Monday, July 30, 2012
Project Runway: The Show That Changed Fashion by Eila Mell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a surprisingly substantive book, it took me a couple of days and a number of hours to read. I've gotten a several of this type of cross-promotional books about TV shows or by celebrities trying to take advantage of their fame, like the Cake Boss, Michael Symon, or Kat Von D, out of the library, and none of their books have taken me more than 45 minutes to flip through, even when they did have a few good stories. They just weren't actually wordy. (Admittedly Symon's was partly a cookbook with the stories as a balance, and of course Kat's had a lot of photos, as it should have, but so did this one.) I expected this book to be just a bunch pictures with captions and a handful of interviews, but it really was much more than that. Of course they couldn't interview every contestant from every season, but they gave a good sense of each season's highlights and most memorable moments, interviews with several key contestants each time and some guest judges, and some of the producers when it was relevant as well. Very occasionally a question was silly, but most of it was pretty interesting. As long as you're a fan of the series of course. This is definitely a book for fans. The format follows the conceptualization of the show, implementation of each session, and a brief summary of the spin-off shows, primarily through interviews with people who were involved with the show, and also through some short descriptions of highlights, and of course through pictures.
Jerrell had a perfect quote that explains why I, a definitely non-fashionista, like the show so much, "Something about seeing the creative process from start to finish is kind of amazing." (p144) And when you add in seeing how different people interpret doing the same challenge, it's just fascinating. I'm not a creative person, so the chance to watch artists at work, even (especially?) under such odd, pressure-cooker circumstances, just wows me. It's beyond me how they can be presented with a challenge, be given fifteen minutes usually to design, be sent off to buy fabric, have to start working, boom-boom-boom, and on the tightest of deadlines almost always create amazing things. I can't imagine anything beautiful, much less create it, but they can do it all, it's remarkable. And as Austin said (about All-Stars on p. 275), "...it's all a delirious, hysterical game! If it's not the most dangerous game, it's definitely the most glamorous, the way I play it." It's a unique experience to see behind the scenes of how such talented people work, and then to see how such different judges view the outcomes. I'm always totally surprised at what they have to say. Sometimes I totally disagree, frequently I learn something, it's never boring.
I'm so disappointed that the show Sarah Jessica Parker produced about artists with the same format only lasted two seasons, it was even more fascinating to watch. Maybe it didn't do as well because most people couldn't as easily imagine buying the end products, so much of the modern art wasn't meant to be family friendly or casually collectible. Whereas with fashion we can at least dream about owning the beautiful clothes or going to a glamourous party in a stunning gown, and we can even get some of the more affordable things the designers end up making. Mondo sells t-shirts on his site, Korto has great jewelry I'd totally buy if I was still working. Maybe the art show just had a harder time finding a mass audience. It's a shame because it was really inspiring.
Anyway, back to the book. It wasn't perfect, were two problems. The first was that while I liked the interviews with the designers a lot, it was frustrating when they were asked about what their favorite and least favorite looks were and there weren't even tiny pictures of them to remind us. Why ask if you aren't going to show us? Some of the time the looks were in the book in the winning looks list, but it was confusing because they would refer to it by a different name than the official challenge name that was listed under the photo; the editors could have made it more clear, if the designer didn't use the official name, by putting the name in brackets. And many of the designs the designers refer to were non-winning looks that aren't in the book at all. Even a one-inch square photo would have refreshed my memory of what the challenge was about and what the designer did. It would have been a busier page, sure, but instead I had to either be frustrated constantly or keep trying to google. I did google some of them, but sometimes I couldn't find them or I got tired of looking. It sounds minor, but the clothes are the whole point, I spent too much time trying to remember what happened and matching the designers with their work, it was a pain.
My only other complaint was that for the staff that didn't appear on-air they should have listed their job titles under their names. We don't know who those people are. It was off-putting, it kept making me feel like I'd missed something that I had to flip back and find, or like I was the outsider who didn't know the cool kids in school that I should have known.
As for just a few of the many specific fan-girl things that come up in the book:
It's kind of wild that in season 1 they were so new that they didn't even have a photographer on set every challenge to take pictures of the winning looks, so four of the wins aren't in the book. (Although couldn't they get screen caps? It seems like that's what they had in season 3, they were all so dark because they were against that Project Runway lit up screen, but maybe they were just taken from the audience. But a few of those looked like candid photos with the contestants taken after the runway too, it's all very odd.) Other than season 1 and 3 they had all of the professional photos.
It is really cool to know that when Victoria Beckham said that she wanted to buy Christian's work, she wasn't blowing steam. She had him over for a fitting 2 weeks later and bought several pieces. So did Heidi.
Topically (as I'm writing this at the end of July 2012), does anyone remember season 5's Olympic challenge? I liked a couple better than Ralph Lauren's from this year, at least they looked American. But it does go to show that it's harder than you imagine when you look back and see how ridiculous most of these designers' ideas of what our Olympic athletes should wear were.
I was going to say a bunch of bad things about Ivy and how bad she comes off again, but I'm really trying to keep it brief. I'll just say that she's still blaming Michael for her own bad behavior. Once again I really don't understand why anyone who saw the show and now who reads this book would ever want to work with her. And this time she had the luxury of time to think about what she was saying. Regardless of who else did what, she did and said what she did and she just looks bad, period.
Why why why hasn't anyone given Anthony a TV show?
Wow, I always thought Irina got a bit of a raw deal, I always liked her even when I re-watched her season. But she was the only winner who couldn't even be bothered to comment about her win, not even one small sentence or two for the book about the show that made her famous. Maybe she didn't understand the scope of the book. And yet everyone else participated. I can see not wanting to do an more in-depth interview maybe, but to not say thank you, or it was nice to have my parents see me win, something simple, is very odd. And bad business.
I controlled myself, I didn't keep count of how many people listed Mondo (my favorite) as one of their favorites as well, or compare how many votes he got compared to the other designers. But it's probably close between him and Christian. A lot of people rightly so, love what Christian has done both with his design work and with his brand, he's worked his tail off and it's amazingly impressive. I still think Korto doesn't get the credit she deserves, her clothes are beautiful and commercial. And I love Seth Aaron, even if he isn't my personal style, I just love seeing what he does. Andy is pretty wonderful, I always love what she does. Austin is another one who isn't my style, but I love seeing what he comes up with. And don't forget Chris March! I loved the season of Mad Fashion back on Bravo and really hope they do another season soon. And I want the season 9's DVDs to come out already so I can re-examine those guys again. That may be the best top four yet when it comes to potential career longevity, I think they're all going places.
Well, that was a really long review, I guess it just proves that it wasn't just a piece of fluff book. Fans of the series will definitely enjoy the interviews and catching up with fan favorites, getting glimpses into behind the scenes, and the retrospective on the show that we've enjoyed so much. It would absolutely make a great gift for any Project Runway way, I can easily recommend it. As much as any book of a decent size can capture nine seasons of the show, pl us a few spin-offs, this has done an enjoyable job. The one thing that would have made it better, but maybe unwieldy, would be more of the looks from each season beyond just the winning looks.
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