February 8th was a real dream come true for me. Since the very first season of Project Runway I have been completely hooked. I still long to buy Jay McCarroll’s Chrysler Building dress. So to get to shoot from the riser for the finale of the Project Runway Teams edition at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City was just about as exciting for me as it was for the designers that were showing that day. I was seated directly beneath one of the cameras taping the show, so I did my best to sit as still as could to prevent me from running into their tripod at all. I certainly didn’t want to ruin their steady shot! The show started off with Heidi and the other 3 judges walking down to the end of the runway for a quick photo-op. I couldn’t believe super-model Heidi Klum was there standing less than 20 feet right in front of my lens! The audience was star studded as well, with the likes of Kristin Chenoweth, All-Stars winner Mondo Guerra, previous season cast members, Sammy Sweetheart from the Jersey Shore, and stylist Phillip Bloch.
Unlike in previous years where the designers would come out and introduce their collection, Heidi came out and let us know the real scoop. Since only 3 episodes of the season had been shown on TV so far, they didn’t want to ruin the season with spoilers by having the designers come out with their collections. Consequently the collections ran back to back. Also, a lesser known fact, many more designers get to show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week than are chosen to be the final 3 or 4. Because the season wraps taping so much sooner than the date the finale is aired they like to leave it a mystery to all those out there who are tweeting, blogging, and instagramming the looks from the show as to who actually made it to the finale. So if you were super sad for Daniel not getting to show his looks, don’t be. They got just as much time on the runway as everyone else did. The following are shots of the collections in the order they were presented. For some of the collections it was tough to tell who the designer was, and others it was very easy. So for some I’ve just labeled them as that designer’s collection, but in fact it is really just my own guess based on the order they were auff’ed and the style of the garments.
I am guessing that the first collection down the runway was Layana Aguilar’s. The hats some of the models wore looked very similar to the one she wore for the group photo at the end of the show. The collection had some strong pieces and some weak ones. I liked the opening dress, the hats, the choice of dark tights with the booties, the hats, and the use of white in a fall collection (making it quite on trend for the season). My favorite piece was the flowing peach top with black lace overlay and skin tight faux leather leggings. The pieces that included the mottled red velvet did not read as well as the other pieces, and the material looked cheap. This was also the case for the red macrame mini-dress. With the exception of those pieces the collection looked fairly expensive and fashion forward.
Next up was Daniel Esquivel’s collection. I think his brain was still in Berlin when he was creating these pieces as well as choosing how to style his models. The collection was mostly black and felt very hard and military and 40s inspired. The hair and leather gloves were straight out of World War II and I haven’t seen pumps like that since the 80s. I wished he’d used more of the bold red that was sprinkled through the collections. His dress forms in his studio were red, and it really made the clothes pop more. For future designs, Daniel should stay away from chunky knits and fabrics. He found a way of taking stick thin models and making them look almost plus sized with his choice of fabric. I wish he had stuck more with his strengths, like the molded and beautifully tailored black leather jacket. That piece felt modern and edgy. But unfortunately the rest of the collection felt dated and old. Hopefully in the future he will do some pieces with some color that bring out the happy bubbly side of Daniel we liked so much in the TV show.
The next collection I am guessing was Samantha Black’s. It was the most youthful and fashion forward of the collections presented that day. I’m sure it had the judges second guessing their decision to Auff’ her so early in the season. I liked most all the pieces she presented that day, and felt like it was the collection that fit in the best at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week this season. The collection did have a few misses, specifically the black satin bell-bottom pants, the hunter green braided knit piece that seemed to add at least 30 pounds to the model, and the shiny burgundy leather overalls paired with black strappy stilettos. All I could think of was the line in Clueless, “She could be a farmer in those clothes”. But she ended the collection with an absolute knockout black dress that I could totally see on a red carpet in the near future. I also really like the black satin skirt paired with the bustier-like top, and the mustard colored dress with the fringe. It felt like it was made out of material made for a modern motorcycle jacket. The little holes in the fabric would allow your skin to breathe. The styling from head to toe looked great on the runway. I love a strong eye and strong lip so that you can see girls’ faces all the way from the back of the runway. Her over-sized mustard colored coat was also right on trend. It looked like it could almost fit right into the line Michael Kors presented that same week. If she was still in the running, I’d say she would be a real contender for the winner.
Richard Hallmarq’s collection was up next. I am sure this was his collection as my model from my Calumet Fashion Week Photography class was one of the model’s in the show, and Richard had his name engraved on the side of some of the sunglasses the models wore in the show. Richard’s collection was pretty much an extension of every other piece he made while on the show. It was primarily all done in jersey knit and he focused much more on the creation of accessories instead of the actual garments. If the show was Project Accessory, he probably would have won, with his leather arm cuffs, studded baseball hat, and space age style glasses. The only things that felt new to me were the accessories. The shapes of all his garments had all been played out on the show time and again. Some were flattering and wearable, and I could see them being a commercial success in department stores. These were the all black long turtleneck dress, the off the shoulder black and white short dress, the one shouldered turtleneck dress, and the high necked short black and white dress his original model, Aisha Gunnel, wore. Others seemed next to impossible for the model to walk in and were downright unflattering. The choice of lip color wasn’t helping either. The dark purple tone tended to make the girls look almost cadaverous. The final dress seemed to border on Gothic chic and a modern coven. The look on Phillip Bloch’s face after that dress came by says it all.
Michelle Lesniak Franklin
If I was a betting woman, I’d put my money on Michelle Lesniak Franklin winning this season. Her collection, inspired by a female lone wolf, was by far the most cohesive, modern, flattering, and Fall appropriate. She took the judges notes into consideration for the final show. The hair and makeup was much better, and she edited down the number of pieces of hardware being shown as accessories on the garments. You could feel her inspiration of a warrior woman on the hunt in almost every piece. I liked her integration of large pieces of fabric tied into windsor knots at the top of the collars both on the front and backs of some pieces. Giving feminine pieces a distinctly masculine air to them. I was not a huge fan of the hats and the outfits that looked like they would fit very well on the set of a production of Robin Hood. But I did love her quilting work. I would have stayed away from neoprene as a fabric choice though, as it generally makes one look much bigger than one is. The use of black tights with the bootie-wedges was nice as well. I loved her inclusion of pockets into some of the garments, as well as the decorative turtlenecks. The chaps were a bit beyond me as well as the bleeding heart sweater, but the sweater with the pattern created with the wolves was very nice. The layering was very on trend for the season. The choice of large rings with pieces of bone really fit the huntress theme well. Her final piece was a blood red long dress. Something about it just felt too casual to me, and it was a bit unflattering. The clutch created with the wolf pattern was very strong though. Overall, from the looks on the judges’ faces, they looked impressed by the collection as well.
The day of the runway show, at first I thought this could be Patricia’s collection, but now I’m fairly certain it is Amanda Valentine’s. The collection showcased a multitude of fringe techniques that Amanda went on to use during the rest of the season. In addition to fringe, the collection was full of mystic symbols like pyramids and the evil eye, many combined into hamsa symbol. Amanda also took her signature pop-top necklace with interwoven golden over-sized pop-top tabs, and included it in the front and back of some of the garments. The collection felt very disjointed to me, with the only continuous thread being a sort of tribal feeling to the items. Some more Native American, others more African in influence. I liked the mustard colored sweater dress and the intricate cutouts on the arms. Many of the pieces looked like they would be more appropriate for her brother to wear on stage at a Maroon 5 concert than on a woman walking down the street. I loved how many times Zac Posen cocked his head to the side looking utterly perplexed by the looks walking past him. For Amanda, I see a good future for her in jewelry design, but not clothing.
Stanley Hudson’s collection was fairly consistent with what he produced throughout the show. The pieces were well tailored and fairly well executed, to use one of Nina’s favorite terms. But unfortunately they read really old. 1960s was his inspiration, and that was apparent. But I think the people who would be most interested in buying clothes from this line lived through the 1960s. The choice of booties with pale bare legs I found jarring. It just cuts a woman right off at the ankles and is very unflattering. I liked seeing that he took some of the judges notes, like cutting the tea length gold dress off much higher and making it into a peplum top, but it still lacked Heidi’s request for “Va-Va-Voom”. Only the short ivory dress with gold elements had any sex appeal at all in my opinion. To bring the collection to a bit more modern state, most of the models had very large chunky rings that extended across 4 fingers. From afar they looked like decorative brass knuckles. But this modern flourish couldn’t save this collection from itself. The final piece of the ball gown didn’t seem to flow at all with the collection. It felt like you think to yourself as a designer, ok you end with a fancy dress, here is my fancy dress. The only common thread it had with the rest of the collection was his use of a high collared neckline, and use of expensive looking fabrics and appliques. I appreciated the workmanship in the jacket he opened with and the gold peplum top with the black flower breast plate, and the gold sequin dress, but in the end it just felt like too much of an homage to different looks from past decades, and not a fresh take on them at all. It was like watching a costume show, instead of a fashion show. This was a real shame, because with all Stanley’s amazing tailoring skills I think he really could have pulled off something beautiful. But instead we got many 60s inspired shapeless dresses, one which frankly looked more like a mauve potato sack than a dress. I’m really hoping that one was something he had to make at the last minute!
One of the collections I was most excited to see was Patricia Micheal’s. It definitely was the most theatrical of all the collections shown. If project runway was renamed project textile, Patricia would definitely win, hands down, but…it is project runway. While Patricia created some really cool and interesting textiles, how she used them to create clothes left something to be desired. There was no cohesion to the collection at all, it was the “circus” Nina feared. Many of the color choices and cuts felt more appropriate for a Spring collection, not Fall. The only common thread between some of the pieces was Patricia’s use of these hand made “sequins” she created, which looked more like washers than sequins to me. The ombre effect on the velvet she no doubt created herself was interesting, but put in combination with her design, which looked like something I’d title, hippy-gypsy costume, just wasn’t anything I could see someone wanting to wear. Her kaftans felt like something more appropriate for Lane Bryant, than for Mercedes-Benz Fashion week. The A-line short orange dress looked poorly constructed and the hem looked poorly finished. The cut of the shorts were very unflattering. Her collection did hit some high notes as well though. I was a fan of the yellow and gray draped shirt over the leather pants with punched out holes and the low back. The use of the horse hair for the model’s hair was great with that look as well. I loved the eagle feather scarf. I wished she’d paired it with something much simpler and cleaner so that it could stand out on its own merit. Then came the hair pom-poms. I actually loved these. They were great to photograph and really made it feel more like a show with some fantasy thrown in. This was highlighted with the final dress in blue with hand made paillettes that was showcased in the first part of the finale in the show. This and the horse-hair jacket were the two most well executed looks in the show. If she had focused more on looks like these, I think she could have really given Michelle a run for her money. For the horse-hair jacket, if she had put in studs where the loops were at the ends, I think it would have looked more polished and less like hair swatches. In the end I think the biggest problem with this collection was that it was just ideas upon ideas upon ideas, and nothing was really edited out. I look forward to future collaborations she might do with designers to utilize her unique take on textiles, as I think this will likely be the best use of her talent.
At the end of the show, Heidi and Tim came out, which made me so happy, because frankly the person I wanted to see most was Tim Gunn! I absolutely love him. After that the rest of the cast came out for a brief photo-op, and then it was all over. On a total side note, I would love for Heidi to get to take a little bit of time with the models in the show to work with them on their walk. Many of them looked completely scared stiff out there!
In a matter of moments, we had to grab all our stuff and it was on to the next show. It was a total whirlwind, but I was so very glad that I got to be there to cover this wonderful event. I can’t wait to see what future Project Runway contestants will bring to the table. Speaking of contestants, after heading out of the theater, I came across some past Project Runway contestants. I even got to talk with Chris and Sonjia a bit. It was surreal! Only at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week!