Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Runway Rewind

Project Runway Season Eleven ready for their recap

There will be a little tete a tete on Thursday when contestants on the latest season of Project Runway go head to head with each other in a reunion show. What will they say, now that the winner is a done deal and everyone has had a chance to view everyone else milking their own fifteen minutes of fame?

Project Runway used to be about fashion and the laborious, strenuous, uncertain path to becoming a fashion designer— speeded up x 40 for TV, with a winner yet success in the industry not guaranteed.
Lately— perhaps the past four or six outings— the talent pool has gotten shallower, the tiffs pettier, the "characters" less memorable and/or likeable. The whole thing probably deserves a spot on the New York Times "Meh" List— not terrible but not great either. Just "meh".

If you are watching you are probably not new to the series. Most of us diehards have been there from the start. We bought into the conceit that winning a television show with its prizes and publicity would annoint America's next top fashion designer. That was a little like thinking "The Bachelor" will find true love with the final rose. Time has turned that show into a bit of a joke. But we Project Runway-niacs still like believing in fairy dust.

From "Make it Work" to "Auf Weidersen", Project Runway has given us personalities to remember and minutiae to cherish. Who knew super model Heidi Klum had brains, business acumen and opinions? Who suspected we would grow fond of the acerbic Nina Garcia (whose attitude has softened as well)? Who, including the man himself, ever thought Tim Gunn would go from design instructor to television personality, author, chief creative officer of Liz Claiborne and the voice of a Disney character and still remain a really nice guy? Guest judges come and go, but Michael Kors has yet to change his t-shirt.

And the contestants! Season One winner Jay McCarroll was such a goof-off during challenges but took his finalist status seriously. His runway collection took my breath away, but he's is still traveling a bumpy road on his path to becoming a viable designer.

The goofster got serious

Over time there have been deserving winners, some just best-of-the-rest and others who were truly "meh". Chloe Dao is a hometown favorite who is by all accounts pretty successful. Selling on QVC may be a little like selling out in my mind, but her business here is thriving; she gives back to the community and certainly has handled success— and fame— well.

Hometown honey

Christian Siriano knew he was good, and he also knew he was young and might be considered an upstart. He deserved to win and knew it, but managed to be genuinely humble. He's the real deal: I wish him great success.

Not the first Christian to make
 a name in fashion

Two of my favorite personalities were not winners but have managed to forge celebrity-status careers out of PR exposure. Teammates August Scarlett and Santino couldn't be more different but even hit the road together for a short-lived but charming fashion series on Bravo.

"On the Road" with Santino (left) and Austin (right)

Which brings us to this season's winner, Michelle Lesniak Franklin. She's actually pretty good. Her clothes have heart— and art. A prime example was the "bleeding heart" sweater she showed in her runway (against Tim Gunn's advice). She believed in it, and the judged applauded. The artfulness may have gone too cerebral in the story behind her clothes (lone female wolf needing to hunt down a final kill before starvation) or a little gimmick-y (that compass worn as a brooch), but at least she had a direction.

Her heart is bleeding

If I have issues with Michelle it was her attitudes of both entitlement and fearing failure. Michelle was a scrappy little contestant from Day One. But what a whiner! She always felt she was on the wrong team, worried her team would pull her down. When winning became a possibility she was not shy to let us know she "deserved to win and needed it". Why? Because she was struggling for years without recognition and/or success? No, because until recently she had been in the wine business and had "given everything up" to pursue her love of designing. There were times she put down the other designers (not to their faces) and other times she declared she did not want to be hugged or touched as it wasn't "the right time". She deserved to win— over the others, who were half-baked at best. Will she be a winner? Only time (and that compass) will tell.

Has Project Runway seen its best days behind itself? Maybe. Will I keep watching? When does Season Twelve begin?


  1. I was so disgusted with Season 9 (between Anya Ayoung-Chee's win and Joshua McKinley in general) that I swore off the show halfway through the season. But the next season I went running back for more. The show has definitely changed, and not for the better.

    I do think Michelle deserved to win. Unfortunately, as you pointed out, her personality made it really hard to root for her. By the last episode I no longer cared who came out on top.

  2. Michelle is from my home town Portland, Oregon. I have no allegiance to my town but I did think she was the best this season. I did not care for the "teams" season. And I hate when they manufacturer exaggerated hate for each other thinking that is interesting. This season I thought they did fairly well with keeping it "real" but I can see where for reality tv without manufactured drama people think it is boring. It would be hard to cast the group of designers because I would think many talented creative artists do not also have "made for tv" personalities. So what do you do? Pick the personality or the most creative? It is my favorite show but I know they will mess with it trying to make it better and end up making it unwatchable for me because when it starts to get too phony with manmufactured drama thinking that will keep me tuned in it will make me turn off!!!!

  3. I love Project Runway! Unfortunately, this post was a bit of a "spoiler" for me, as we are a few seasons behind. My daughter and I typically watch it when it comes out on DVD. Some of the characters you mentioned were my faves too, especially Santino!

  4. Am really sorry I didn't give a "spoiler alert"!

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