Last night, designers had to show who they are and utilize New York City as their inspiration. Ultimately, judges should have been able to literally see NYC in the contestants' designs.
It's totally debatable whether or not last night's winning team, (Team Keeping it Real) had the upper hand. Team Keeping it Real took a cruise along the Hudson and consequently had a ground level view when they took in New York City. The other team, Dream Team, had a rooftop view of the city. A rooftop view of NYC doesn't compare to a cruise on the Hudson where buildings and objects, the Statue of Liberty for example, are so nearby and completely three dimensional.
Without high definition eye glasses, staring down at New York City was probably more intimidating than inspiring. The Dream Team's designs were mostly sharp, literal and squared. Three standout designs by team members James Martinez, Emily Pollard and Cindy Marlatt cast the Dream Team in the losing barrel. It was ironic that Cindy and Emily landed in the bottom three because early in the day, designer Emily was sure she'd have a problem with designer Cindy.
Emily took a look at Cindy's style and decided the two were nothing alike. Actually, Emily is 24 and Cindy is 59 and from what viewers have seen so far, Cindy is Emily 35 years from now. By the end of the episode, Emily was eliminated for an unfinished dress that Heidi called "butt ugly". Emily knew she was in trouble when the models came in for a fitting and she hadn't sewn a stitch.
Cindy scrambled to help Emily design a semblance of an outfit while the rest of their teammates looked aside and away. In the end, Emily made what might be one of the most redeeming comments of the season. Emily swore she'd never judge anyone again because Cindy was a really nice person, if not the only person, who sincerely reached out to help her.
Even so that help wasn't enough. Nina Garcia asked why the teammates didn't give Emily fabric.
There are other reasons the Dream Team didn't fare very well last night. The Dream Team is stuffed with natural and born leaders who were reluctant to speak up and take charge in the first challenge. Michelle Lesniak Franklin told confessionals, but not her team, that she was worried because her team hadn't discussed aesthetics. Benjamin Mach, the Australian who moved to London with 300 pounds in his pocket, was annoyed by a curious and talkative James Martinez. Benjamin also said that he doesn't mind working in group projects and likes to step up and take the lead. But it may take a few more trials by fire before he actually breaks out of a tense shell that seemed to be created mostly by Michelle.
On the rooftop, Michelle gave a rather superficial "Go Team!" speech which laid the foundations for a weak group. The group totally showed its weakness by not helping Emily finish her dress. It may have been tough love, but the decision not to help Emily was a virtual forfeit. Moreover, it robbed the rest of the team an opportunity to shine before the judges. In the end, the judges confessed to liking some of the Dream Team's designs. Mach was given high praises for his flowing, intricate, block design, tactile dress. Tu Suthiwat Nakchat got a similar nod for his design, a black and white two piece sportswear outfit like no one has ever seen. The entire front was white and the back was black.
Yet the Dream Team's high scores couldn't compensate for the three low scores. Emily's dress was an unfinished miniskirt with some kind of crepe jacket shirt. James designed a halter top with a chewed neckline and a pencil skirt. The shape of Cindy's sundress was nice (although judges didn't think so), but the pattern was almost really offensive--especially since the challenge asked designers to use New York City as their inspiration. If designs speak, Cindy's design said New York is a crowded, smoky, junky, amalgamation of dust clouds.
Nina Garcia appreciated Cindy's design very little, but guest judge and PR Runway winner Christian Siriano had one saving comment for Cindy. Siriano was glad Cindy took her teammates' advice. They told Cindy to make a whole dress rather than cut her fabric and make a shirt dress out of it. Siriano agreed. Better one ugly fabric all by itself, rather than several pieces of ugly fabric stitched and sewn in the name of fashion.
in addition to the new twists--team challenges and new judge Zac Posen, Project Runway has piled several minorities into a single episode. Patricia Michaels is Native American and proud. Her personality and her life as a Native American visiting New York and designing dreams came through in her first design. Patricia's look was one of the winning three.
Stanley Hudson is an African American costume designer from LA. Stanley's work is really nice, but Stanley's a little pretentious. He snubbed Patricia's work as something suitable for a craft project or an art museum. But as impeccable as Stanley declared his design to be, Patricia's craft project was a winning look.
Tu Suthiwat Nakchat is stuck on the Dream Team and if he stays in the competition and doesn't quit, he'll be the first Asian designer the show has hosted in a quite a while. Layana Aguilar is Brazilian, Samantha Black is an African American Brooklynite, and James Martinez is Latino and from Dallas.
Others, Daniel Esquivel and Richard Hallmarq are racially ambiguous and super energetic teammates and contestants. Esquivel and Hallmarq were the top two designers last night, each with a very different aesthetic. Hallmarq created a knitwear jersey dress that Nina Garcia described as very urban. Posen loved its assymetry, Heidi loved it perhaps because it looked like something she'd add to her New Balance collection almost.
But Esquivel (who is immediately recognizable and adorable because of his handlebar mustache) designed an elite jacket with sleeves that weren't full length, yet were more than 3/4 length. The waist ballooned and, smartly, Esquivel made pants that were ankle high, but not quite peddle pushers and not high enough to make the outfit really informal. It was a gorgeous design that would have looked totally 1950s had he sewn a skirt instead of the cool pencil pants.
Season 11 of Project Runway got interesting fast. And it gets even better as the season progresses because the designers are going overseas.
For the record, overseas trips certainly lessen the pain of being eliminated. Overseas trips have always worked like a charm with Tyra Banks' Next Top Model show.
photo credit: Lifetime/PRunway