Friday, April 22, 2016

Project Runway All Stars Season 5 Episode 11, or, Avant Garde a Clue

This week, PRAS gets all artsy-fartsy (or, as Zanna and Mrs Weinstein might pronounce it, aahtsy-faahtsy) on us. The five remaining designers meet Alyssa at Agora Gallery in Chelsea, where the current show is an exhibition of some of "New York's cutting edge artists."

Alyssa, who appears to be dressed as an android, at least from what little we can see of her outfit (and, oddly, it has potential), tells the designers that this is the Avant Garde challenge, and they are to produce wearable works of art, innovative out-of-the-box fashion, dramatic looks, and assorted other adjectival phrases. She then reveals the name of the guest judge this week--Boy George--which is probably some contractual obligation on the show's part. Because - why does it matter? They're not designing for him. He just wants to get his name out early and often, I suppose.

The designers toast with champagne and schmooze the artists for inspiration. Sam is absolutely fixated on Carl Hopgood's piece, "Digital Taxidermy," a digital video of an owl under a glass dome. Hopgood says the concept of the piece is taking a moment and making it last forever, which really resonates with Sam. Sam is excited about gay marriage being legal across the US and wants to celebrate that in his garment. Hopefully, legal marriage for all isn't just a "moment in time," and will be an enduring thing. Unfortunately, with the current divisive political climate, nothing in this country seems to be guaranteed anymore.

Both Emily and Ken are inspired by the works of Lexi Bella, an artist who paints "strong women." Be careful with googling her; there is also a Lexi Belle, who does porn, and she has far, far more links. Of course, if you're into that stuff, google away. I'm not so impressed by Bella; her work looks a lot like the partial faces and portraits of imaginary women I doodled on my book covers in high school, only bigger and in color. However, both designers feel they design for "strong women" (does anyone design for weak women?) and her words and images resonate with them.

I'm far more into what Dom is into - the work of Juan Carlos Pinto, who makes mosaics out of cut up Metro Cards (and other stuff). I love mosaics; I suppose it's not unlike the beadwork I've done in the past, attaching small pieces together to form a cohesive whole, only in 2D. Dom recognizes that the way she plays with fabrics is not dissimilar to the effect of Pinto's cutting and pasting.

Kini gets into the work of Bradley Theodore, whose boldly colored works make me think of both Matisse and classic Mexican Day of the Dead iconography. Theodore is primarily a street artist, but his work translates well to the smaller scale of canvas.

The designers sketch for a while at the gallery. Have you noticed that what they are actually sketching doesn't always (often not at all) resemble the sketches that are blown up for our viewing pleasure? Clearly they make the designers re-draw their creations after they are finished, and those "sketches" are the ones shown to us with the designer's voice-over. Personally, I'd rather see the originals, as it gives us a glimpse into the design process and the way it evolves while making a piece. The original design often changes quite a bit, as seen in Ken's original and post-sewing drawings.

The budget for this challenge is $400. At Mood, we find Kini once again buying brocade. WTcompleteF? And Sam, who has just as much money to spend as everyone else, instead buys some floaty fabric and a ton of fabric paints.

This week, in addition to Kini's now-expected bitching about Sam, Ken gets to have his say as well. He thinks Sam is a huge threat (notice he didn't say "competition,") not because of his talent, but because he holds the judges in some strange thrall. That's called "producer manipulation," Ken. Kini seems to think that an avant garde look requires a lot of technical skills, which he believes Sam is lacking. But that's not necessarily true. To be avant garde simply means to be innovative, or in the forefront. To do something that nobody else has done before. The early 20th century art movement called Dada or Dadaism is a good example. While today, in the age of the Piss Christ, a urinal posing as art is no big thing, back then, it was shocking and unexpected. It wasn't art, it was anti-art. Yet somehow that made it art. So really, anything goes when it comes to avant garde fashion, as long as it still remains fashion, that is, wearable. However, Sam seems to think that it's about "an idea, a feeling," and that the type of avant garde that is "overdone and ridiculous" is not who he is as a designer.

What we have here is a clear non-understanding of the concept of avant garde. Admittedly, it is somewhat difficult. It is very very hard to be an innovator.

Sewing, sewing, bitching, then Day One comes to an end. Luckily, the designers have two days for this challenge, and not long after they get to the workroom on Day Two, Zanna comes in for...what would you call the opposite of a pep talk? A demoralization meeting? She starts with Emily, and tells her that her dress might be too literal a translation of the painting, what with the colors and the mimicking of the shapes on the upper left side. It's clearly an Emily dress, and while a cool concept, it's not particularly avant garde. Zanna tells Dom to "bring it." Kini's look isn't particularly modern or avant garde. (I blame the brocade.) She tells Ken not to make his dress too "Blade Runner." But if he could somehow make his dress look like a (much) younger Harrison Ford, we'd all be happy.

Ken is happy that this is a two-day challenge, as he's decided to scrap his original idea and make some major changes. His first (real) sketch showed a cage-like structure around the neck and shoulders. He chucks this out the window and works on a "neckpiece, collar moment" that will cover his model's face. And look like a giant leather taco.

When Zanna questions Sam about his choice of a rainbow, he tells her about wanting to capture the whole gay marriage is legal moment. She tells him that it's not about capturing a moment in his life, but about being inspired by the artist. But Sam is clearly inspired by the artist and the artist's concept, which is about capturing a moment. Had he decided to make an owl costume for his model, she would have had issues with that as well. The real issue here is that his design is probably not avant garde. Oh, and rainbows are a cliche.

Like Ken, Sam is happy that he has extra time for this challenge, because he is, once again, for the umpty-eleventh time in this competition, going to scrap his original design and make a jumpsuit start over. He bought some filmy purple fabric in addition to the stuff he painted, and he drapes that over the rainbow. As Sam's draping and sewing, draping and sewing, Ken gets another bee in his bonnet about Sam's lack of construction technique. He actually finds it disrespectful. There's lots of bleeping as he curses up a storm.

Eventually time is up, bitching is momentarily halted, and the designers send their models to hair and makeup. Obvious rummaging through the K-Mart Shoe and Jewelry Sale Rack also happens. Time for the runway!

Mini Cher Alyssa introduces the regular judges--Mrs Weinstein and the Iconic Isaac...

...and Boy George. I love me some Boy George. We're of the same generation, and I spent what I consider the best musical years of my life listening to Culture Club (among other artists) being fascinated by George O'Dowd's androgynous appearance. When I was in high school, I constructed a life-sized fabric mannequin of the Boy, which sat around in my bedroom for about a decade before I disassembled him and reclaimed my favorite t-shirt, which he had been wearing (it was pink, had a drawing of Big Ben, and "London" in a fancy gothic typeface). His latest album, This Is What I Do, is pretty terrific, IMHO.

The runway show goes so quickly with only five competitors left.

It's hard to tell from the commentary immediately following the runway which looks are on top and which suck. Dom is one who is on top with her mosaic dress and wacky makeup. I wonder if Zanna mentioned to her that her look was also a pretty literal translation of the original work of art, in both the colors and the effect of the pattern? The colors and patterns also remind me a bit of Roy Lichtenstein, an artist famous for his comic book-style pop art images. This look is 100% not avant garde and 100% Dom. Perhaps had Sam made this dress, which 100% would not have happened, it would seem more avant garde, because it would be 100% unexpected from him.

Also on the top and 100% representative of its author is Kini's dress. Personally, I hate it. There's so much damn technique going on. The body suit with full head mask, which echoes the black shapes of the figures in inspiration artist Bradley Theodore's works, isn't particularly new, and it's weird and lumpy. The "bow" looks heavy. And despite the skirt being hot pink instead of screaming yellow, I can't help but think of Big Bird. Isaac thinks it's too pretty, and Georgina thinks it's something that might have been worn on "Dinnastee" (Dynasty) in the 80s.

Ken's giant black taco is the closest to avant garde we get on this runway. His model's head appears to be floating, which is a neat effect. The rest of the look falls into the "nice dress with ruffled sleeves" category. Boy George thinks it's "pure Grace Jones," which I can see. Isaac thinks it's divine, but it's slightly too short and needs a bit more drama at the bottom, like a train. 

Poor Emily is on the bottom for creating something that is simply too wearable. The OCD knitter in me wants to unknit her cables and reknit them correctly. One judge opines that it would have been better if the shoulders were huge. Emily mentioned earlier in the show that that wouldn't be her thing, but we don't know if that confessional had been filmed before or after the runway show. The judges also think it might have been better in all black, but that still wouldn't have made it avant garde. However, it's a cool dress, and styled well.

Then we get to Sam, who has to explain his whole "gay marriage moment in time" thing. The judges love the story; Boy George wishes he had heard it before he saw the piece. Georgina thinks the design is unresolved, and Alyssa thinks it looks like a kite caught in a tree. Isaac LOVES it. It's his favorite look of the day, despite the fact the model is not wearing flats. He is obviously drinking the producer's Sam-flavored kool-aid by the gallon. Either that, or he wants to get into Sam's pants. Eww*. (Could be difficult, as Sam, King of the Jumpsuits, is wearing a jumpsuit.)

I don't really know what to say about it. Ken and Kini have thrown enough shade at Sam; I don't need to pile on. Suffice it to say that I think he could have done better, even keeping the whole rainbow flag motif. It's more sloppy than avant garde.

While the judges deliberate, we have even more drama between Ken and Sam in the green room. Ken calls him a snake and a liar. And while it's true that Sam has not produced many memorable garments this season, it's not his fault that he wasn't eliminated weeks ago despite being on the bottom three times prior to this one. Blame the producers, who have sacrificed quality for drama this season. It's one thing when producer interference is subtle (and it's bound to happen every season), but this season it's painfully obvious.

Back out on the runway, Ken is named the winner. Congrats to him for understanding the concept! And while Georgina thinks that Sam's entry in the competition looks like a panic and a mistake, with neither Alyssa nor George being particularly into it, he is safe. Which means Emily is out. Which is completely ridiculous. Perhaps if she had stuck to her original concept of the dress appearing to be unraveling, and really exaggerated that with strands draping the floor and coming detached (maybe with wire inserted into the tubes and bent into flowy shapes), giving it a bigger collar, and yes, bigger shoulders, she wouldn't have been on the bottom. Certainly not eliminated. But someone had to go, and apparently it was not/is never going to be Sam.

Next week: the return of past PRAS winners and Nina Garcia! And we also get a glimpse of Alyssa saying something about "for the first time this season, the judges can't make a decision," which: 1) is a lie, they couldn't decide whom to auf in two episodes so far; 2) might mean that all four remaining designers go to the finale. Ugh.

* Isaac looks like he might smell like mothballs. Or whatever cheap perfume Shawnie Sue is wearing on his QVC segments. Plus, he's more than twice Sam's age at 54. When I was 23, 30 was ancient.

Posted by theminx on
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