Saturday, October 14, 2006


Oh, Look, More Drama

Heidi comes out onto the runway carrying the velvet bag of impending randomness. Her top looks like it might have come from Uli's collection, if Uli had created a collection. Maybe from a previous season. She tries to ramp up some excitement from the final four. They try to oblige, but let's face it, they're tired even if they are triumphant. Heidi orders them to create a collection of 12 looks with a budget of $8000 and two months to work. She reviews the prizes again, like we haven't heard them a million times.

Now it's time for a special guest. But it's just Tim. Sure, he's special, but he's not a guest. Tim and Heidi command them to be ambitious, and then stroll off to enjoy their copious free time. Hey, wait, no randomness? What was the velvet bag for?

The designers pack up. Laura demonstrates she's just as efficient at packing as sewing. She's looking forward to advancing her career. The challenge doesn't really scare her: "I've produced a whole line of kids, why can't I produce a whole line of dresses?" Preferably without incubating them for nine months each. Michael gives his compliments to the four walls and everyone heads out. Laura walks home. Uli suspects people are thinking she's just along for the ride, but she might sneak up and surprise them. Michael is hungry to win the whole thing. Jeffrey attempts to convince a cabbie to pick up his neck tattoo. He has achieved his goal of showing at Bryant Park; it's his dream to make the collection that he wants to see on the runway. I'm curious how a guy manages to have his own label and yet not be able to make his own collection. Some kind of partnership agreement?

A month later, a plane lands in Atlanta. Tim drives up to Michael's house in a shiny red product-placed vehicle. Michael interviews that he's thrilled to see Tim again and yes, he's wearing braces. Michael, that is. Not Tim. Michael has his own house. I'm not sure if he's owning or renting. Real estate is certainly cheaper around Atlanta than in New England, but owning a house in your mid-twenties is quite an accomplishment, so perhaps he just rents. Regardless, he shows Tim around his work areas. No industrial sewing machines here. He has sketches and swatches hanging in the living room. Michael confesses that he's still in the early stages. His theme is "Street Safari." He started with one dress and then everything fell out from there. He's going for a neutral palette with splashes of color, and some of the designs took on a 70s vibe as he worked on them. He shows Tim the first dress, a long white gown with lacing up the deep-V neckline and a big winged collar. Tim likes the pocket details. I like the dress -- it has a nice, clean look with definite safari elements, but nothing too silly. The next piece is a long dress made out of 70s-looking fabrics with black and brown abstracts on white. It's, um, different. And kind of scary. Tim's not seeing the cohesion. Also, there's a problem with the zipper in the back. Michael reports that he only has three outfits done with a month still to go. So now that Michael has gotten his feedback, it's time to take Tim to a family dinner.

Suburban Atlanta house. Tim meets Michael Senior and hugs Pam. We see pictures of Junior growing up, including what must be one of his modeling shots, as he relates his army brat upbringing. His family has always supported him. Michael's dad tells Tim that they always thought Michael would be a beautician, but then he zigged into the fashion business. They've never told him not to do it. Tim loves them for that. Michael wants to win to make his family proud. Tim is part of a pre-dinner prayer circle. I'm guessing they don't do that much in Manhattan. Michael thinks positive -- he's going to "win this show."

Back in New York City, Tim drops in on Laura and her magnificent apartment. Laura tells him that she has been too busy to "whine about being pregnant." She interviews that she's having her fifth boy in a row, and the odds of that are about as long as "making it on Project Runway." If the odds of having a boy are 50/50, then the odds of having five boys in a row are .5 x .5 x .5 x .5 x .5 or .03125, or about 3 in 100. So if they saw about 500 designers to select the final group, she's right. Of course, I haven't factored in the possibility of having five children to begin with -- those odds would have to be considerably longer.

Enough with the math. Tim marvels at the big open apartment. Laura has pictures, including one with her artsy grandmother. Her mother (Lorraine) was a sewing teacher, which is how Laura got her start. She shows Tim what she has so far. Her approach was to try to get everything started, so she would have a lot of pieces for him to review. She shows him a red gown with all the embellishment inside. Her idea was that evening wear would make for a more impressive show. Tim is concerned about keeping things youthful. Also, her last look is rather busy. Laura explains that she was trying to push herself outside her comfort zone. It's a long chartreuse coat over a printed dress. I like the shape more than the color. Laura interviews that she surprised herself with how competitive she's feeling. Tim isn't sure that the final look is "even pretty." I tend to agree, although it has some nice elements and I'm glad she's doing something different. Tim thinks she has accomplished a huge amount, but now she really has to think about things. Most of the remaining work is the "tedious" handwork. Tim asks, "How adept are the boys?"

Speaking of the boys, there's an invasion of rugrats. The eldest shakes hands with Tim. The youngest politely offers him his latest find. It's turtle poop. "Ewww!" squirms Tim. "I don't think I want any turtle poop!" It's the single most adorable moment I've seen on this show. Even better than Tim in a hard hat and reflective vest. Laura describes the encounter: "Here, welcome to our clan. Have some poop." She cleans it up and everyone hunts for the turtle. It doesn't show up, but her husband Peter does. He and Tim greet each other like pals. Tim reports that he's already exhausted after half an hour with the kids. Laura explains how they think it's too quiet if the boys aren't all running around. Somebody finds Frank the turtle and Tim admires the handsome fellow. Laura interviews that with five kids, she's never had the money to start a business and "take it to the next level." So maybe winning Project Runway will give her that chance. Okay, it's perhaps hard to believe that Laura couldn't scrape up the money to start a business. But even the $100,000 prize isn't enough to start your own fashion house, and however wealthy she is, I doubt Laura has a spare million lying about. The needs of her family have a higher priority, and that's just fine. Laura interviews again about being ready to compete. We finish with a shot of Frank the turtle eating Cheerios.

Whew! Fun place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. I already put in my time as one of five (only three were boys) so I don't really need to do it again.

Tim tools his product-placed car around Miami; it's still four weeks until Fashion Week, so Tim has had a busy week. He marvels over the view from Uli's balcony. Uli tells us how a lot of her inspiration comes from Miami, in case we hadn't noticed over the past few months. Her collection is "Tropical Safari." Will safari stuff be the big trend next year? I hope they don't make everyone wear those jungle hard hats. She has a long dress in a wavy printed fabric. Tim likes it, but he's worried that she isn't showing diversity. She has to surprise the judges. He's complimentary about a short dress. Uli has worked out her twelve pieces, so now she just needs to put them together.

They head out to the beach to talk. Tim has his sleeves rolled up and his shoes off. He needs to do that either a lot more or not at all. Uli is all toasty brown in contrast. Tim marvels at the distance (physical and psychological) between Germany and Miami. Uli remembers watching Miami Vice on TV and wanting to experience the beach and the palm trees. And now she can. She grew up in East Germany, so material goods were a little sparse. Also, life wasn't very colorful. Tim is surprised; he knew about Germany, but didn't realize it was East Germany. Uli recounts how it could be dangerous, with people getting shot. But then everything changed, and she came to America and she's living the dream. It is pretty inspirational. Not quite as dramatic as Chloe's immigrant story, but still heartwarming.

Only two weeks to Fashion Week now. Did Tim drive across the country? Because now he's with his spiffy little product-placed car in LA to visit Jeffrey. Jeffrey reports that he was nervous about meeting with Tim, because he was never sure he had won Tim over to his point of view during the challenges. At the house, Tim meets Melanie (who has a modest Mohawk) and cute little Harrison. Jeffrey relates how he and Melanie met through mutual friends, immediately fell in love, and then found out Harrison was on the way five months later. So it looks like they've been together for maybe three years. Tim admires Harrison, and Melanie reports she always says he's Jeffrey's best design. Jeffrey describes how marvelous it is, being a father. Tim thinks Jeffrey is lucky to have a workspace separate from his living space. When he first started out, Jeffrey worked in his living room. He describes how his father was an angry man who left when he was eight; Jeffrey blamed himself for the departure and got into drugs as a teen. After some four years of intensive drug use, he tried to commit suicide, but his roommate got fired and came home in time to save him. The next day, he got help and he's been sober for almost five years. He thinks about how hard it is for him when Harrison falls down and cries, so he can't imagine how awful it is to have your child on the street doing drugs.

Tim asks how things have been since the show has been airing. It has been "crazy" -- he has been working on his Cosa Nostra line and doing his collection and trying to see his family. Jeffrey does his "I'm really competitive" spiel; he wants to win to make a better life for Harrison. He and Tim go down to his workspace to check on his progress. He has a huge room filled with fabric and tables and machines. Tim marvels at the space, much like he marveled at Laura's apartment. It looks like Jeffrey has about 8 outfits on hangers. He takes out a striped dress to display on the mannequin. His inspiration was a book of Japanese ghosts and demons; he loves the color palette and the detailing. Tim is wowed by his use of zippers as trim on the striped dress. Jeffrey's glad to hear it, because he's been so wrapped up in his work, he was actually getting sick of it. Tim finds that only natural. (That's a comment on the pressure-cooker atmosphere, not on Jeffrey's aesthetic.) Jeffrey holds out a simple halter dress made with striped fabric, red on one side and black on the other. Tim feels inspired to hug him. Jeffrey is pleased that Tim likes the collection, but he's not making any assumptions about how the judges will respond. He feels he is living on borrowed time and that everything is a gift; he's "eternally grateful" for everything he has. I'd be more convinced if he had been pleased about winning instead of grumping about being robbed all those times before, or if he had been grateful for placing well instead of griping that the winner's look was bland. You know?

So now it's just 5 days until the runway show, and the finalists return to New York. Michael confides that he's in love with his "nasty" collection. Oh, dear. I'm not entirely sure I like the sound of that. He's exhausted from trying to get everything finished in the last two days. Laura is feeling good about her work. She'd like to win, if only so that Jeffrey doesn't. I think she's feeling a little miffed about all Jeffrey's comments during the episodes. Granted, Laura has talked some smack of her own (they all did), but she always talked about a specific outfit or a specific habit, and she didn't seem at all happy that people were doing poorly. Jeffrey made fun of people's whole body of work and was often quite dismissive of the others. Laura was critical, but Jeffrey was downright mean. Laura tiptoes in to rouse a napping Michael for hugs. It's dark when Uli arrives. She's curious to see what the others have done. There are more hugs. Jeffrey interviews that he got everything done, because he wants to be ready for any final twists. He's sure he's going to win all the goodies. Uli greets him with a hug and wonders if people have been throwing eggs at him since the show started airing. Jeffrey assures her that nothing like that has happened. Michael also gets up to greet him. Laura interviews that she didn't jump up like she did with Uli. I'm assuming that she did greet him, though, even if we don't see it. They all talk about how tired they are, and Jeffrey drags himself off to bed. He voiceovers that they're all ready to get into it.

Morning. 4 days to the show. Laura anticipates getting back into the workroom environment, even with "the tension that Jeff likes to cause." She's not liking him much at all these days, is she? There's a new product-placed workspace. Everyone unpacks their collections. Michael interviews that everyone was pretending not to check out everyone else's stuff, but they all did. Laura marvels at the number of pieces in Jeffrey's area, but he thinks the plastic bags over the clothes are creating an illusion of volume.

Tim drops by to welcome them all officially and check up. Jeffrey first. Tim seems pleased with everything. Jeffrey doesn't have anything left to do, and Tim is impressed. Jeffrey gets a hug. Uli is next. Tim has a concerned face; he wants to see things on models to get some sense of proportions. He almost misses her prints. Laura's turn. Tim loves the detailing of her first piece, and he's thrilled that she dumped "the chartreuse popsicle." She pretty much eliminated all the color (no!) but Tim thinks it looks more cohesive now. She has to finish some detail work, but doesn't anticipate any problems. Another hug for Laura. Michael gets an "oy." Tim thinks a shirt with sequined pockets(!) looks "cartoony" with all the bling. Michael should either go over the top or tone it down. He needs to work on his cohesion.

Tim collects everyone's receipts. Jeffrey has to sort through and remove some sketches. I'm not surprised that organization is not his strong suit. Tim leaves them to work. Michael interviews that he has some work to do. He'd rather go over the top and put on a big show. Uli interviews the importance of getting the right girls for the clothes.

Model casting! Everyone is psyched. Laura is thrilled to see some hips. Michael interviews that he wants strong walkers. I think Katie (Laura's first model, who wound up doing Cher for Bradley) shows up. Laura interviews that she was trying to think of what each dress required. Amanda comes in, looking blonder than before. Jeffrey talks about all the criteria he's thinking about -- coloring, skin tone, walk. Michael recognizes Danyelle from season 2 and snaps her up. Uli jokes that they're all going to fight over someone. I catch sight of the supposedly plus-sized Alexandra in the snapshot montage.

With 6 hours left to the day, it's time to consult with the product-placed hair guy. Jeffrey has wigs so his models will be blank slates. The hair guy is perhaps not thrilled, but he manages to work with it.

3 days to the show. We get the first wakey-wakey shots of the show. They're as boring as ever. Back in the workroom, Alexandra shows up for her fitting with Michael; he gives her a big hug and asks if she does swimsuits. Oh, no, not a plus-sized model in a swimsuit! Laura tells a model that a dress needs boobs. Wait, models have boobs? More models, more fittings. Laura interviews that Jeffrey hasn't had much in the way of alterations. His dresses are full at the bottom, so they don't need a lot of adjusting. That doesn't bother her; what bugs her is that every little thing is done, so he doesn't have anything to do but fit. Considering how everyone else across all the seasons has showed up at Fashion Week with finishing to do, it does seem odd. Especially since the timeframe for this show is much shorter -- two months instead of almost seven months.

With 10 hours left to the day, it's time to consult with the product-placed makeup guy. Since there are four finalists, he can't just cycle through the same three looks he used for the previous seasons. "Smokey eyes" is becoming my new "wire hangers."

Back in the workroom, everyone bustles except for Jeffrey, who just sits. Laura interviews that, after two days of consideration, she has concluded that Jeffrey must have had help with construction. Jeffrey wanders off (to get dinner, it seems). Laura brings up her concerns to the other designers, who agree that it's odd that he has nothing at all to do. Laura interviews that she's sure he designed it all, but the craftsmanship is just too good. She points out to the others that garments are very well-finished, with ribbon-covered seam allowances. Uli wants to see for herself, so she goes over to check out Jeffrey's rack of clothes. On the one hand, that's kind of brassy; on the other, it's best to get the facts straight. Uli protests that the finishing on the striped dress is "not that perfect." Michael interviews that they all noticed the leather jeans, which had much better workmanship than they had seen from Jeffrey before. The designers go back to work while they hash it over. They all agree that Jeffrey designed it all, that they're suspicious and that they can't prove anything. Uli wants to confront Jeffrey when he returns; I think she's anxious for him to clear things up. Michael says he's not the sort of person to just ignore the elephant in the room, and Laura says she's the same way. She'll talk to Jeffrey when he returns.

But first, Tim arrives. I wonder how far into the discussion the producers called him up and ordered him over to the workroom. He checks in with Uli, who still needs to fit four models. She has tried things out on some backup models. Jeffrey returns as Uli shows her final look. Laura has fitted eleven models. She asks to talk to Tim, and he suggests privacy. Laura hesitates, and then agrees. They step out onto a terrace, and Laura reports that "I believe" Jeffrey had some help with the collection. Too much work happened. The insides of the garments are too well-finished and the leather jeans are too well-done. She's sure that Jeffrey designed everything, but with all his talk of how busy he was with his other line, she's not convinced he did all the work himself. She just wants to go on record with her opinion before the judging happens. She makes it clear that she has no proof; this is just her sense of things. Tim points out that it's hard to prove this sort of thing, but he will take the matter to the producers and they will investigate. That last bit makes me think the producers already know about the whole imbroglio.

Tim leaves them all to work. Laura interviews that she's sure people will think she's "a bitch" for raising the issue, but she just doesn't see how Jeffrey could have done it all. It would be kind of funny if Jeffrey had been blowing hot air about how hard he was working on his Cosa Nostra line when he really just ignored it and put all his time into his personal collection. It does sound like the ribbon finish on the seams is an "above and beyond" level of finishing. It would be like a couple on Trading Spaces who not only painted the new armoire in the regulation poop brown, but sanded down the drips and patched the paint, and added a glaze for some depth and interest. It could conceivably happen (especially if Vern were involved), but when it does happen, you feel the need to see the video. To be done with all the construction and to have added further details to the finishing is, well, unprecedented. The producers could have helped by showing how much work Jeffrey had done when Tim visited. We saw how Tim liked the collection, but we didn't see him marvel over how much Jeffrey had done or fret over how much Jeffrey had left to do. One of the reasons Tim visits the designers at home is to help them focus their efforts for the remainder of the work period; we didn't see him do that with Jeffrey.

Back in the workroom, Uli tells Jeffrey that Laura has an announcement to make. Laura says it's not an announcement. She told Tim that Jeffrey's clothes were so well-made and so well-finished -- and here Jeffrey's looking surprised but pleased by the compliment -- that she can only think he had help. Then she awaits an explosion. Jeffrey protests that he did not get any help and he worked hard. Michael volunteers that he agreed with Laura when she pointed it out. Uli agrees that there's a lot of quality. Jeffrey's like, "Well, yeah, this is Bryant Park we're talking about." Laura sums it up: she had a feeling, she brought it up, and now Jeffrey knows what's going on. She tells herself that she's not going to apologize for speaking up. Out on the terrace, Jeffrey feels sorry for himself. He interviews that Laura is just crazy jealous and "who cares what you think?" Well, apparently Jeffrey. And Tim. And possibly the producers.

Only 2 days until the runway shows. More wakey wakey shots. There's a bottle on Jeffrey's nightstand, but it could be an IBC root beer. From bed, Laura observes that Jeffrey didn't react as expected. She thought he'd be all bully boy about it. She hopes there won't be "horrible tension" in the workroom. I'm sure we can expect tension; it's just a question of how much. Most of the designers get to work. Jeffrey interviews that he started in the business making almost-perfect one-of-a-kind garments, and he can produce "more than perfect" clothes when given time. First, nobody can do better than perfect; second, he wasn't given a whole lot of time. He still had to crank out a piece of clothing every few days in order to finish; it's not like he had a couple of weeks per piece. But yes, he did have more time than the challenges allowed.

Tim comes in to brief Jeffrey. He starts by saying that Jeffrey is innocent until proven guilty. Since Jeffrey can't prove that he didn't cheat, that's only fair. Tim gives Jeffrey the opportunity to come clean with him if there's anything amiss. Jeffrey says there's nothing. He points out the pieces he sent out for pleating, and everything else was all Jeffrey. The rules aren't spelled out -- and why not? -- but I believe the standard is that any "specialty" work that might require special equipment or skills can be outsourced at market rates paid from from the $8000 budget. This explains how Jeffrey can pay for pleating, but can't pay someone to finish his seams. Tim explains that they'll be reviewing his receipts carefully. Tim's body language is rather forbidding, but the way he speaks to Jeffrey might have an edge of sympathy to it. Jeffrey voiceovers that he made everything, but now he's scared that he won't be allowed to show.

So, it's possible Jeffrey cheated, but did he? I don't think we can say that Jeffrey would never cheat; I suspect he might if the situation were extreme enough. But it would have to be a pretty extreme situation. I really don't see him planning to break the rules. Keith is the kind of guy who enjoys finding shortcuts, but Jeffrey is more the kind of guy who just pushes himself to get it done. So, it would be astonishing, but it's within the realm of possibility that he completed all his garments before arriving in New York. It's harder to make sense of the quality finishing on some of the garments. Would that kind of detail really take precedence over other adjustments to other garments? And how could he be completely finished far enough before the deadline that he had extra time for extra finishing? Another thing: Uli pointed out that not all the garments are well-finished. Since Jeffrey has nothing else to do, why wouldn't he upgrade the finishing on the remaining garments? He could work piece by piece, so he wouldn't find himself bogged down if the producers threw in another surprise challenge. So certain things don't seem to add up -- but I would still be surprised to learn that Jeffrey broke the rules.

I like that you've recapped such detailed information that's easily forgotten because of the cliffhanger. And I appreciate all the questions you ask.
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