Saturday, November 7, 2015

Project Runway Season 14 Finale: Fashion Review

I'm going to begin this blog with a disclaimer: I do not regularly watch, nor have I ever even watched a full episode of, Project Runway. I've caught a few minutes here and there, but I've never watched long enough to get a feel for any of the designers or even for the way the show evaluates the designers' work. But I have written many fashion reviews of red carpet events that include some avant garde and haute couture styles, so although I have no claim to being a fashion expert, I know what I like and what works for me. So here is my take on the best and worst (or perhaps merely the least successful) looks that each designer presented in their final collections.

Swapnil Shinde

Best: I'm assuming, based on both the designer's name and his collection, that he is Indian. The influence of traditional Indian garb is clear in all his looks. I particularly loved this riff on the traditional sari. The flowing fabrics and lines in this outfit are graceful, the color is stunning, the metallic designs on the bodice are bold and distinctive, and the diamond-shaped panel is both modest and visually intriguing. The look is simple without being boring.

Worst: I didn't hate this look, but it certainly struck me as the least cohesive of the collection. The combination of leather, textured metallic, and soft chiffon fight each other instead of creating interesting contrasts, the slouchy cut of all three pieces makes them look poorly-fitted instead of being an intentionally casual design, and I simply can't imagine any occasion at which this look would be appropriate. Separately, the pieces are interesting and attractive, but the combination was too uneven and unbalanced, and just didn't work for me.

Merline Labissiere

Best: Labissiere's collection included several dresses based on this design, and I had a hard time choosing my favorite. But as striking as I found some of the color combinations, this monochromatic sleeveless version in rusty orange, with a high round neck, mid-calf hem, and generous pockets, paired with simple cream pumps and hat, continually drew my eye. I loved the slightly curved lines of the long front and back panels, the gentle gathering of the hip pockets which created a rounded silhouette without looking bulky, and the crisp, clean lines overall. This almost stark but still flattering and feminine look worked best at its simplest.

Worst: Interestingly, my least favorite of Labissiere's looks was very similar to the best: a monochromatic sleeveless dress with long panels front and back. But the sheath of this version was tight instead of skimming, featuring a stretchy fabric rather than a crisp one, which pulled the dress out of shape when the pockets were used, and the mid-hip length of the front panel was unflattering and drew attention to the misshapen silhouette created by the pockets. The raised neck with sharp front crease was interesting, but appeared to force the model to lift her chin uncomfortably. Perhaps a slightly lower collar or a slightly softer one would have been more successful. This wasn't a horrible look, but it had a few missed details.

Edmond Newton
Best: This IS Project Runway, after all, so we're not looking for looks that would be worn by ordinary mortals in our ordinary lives. So although I loved Newton's slim black halter gown, it didn't show anywhere near the creativity and uniqueness in this black and white number. By all rights, this dress should look stiff and bulky, yet somehow it looks light and flowing. I love the way the bow at the neck flows down the front and then circles the hem. It's not smooth and even, but it's just stiff and geometric enough to break up the simple lines of the dress and avoid looking like the piping on a wedding cake. The proportions are perfectly balanced, so the model doesn't look overwhelmed by the dress, but instead it looks like it moves gracefully as she walks. A great look. 

Worst: In direct contrast to the look above, the proportions of this hot mess are all wrong. The model looks like she's being eaten by the dress; the silhouette is top-heavy and uneven; the hem looks crooked but not enough to have been deliberately asymmetrical; the three layers are sort of the same length but not quite. This dress feels like it could have been a good avant garde look with a bit more precision and thought to proportions, but as executed, it looks too much like a satin trash bag held up with a few loops of duct tape.

Ashley Nell Tipton

Best: Okay, I had to cheat on this one because I simply couldn't decide which look I liked best. The embellished satin skirt with matching short bustier and coordinated chiffon overlay was just stunning. It's not easy to design a hugely full skirt (particularly for a full-figured model with hips!), never mind to add heavy appliques and three-dimensional detailing to a generous length of the hem, without creating a bottom-heavy or bulky silhouette. But somehow this skirt works. The chiffon overlay skims the hips beautifully, with a small amount of detailing on the hem echoing the skirt hem without competing with it. The neutral but not boring hues include just enough tiny pops of brightness to add visual interest without drawing the eye too much, and the contrast of shiny fabric in the skirt with the matte chiffon of the top (which also tones down the shine of the bustier underneath it) hits the perfect balance.

My other favorite look was this adorable lace shorts and jacket set. The black lace overlay on dark champagne fabric showed off the gorgeous texture of the lace and created a sweet peek-a-boo effect without actually being revealing. I loved the wide neckline of both the jacket and the mint green tee underneath. What I think I loved most of all, however, was the designer's bold choice to use a lace that created very distinct horizontal stripes. On a plus size model. Who looked FABULOUS in them. Who says you can't wear horizontal stripes if you're not super-skinny? Ashley Nell Tipton, that's who. 

Worst: Once again, "worst" is not as accurate a term as "least successful". This look was my least favorite not because I didn't like it, but because I couldn't quite figure out what it was supposed to be, or where the "designing" part came in. It's cute, but it's pretty much a long, unfitted tee with a v-neck and a slightly flared hem. The fabric is great, and as above, I love the bold use of horizontal stripes (and how the horizontal lace ties various pieces in the collection together), but the overall look of this piece is just too bland for my taste.

Kelly Dempsey
Best: Dempsey's collection had a decidedly 1960s flair to many of the pieces - some so much so that they could have stepped off a runway in 1965. I like this piece because it is clearly inspired by the 60s without being merely a copy of a vintage look. The silhouette of the dress, especially the flared bell sleeves, is very 1960s, but the illusion panels, the wide boat neckline, and the patterned silver inserts are all very contemporary. The subtle texturing of the silver panels adds visual interest without being too jarring, and the shine of the narrow brown bands ties together the beige illusion panels and the shiny metallics. This dress struck the best balance of every look in Dempsey's collection. Plus, it looks like it would be really fun to wear!

Worst: I confess that with only this photograph to go on, I may not have a clear picture of what this dress really looked like, but this is another case of enough minor details being missed to make the look not work well. The gold panels in the bodice look thrown together and poorly fitted, and the zippers (? or gold ribbon, hard to tell) in the front of the dress seem like a cute idea but look uneven as the model walks, and whatever undergarment is being worn under that skirt is causing both an unflattering hip bulge and an embarrassing impression (I really hope it's only an impression) of camel toe. The concept was fine; the execution fell flat.

Candice Cuoco
Best: I was somewhat underwhelmed by Cuoco's collection in general, but I did love the lace jacket in this look. The high collar, open front, and wide satin trim at the hem created sleek lines that were softened nicely by the rounded patterns in the lace and the swinging fullness in the jacket. It paired well with the sleek black satin leggings and the leather bustier, adding a touch of sweetness and softness to an otherwise very "tough girl" look. 

Worst: Again, Cuoco's "worst" look was more guilty of being bland and under-designed than of having an actual flaw. This gown simply has no personality, no visual appeal, nothing to distinguish it from any other look. The fabric is vaguely interesting, but even that is not highlighted by the design. It's just a...dress. With a slightly crooked hem.

Bottom line? If I were choosing a single favorite look, I think I might go with Dempsey's 60s-inspired tan and silver gogo dress. It's fun, it's wearable, it's unusual without being weird, and it's visually balanced. But in terms of an overall, unified collection of well-done pieces with essentially no misses, I have to go with Tipton. Every piece in her collection was wearable, flattering, coherent, and interesting. Not to mention that, being a sucker for hats, I loved - no, I ADORED - her use of huge floral hats to accent every one of her pieces and tie her collection together. They could easily have looked cartoonish or forced, but instead they connected every look beautifully into a coherent whole in a way that highlighted instead of distracting from each look.

After I finished writing this review, I looked up who the winner was, and it was no surprise to me that it was, in fact, Tipton. Her collection showed a cohesiveness and maturity that was lacking in some of the other designers, and I have no doubt that she will soon make quite a name for herself in the world of fashion design.

Hmmm, when does season 15 start? I might have to start watching this show regularly! I don't know how I'll fit it into my schedule, but I suppose I'll have to, in the words of Tim Gunn, "make it work."

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