Friday, October 22, 2010

raw talent, raw emotion

On last night's Project Runway ...

Everyone's favorite student adviser, Tim Gunn, visited each of the four designers at their homes. They all happen to live west of the Rockies, which was interesting, for this NYC-centric show. The home visit shows are always the most emotional, the most interesting, as you finally get to see each person out of their workroom and New York hotel that they could never afford bubble and back in their own environment. Last night did not disappoint. Tim got to probably do some of the most interesting traveling of his Project Runway career.

Top: From the Aloha Update: Andy South
Second from Top: From the Wall Street Journal: Mondo Guerra
Third from top: From Zeitgeist Studios: Gretchen Jones
Bottom: From Fashion Fame: Michael Costello
Tim saw Andy in Hawaii at his mother's farm. A beautiful location, but also a place of hard work and struggle, and not affluence. Andy wanted to use his Laotion background as inspiration for his designs.

Mondo lives in Colorado, and wanted to use his Mexican background (via day of the Dead iconography) married with some funky circus imagery for his looks. Totally Mondo.

Gretchen was in Oregon, living out of boxes after a shattered relationship. With all the confessionals on the show, Gretchen remained cryptic about what she had recently gone through, which is her right, but it was still a little off-putting. Just like Gretchen. She said she wanted her clothes to represent the Southwest where she comes from, but they just looked drab to me.

Andy, Mondo and Gretchen all had a parent with them and shared a meal with Tim. Gretchen's had some "homeless" stress, but was clearly gathering strength from her mom. Andy didn't have any of his designs completed, as his fabric had just arrived from Laos, but he positively beamed when his mother said she would support him in whatever he would do. Mondo seemed very cozy and happy with his sister, boyfriend and parents—clearly he had hurdled his "don't ask don't tell" dilemma from earlier in the season. No matter what their stresses, they all had the strong family backbone to support them.

And then we came to Michael's visit. Michael introduced his boyfriend, who seemed very supportive, but then over the shared meal with Tim Michael said how his boyfriend had "outed" him to his parents. Hmmm. Michael's boyfriend proceeded to then not exactly badmouth Michael's parents, but complain that they have never been supportive of Michael's career choice or orientation. Michael is the only one of the four contestants who has a child, who is responsible for supporting someone besides himself, so he has that added stress as well.

When they got back to New York with the inevitable last-minute create-a-garment challenge—c'mon guys, you've watched the show, you can't possibly be surprised by this—they all freaked out and then all rapidly knocked something out. But it was clear when Tim came to do his rounds that of all the four, he felt  most uneasy about Michael. Michael, as usual, was waffling about what pieces to send down the runway.

Michael always has the talent to whip something up, something usually quite lovely, but he lacks conviction and vision. He really has no idea of what he wants to say. I don't think that makes him a bad designer or a bad artist. He just doesn't know how to articulate what he feels into what he creates in a any clear, concise way yet—a la Mondo, who couldn't be clearer. It was clear all along, however, that out of the four, he was the least ready. I personally don't get or admire Gretchen's aesthetic, but I do believe that she has a vision. It's just one that I hope never makes its way anywhere near my closet.

The show was all a long build-up to, of course, Michael being the one cut. He sent three color-matched looks down the runway with no clear explanation of why he chose them. He should have remembered—Heidi told him once before that she hates "matchy matchy"—it's not fashion. He clearly wasn't ready.

And then he fell apart. Completely. It was excruciating and quite emotional to watch. Some might feel, inappropriate. But he was expressing pretty much what every single person in his position on this show or any close competition must feel. Just on camera. What was most upsetting about his heartfelt sobbing was the fact that he didn't feel he could go back and face his family. The family that doesn't support him. It brought me back to harsh critiques and obstacles and heartbreaks that I have faced in my life. I have had my moments of falling apart, thankfully, not with a video crew standing by. But I have never let whatever it was—a broken romance, horrendous painting teacher—stop me for long. I have never let anyone else dictate how I should be perceived. Maybe it's because I have the strong family base that the other three designers also have.

My heart goes out to Michael. He eventually pulled himself together, and Heidi saying ad nauseum "only three will compete" aside,  he did get to show his stuff at fashion week. He is talented. Maybe he isn't the right type of designer to front his own line. Not yet, if he doesn't have a clear vision. But I'm sure his amazing draping talents could get him quite a nice career at a fashion house. I hope that he realizes this. And I hope that he isn't too embarrassed by his outburst. He should read Tim's book. Tim certainly hasn't hesitated putting his most vulnerable moments out there for the world to see, in print.

Say what you will about reality television programming, but it does sometimes touch the real, raw nerve of life. Life is full of real pain and disappointment. The "only three out of the four shall compete at fashion week" construct that Project Runway has had from the beginning has always been stupid and cruel. It is pointless and it hurts people. But it's part of the show. And like life, it isn't always fair. Hang in there, Michael Costello. Don't worry so much about what others think about you or your work. I know that's not an easy thing, especially with a kid. But try. Don't overthink your designs, either. You didn't need all those feathers to say "luxe." That last, easy dress you whipped up was smashing. You're a good designer. Hang in there, kid.
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