Friday, October 20, 2006

what jeffrey has to show for himself continued

(click here to go to the first part of "what jeffrey has to show for himself")


his muse, his self
In looking closely at his work I think that what distinguishes Jeffrey from the other three finalists is his lack of attention to women's bodies. He's interested in doing something else. I think this is why he wanted to have the models all wear matching wigs. For many designers the models become their muses but Jeffrey's muse is himself and his ideas.

marilinda la maravillosa
Now I'm not saying that he wasn't fond of Marilinda. He better be. He would not have made it to the final four without her because she saved his ass a couple of times. She sold that couture gown like she was the Calypso Queen at Carnivale.

(I don't know where she is from originally and I am pretty sure she isn't from Trinidad but the way she sashayed down the runway reminded me a of a dance from there.)

Marilinda could sell the Emperor's new clothes (and some would say that she did).

On the other hand, there are some things that would make the Queen of England look like a whore.

When it came to lapses in taste all of Kayne's glitter and rhinestones could not top what Jeffrey could barf up on the runway.

Anyway, I am certain that Jeffrey appreciated and liked Marilinda but I never get the sense that she -- or any woman -- was his muse.

Except perhaps Gwen Stefani, which may be why he wanted to have the blond wigs because that is exactly what Stefani did in her L.A.M.B. collection show this fall:

And by the way -- nothing says "Japanese ghost and demon stories" like a runway full of models in blond wigs.

japanese ghost and demon stories
Okay, I have to talk about this one.

How many times did we hear Jeffrey tell people that his collection was inspired by "Japanese ghost and demon stories"? He said it enough times that one would assume that this was important to what he was doing. Everytime he said it Tim Gunn or Michael Kors or Nina Garcia or whomever would nod their head and be very impressed with his intellectual depth and creative breadth.

I just want to know why no one said, "Gee, that sounds interesting, Jeffrey. It sounds like you have some great tattoo design books around your house. And little Harrison must enjoy the stories about the demons that eat children. However, in what way do your clothes have ANYTHING ON GOD'S GREEN EARTH to do with Japanese ghost and demon stories?"

It is fine if he started there and ended up somewhere completely different. That happens a lot in the creative process.

However, if the final collection has little to do with Japanese ghost and demon stories then why did he keep bringing it up? Why? Because it sounded good. And it didn't just sound good. It sounded cool. Kora knows bullshit when she hears it.

I think it is safe to say that generally speaking, the images for the various collections of stories -- the most famous being One Hundred Tales by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) --

Left to Right: 1. The Plate Mansion (Sara-yashiki); 2. Skeletal Ghost (Kohada Koheiji); 3. The Laughing Hannya (Warai-hannya); 4. Oiwa (Oiwa-san). All of the above images are from One Hundred Tales by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Additional references and links are at the bottom of the post.
do not use the color palette Jeffrey used. That is, the primary colors of 40s pinup retro-red polka dots and circus green and white stripes are not what one thinks of when imagining something inspired by Japanese folk culture.

I'd also like to point out that it isn't like high fashion doesn't have a lot of brilliant examples of designers who have been inspired by various aspects of Japanese culture and aesthetics, including peasant culure. Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto are just the three most famous designers to emerge from Japan since the seventies. And, of course, Japan is the most lively place for street fashion that is centered around the teen age girl.

One could say that Jeffrey's Holly Hobby apron dress (see previous post) and the Marilinda dress "gesture" towards some of the folding and pleating that is associated with Japanese high fashion design today.

Although, I would consider the gesture to be a bit too broad to really indicate something specifically Japanese. Is Jeffrey's dress more "Japanese" than "ball gown" in its styling? (The great thing about using wedding gowns as examples is that in a pinch they are basic examples of generic types for dresses.)

I'm just not seeing is what this has to do with Japanese ghost and demon stories. However, I certainly have not read every ghost story or seen every ukiyo-e print of ghosts and demons. I am also quite willing to believe that there is something in the collection that is obvious to most people that I'm just not seeing.

If there is, so far no one I've read has explained it to me. Sure, people have mentioned something vague like "seeing a Japanese influence." But this doesn't really support the specific reference to Japanese ghost and demon stories.

Here's the thing. The book below is about Japanese ghosts and demons and is popular among tattoo artists. It has some bright red and green on the cover and perhaps the prints inside are also richly printed. The actual ukiyo-e prints are not as saturated and are often very faded (if not damaged). My best guess is that this might be the kind of book he was looking at.

I know it's a stretch but I'm grasping at straws here, trying to give Jeffrey the old Project Runway benefit of the doubt. But I still don't understand the whole reference to demons and ghosts. I don't really see much of an element of fantasy in his collection. It seems like the three other designers have a greater sense of that than he does (but more on that later).

As I was looking at some of the ukiyo-e prints I wondered whether he was inspired by the images of ghosts and demons or was it more by the style of the prints themselves? That is, are his clothes more connected to the Hokusai demon images (above) rather than, say, Hokusai's images of street life? Or just the fabrics and designs of the clothes in the prints? Or the graphic lines of the woodblock prints? (After all, a great deal of late nineteenth and early twentieth century art can be traced back to the influence of these prints on western artists.)

For example, do his clothes have a connection to the woman on the right (below), because she is a ghost that they don't have with the woman on the left even though the woman on the left is wearing a garment that has more similarities to the clothes he designed? (I'm speaking in broad terms such as the stripes and hanging folds.)

If that is the case then why didn't he say that he was inspired by some patterns he saw in wood block prints? The answer seems obvious to me. Japanese ghost and demon stories just sounds so much cooler.

And if he was so taken with these tales then which ones in particular? His collection can't be about the hundreds of stories, he must have had to pick out a few, perhaps even just one?

There is the popular tale of the maid Okiku who breaks her master's Delft plates for which she is killed by being thrown into a well that she haunts and poisons (the Hokusai image above on the far left). One of my favorites is the tale of Oiwa, the dead wife who haunts the husband who disfigured her, taking on various forms including that of a paper lantern (the Hokusai image above on the far right).

I don't get any sense that the narratives have anything to do with his collection. Frankly I wouldn't be surprised if he never read any of the tales. That is fine except for the fact that he made it sound like there was a literary context for his collection.

It seems like he got a lot more credit than perhaps he deserved for the narrative context of his collection. He certainly had a better story than the others. The judges were all much more impressed with his. But the others didn't pretend to be anything more than what they were. I have a lot more respect for that. Especially when you consider how amazing they really are. They didn't need to pretend to be more.

If there is any connection at all it is probably going to be at the visual level and not the narrative level because I don't see how the clothes tell much of a story about Japanese ghosts and demons. There were no decapitations or snakes or goblins that I could see. Unless you count this:

(I'm just joking, I don't expect it to be that literal of course.)

If Jeffrey could have pulled this off I would be the first to be wowed and delighted by his collection. Believe me I would love to see such a collection that created a contemporary fashion statement out of an art form that has such intense visual and literary power. But in terms of what Jeffrey produced: sorry, I'm not buying it. Literally and figuratively.

But if anyone has any thoughts how these twelve pieces might, say, serve the fashion needs of a Japanese demon woman -- taking her through her day, please feel free to share them.

That said, this really IS fascinating material: both the Japanese art of ukiyo-e and its folk culture's myths and legends. So if you are interested in finding out more here a couple places online to start investigating:
Note: Kora is going to show her hand here, because in truth, she thinks the floating world and myths and legends are ultimately far more important and more interesting than Project Runway. Which doesn't mean she doesn't think Project Runway isn't great fun. She wouldn't spend her time with it if it wasn't. However, it's better when it can be connected to things that are more interesting and important to her. So even if Jeffrey was bullshitting it was nice that he brought up the subject of Japanese ghost and demon stories!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

what jeffrey has to show for himself

As I predicted would be the predictable outcome, Jeffrey won.

Woo hoo.

I am afraid I can't bring myself to use exclamation points to talk about the finale. It just wasn't all that exciting to me. I get cranky when I feel people are trying to manipulate me. Bravo served up that story of the prodigal son so many times that we may all need to go into detox to get it out of our system. And there were all those maudlin scenes of the weepy daddy and his li'l baby boy that he Just Loves Ever So Much. (I'm not saying he doesn't love his kid. I'm just saying that these displays of paternal affection were obviously part of Bravo's attempt to "repackage" Jeffrey so that the audience would like him more and that I found it manipulative.) Considering Jeffrey is also milking the image of the punk rock fashion designer I'd just like to point out that some of us remember punk as something that either smashed or mocked these images but Whatever. It is all rather passé at this point.

Now that we've gone through that little exercise in reality show clichés, let's see what the clothes Jeffrey made have to say for themselves.


collection overview
The judges kept saying that Jeffrey offered a whole collection. Uli and Laura were too narrow compared to him, they said. So let's take a look at the 12 pieces:

I can see certainly cohesion but there are 3 items that look like the models got confused and wandered on to the wrong runway:

It also looks like Jeffrey got confused and thought they he could design dresses like Uli and Laura. Even the judges agreed that these were mistakes. They are unflattering and well, just ugly. For someone who is supposed to be designing for the young hipsters they are also almost frumpy.

Here is what those dresses look like when they are done by someone who knows how to design and create that style of fashion ( i.e., elegant, pretty, flattering, lively):

(fall 2006: doo.ri, laura bennett, uli herzer)

I'll talk more about Uli and Laura's collections in later posts so for now I'll just make the observation that I am constantly struck by how much their talent is undermined because their clothes have a kind of effortlessness: they make it look too easy. It works against them that their quality is so consistently high.

pieces of nine
So we've jettisoned three dresses. The nine remaining items all seem to fit together in terms of pattern and/or style. Color and pattern seems to be the main thing that unifies the collection: specifically, red polka dots and green stripes.

I'll admit that the outfit in the bottom center is a little bit off (perhaps that is why the photo wasn't provided in New York Magazine) since nothing else is black and white but the jacket has zippers and the top has stripes so I'm counting it as part of the whole even if it feels a little off.

The style of the collection is a mix of retro beach/country/school girl. People, including, especially, Jeffrey were throwing around a lot of impressive sounding words and associations to describe this collection but when I just look at the clothes all I'm coming up with is "retro beach/country/school girl."

row 1: holly hobbie goes to the beach

Did anyone else notice that right after Angela was auffed Jeffrey made that Hollie Hobbie dress? I think he missed Angela.

And now his final collection has a whole Hollie Hobbie motif in it!

I think this part of his collection is his homage to Angela.

The first outfit above is an apron dress that has these big curvy folds that hang down in the front and it is open and shorter in the back. (I'll come back to his fondness for this cut later on.)

The second dress was, in fact, NOT the itsy-bitsy-ist baby doll dress on the runway this fall. That award would have to go to Anna Sui.

But Jeffrey's was close. And lets face it, at that point, what's the difference. These dresses have a very limited market. At any one time in American there are between 1 and 3 women/girls rich enough, young enough, thin enough, and so stupid and/or lacking in self esteem that they would wear these dresses. In another month one will have broken down and eaten more than 500 calories a day. There goes a client and a third of your market, at least until she gets an eating disorder.

Another one could read her first book (perhaps it was a dare? Or perhaps she couldn't find the Cliff's Notes to The Crucible). This could lead to her having her first independent thought and from there it is a downward slope towards making fashion choices that do not include wearing baby doll dresses that don't reach your tootie.

Moving on, in this first group we also go to the beach with the 40s pinup look, which isn't exactly innovative but it is always a lot of fun.

The above image is from a fabric selection used by the cat's pajamas: check out their fabulous pjs!
(Note: kora gets no payment for this endorsement but she's a size small and especially likes the haiku cat flannel.)

Jeffrey's was also not the only red polka dot retro bathing suit on the runway this fall. Betsey Johnson had an adorable Lolita number that looks like you might actually be able to swim in it:

Okay, I know that judging a bathing suit on whether or not you can swim in it is absurd since no one in the fashion world actually swims. Designers only need to create suits that can stand up to the exercise of lifting one's head from the chaise and ordering another drink from the cabana boy.

Still I do wonder if the strings on Jeffrey's suit have some sort of purpose. Perhaps they are there so that in case you have too many piña coladas and fall off of your yacht you can tie yourself to a buoy?

The more important point about his suit is that any woman who weighs more that 90 pounds would look at the size of the bottom with horror. Every woman knows that a cut like that would make her rear-end look like it was the size of a Mack truck. I bet that it even makes that model's butt look big (i.e., it makes her look like she has one). Johnson's suit might not flatter a Mack truck ass but it could do wonders for a VW bus butt. Besides, I'm just a sucker for little pockets.

row 2: jeffrey's pants
The first look below is the one I think is the cutest and the one I'd be most likely to own provided that the pants didn't show any "butt cleavage." I like the sweater but I know I would catch those hanging strings on things and knock things over and/or injure myself. I don't really have anything else to say about the various looks except that they look like the kind of thing you'd wear to school with the exception of the jacket in the last picture.

That looks like the kind of thing that would be worn by a ring master or a member of a barbershop quartet. Maybe that's what the kids are calling rock and roll these days. The shiny silver tops strike me as a little trashy -- they almost look like lamé. I like to think of them as evidence of the sparkly fairy dust that Kayne sprinkled on Jeffrey.

row 3: jeffrey's dresses
Jeffrey's dresses can be really hit or miss. We saw during the season that one week he'd make something that looked like the outfit worn by a two-bit hooker and the next week he'd come up with something very strong and innovative. Luckily we had no hooker looks on the runway but his dresses ran the gamut from awful to ordinary to wow. The final dress with the zippers is a great dress. The other two looks below are okay but they don't impress me as anything new.

The first dress is worn by an especially pretty model which always does a lot to enhance the look.

It is a nice halter dress, the top drapes well. The colors are a little more subtle. It does poof out at the tummy, which might not look great on a woman with a normal figure but that's a minor point.

The bigger issue is that Jeffrey really likes to cut dresses longer in front and shorter in back. I don't think that is a particularly good look and it feels weird to wear this cut.

The dress in the middle picture is more in the style of the casual school-wear look. I can't see it close up so perhaps I'm missing something but I don't really see how it goes together. It looks like a flowing chiffony skirt with a rough denim zippered jacket and a cotton? stripe top? But that is okay. It has that thrown together look I suppose. If he were going for more of a street-wear look I wouldn't want the skirt to be so chiffony. I don't really think the look is all that pretty but it could be the model:

What crawled up her ass and died?

I think that Marilinda's dress is excellent design work. I'm not thrilled with the fabric choice frankly -- it looks like clown costuming -- but I think it is so good that the judges didn't really look at the rest of the collection very closely or weigh it very heavily.

In her Washington Post review Robin Givhan thinks that that dress alone is why Jeffrey won. I think she's right.

However, I don't know that I'd agree with Givhan that Jeffrey's other looks are actually more "creative, surprising and unique" than the other designers. With a couple of exceptions all you have to do is go to the junior sections in any department store and you will find clothes that look just like what Jeffrey is making. (Jeffrey's are more upscale versions of course.) Perhaps people in the high fashion industry are so used to shopping couture that they just don't know what is sold in the mall shops and discount stores that cater to teen-age girls.

returning to where we started
We began with the premise that what Jeffrey offered that Laura and Uli did not is a "whole" collection. We've ended with one dress.

I realize that this is making an overstatement in order to make the point but I'm doing so in order to raise a few questions. Whether or not this is the case with Jeffrey:
  • Is it okay to win Project Runway on the basis of one really brilliant piece?
  • How good does it have to be?
  • How bad do the other collections have to be?
  • What does is say when what they are calling a "whole collection" on closer examination turns out to really be one dress?
  • Do you think Jeffrey won because he made a whole collection or because he made one really good dress?
I'm not saying this is bad or invalidates the win. It just tells us something about what is valued and rewarded in fashion design. At least by these judges.

In the end I have to say that I liked Jeffrey's clothes less the closer I looked at them. Sometimes the opposite happens. Sometimes you have to spend some time with an object in order to appreciate it. Or you like something and the closer you look the deeper your appreciation grows. But I feel that these clothes didn't stand up to scrutiny. Not for me.

why I don't want jeffrey to win

It's nothing personal. My main gripe has to do with the way the show has been focused. Well, I suppose that it is partly personal in the sense that it is about the person that is represented on the television program. Whether or not that is the real person I cannot say.

Perhaps I am just being perverse, but my primary reason why I don't want Jeffrey to win has nothing to do with Jeffrey's actual collection. (At this point I'm not going to discuss the collection but I will say that I think it is good.) My problem is that I feel that Bravo has set up the finale in a way that is so heavy-handed that I fully expect Jeffrey to win. So it will be boring if he does. So therefore I don't want him to win.

This is connected to the reason I have for not liking Jeffrey. That is, Bravo keeps trying to make me like him. Bravo has been shilling for Jeffrey for weeks now and that is what makes me suspect that he is going to win. His hard-luck life story has been milked for all it is worth. The baby boy has been trotted out at every opportunity so we can admire the fact that Jeffrey loves his offspring. Some people call it adorable. I call it treacle.

Which one makes you want to hurl?

I'll take the turtle poo.

(And by the way, the classic, perhaps even the number one "jump the shark" scenario is the introduction of the cute child.)

It is great that Jeffrey got his life back on track and as I've said before, overcoming addition is an impressive achievement. However, the fact that he works hard and loves his kid doesn't really wow me: these are also things that ordinary people do all the time and don't expect to get any prizes. It is just what a person does as a member of society. He can love his kid and still be an asshole. And so what if he is. I might like him more if they just said, yeah, he's kind of an asshole. This manipulative bullshit is trite, transparent, and most of all, it distracts from a focus on the design of the clothes.

I don't like being told that now I am supposed to like someone. Especially when what I've seen of that person is someone who appears to be a selfish, rude, immature, gasbag who goes around imitating Rush Limbaugh by calling women he doesn't like "feminazis" (and he didn't appear to actually get along with any women he actually spoke to). Now that may not be an accurate portrait of him but that is what we saw of him.

He just doesn't seem like the kind of person I'd want to spend much time around, including time watching him on television. His little blow-hard testimonials are tiresome. He likes to insult other people. He likes to talk about how great he is. He seems like he never outgrew being a little playground bully. He's a bore.


About this whole ersatz punk rocker thing Jeffrey has going: does it strike anyone else as a tad . . .
manque? You have to ask yourself, for someone who is a fashion designer, why hasn't Jeffrey noticed that he looks like a complete doofus?

I mean the rat-tail hairstyle: when was that EVER hip? Stripeys in his eyebrows? What is he, like twelve? And into Kid N Play? And his girlfriend looks lovely and sweet and she must be something of a saint to put up with him and has anyone noticed that he talks on and on about how he loves his son and he lives for his son but he never says anything about how much he loves Melanie? But it's been 30 years for Pete's sake! The whole mohawk thing isn't punk anymore, it's just cartoonish.

I will say this, however: the Chuck E Cheese portrait is the coolest punk thing I've seen in at least a decade:
As for this look:
Leggings with rhinestone snaps on the crotch? It's very Derek Smalls, isn't it?

If that was the kind of rock star look he was going for -- the Spinal Tap look -- then he hit it spot on.
There something a little sad and outdated about the whole thing. I mean, at this point Jeffrey's style is just outdated of fashion as Angela's hippy-dippy macrame/granny circle look.


(Keep in mind that I'm not talking about the collections -- I'll discuss that after the finale.)

For the record I have a hunch that Jeffrey probably did outsource some of the sewing but I doubt they can prove it so that is neither here nor there. A more important issue that the producers should consider for the future seasons is the fairness of having a designer in the competition who already has his own successful business. I mean the prize money is for someone to start their own line of clothing. Perhaps one of the requirements should be that someone not have already have a line of clothing that is at the level where one owns the kind of equipment Jeffrey has and employs the number of workers that he does.

From the start of the show, and repeatedly throughout, Jeffrey let everyone know that he already had a successful business selling to Hollywood and rock star clients. Remember Laura asking him why he was there if he was already so successful? His constant bragging begged the question although for some reason he was annoyed when she asked it.

He wants to win because everyone wants to win. It is validation but it isn't need and it isn't really appropriate. Does Jeffrey really want to design for I.N.C.??? Probably not. Laura and Uli -- even Michael (if you exclude his final collection) -- seem much better suited for that mentorship.

If it doesn't seem appropriate to give the money to Jeffrey, it also doesn't seem right to give to Michael in the sense that he is not yet ready to start a line on his own. Michael's a dear but his collection is a disaster. He probably needs to work with a major designer for a while. He's not yet ready to be on his own. That stuff was trashy but when he was at Parsons he made some fantastic pieces. He needs some guidance in order to produce the quality work he's capable of -- he needs a mentorship at I.N.C.! There is a bit of a Catch-22 there.

At any rate, Uli and Laura are the two designers who are at the right stage in terms of their talent and abilities to take best advantage of winning. Uli could probably use the car more than Laura. On the basis of their collections I'd have a hard time deciding.