Thursday, November 11, 2010

Michael Kors Is Fucking Dead To Me and I'm Breaking Up With Project Runway: An Email in Six Fits

Dear Project Runway,

I've had a solid two weeks (Yikes!) to think about it, sufficient cooling down time to be certain that this relationship is over. Done. You have broken my heart for the last time. And most heinously, you have once again reduced this blogger to the indignity of the listicle. Below are my reasons for severing all ties.

1. I bemoaned the loss of the Magical Elves as producers when PR made the jump from Bravo to Lifetime. I suffered through the disaster that was the Los Angeles season and the boredom and pointlessness that ensued. I perked up slightly (but only slightly) when PR moved back to NYC, and Seth Aaron won. I have written before about how I don't really believe in Shark Jumping, but when the Season 8 winner was announced last week, and after listening to the judges' deliberation, I completely lost patience and interest in anything the current producers of the show are foisting on us: Tim or no Tim, Heidi or no Heidi.

2. I found Gretchen, the personality, kind of fascinating [a], albeit not in a good way. However, I found Gretchen, the designer, dull beyond imagining [b].

a. Gretchen stands as the single most unlikable reality show contestant I have ever seen. Obviously, this is an utterly subjective statement. Most unpleasant, mean or not-nice reality characters from Jeffrey Sebelia to those tramps that shriek at each other on Rock of Love to those mean and over-competitive douches on The Amazing Race, all seem like they are in some way tailoring what they say and do for the cameras. Some (like Jeffrey) have admitted that they knew this perception of themselves would make good television, so they played it up. Some of these people are just unbelievably stupid and/or very, very drunk (see Rock of Love). I've seen some express remorse after seeing themselves on TV, and realizing how awful they look. Gretchen is nothing like any of these people. She's truly awful in the way that people in actual real life are awful. The cameras, the competition, the structure of the show: none of these things seemingly have any bearing or effect on the wretchedness of the horrible Gretchen. She's narcissistic to a mind-boggling degree. When Mondo very movingly revealed his HIV positive status, her reaction was all about how great it was that she was there for it. She's the sort of blank faced, undermining bully who shrouds her cruelty in offers to "help". She has no compunction when she doesn't do well, to blame others, cry, and distance herself from the disaster, even if the disaster was entirely of her making (see: Team Luxe and the shameful behavior towards Michael C.). She's the sort of bully that is clever enough to get minions to do her dirty work (see: Ivy). She's an awful person and I almost vomited during the reunion when she cried about how America thought she was a bitch because she's a strong woman. I'm sorry Gretchen: America thinks you're a bitch because you are a terrible human being. Then there was her seeming view that showing up for the challenges (i.e. the whole point of the show) was somehow beneath her, and that this season was some sort of victory lap in which she really didn't have to try. When she said to Heidi, "I'm tired of the challenges. I just want to make my clothes.", during the judging of a challenge in which the parameters were so wide she could do just that (i.e. find inspiration anywhere in NYC. Make an outfit. This was too limiting for Gretchen, I suppose, who turned out something hideous.). By the end, Heidi clearly couldn't stand her, calling her arrogant. And then, bafflingly, she took the whole thing. See the pathetic, embarrassing damage control video Marie Clare has foisted on the word (and if there's one thing we've learned in the past week or so, it's that Marie Clare sucks at damage control). I warn you, the video is heinous and really hard to watch.



b. But, you say, this is a design competition, not a personality contest! What about the clothes? Sigh. I can say, with great confidence, that absolutely no one has been waiting for the day when earth-toned knit hot pants become available. And, in her final runway presentation, there wasn't just one pair of earth-toned knit hot pants, there were three. Before presenting their final collection each of the finalists is required to introduce themselves and their work, briefly saying something about what they have chosen to present. Both Mondo and Andy (the other two finalists) spoke briefly about their influences: their ethnic heritage, where they grew up, and very nicely thanked their parents, grandparents, etc. Gretchen simply told us she named her collection "Running Through Thunder" and was happy her Mom was there, but the clothes looked like Rolling in Baby Poop:




3. So, what about the competition? Who came in second? In a stroke of Reality TV brilliance, Horrible Gretchen was pitted against Mondo, one of the most delightful personalities in the history of reality competition shows [a], and his creativity and designs were consistently thrilling [b].

a. Mondo may be the anti-Gretchen. He seems so lovely and interesting in precisely not the way people on reality television are supposed to be. He's a tiny, shy, intense, deeply strange, Mexican American designer from Denver. Early in the season, he struggled a bit and wound up on the bottom a few times. The turning point of the season was Episode 5, where all the underdogs (including Mondo) wound up on one team, and trounced the team of previous winners led by Gretchen (the previously alluded to Team Luxe disaster). In the subsequent episode, the designers were placed in teams of two, Mondo was teamed with the cruelly bullied Michael C. In the beginning of the episode, Mondo was not pleased. He had heard from Michael C's awful teammates that he couldn't sew and was completely hopeless in every way. So, Mondo was worried about working with him, and was maybe not as nice as he could have been. But Mondo quickly realized that there was nothing wrong with Michael C., that he was hard working and nice, so Mondo apologized for his behavior (which really wasn't that awful). His apology impressed me because it seemed genuine and he didn't make a big fuss or congratulate himself or weep. He just told Michael, "I was being a jerk. I'm sorry. I was wrong." Mondo is such an odd little duck. He dresses flamboyantly (clearly basing many of his fashion choices on the Donmar Warehouse version of the Emcee in Cabaret), but his personality is not. He's quiet, intense, and a very skilled and smart perfectionist. I also love that in a flamboyant industry, working in a room filled with gay artistic types, Mondo is still a total fucking weirdo, and I say that with nothing but love and adoration.

b.This is where things start getting really freaking obvious to me. Mondo is a real find. His talent truly became apparent in the Jackie Kennedy challenge. He managed to hit that difficult to find Project Runway sweet spot: i.e. embracing the challenge fully, while not losing one’s own vision and aesthetic. This is incredibly difficult to do, and cannot be done consistently unless one both has confidence in one’s own voice, and the technical chops to realize it. His interpretation of the challenge was thoughtful and whimsical.


From that point on, Mondo started winning challenge after challenge. His clothes are beautifully constructed and tailored, combining colors and prints in riotous and exciting combinations that work and don’t look much like anyone else’s. I loved Mondo’s runway show. He utilized a Dia de los Muertos theme to great effect and I would possibly commit crimes to acquire some of his pieces (the leggings! I could die!).


4. Out of the eight seasons of Runway, there have been two winners and maybe one or two finalists whose work is truly special. Season 1 winner, Jay McCarroll, who may be the only winner in the history of reality television that after making lots of noise about wanting to work outside of corporate America, actually turned down the money rather than compromise his ideals and accept the strings that came with the 100k. It's nice to see that he's finally getting his act together and is showing, because he is very gifted. And Christian Siriano, who I found to be a little personally insufferable with his exaggerated bitchy manner and catch phrases, is really, really talented. He continuously demonstrated, that in this forum, technique counts. He was the first to admit that he had a huge leg up on the competition because he was able to sew very, very quickly. He was able to construct lovely, imaginative and complicated clothing in the time allowed for challenges, thus enabling him to make some extraordinary pieces. I really believe in technique in all art forms, it frees you up to do whatever you want to do, and Siriano was a great example of that. And then there were the winners that are, you know, fine, but not so super thrilling. Chloe Dao, Leanne and Seth Aaron seem to fall into that category. The previously mentioned Jeffrey had that one dress in his final collection that everyone remembers and was madly in love with. In other words, the judges over all did an okay job. I didn't always 100% agree, but their decisions were understandable. For example, the year Chloe won, I didn't think she was the most talented, but Santino and Daniel Vosovic both kind of choked. Which brings us back to this year's judging.

5. This is where they completely alienated me (and every other fucking person in the world seemingly). The three regular judges (Heidi Klum, Michael Kors and Nina Garcia) were joined by guest judge Jessica Simpson (who was far more articulate than expected). The four were divided evenly down the middle. Heidi and JSimp were in the pro-Mondo camp while Kors and Garcia (inexplicably) voted for Gretchen. What we saw of the deliberation was appalling. Michael Kors has lost every shred of credibility. He kept insisting the Gretchen was very "now" because hers were the sorts of clothing one is seeing in department stores. I mean, what the fucking fuck? Doesn't that mean, her stuff is, like, behind the curve? Also pointed out by JSimp and Heidi: if you're not 5'10" and dead skinny, Gretchen's clothes are unwearable. And am I wrong in thinking that when JSimp pointed out how all all of Gretchen's clothes are all so loose and baggy, the subtext was, "Um, I have boobs. Me and every other woman with boobs will look ludicrous and very, very pregnant in these hideous schmattas." And then they (Kors and Garcia) shut JSimp up by saying "read a magazine". Heidi at this point was basically raving, saying (I'm paraphrasing), "What is the point of this competition? Shouldn't we be rewarding creativity and innovation? Mondo's work is different and unique. What are you thinking? Gretchen's clothes need models and aggressive styling to look half way decent." For which I will love her forever. For going to bat for creativity and innovation in the face of Kors and Garcia literally sneering at her. And then Michael Kors intimated something that is truly outrageous. He said in response to Heidi's very valid points about rewarding talent, that there are designers in the world like John Galliano and there are designers in the world like, him, Michael Kors. He then intimated that the designers like Michael Kors are the ones to back, because more women wear their clothes. At which point my jaw simply dropped. If any of my non-fashion literate readers have made it this far, let me explain. Michael Kors is very talented. He makes nice, wearable, American sportswear. If you need a dress for your office party or some nice vacation wear, he's your man.



Which is fine, and yes, some version of what Michael Kors does is how most women dress day to day. John Galliano's spring men's collection was completely inspired by Charlie Chaplin. Below, is a lovely 40s inspired day dress (the model is styled to look exactly like Vivian Leigh). I decided to compare day dress to day dress, because if we were to get into evening wear, it would just be, um, unkind to Mr. Kors.



Michael Kors is talented. But, John Galliano is a stone cold genius, the likes of which come around at the rate of, say one or two every twenty five years. If we're lucky. It's kind of like if Dick Wolf said his work was more worthy of praise than Martin Scorcese's because more people watch Law & Order every day. This argument went on and on back and forth, with no one budging. One of the most contentious pieces was Mondo's polka dot dress. Neither Michael or Nina liked it when they saw it in the semi-finals, but he put it in his collection anyway (Heidi loved it). I sort of think they were just pissed off that he ignored them. I also think it's interesting that two weeks down the road, I can remember nearly all of Mondo's collection and all I can remember about Gretchen's is a sea of droopy brown.

And, what, you ask does Uncle Tim have to say about all this? Here is his bitchy take:



6. So what's my takeaway from all this? Why have I spent nearly two freaking weeks thinking about this? Here's why. I think the issues at play here go much deeper than an unfortunate decision on a reality television show, and as unlikable as she may be, none of it is really Gretchen's fault. When we sweep aside personalities and producers and hurt feelings, what we are looking at is a major divide in the issue of aesthetics, and more specifically, American aesthetics, and on an even deeper level, what it means to be American. Since the end of the Great War, the invention of what we call sportswear revolutionized the way people dress. There is much confusion about the name, but it refers to being a spectator, rather than one of the athletes, i.e. what you would wear to watch the Yale-Harvard game, rather than what is worn on the field. Coco Chanel famously invented the modern idea of casual fashion, but it was a group of Americans who truly ran with it. In the 30s, Claire McCardell essentially invented the American sportswear industry, making her the most important designer no one has ever heard of. Katherine Hepburn elegantly lounging around (heterosexually) in trousers, didn't hurt the cause either. After WWII, simple WASPy elegance was what classy women were meant to aspire to. The two women who most famously embody casual American elegance were Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kennedy. Interestingly, neither were WASPs. After the tumultuous 60s ended, there was a reversion to this WASP ideal, as evinced most famously in the sportswear of Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, both Jews from the Bronx. Throughout much of the past 35 years or so, this was what was usually meant in America when one referred to "good taste". Simple, chic, small breasted, white. Let me get back to Mondo. When discussing his collection both Nina and Michael touched on the question of "taste". Gretchen has such good taste. Mondo is over the top and loud and costume-y. Heidi thank fucking god disagreed and pointed out (as some length) the different ways one could wear and style many of the pieces Mondo showed. Are his clothes "good taste" in the sense that Michael Kors's clothes are tasteful (see: beige dress above)? No. He is very clear about that fact that he is inspired by many influences, including Mexican folk culture. I mean, are we really having this argument in 2010? What is good taste? For some reason this phrase is starting to sound somewhat assaultive to me. Point of fact: look at fucking Gretchen's collection. Anyone not tall, anyone not flat-chested would find all of it unwearable. Not so with Mondo's collection. If there are two words that should be banished from American fashion they are "ethnic" and "exotic", because what is usually meant by both is "not Anglo". It's just so tiresome and insulting at this point. Chanel Iman isn't "exotic", she's a teenager from California fer chrissakes. And what was so appalling about hearing this nonsense spouting out of the mouths of Michael Kors and Nina Garcia is that they should know better, they're hardcore fashion pros. European designers have been foisting their whimsical, colorful and creative garments on the world (for good and ill) for decades, if not centuries. Americans have traditionally been so much more tentative, focusing on sportswear and averages and good taste. We need an American Vivienne Westwood or Alexander McQueen or (lord help us) Karl Lagerfeld. The road to this kind of aesthetic freedom is not via the likes of Gretchen. Choosing her over Mondo was indefensible and cowardly and conservative in a way any creative industry should be ashamed of.

Your former avid viewer,

Caviglia

P.S. Viva Mondo!

4 comments:

duncanrogers said...

I love reading your stuff. It always makes me smile :-) see <-------

Tim N. said...

Me: Did you hear about the Project Runway finale?
Much more fashion-literate wife: No, what happened?
Me: You don't want to know. Apparently Kors compared himself to John Galliano...
Wife (gasping): Holy shit.
Me: Yeah. I don't quite get it, but I get it was off base.
Wife: Galliano is a cotureist. Kors designs sportsware. It's like Brian Wilson and...
Me:... Mike Love?
Wife: Yes.
Me: Got it. (pause) Holy shit.

Dead right on all counts, my friend, and well said, particularly point six. You'd like to think that when push comes to shove they would support a vision over a commercial calculation, at least on a television program. but what they're saying is the new is "not so good" because, well, it's new. Not exactly fashion forward.

Worth the wait.

Caviglia said...

The thing that is particularly mind boggling to me, is that Gretchen doesn't even make sense from a commercial standpoint. Who among us wants poop colored, backless, shapeless blouses? This is the stuff you see in stores along side the YSL Hammer-pant jump suit on the 80% off rack at Barneys.

Fuzzy said...

Great entry, Caroline!