Reality TV is meant to be bad, but whatever's happening with Project Runway All-Stars is worse than bad, it's disappointing. The reality design competition used to be the holy grail of reality television: watching a group of "talented young" designers scurry to pull together a runway-show and then be judged by a grumpy but affable panel was a total treat, the perfect combination of seriousness, relative skill, and competitive drama.
The All-Stars spin-off has, as I see it, three main problems: 1) new judges that are messing with the fundamental principles of PR judging but won't go hard enough to criticize awful dresses when it's called for, 2) BAD CLOTHES, almost without exception, 3) a cast of one-trick ponies, when it comes to both work and play.
I could (and in some ways, will) also complain about this week's challenge, which was to design a cocktail dress for Miss Piggy, but Project Runway has long made room for viewer-baity pop culture gimmicks, and next week the show will likely redeem itself by hosting guest judges Diane Von Furstenberg and Miranda Kerr. But yeah, it didn't make it any easier to take the episode seriously, since designers were designing for, and would be judged by, Miss Piggy. The winning dress would be "modified for her figure."
"She's like fashion's dream client," quipped the icky Michael Costello.
"She reminds me of myself," said the mean and annoying Kenley Collins.
But I didn't break a glass against my forehead until the wonderful, intelligent, and talented Marie Claire EIC and All-Stars mentor Joanna Coles called the Miss Piggy experiment "one of the best challenges in the history of Project Runway."
I know a lot of people like The Muppets, and I know that Walt Disney Studios has a lot of money to promote the leading lady of the upcoming Muppets film, and I know that shows need to pay their production team somehow, and that no one watches commercials anymore so product placement is the name of the TV game. I would have been willing to tolerate the Miss Piggy challenge. Really. I'm a very reasonable person. Except for one thing: it was totally insane. For the entire duration of the episode, NO ONE was willing to behave like an adult for a tiny second and address the fact that Miss Piggy is a puppet, a.k.a. NOT REAL. It wasn't cute, it was insulting. Way to treat your viewers like four-year-olds, Project Runway.
From left to right: April, Anthony, Mondo, Jerell
Here's a sampling of Joanna Coles' comments to the designers during the workroom critiques:
To Gordana: "I don't think comfort should matter when you're dressing a mega-celebrity, like Miss Piggy." I don't think it's Miss Piggy's celebrity status that makes the whole comfort issue of her outfits irrelevant. I think it primarily has to do with the fact that Miss Piggy is not real and can not be uncomfortable.
To Mila, cautioning the designer against including a headband as part of her look: "Remember, she has two big ears. I wouldn't want her to not be able to hear."
At this point, the editors cut to a clip of Austin, saying he was concerned about Mila's "sense of whimsy." Austin goes on to say that he thinks he really understands Miss Piggy: "I feel we are kindred spirits. I sometimes like to pepper my conversation with french phrases, as Miss Piggy does. Sometimes i refer to myself as 'moi.'"
To Kenley: "You're a girly girl, Miss Piggy is a girly girl, this should be a perfect fit."
On her way out, Joanna warns the designers: "Don't disappoint Miss Piggy!"
Here are some more things that happened in the workroom. If you watched Kenley's season, you might remember how much everyone hated her, and how terrible she seemed in the editing. The producers are working really hard to ignite our Kenley-hate. Thanks guys!
- Kenley and Kara ran around being annoying. Mila worried that the pair was becoming "codependent."
- Kenley predicted she would win the challenge: "I feel confident. Well, I always feel confident."
- April said: "Kenley did a giraffe print, in a princess-seam dress. It's just like every other dress she's done, just in giraffe print.:
Let's move on to the judging?
Angela Lindvall is still working on her catchphrase: "As it's been said on Project Runway, 'one day you're in, and the next day you're out.' And that's never been more true than on All-Stars." It's also never been less true than on All-Stars.
Isaac Mizrahi is away. Sex and the City and Gossip Girl (Angela characterizes the latter as an "uber-hip" show) stylist Eric Daman is filling in.
Miss Piggy, the "international superstar," is guest judge.
What I scrawled down as the dresses were coming down the runway:
- Costello – Uuugh It looks like she's wearing a candy wrapper.
- April – Too edgy for Miss Piggy? "Tim Burton feel," says April. Maybe. A Tim Burton rip-off ice-skater Halloween costume.
- Jerell – Looks like a burlesque backup dancer.
- Kara – Woah, oversexed much? (Pic of this at the very top.)
- Kenley – April was right. Princess dress in a giraffe print.
- Anthony – He says, "Wow, what a beautiful dress." No, kind of looks tacky. Not a dress for Miss Piggy.
- Rami – Too much of a Miss Piggy caricature. Also looks messy?
- Mila – Kind of cool, simple.
- Gordana – Looks very Eurotrash.
- Austin – It's okay. Interesting and maybe right for Miss Piggy, but weird fit and just weird.
Mondo – SO SHINY. Styling is crazy. Took the 60s reference too seriously. "No doubt in my mind that I'm going to be in the top three," he says.
The Top Three
From left to right: Costello, Rami, Kenley
Rami: Everyone agrees that it's a good fit for Miss Piggy, might not be the best dress for most women. Miss Piggy says, "This is the most garish, outlandish, ridiculous thing I have ever seen. I LOVE it. It looks like a candy shop exploded."
Costello: Georgina Chapman think his dress is sophisticated. I begin to question my judgement. I think all of Michael's clothing has been cheap-looking and generic—why do the judges love him so? Is his terrible personality really affecting my ability to objectively appreciate his clothing? Or are the judges praising him only because he's managed to produce consistently tolerable work while his fellow contestants are designing near-trash? Miss Piggy thinks his dress looks like a present.
Kenley: Georgina says, "it popped, it made me smile," but she's concerned about the construction of the top. Eric: print "takes everyday leopard in a modern direction." Miss Piggy: "After a big night out on the town, i can just use the hat to clean my pots and pans."
The Bottom Three
From left to right: Gordana, Austin, Mila
Austin: Judges don't like the fit, think the bows are unflattering (for a Muppet pig??!). Say that the dress was flamboyant, but not flamboyant in a classy way.
Mila: A little too goth. Georgina: "It's your job as a designer to keep your aesthetic but still please your client." Mila's was totally my favorite of this entire challenge. It would be a new look for Miss Piggy, but it's the only dress that's made well and seems character-appropriate without verging into costume.
Gordana: The judges call it a "pretty dress." They are lying. Georgina's criticism: it's "not going to flatter Miss Piggy's curves." I'm starting to hate Georgina.
Also, what's wrong with Eric Daman? He look so uncomfortable sitting next to Miss Piggy, it kind of seemed like he didn't know she wasn't real?
Anyway, Rami wins.
Gordana and Mila are in the bottom two. Angela says, "You made a really pretty dress. And that's exactly the problem. You didn't push the envelope, and Miss Piggy always stands out in a crowd." The weird part, here, is that Gordana actually did not make a pretty dress? Like, at all.
Angela criticizes Mila for sticking too closely to her point of view, ignoring millions of seasons of Project Runway history. If Michael Kors were on this panel, he would applaud her for keeping her head on straight and remembering "this is a competition," not real life, and that her primary challenge, always, is to show the judges her point of view.
Gordana goes home, which was a good call—thanks judges!—and leaves viewers with an uplifting message. To women her age, women that gave up their lives to raise kids, "It's never too late to follow your own dream, whatever it might be." Too true. Bye Gordana!