Saturday, October 30, 2010

Time for new Project Runway judges—Mondo won the real prize

Time for Project Runway to consider new judges.

I am a bit late to the party on that one, because I felt no sense of urgency in watching the inevitable of their finale this year. I was eager to get the full view of Mondo's collection, and watch him beam when they crowned him, but not much anxiety over a conclusion we could all see at least two months ago.

So I left the final half hour of the finale on the tivo until I had time to really savor it, over breakfast this morning.


In eight seasons, Project Runway has had three or four real finds: Designers with extraordinary talent and a new, different vision, who actually have the potential to be a star in their field.

They were blessed with one of those few this season—arguably the best they have ever had. And they handed their title to a workable designer making bland, well-crafted clothes?

It got a little embarrassing to watch him compete all season against a weak field working in a different class.

The only thing more shocking than the final decision was the argument out of Nina Garcia and Micheal Kors leading up to it. Nina seemed to be saying that Gretchen did the best job mimicking all the other designers in the world, and fitting into wallpaper unobtrusively.

I can accept that Gretchen did that most successfully. What I can't understand is why Nina wants to reward it.

Or MK. I tend to really flinch when I hear this analysis of a judge, but I sensed something that actually smelled a bit like fear emanating from Michael. (Yes, right through my TV. haha.)

In eight seasons, I've not gotten the sense that MK feared a new upstart, but I felt a whiff of it this time. Or maybe Michael just had his head up his ass.

And Nina. She has an amazing eye, and can really assess detail well, and for the most part, an outfit as a whole. But I have little confidence in her to spot a real genius, ever. She's very little picture.

I can't fault either judge their taste or opinions—MK's right: some people like Mexican food, some Chinese, so what? But I can and do take issue with their reasoning. All the judges are brilliant at what they do, but I really think they have lost their way on some of their rationale. It's been going on for awhile now, but now they have wandered completely off the field.

Thank God for Heidi Klum as the voice of reason. Isn't this a design competition? Are you forgetting that? Aren't you looking for the next great designer who has something new to offer and might actually change the world?

(Actually, that's where I sensed a little fear on MK's part. Maybe not fear of Mondo as an individual. No one person is going to take away MK's career. But fear of the change Mondo represents. Of fashion trends running one way, which Micheal is comfortable with and invested in, and Mondo ignoring the trends, saying, Fuck you, I want to go here—and look at the hot shit I've got to take you there.

Both Michael and Nina seem way too invested in the status quo. They are rewarding followers. Isn't their job to find people bold and talented and innovative enough to set new trends?

Based on what we heard, they were also putting way too high a premium on obedience. On who "listened" to them. Up to a point, listening is good: particularly during the season, while many of the contestants are still developing their look.

Generally, the advice is dead-on. (Especially when it comes from Tim.) Usually it's from someone with a little distance and more clarity. And a student usually needs to do a bit less doing and more listening and learning.

But at some point, mom and pop have to let their little chicks fly out of the nest and see what they are capable of. Mondo is an artist too, and he's earned the right to make his own choices. And he was damn right to go with his crazybeautiful dress.

Michael and Nina sounded not just incredulous about him disobeying, but insulted. Way too much ego there. And they have over-stepped their role. They give a lot of great advice, but their ultimate job is to assess, not to coach. It's hard work coaching and frustrating to see some of your advice brushed off. Too bad. Not your job.

And damn. Mondo really might be more talented than anyone on that panel right now. Andy is not. He should have listened about his tawdry, distracting headgear. (Mondo probably should have on his, too. His worked, but his outfits worked even better, and the fun little headbobs drew the eye away. But for him, it was a minor point.)

On the dress choice, Mondo actually was listening. He heard two judges dislike the dress, and one blown away with it. Heidi said she would actually wear that dress on a red carpet, and clearly meant it. And I think Mondo could sense that other women like Heidi would, too. That's a dress that can actually get him noticed at a show, a dress that will turn heads and show up in magazines and TV.

Does this sound like a tough decision for an artist with two options? 1) A dress that all the judges like a lot, or 2) one that some hate and some adore?

Not even close. Run with #2 every time. You are never going to make a career out of outfits that people merely like a lot. And the best, boldest, trend-changing stuff will always be dismissed by many, even smart people in the know. You have to write them off.

That dress was a show-stopper, and a signature of what he does. I was so proud of him making the right choice. Swing for the fences, buddy. He  did.

It's sad that Michael and Nina couldn't get that, by the way. Even if they disliked it—they didn't hate it, by any means, they just thought it needed some editing. But even if they hated it. If they're sitting on a panel, and realize that two judges hate a dress, and two are blown away with it, doesn't that tell them something? That they might might have a controversial new star on their hands?

It was especially telling that two women like Heidi and Jessica Simpson wanted to be seen in it. I don't normally put so much credence on what the models like, but such a strong response from the two reps of the world who would actually make a star out of Mondo wearing his stuff to bigtime events . . . That's saying something.

So with all that, I'm going to skirt the line on breaking one of my cardinal rules. I generally hate hate hate it when people say that person or team X "really won" competition Y because they "should have." No, the Yankees did not win the World Series this year. They did not even play in it. No, Russell did not win Survivor last season.

Each event has a process for choosing a winner, and chooses one. So Gretchen is the winner of the title of Project Runway, Season 8.

But I think Mondo won the real competition. Project Runway is unusual, because it's basically a televised audition. An audition to both the fashion industry—which now pays attention to the show—and millions of viewers who love fashion. Not just a few million people, but large numbers of trendsetting people.

The show is both a contest and an audition, and both are important, but if I were trying to launch my career on the show, I'd take the audition in a heartbeat. And Mondo won that in a runaway.

The contestants in the World Series and Survivor are playing for the title, and the prize money—a million dollars for Survivor, millions more in endorsement money for the stars of the baseball team. But that's it.

Runway is different. Gretchen will rest a lot more comfortably with the hundred thousand, that's for sure. And she'll get some mileage out of the title, but not much, we've seen that in seasons past. Mondo Guerra is launched! He just won himself a career.

Lincoln "lost" the Lincoln Douglass debates, by the way. But he was looking way past the trifle of what those little audiences decided. He had his eye on the white house, and his "losing" debates helped get him there.

Mondo's choice not just to keep the polka-dot dress, but up the ante on Nina and MK by promoting it his finale was really emblematic of where he's at, and perhaps a turning point in his career. He was ready to say, Fuck Michael and Nina: I'm playing to a bigger audience than those two.

Good choice, buddy. I do believe you won.


  1. Sorry to disagree but as much as I did not like wretchen's line either, Nina and Michael were spot on. Mondo's WAS a more juvenile version of what Seth Aaron did the year before. The head gear on Mondo's models also made it too costumey.

  2. Dave, you are right on the money with your comments... not only will Mondo outshine and outlast (no cosmetic pun intended) Gretchen in the fashion world, he might be better off without the trappings and contractual obligations of the winner (which is why many of the American Idol also-rans have exceeded the successes of that show's winners). Mondo is free to do what he wants - and how I look forward to seeing more from him, Andy and Michael C! As you wisely point out, Project Runway is a show the industry pays attention to, and doesn't mock. The designers who have been outstanding are visible, unlike the models on America's Next Top Model who often schlumph off to instant invisibility in the industry... not getting the respect that PRunway commands for its usual "on-target" outcomes. This was a home-run for Mondo; a swing and a miss for Nina and MKors, who usually hit it out of the park.

  3. Excellent analysis. But I couldn't get past your attempts at HTML editing that didn't work. If you try to do italics, make sure to use type and , and not [i] and [/i]. And make sure you're on the "edit HTML" part of the post editor.

  4. Wow...that turned out better than I expected. Let me try that again. Use the <> symbols, not the [] symbols.

  5. I COULDN'T AGREE MORE with your analysis, Dave. I am flabbergasted that Gretchen was declared the winner. I only feel better when I realize that Mondo (and Andy and Michael Costello) have very bright futures in design ahead of them.

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