Friday, April 1, 2016

Project Runway All Stars Season 5 Episode 8, or the Neverending Season

At the end of last week's recap, I joked that this week's episode would include a jumpsuit from Sam, unflattering looks for Alyssa, and Kini telling us how much he hates Sam. I am happy to report that I was wrong on one of the things and only half right on another. With the third, sadly, I was spot on.

First of all, Alyssa looked pretty good this week (the half right).

We couldn't see the whole of her first look on air, but I imagined the somewhat shapeless frock ended somewhere around the knee. Then I found a photo on the Lifetime site and saw that I was wrong--it had a handkerchief hem and an overlay of an illusion fabric that looked like fringe. So not great, but hey, not as bad as it could have been. The neckline was very flattering. Let's not talk about the shoes.

I also thought her makeup was nice, until I noticed that her eyebrows had been drawn a good half-inch longer than was natural. Are crazy brows coming back? She looked better later in the show. Not perfect, but pretty good. We'll get to that when the time comes.

Second, Sam did not make a jumpsuit. He made a crop top, which is the second default for young designers. (There was at least one every week on Project Runway Junior.) But I'm getting ahead of myself here. On with the show!

The designers gather at the Drama Book Shop on 40th Street between 7th and 8th Ave. This 99-year-old shop that specializes in books on theatre received a Tony® Honors for Excellence award in 2011, which is as close to a winner as some of these designers are going to get. The challenge for them this week is to create a modern runway look for a figure from literature. Each character is familiar to all (some might say iconic, and that would be, in a very rare instance, using the word correctly), but the designers have to use their original backstories as inspiration, rather than what they know of them via pop culture. Or Disney movies. Rather than choosing their characters from the Button Bag of Doom, the competitors receive assignments from Laura Michelle Kelly of the hit Broadway musical Finding Neverland.

Her eyebrows also appear to have been drawn on with a Sharpie.
Last week's winner, Dom, is given Tinkerbell, Sam gets the Little Mermaid, Kini gets Alice, Asha is assigned Repunzel, Emily gets the Snow Queen, Ken gets Snow White, Layana gets Belle, and Alexander gets Cinderella. Why are they all, apart from Alice, fairy tale characters? Not quite "literature" in the way I think of it, unless I am considering children's books. Of course queens and princesses are in vogue these days, what with the popularity of movies like Snow White and the Huntsman and those tacky soap-opera-y dramas like ABC's Once Upon a Time (Dynasty with green makeup and pointy hats instead of shoulder pads), and RuPaul's Drag Race. Of course it's all property of Disney--Lifetime, ABC, and every character in the challenge (but not RuPaul).

Methinks, had the challenge involved actual characters from actual literature, like Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Hester Prynne, Scout Finch, Miss Havisham, Daisy Buchanan, Lady Chatterly, Holly Golightly, it could have been more interesting. Save the Disney princesses for Project Runway Junior. But, that's just my opinion. I'm not a TV show producer, so what do I know?

The designers then walk the three blocks to Mood, where they sketch and spend $200 on fabrics.

Once they get back to the workroom, we get a clear view of Asha's fingernails. How on earth does she do anything with those claws? And I mean anything. Talons like those are only good for one thing--clawing out the eyes of competitors.

Speaking of that, Kini and Sam should each get a set and go at it. Yes, once again they are bickering like children. It's getting really tiresome.

While eating lunch, Ken remarks that there should only be six of them left, rather than eight. Kini then says that Sam is the only one left standing of the four designers saved in the two non-elimination episodes. "Bye girl!" he adds, hopefully. Sam reminds him that he's won two challenges to Kini's none. Kini in turn points out that he won "three challenges on Project Runway," a not-so-subtle dig at the apparent inferiority of Under the Gunn (I must confess I watched only two episodes because, despite my affection for Tim Gunn, I found it to be clearly inferior, at least as far as entertainment value is concerned). The bickering goes on for a few more minutes, is relieved briefly by a commercial break, and then starts up again. Ken continues to stir the pot by pretending that he didn't know that Kini made the top for Sam's jumpsuit back in episode 3. "The one that Sam was on top for," Kini seethes.

Please. Can we make this bullshit stop? It's not entertaining. Yes, Sam should have been eliminated in the nudist episode. Yes, he should have admitted to the judges that Kini made that top for him (and finished his pants). He was on a highly-rated team so the admission wouldn't have hurt him (except perhaps his ego). But Kini should really take the high road here.

Zanna time. I imagine she's trying to look all fairy-tale-y, but she just looks like she's wearing a nightie from the Little House on the Polish Prairie collection. She goes around the room bestowing her personal brand of tough love on all the designers, telling Dom her patchwork of patterns doesn't look particularly Tinkerbell, that she's seen Layana's look from her before, and that an important aspect of the Little Mermaid story was that she found her legs, so Sam should consider that. In other words, pants might be a good idea.

Why she doesn't point out to Alexander that his heavy oxblood fabric and fishtail silhouette isn't particularly Cinderella, I don't know. She does suggest that he do something about the length, but that isn't going to be enough.

The next day, the designers finish up and send their pretty pretty princesses to hair and makeup and accessorize with items from the Atrocious Jewelry and Shoe Collections. Runway time!

This week's judges include stylist Brad Goreski and singer Kesha. What either of them have to do with literary characters or Disney is beyond me. And what happened to the Woman With Three First Names from the opening? Did the weight of the black goop on her eyelids render her incapable of showing up for the runway show?

Oh, and Alyssa looks great. Slightly nightgown-y (a theme this week?) but sparkly and pretty flattering.

Brad, on the other hand, looks like he's paying homage to the great game show hosts of the 70s.

I feel that this week's runway show is unremarkable, but not bad overall.

Ken and Emily are safe. Asha, Kini, and Dom are on the top. Sam, Layana, and Alexander are on the bottom.

Once again, Dom delivers. Her Tinkerbell is hip and modern, with a back treatment that suggests wings in two different ways, and she has cleverly styled her model's hair to resemble the Disney version of the character. A big win in my book.

When I saw Kini working on his piece, I immediately thought sea slug. And lest you think that is an insult, take a gander at the beauty of these little creatures with the unappealing name and tell me I'm wrong.

The judges praise his "business in the front, party in the back" look, aka a "fashion mullet." The demure collar and white socks definitely put one in mind of a young girl like Alice, but I'm not sure what the ruffles represent. Fantasy perhaps, or things not being quite what they seem. Kini did mention Alice's rebellious nature to Zanna, but ruffles don't exactly scream "rebellion."

It would have been nice had the designers been given more time to explain themselves (to the home audience) rather than spending so much precious time on previews for Kini v. Sam: Dawn of Douchiness.

Then we have Asha's representation of Rapunzel, which I do not get at all. She told Zanna that her look is "tongue in cheek," but I'm not sure whose tongue is in whose (or which) cheek. Asha says it's a jumpsuit with a detachable skirt, but it looks more like a hi-low dress with skinny pants. The back of the dress is gorgeous, but the front bothers me. The peplum seems too heavy to me. The sandals are awful, but Isaac likes them. Isaac also loves the neckline, which he says is one of the best they've ever seen (yet Valerie went home last week after giving them a similar neckline). The judges then segue into a somewhat surreal conversation about breasts with Isaac declaring that nobody loves boobs more than him, and Alyssa chiming in about her own love of boobies.

TMI, folks.

I'd love to see the version of Rapunzel that Asha was given to read. In typical Brothers Grimm fashion, the tale is not exactly all unicorns farting rainbows. It starts out with her mother craving a particular vegetable that happens to be growing in the garden of a witch. When the witch catches her pilfering her plants, she claims the woman's newborn as punishment. When the child, Rapunzel, hits puberty, the witch locks her away in a tower with a single window at the top, only reachable by a cherry picker, which hadn't yet been invented. Luckily, the kid's hair is long enough to reach the ground when hung out the window and the witch (obviously pretty spry and not afraid of heights) can climb it like a ladder. As can the handsome prince who happens to wander by and hear Rapunzel singing. Rapunzel agrees to marry the prince if he brings her a skein of silk every time he visits so she can make a ladder for her own escape. Which he does, only the witch spots it all going down. She cuts off Rapunzel's braids and banishes her into the desert. When the prince visits the next time, he finds witchipoo waiting for him. He jumps from the tower to escape, landing in a bush that scratches out his eyes and leaves him blind. He wanders about, eventually wandering into the same desert that is now home to Rapunzel. Her tears of joy return his sight and they escape to his kingdom where they live "happily ever after."

There are no details of her life in the kingdom, so where Asha is getting her ideas from is beyond me. For the vast majority of her story, Rapunzel is not a princess, but a captive. A modern prison jumpsuit might have been more appropriate here.

Sam is on the bottom this week. Again. While I can understand why he used net fabric for his look (although mermaids are probably not particularly fond of nets), it's really cheap and has an arts-and-crafts project feel to it. The sleeves appear somewhat uneven, and it's a crop top and pencil skirt, for god's sake. While that's a bit more original than, say, a mermaid skirt, it's certainly not a winning look by a long shot.

Layana's character is Belle, from Beauty and the Beast. Apparently, Belle's dear husband, the Prince who was once a Beast, is taking her to Argentina to see a polo match, and this is the rag she chose to wear for the occasion. She made a pretty dress, if one likes headache-inducing yellow (as she clearly does). Coincidentally, it's the same color as Kesha's hair.

Did I miss something? Were the designers told to envision life after the fairy tale? The challenge was to create a modern look, not to modernize the story. How would Belle and her man get from France to Argentina? Did they have polo in the 18th century?

On to Alexander's Evil Queen. Wait. he was assigned Cinderella, though there's absolutely nothing about this look that says Cinderella. Unless his line of thinking was something like this: Cinderella became a princess>Diana Spencer became a princess>this was something Princess Diana would have worn. But dude, she's been dead for almost 20 years, so not even modern. The whole skirt fishtail thing was awful, and as one of the judges pointed out, looks to have been safety-pinned onto the garment. The dress managed to be "too bridesmaid," "too old," and "too beauty pageant," all at the same time. Hey, but versatility, right?!

The verdict: Asha, who has coasted by in the middle of the pack all season, got the win, and Alexander, who with his costume background could have had this particular challenge in the bag, got sent home.

This week's rant: It seems to me that the real focus of the show has been lost this season. We are reminded on the non-All Stars version of the show that it's a design competition, first and foremost. It's not Project Seamstress. Unlike the early seasons of the show when only about half the designers knew anything about sewing or construction, these later contestants are fairly skilled in that department. The focus is and should be on design ability. But so many things we've seen this season are things we've seen before, on other runways and in stores. Why the judges don't seem to be emphasizing design skills is beyond me. Perhaps it's because Isaac gave up design himself ages ago, and the garments that are currently associated with his name are mass-produced rags purchased by QVC viewers of a certain age. Georgina's Marchesa line has a bit more design to it, but a whole lot of it involves a familiar silhouette with a shitload of flowers and lace sewn to it.

What this season needs is a lot more innovation and a lot less bitching (but not from me).
[/end rant]

Next week: more bitching, this time with Ken involved.

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