Thursday, November 22, 2007

Why I'm thankful for Project Runway

Forty-eight hours of sprained ankle-related discomfort + 24 hours of living every, single hellish airport-related cliche did me in last night. I went to bed early and missed Episode Two of Season Four. I know, I know -- Tim Gunn would be so disappointed.

I plan to watch one of Bravo's three million repeat showings in the next few days. Until then, I'm taking advantage of the holiday to list the Top Five Reasons I'm Thankful for Project Runway:

1. "Lighten Up! It's Just Fashion!" -- I'm not a big fan of most reality shows. Survivor, Big Brother, Kid Nation -- can't stand any of them because I hate the way producers exploit the contestants and their emotional/physical problems for ratings gain.

That's why Project Runway is so refreshing. The designers are, for the most part, talented professionals. Those who aren't entertain us with their sewing, rather than personal, foibles. While the show is a competition, it's also the chance to see the creative process at work.

2. "Make it Work!" -- Given the edict to design a dress out of flowers, recycled paper or home furnishings, I'd crack in two minutes over construction issues. But each week, the designers have to find a way to express themselves within the parameter of crazy challenges.

Sometimes they fail -- miserably (think Season 3 Kayne's recycled dress, which looked like an alien costume in a low budget science fiction movie.) And sometimes they create a garment so innovative that you can't believe it was made from coffee filters (i.e. Season 3 Michael's entry in the "Make an outfit out of the decorations in your apartments" challenge.) Either way, the materials' evolution from mere stuff to a (mostly) wearable garment is always entertaining.

3. "Designers? Gather 'round" -- I (and just about every other PR fan) can't say enough about the articulate joys of Tim Gunn. But Project Runway really hit the jackpot with the entire hosting/judging team. Heidi Klum is unexpectedly snarky, Michael Kors is appropriately whiny and Nina Garcia probably shouldn't be allowed in the proximity of wire hangers. But all four seem genuinely committed to the competition and to the contestants. Compare that to the judging/hosting team at Top Chef who seem committed to laughing at, rather than with, the cooks and you see how it makes all the difference.

4. "Where the Hell is my chiffon?" -- Project Runway features all of the fighting, backbiting and sniping you expect when a group of strangers are thrown together, deprived of sleep and made to compete. But producers have done a serviceable job of finding contestants with personality without delving into Jerry Springer territory (I'm looking at you Big Brother.) Yes, Season 3's Vincent was a nut but his biggest outburst was an entertaining, expletive-heavy freak out about his laundry. Season Two's Santino could be a jerk, but he is legitimately talented and that made his struggles with the judges and contestants compelling to watch.

5. "It's a matter of taste." -- As the models prepare to take the runway at the end of each episode, the competition is always up in the air. The garment Tim Gunn praised 20 minutes before could be torn apart by the judges. The freak-of-the-week ensemble could be deemed "Elle-worthy" by Nina Garcia. The model might trip, the dress seam might rip or a less-than-stellar dress could be sold with a killer runway walk. The PR runway is a trip to the mall dressing room amped up 100 watts. You never know which garment is coming home with a win.

That's all for now. Happy turkey-eating!

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