Friday, April 8, 2016

Project Runway All Stars Season 5 Episode 9 or Athleisure is an Ugly Word

This week, the designers find themselves at Coney Island, only they're not going to eat hot dogs and ride roller coasters (especially not one after the other). Instead, they head to the poetically named MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, a Mets-affiliated A-class minor league baseball team. Alyssa meets them there, along with their models, all attired in what is to be the theme of this week's challenge - athleisure wear.

Eight years ago, she created Touch by Alyssa Milano to satisfy the needs of women who like to look pretty while watching men smash things like cleats or hockey sticks or each other's faces into turf or ice (or each other's faces). Also for those women who don't really like sports but pretend to so they can attract men (or women) who do. In any case, this week, the seven remaining designers have to take inspiration from Alyssa's line to create high end athleisure wear that can take a woman from the runway to the game to dinner. And in the tradition of Heidi Klum, she'll steal the winning design for her line. Now if that's not incentive.... The designers pretend to get excited. Seriously, do the producers feed them lines for their cutaway interviews? Dom seems especially pumped to design something for Alyssa. I don't get it.

I also don't get "athleisure," a portmanteau of "athletic" and "leisure." Ok, I do. It's the inevitable next step in the devolution of American fashion. It's a celebration of complete and utter laziness, coupled with a bit of arrested development, stemming from people thinking that it's perfectly fine to wear sweat pants and yoga pants (yes, and pajama bottoms) when they go out in public. Like college students on an afternoon Doritos and beer run. Now, a show about fashion is encouraging people to wear their yoga pants (which of course they have never used for actual yoga) not only to the grocery store, but also out to dinner. Over the years, dress codes have relaxed, and nobody blinks an eye at women wearing baby pink Juicy Couture sweatsuits, or leggings with PINK! emblazoned across their ample asses, paired with UGGs. It's shameful. It's not even ok to dress this way at Applebee's, much less any place with cachet, like a public sidewalk or insane asylum.

It is ironic that a show like Downton Abbey, which depicts an age when the wealthy changed into task-specific outfits several times a day and wore formal wear to dinner every night, was so popular in this country of people who can barely be bothered to take off their sleep wear during the day. [/rant]

The designers spend some time in the stands at Municipal Credit Union Park sketching. Asha tells us that she thinks both Sam and Layana have an advantage in this challenge since "athleisure" is their thing. A portent, perhaps, that both are going to end up on the bottom?

At Mood the designers have the customary $200 budget and 30 minutes in which to spend it. We see several of them clustered in the neoprene aisle, because thick, sweaty polyester is sooo comfortable to lounge in, especially after an exhilarating scuba dive. Kini and Sam find that they have both purchased the same mesh fabric that Sam used last week, which while slightly unimaginative, is a sight better than that hideous blue and silver lace from two weeks ago.

Back in the workroom, when Sam sees the intricate seaming pattern Layana is using for her leggings, he tells us that she may be his biggest competition this challenge, but he must get his dress in Alyssa's line. That's practically a guarantee both are on the bottom.

It seems that everyone has bought blue fabric. Dom is concerned that everyone's work will end up looking the same. This is something that has come up regularly over the many seasons of Project Runway. When two designers have the same or similar fabric, someone has to pipe up that they worry that there will be similar looks. How is that possible? Each designer has his or her own style and way of doing things. There's no way that similar fabric will turn out similar clothing from different people, except by freakish chance. In fact, I'd like to see a challenge to address this. Every designer must use the same exact fabrics. I guarantee, that given no other challenge parameters (like create "athleisure" wear, or a flight attendant uniform) that no two looks will be similar.

Zanna pops in for a critique. She's wearing lace. Is this considered "athleisure?"

Sam is working on a blue neoprene dress with an overlay of white mesh. He also has some black lace that he's attempting to make work. (I'm beginning to think he suffered a mild stroke in the fabric choosing portion of his brain.) At the moment, he has the lace all down the back of the dress, which prompts Zanna to call the front "ath" and the back, "leisure." Which causes my own small stroke because the word "leisure" conjures up images of polyester suits with wide collars and contrasting topstitching and Las Vegas tourists in ugly shorts with dark socks and sneakers. Not lace.

Zanna seems to like Asha's look, a sports bra and a skirt that resembles the lower half of a baseball jersey. She calls Dom's batwing dress unique, and finds Kini's and Layana's designs to be more "sporty" than "athleisure." Which causes me to have another mini stroke. Not all that long ago, most non-evening, non-couture fashion was called "sportswear." It had nothing to do with sport of any kind. It involved skirts, blouses, jackets, you know, average clothing seen everyday. Clothing for people that weren't too lazy to pull up a zipper or button a button. Why is Kini's oversized baseball jacket and jeans "sporty" but Dom's convertible dress "athleisure?" The latter is clearly sportswear. Layana's pants are leggings; how is that not "athleisure?"

I am so confused. Even more confused when Zanna tells Emily that the subtle cowl neck she plans to put on her top is "too lady who lunches." I love a good cowlneck, but I am not a lady who lunches. Some might claim that I'm not particularly ladylike, either. Zanna does seem to like Ken's lace hoodie though, which looks better close up than it does from a distance.

But poor Ken is having issues. He ends up sewing the shoulder seams wrong and starts to get, as he says, "fustrated." So fustrated, in fact, that he puts everything down and walks out. We see him hailing a cab while the remaining designers wonder what the hell just happened.

The next day, the designers are back in the workroom, but still no Ken. He then strolls in and gets back to work as if nothing happened. And while Sam calls Ken a diva who, if he had hair he'd be flipping it, it's clear to see that the young man has really matured in the last couple of years (Ken, not Sam). On his season of Project Runway, there was a famous ironing-in-the-apartment scene between Ken and Alexander that did not end well. I don't think many viewers would have been shocked if Ken had swept out of the room melodramatically, cursing loudly, but he was rather low key about it. As he tells us, he felt like he was about to explode, and he didn't want to take it out on his fellow designers. He was frustrated with himself, so he took himself away from the situation.

As he was wearing a different outfit when he returned to the workroom, it's clear that at some point he went back to their living quarters. Or one of the producers brought him clothes. Or something. Ken tells us he had a good night's sleep, but where did he sleep? Perhaps someone can shed a little light on the situation for me?

The designers scramble to finish. Layana drapes a top with Ken's white leather, then decides it's too casual. She drapes another with a dark fabric and adds a bit of leather to it before pronouncing it perfect. Ken decides his outfit needs more of the black lace and quickly sews on a pocket. He throws some shade Sam's way, suggesting that his simple a-line dress is what a "10-year-old would make with her first pink sewing machine." Ouch. And that he puts flats on his model because he knows Isaac favors flats. Sam is not dumb, Ken.

Time for the runway!

Alyssa is wearing what I'm going to call "ath-ugly." A cheap-looking t-shirt with cropped drawstring sweatpants is bad enough, but the shirt also features a bizarre white and gold overlay, not unlike particularly fancy chicken wire. A big fail from Touch by Alyssa Milano, IMHO. Lots of oversized jewelry and dramatic eye makeup complete the look, along with yet another pair of ankle-strap shoes. What's with the ankle strap shoes?

The guest judge this week is Kristin Cavallari, former star of reality shows Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County and The Hills, and wife of Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler (that's quarterback, for you non-sports fans). I guess the fact that she was on shows that also starred Lauren Conrad (who attended FIDM and has designed for Kohl's) and is married to an athlete gives her enough fashion clout to judge a competition. (She has designed a shoe line with Chinese Laundry, but um, who cares? It never will be quite the same as actual designer Christian Siriano doing a line for Payless.) Also, fellow football wife who might actually know something about fashion, Gisele Bundchen, wanted too much money. They didn't bother asking Elizabeth Hasselbeck (who is also a football wife).

There are only seven designers left, so I will talk about all seven looks, including Emily's.

Safe once again this week, for whatever reason. Emily's look is great. It's soft and flowy, leisurely without looking like cheap athletic wear (ahem, Alyssa). Her model would be the chic-est gal at the ballpark, and would definitely not look out of place enjoying dinner somewhere nice. And then she could even go clubbing. I think the look is that versatile.

Now for the top looks:

Dom is truly a master of mixing patterns and fabrics. There were differences of opinion about the length of the skirt, but the overall idea of making the dress transition from day to evening was well-received. Isaac thought the illusion back was "everything." It's pretty fab, as per Dom's usual.

Kini's jacket is also great, clearly borrowing athletic details from baseball warm-up jackets. Georgina wasn't too fond of the crotch on the jeans, which Kini called "boyfriend" style, but overall everyone liked this look. I'm not sure how it fits the "athleisure" requirement, as nobody is going to do anything particularly athletic in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, nor in a coat. This is straight up sport wear inspired sportswear.

Asha's look was also on top, Her skirt is clever, though the judges don't seem to like the buttons she used. I didn't understand what they meant at first, as Asha's inspiration was a baseball jersey and they do have buttons. However, an entire jersey only has six buttons, and the skirt sports 10. As they are non-functional, she could have gotten away with only using four, and definitely not extending them all the way to the hem. Otherwise, well-made and cute.

Now for the bottom three. It was actually hard to tell who was on the bottom, since apart from Dom and Kini, the judges feedback for four of the looks (including Asha's) was pretty mixed.

Ken was on the bottom. Personally, I thought it was cute, and a good idea. It seemed to fit the challenge well: I could see this worn to a game, and then to dinner. Isaac thought it looked cheap, and I think that's one of the problems with using lace. Kristin Cavallari liked it, but who cares?

Sam declared his dress "athleisure couture," but it really looks like the result of the Placemats by Pier One unconventional materials challenge. Yes, it's cute, but it's a party dress. Georgina claimed she would wear it to a sporting event, but then she wouldn't go to a sporting event, and even if she did, it would be a polo match or horse race or somewhere else people drink Pimm's and wear ugly hats. Isaac is swayed enough by the flat shoes that he loves the look, but Alyssa considers it a slap in the face. Kinda the same way I feel about just about everything she has worn this season.

Layana's look was also on the bottom, despite the flats. The judges determine the leggings aren't flattering; I think they are an odd length, although they don't look bad in the photos. Were they full-length, I think they'd be better. The pattern and construction was certainly unique and Layana deserves props for going to all the effort. The judges weren't happy with the top and didn't think the two pieces worked together. Personally, I think Layana should have stuck to her original white leather top, which while simple, didn't detract from the pants at all.

Back in the green room, the tops and bottoms give Emily the rundown of criticism. Sam seems proud that even though he's on the bottom, Georgina would wear his dress. That comment got us the best facial expressions of the show.

This week's winner is Kini, because you know Alyssa could see a Mets logo plastered everywhere on that jacket. Dom's dress was the best, I think, but it was far far FAR too high-end for Touch by Alyssa Milano. Even after modifying it (which Alyssa stated more than once that they'd do to the winning design) it wouldn't be cheap enough and still have the same feel. (But be on the lookout for an oversized sweatshirt with snap-off skirt extension coming to the line sometime in 2017!)

Layana, after spending several of the last weeks on the bottom, is released from her design duties and sent home. I am relieved.

Next week: More Kini vs. Sam and Alyssa vs. Her Wardrobe.

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