Saturday, January 14, 2012

Project Runway All Stars - Episodes 1 and 2

The first two episodes of "Project Runway All Stars" have aired now. The biggest change with this season is, of course, the fact that the judges and (gasp!) Tim Gunn have been replaced. Plus, the format has been changed back to an hour instead of 90 minutes. I think that's a huge mistake - there wasn't even enough time to show all the designs on the runway in the first episode, much less even brief snippets of each designer's workroom critique! At least the time crunch will matter less as the season progresses and contestants get eliminated. The replacement cast, however, will continue to be in effect.

Instead of Heidi Klum, we get Angela Lindvall, who intones the same host lines that Heidi did, but with the urgent friendliness and careful enunciation as if she were endlessly narrating a cosmetic commercial. Isaac Mizrahi and Georgina Chapman have yet to make much of an impression on me. They have excellent fashion industry credentials, and probably have quite a bit of media experience, especially Mizrahi. However, from what I know that experience is all in "spokesperson" type roles - and mostly for their own brands. So whereas Kors and Garcia, after nine seasons, had no problem delivery absolutely blistering critiques, our new panel is still getting into the spirit of things and perhaps not willing to appear THAT negative yet. In contrast, since the designers have all been on Project Runway before, they are potentially more reality-show experienced than the judges.

And of course the most lamented change is the replacement of Tim Gunn with Joanna Coles. I can't get past the fact that she has a huge conflict of interest, since she is the Editor-in-chief of Marie Claire, and part of the prize is to be a guest editor there. Though she is not a judge, she does have the ability to influence the designers as they're working. So if there are any designers she decides she does NOT want to work with, she could well be tempted (even subconciously!) to withdraw from mentoring them, and withhold suggestions that would help them come judging time. Tim Gunn was always very concerned about not having any such conflict of interest, which is why he refused to be a judge even though such a move would be really popular with viewers. I think that if Joanna would prefer to have a role in determining who wins the prize and works with her, then she should just be a judge! Then someone with no other stake in the proceedings can be the mentor. Surely there can't be a shortage of people in the fashion world who want to be on TV giving their expert opinions...

How are the designers doing? Austin has grown a mustache, which fits oddly on his face with the blush, lip gloss, eyeliner, and careful blonde bouffant, but his nose is leonine enough that it works. The very young April has similarly augmented her extreme amount of makeup by dying her hair...gray. Huh. Michael is still overly fond of making exaggerated, moony surprised faces at every opportunity. I don't know much about Jerell or Kenley (having missed season 5 due to a bum DVR), but Jerell seems to communicate solely though standard reality show sass ("they better watch out for me!") and Kenley, who I think was the villain of her season, has a distinctly nasal voice, as if she were talking with her head tilted back as far as possible. She has taken it upon herself these first couple of episodes to play shepherd by occasionally calling out out time remaining ("one hour left, guys!") and get everybody out of the room when it's time for the runway. I'm sure most people will declaim this as bossy and irritating, but I couldn't help but think - if I were there, that's exactly what I would do! Everyone else seems exactly they were before. This makes sense - these are the people who have agreed to go another round, after all, meaning they haven't moved on to bigger things yet.

In the first episode, there were two runway shows. First, the designers each got to present something they made before the show which represented who they are. Then, they had to buy materials at a dollar store, and make a look that was inspired by the first one. In the second episode, they were given one day (and a trip to a real fabric store, i.e. Mood, of course) to make a ball gown fit to go to the opera.

At the dollar store, Micheal and April both get black & white mop heads. There is a whispered kerfuffle in the workroom as they each try to convince themselves (April much more successfully) that it isn't going to be a problem that they're both using them as the main material. Are they going to turn on each other during the judging if they get called out for the similarity? Actually, this ends up being a non-starter since both are deemed safe and get no comments. But, the reason behind the decision to spend precious minutes on this issue becomes clear in the second episode, when they both go for red fabric. This time, however, Michael has a slight freakout, complete with jazz hands, and loses this round of chicken. He gets black fabric instead. Then, in the workroom, April dyes her red fabric black. Yes really! In the end, though, the black is just an ombre effect on the bottom of her dress, which is still mostly red. The ridiculous coda to this thread is when she is told by the two guest judges that they don't like red and black together. To which I say, ok, me neither really, but do you have any kind of actual critique from a fashion point of view or is that just personal preference?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to the dollar store challenge, Austin accidentally burns a hole in his blue plastic dress with a glue gun, but is able to fix it in time. Anthony, Sweet P, and Jerell all create nearly the same silhouette (high halter neck, narrow skirt) just in different materials. Gordana creates a dress that looks like a pinata, but kind of in a good way, and though it looks stiff on the mannequin it looks pretty good moving - and then she ruins it by putting too much random stuff on the shoulders and neckline. Kara uses mop heads, but unlike Michael & April's, hers are red. Both her design and Kenley's are unremarkable.

Elisa's is clearly the worst. It looks like a model from Victoria's Secret Pink line accidentally wandered into the runway show for Victoria's Secret Angels and tried to make the best of it.

My favorite was Mila's - a futuristic striped tunic and leggings. Mondo's is also pretty great - a frilly, gothic dress that looks like something Abby Sciuto would wear, albeit she would use much less twee accessories. Rami's plaid confection with a giant collar is my third favorite.

Rami wins, and Elisa is out. Photos of all the looks are here.

The producers kept trying to convince us that the second challenge was to create a couture dress, but as the designers kept saying, couture really means hours and hours of hand sewing and all kinds of fancy and expensive technique, so any dress created in a single day can't really qualify. So I'll stick to thinking of it simply as an opera ballgown challenge. However you call them, I thought most of the resulting dresses actually turned out pretty well. Austin's gold-and-black is very pleasing, though it has that same high-necked silhouette that was so popular in the last challenge. Micheal's black-and-silver also has a similar shape, and like Austin's looks like it could go on a real red carpet. I can't imagine sitting through a whole opera with all those feathers tickling my neck, though. Kenley's pink-and-black polka dots are very cute.

Anthony creates a creditable Angelina Jolie red-carpet gown in white, helped greatly by his styling. Also styling wins are Gordana, with a 30's-style pastel dress, and Kara, whose dress had an 80's floral of the type which I think are trendy again but I personally don't like. Sweet P's is similar, but with a constrasting bodice. Mila, Mondo, and Rami all create gowns which are pretty nice but not terribly distinctive.

April's red-and-black creation is really messy on top. I wish it had turned out more like her sketch. Even worse was Jerell's, with a scratchy-looking, overly poofy Regency-style bodice, and is by far my least favorite.

Micheal wins, and Sweet P is out. Photos of all the looks are here.

Next week, they have to make dresses for Miss Piggy. Yes, a muppet. And apparently she shows up in person and participates in the judging.

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