Friday, July 21, 2006


Team USA

Previously on Project Runway: Heidi handed out the first assignment. Designers trashed their apartments. Keith had never made a dress before. Jeffrey was unimpressed with everyone else's work. Vincent fell in love with a basket. Runway show. Keith won the challenge and immunity. Jeffrey was in; Stacey was out.

Angela misses Stacey a little, but resigns herself. Keith doesn't care about immunity because he's going to rock every challenge. Malan wakes up on the right side of the bed. He claims to like all the designers -- I'm sure he likes Laura, I have my doubts about some of the others -- and is happy to be part of it all. See, he's not dark and creepy; he's sweet and sunny. Off to Parsons.

Model choice is back!

Candice -- Katherine's model -- is out. I thought she did a good job handling the clothes, but her jaw is rather strong. The models have a group hug in the back. Oddly enough, we don't see Michael or Robert choose their models. What's up with that? It takes all of two seconds to say somebody's name, so it's not like they had to be cut for time.

Challenge: Heidi says they'll be "designing for an icon of American beauty." It's Tara Conner, Miss USA, whom I will be calling Miss USA because she worked hard for that title, dammit. She's decked out in tiara, sash and evening gown. The assignment is to design her dress for the Miss Universe evening gown competition. Well, that's certainly a big risk for her -- although I'm sure she'll be able to get someone to do gown surgery if necessary. Kayne is psyched, because this is what he does. Keith is excited by the prospect of all that publicity.

In the workroom, Miss USA has changed out of the gown and into a day suit with a mini skirt. See, pageants do adapt to changing standards; twenty years ago, that skirt length would have been scandalous. But she doesn't look trashy at all, because she's good at her job. Tim welcomes her and invites her to explain her needs. Miss USA tells the designers that she's the second-shortest girl (pageant competitors are always "girls" -- pageants don't adapt themselves to all changing standards) in the Miss Universe competition, so she needs a gown that will make her look taller. For color, she likes earth tones or something monochromatic. (Her intro gown was beige and bronze; her day suit has brown skirt, peach top, oatmeal jacket. So she does like the browns.) She doesn't want a plunging neckline because she wants the judges to pay attention to her and not just her boobs. (She doesn't say boobs; she's good at her job.) You'd think that maybe a girl would want the judges to pay attention to her boobs, but there's something like 80 girls in a pageant, so it's hard for just boobs to stand out. Plus, we need to pretend that the competition isn't just about boobs, or any of those other body parts.

Tim drops the twist: it's a team competition, so they'll have to pair up. Angela worries that she's never done a gown before, so she needs a partner who understands construction, like Kayne. Waddaya mean, you've never done a gown before? All those clothes mistaken for Yves St. Laurent and not one of them was a gown? Tim gives them 30 minutes to sketch. They'll pitch to Miss USA and she'll pick her top seven. Much sketching ensues. Jeffrey is concerned because he associates pageants with Jon-Benet Ramsey, and that's not what he does. Malan interviews that a pageant gown should stand out. He wants to create the illusion of an hourglass shape and height. I'm not sure how well "hourglass" plays in the international pageant scene; are hips good or bad? Angela lobbies Kayne about how she'd be a good partner because he knows the pageant world so well, he needs someone to question his entrenched mindset. Kayne interviews that she's assuming he'd win, and he's not (assuming, that is). Jeffrey interviews that she was looking for a "free ride."

Sketching time is up. Time to pitch:

Back in the workroom, Miss USA announces her choices:

It was a little mean to string poor Kayne along like that, but I think she saved him for last so she could tease him about his pageant connections. Tim congratulates the team leaders and sends Miss USA on her way. She'll be back for the runway show, of course.

The seven team leaders line up behind a worktable. Tim will draw names at random and they'll pick partners from the remaining designers. Teamwork will be one of the judging criteria. Uli is worried because she has never worked as part of a team. Vincent talks about the importance of choosing the right personality. The results:

Time to go shopping at Mood. They get $300, which is big for this show and piddly for a pageant. Malan is excited because he does evening gowns. Kayne reports that he found a beautiful, non-earth tone organza, so he hopes Miss USA will be happy with his choice. Jeffrey thinks Kayne should follow directions instead of venturing into sherbet tones. Vincent and Angela are sitting at a table with some selections. Angela nags that they have 14 minutes left; Vincent asks her not to do a countdown because it's making him nervous. Angela's worried about not having fabric. Vincent reports on the incident and complains that he can't be responsible for soothing her nerves. But he just made Angela responsible for not making him nervous, so clearly there are perks to being the team leader. Angela isn't feeling inspired by his vision. How can she tell what his vision is?

Back at Parsons, they have 9 hours to work. Robert interviews that he and Kayne were cracking each other up. We see Michael offering an opinion to Laura. She chose him because she thought he would question her usual approach -- which speaks well of Laura, but also speaks well of Michael's professionalism. Try bringing Jeffrey or Vincent on board to question your work.

Bonnie and Uli spread muslin on a table. Bonnie interviews that there's speculation about the elimination: one person or two? She'd hate to lose two people. She tells Uli she wants to see people fighting, like that would be fun. We now know that Bonnie does not come from a dysfunctional family. Unless she's overcompensating.

Angela offers to help Vincent drape, but he rebuffs her. Vincent interviews that he feels weird about not giving Angela work, but he wanted to get stuff done. Angela interviews that everyone else is working in teams, and she's shut out of the process. She wanders off to the break room. Naturally, that's when Vincent decides he needs her for something.

Bradley wants Keith to reassure him that the dress will still be elegant, and Keith is all, "Trust me." He interviews that maybe Bradley was worried about him slacking because he can, with his immunity, but Bradley should trust his talent after he won the last challenge. Keith promises he won't get Bradley booted.

Malan tells Katherine that the best approach is to be organized. She's pleased to work with someone who has had so much experience with gowns; she's learning a lot. Malan is self-taught and has done the fashion thing without support. He did some sketches as a youngster, but when he showed them to his mother, she totally dismissed him. So this is a chance to prove her wrong.

Time ticks. People work. Keith tells Bradley something is just what he wants. Bradley fakes an Oriental accent and says, "I so happy. I so happy I almost cry." He's -- implying that Keith is a sweatshop slave driver? Referencing a movie I haven't seen? Basically a doofus?

Angela tells Vincent that the dress looks like something she made in college. But she never made a gown before. So the college dress wasn't a gown? Vincent can't talk because he has to figure out how to drape the back. She suggests making a different cut. Vincent interviews that Angela had concerns about what "we were trying to achieve." "We"? Since Vincent is the team leader, it's his place to have concerns, not Angela's. I so don't ever want to work for Vincent. He decides that she has to stay three feet away from him. She isn't cooperating and Vincent gripes that she's killing him. The ideas are flowing now, and he can't deal with her negativity. Dude, she can still offer criticism or feedback (whichever you prefer) from three feet away. Vincent is just not cut out for teamwork, and Angela is not cut out for teaming with Vincent.

Uli is relieved when quitting time rolls around, so she can sleep.

The next day, Tim strolls through the workroom. The clock says 9:08, but I can't tell if it's morning or night. From the amount of work done, I'd say night, but that's leaving it awfully late for feedback. First stop is Uli and Bonnie. Tim loves the idea, but it needs perfect execution. Uli is happy with the dress and thinks it will satisfy the client.

Next stop, Kayne and Robert (the Glamour Twins). Tim isn't happy with a detail in the ruching; he thinks the folds should hide the work. Kayne wants Tim to be all excited about it. Tim says he will be tomorrow.

Next, Vincent and Angela. Tim tells Vincent he's disappointed and Vincent blithely replies, "Oh, that's okay." No, Vincent, it is not okay to disappoint Tim Gunn. He's a dean of Parsons; you put a basket on your model's head. Get a clue. Angela is pleased to have someone else criticize Vincent for a change. But then Tim asks her how she feels about the dress, and she says she wouldn't want her name attached to it as a "professional designer." Vincent interviews that he was a little hurt by the way she "turned her back" on him, but he's not going to freak out because that's just who she is. So, he doesn't care what Angela thinks and he doesn't care what Tim thinks, but he cares if Angela tells Tim what she thinks. Still not ever wanting to work for Vincent.

Tim visits Malan and Katherine. They feel they're doing okay; they just have to work out the bottom. Tim looks concerned. A rear shot of the dress shows a whole heap of wadding, and I have an unfortunate flashback to Guadalupe's Nicki Hilton dress. I, too, look concerned. Tim finally delivers an opinion -- it's heavy-looking, "like it's carved out of a big log." He urges them to be objective.

Keith and Angela are at a long table in a break room with snack food. Keith asks her about getting along with Vincent. Angela says they're relating well, and Keith disagrees. Angela doesn't care what he thinks about it. Vincent has made it clear that he's the designer and it's his dress. Keith agrees with Vincent's position, and leaves. I have to wonder what Keith's opinion would be if he weren't a team leader, too. Granted, Angela's being a pill about the whole situation, but I don't think Keith would do all that much better as Vincent's subordinate. It's just that Keith would feel his resentment about being shut out was justified, because he's talented, while he thinks Angela's resentment is unjustified, because she's not.

Malan and Katherine are studying the dress. Katherine thinks "there's just too much fabric." She wants to change a diagonal piece, but it's what Malan wants. Katherine interviews that she became increasingly concerned about the dress over the day. She tells Malan that he'll have to defend the design when it gets questioned.

Work, work, work. Laura tells Michael that something has to change position or "she'll look like she's pooping." I so wish we had a shot of the dress at that point. Keith is not happy with something. Kayne and Robert cheerfully snark at each other about their rhinestones. Kayne says they have tons and they'll apply them "until our fingernails bleed." Robert retorts, "She's a beauty queen, not a disco ball."

Angela tells Vincent not to say they ran out of time. Vincent protests that she has already disclaimed all responsibility for the dress. Even if it wins, she'll still have no responsibility for it. He's happy with it, and he's team leader. He gives her a big, phony grin that says, "I have all the power and you have none." If anybody out there is working for Vincent, please run for your life.

Midnight rolls around and everyone gets to go home. Angela tells Laura and Alison that Vincent is totally behind the dress. Laura drawls, "I've seen him defend crap on the runway before." Angela decides she'll just defend herself if they're in the bottom three; the words "will just come right out." Off in another apartment, Keith pronounces Angela "transparent as glass." Vincent agrees that she'll backstab him -- just smile and backstab him. Well, no. If someone states her opinion to your face, it's not backstabbing to state that opinion to anyone else. I'm sure Vincent feels entitled to her support simply by virtue of being team leader, but I'm also sure Vincent feels entitled to all kinds of things that he hasn't actually earned. Kayne looks like he's wondering if these people will ever let him get to sleep. Jeffrey leans his naked torso around the corner, and I so hope those folds at the bend of his waist are a towel, and says he has one word: "Feminazi." I wonder how long he lurked around the corner, waiting for the right moment to jump in with his mot juste. Too bad it's not in the least apropos.

Runway day. Tim tells the designers that he's sending in the models, and they have two hours to do the hair and makeup and prep stuff. And look, there are models. And then there are half-dressed models. Kayne is pleased that his dress fits his model perfectly. Uli and Bonnie like the way the dress looks on their model, too. Malan and Katherine are not so happy. Katherine interviews that the gown was several inches too short. She doesn't want to get booted for something that wasn't her idea. Vincent asks Angela to find out when the deadline is. She says it's 12:15, but someone across the room says it's 12:30. Vincent is pissed because he asked her four times to find out for sure, and she didn't. He whines that he didn't help her. And whose fault was that? (Okay, both of them.)

Hair. Makeup. Tim summons everyone to the show. Malan is worried about the too-short skirt, but they just don't have time to fix it.

Heidi seems to be channeling Gwyneth Paltrow with the side part and the bun. I don't like it. She recaps the challenge. The judges are Nina Garcia, Miss USA, and Vera Wang (subbing for Michael Kors). Showtime!

The judges ponder, the designers line up. Heidi calls Kayne & Robert, Malan & Katherine, Uli & Bonnie, Vincent & Angela. The remaining designers -- Jeffrey, Alison, Keith, Bradley, Laura and Michael -- are safe, so they're dismissed. Heidi reveals that only one designer will be eliminated. The models come stand by their designers.

Uli and Bonnie get to go first. Miss USA loves the way it flows. Heidi praises the back and Miss USA concurs. Heidi asks Bonnie for her opinion. Bonnie loves the dress and enjoyed the team experience. Vera Wang finds it very modern and loves the layering of the colors.

Kayne and Robert are next. Robert is wearing purple sunglasses on the runway, but I'm inclined to forgive him. Miss USA loves the sweetheart neckline. The color took a little getting used to, but she now she's totally into it. Kayne thought it was a good compromise of her request for earth tones and her need to shine at Miss Universe. Nina praises his initiative in making his own color choice. Robert chimes in that he was intially worried it would be too much, but Kayne brought it all together. Miss USA has trouble coming up with any negatives.

Malan and Katherine come under scrutiny. Vera Wang thinks the ruching is too busy. Heidi likes all the gathering and texture, but overall it's too much and one side is poofier than the other. Miss USA says the shape is cofusing. Nina asks what happened with the bodice. Malan explains that the real pageant dress would have a flatter construction, but they built out the bust to give the model a fuller shape, similar to Miss USA. Nina observes that Miss USA wanted to look less busty. Heidi points out the unfinished hem. Malan explains that his model is longer in the torso, which he hadn't realized. Vera Wang advises always leaving extra length. Heidi asks Katherine what she thinks of the design. Katherine non-answers that she thought it was Malan's design. This is where I realized that Katherine has no neck. Maybe she's just not standing up straight, but I really think it's a lack of neck. Heidi asks who should get the boot if they're the worst, and Katherine picks Malan because the dress wasn't her idea. Malan agrees that he would have to go, since it's his design. I think it pretty much kills him to say it, but he does.

Nina asks Angela and Vincent if they worked well together. Vincent says he put in an "astronomical" amount of work, ripping out Angela's mistakes (Angela got the chance to make mistakes?) and doing everything himself. Heidi asks Angela what she thinks of the dress. Angela deems it too simple and mentions her college dress again. Nina asks to see the back and all the judges admire it. Vera Wang dings the sleeves and Miss USA calls them "space cadet." Vera Wang likes the idea and the minimalism. Angela says it didn't seem like designer work and it wouldn't stand out. I really hope they're putting together pieces of the longer back-and-forth, because disagreeing with Vera Wang about the merits of the dress is not a winning strategy. Miss USA thinks the dress would stand out. She thinks maybe Angela was trying to lead. Vincent asks the judges what they would do if someone said they had no ideas about a gown. Like Vincent would have listened to Angela's ideas if she'd had any. Heidi asks Vincent who would go. He says that Angela put him through a "horrific" experience. Heidi asks for Angela's response, which is shock. Perhaps that's why the words are not tumbling from her mouth. So far, she's done a pretty poor job of calling out Vincent's failures as a team player. Vincent adds, "This was the nightmare of my life." Worse than dropping out of the fashion business because it almost killed you?This is where Angela needs to pull out a violin and go to town, but she's a total dud up there.

Heidi sends them away so the judges can talk. They start with Vincent and Angela. Miss USA thinks the gown is classic if you just simplify the sleeves. So, it wasn't one of the bottom two? It was one of the top three? I'm so confused. Heidi asks about Angela's teamwork, and the others all rag on her. Nina thinks she should have been able to work as part of a team. I'd like to see Nina work as a team with Vincent. The criticism of Angela is justified; the problem is the lack of criticism of Vincent. But it was Angela's job to report his failings, since the judges weren't there. (This is the problem with challenges that judge things the judges weren't around to see.)

Everybody likes Uli's dress. Nina declares it "perfectly beautiful." Well, if you have no chest, maybe. But I mostly agree.

Kayne's dress also gets praise. Miss USA loves the bling and Heidi could see her wowing the judges in it.

Miss USA doesn't know what happened with Malan's dress. She wanted something that would show off the woman, and she couldn't see the model. Nina doesn't like the unfinished hem.

The ladies reach a decision and summon the designers. Robert is safe. Bonnie is safe. Miss USA gives the win to Kayne; she loves the dress and she's going to work it. He has immunity. Kayne interviews that it's a huge step in his career. Uli is safe. Katherine is safe. She and Malan hug. Vincent is safe. I'm glad they made him dangle a bit. Malan failed in the design element from color choice to execution. Angela failed in teamwork and let down her teammate. Angela is in "but just barely." Heidi sounds pissed. Malan and Angela hug. Heidi sounds sad as she auf wiedersehns Malan.

Malan is stunned. He stops behind the screen to collect himself. He interviews that he felt ashamed for losing. Saying goodbye to people has not gotten easier with practice. He enjoyed being a part of the group. But he's not going to let the loss discourage him. Which is good, because I do think he has talent. And I'd much rather have kept him than Angela or Vincent. Or Jeffrey, for that matter. Why wasn't Jeffrey up before the judges?

If only Malan and Katherine had managed to fix that raggedy-ass hem, they might have squeaked ahead of Jeffrey and Alison. Malan's design just wasn't right for Miss USA, but I think it had more going for it than Jeffrey's same-old "deconstructed" shtick. And personality-wise, Malan had more going for him than Jeffrey's same-old "I'm so radical" shtick. I found him more amusing than creepy, especially with the laugh. I enjoyed his budding friendship with Laura and I liked his fundamental kindness with Katherine. He seemed to approach their partnership as mentor/student rather than genius/gofer. I think his basic personality is pretty nice, which makes him not annoying, and on top of that, he has a performer's willingness to entertain, which makes him fun. So it's sad that he won't be around any more.

On the other hand, I'm thrilled that Kayne won, because it meant so much to him. I like how he was careful to avoid overconfidence and approached the whole process with professionalism. His pitch to Miss USA showed how well he understood pageant girls, who have to stand up in front of the world and get judged on their appearances (no matter how many scholarships they give out). His attitude was not "I'm a great designer" but "I want to make you look fabulous," so Miss USA felt like she had an ally instead of someone who was in it for himself. He had the sense to pick a partner who could balance him and then listened to his partner's feedback, even when they disagreed. Overall, I think he has a good head on his shoulders. I hope he takes the opportunity to move in with Robert, Michael and Bradley; somehow, I don't think he's entirely simpatico with Jeffrey, Keith and Vincent.

I think I figured out the top and bottom: The judging criteria were design and teamwork. Vincent and Angela were the only dysfunctional team, so that's what landed them in the bottom, not the dress. But that means the judges had to take the producers' word about the teamwork thing, since they chose the bottom two before talking to the teams. So they can't really judge the teams on teamwork. And who cares if they're ready to scratch each other's eyes out, if the dress is a thing of beauty? If the judges can't get an accurate assessment of something from the runway show, they shouldn't try to judge it. Angela at least tried to be part of a team; Vincent's attitude was "I'm the leader, so I don't have to listen to you." I think his teamwork was far worse than Angela's, but Vincent seemed to get a free pass.

I disagree with Jeffrey's assessment that Angela wanted a "free ride" -- I think she was willing to do the work. Unfortunately, she wasn't willing to take any risks. Basically, she panicked; what she wanted was a security blanket. And then she wound up with the partner least likely to induce feelings of security, and completely lost perspective. She got so caught up in her sense of impending doom that she couldn't step back and work out a way to deal constructively with the situation. She couldn't even wrap her mind around a defense in front of the judges. Vincent gave her lots of ammunition on the teamwork front; even when her own teamwork was being criticized, all we saw her talk about was the design.

One of the biggest knocks against Angela is that she didn't even bother to pitch her own design. Lack of experience is no excuse. Katherine didn't have much experience with gowns, either, but she applied herself to the problem. So Angela should have at least come up with something. But I didn't see Vincent pitch much of a design, either. His sketches didn't give a clear sense of what he wanted to produce. Vincent couldn't use Angela's help implementing the design because he still had to come up with the design. And by that time, Angela was radiating negative vibes and Vincent couldn't handle the distraction.

The one good thing about Malan getting the boot instead of Angela is that it will annoy Vincent, Keith and Jeffrey, all of whom deserve to be annoyed.

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