit. Everything gets shown at New York City. New York City is this amazing melting pot of a place with fashion designers of all calibers and walks of life trying to get their visions out there. It’s also the Spring/Summer collection showings where the really crazy neons and bright colors come out on every runway imaginable. No one in New York is going to bat an eye at Margarita’s bright bold colors and crazy prints. Because it’s New York City, the home of beautiful crazy murals and boroughs of every racial type on this Earth. And on top of it, who cares if Margarita’s style is a bit more Miami? From Puerto Rico, Miami is the logical place for Margarita to show her later fashion shows. Not New York. (And why the disdain for Miami? Why? I know it’s Florida but still, major fashion center.)

They wouldn’t have said this to Anya. They definitely wouldn’t have said this to Uli. They didn’t push either of those two to “make New York fashion.” And I know this because being so focused on designing fashion the last month or so instead of writing, I’ve watched both of their seasons! (Anya’s season is one of my favorites, as it was one of the first seasons I actually broke down and watched Project Runway. I didn’t have a lot of television growing up/during high school.)

This hypocrisy disgusts me. I hope against hope that it’s the producers at Weinstein butting their noses in where they don’t belong. But with Tim Gunn now being a producer on the show as well, you’d hope he’d stand up to them a little and go “No. I’m going to let Margarita design for her beach girl. Because that is Margarita’s customer.”

As for Brandon, it was interesting to see the inside of the new Fashion Building at the Academy (that looks exactly the same as the inside of the building where I went when I attended. Imagination when it comes to decorating, the Academy has not.) However, Brandon’s collection looks to be exactly the same things he’s done all season and gotten no negative push back on from the judges. He hasn’t evolved. He can’t tailor. As a fashion designer, I don’t know who is going to wear his clothes. And instead of producing two or three groups of clothes for his collection, he produced one. One set of textiles, one set look. And it still looks like it belongs in a video game.

It’s Neil-Tipton all over again. It’s the producers going “let’s choose a story and a winner of said story… oh this guy is a sweet nice guy with an odd look, let’s push him through to the win.” It may not be as politically correct as Neil-Tipton’s win, but it still feels scripted. (They didn’t give him a conflict or something to overcome, instead the twins and cheating theatrics took ‘center stage’ as a distraction.) I saw exactly what I expected to see from the collection pieces he showed to Tim and the judges. That’s not what I expect from a Project Runway winner.

(Good grief, if he had just tailored some of his clothes instead of doing all oversize. But this is the Academy here, my expectations on drafting and sewing skills aren’t that high. Still, there are books. Books you’re supposed to buy for classes. Books he could use that he was back in San Francisco and not on the show. Metric Pattern Cutting. I own all three books and two of them I didn’t need to buy because I’m in Women’s Wear!)

We’ll see how next week’s finale goes. I just hope I don’t end up heartbroken.

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