October 29, 2010

Project Runway Season 8 Finale -- a Defense of Gretchen's Collection

Wow, shocker on the Project Runway finale tonight, eh? The boards all over the internet are abuzz about how our beloved Mondo was robbed, and how Gretchen is an evil, manipulative bitch who paraded out a line of shit-colored, cheap clothes only suitable for second-hand stores in some small prairie town.

But I must disagree.

I'm a huge Mondo fan, and he was my far-and-away favorite when I began watching tonight. All throughout the season, I've been deeply impressed by Mondo's use of contrasting colors and patterns and his cool, fun, happy aesthetic that often made me grin just looking at his clothes coming down the runway. His clothes seemed alive and electric.

And of course, his revelation that he was HIV+ was one of the most emotional and powerful moments ever on Project Runway. I have no problem admitting that I sobbed and keened during that episode, overwhelmed with feeling for that strange young man who made such gorgeous fashion.

Gretchen, on the other hand, only filled me with antipathy all season long. She was nosy, bossy, insulting to all the other designers (and TIM!) in a thoughtless, offhand manner, and she appeared over-confident in a way that can only mask deep-seated insecurity riddled with jealousy. I wasn't so impressed with her clothes, either -- during the season, so much of it was messy and drab and simple in a way that didn't impress me at all.

All throughout this final episode, I was worried about all three designer's collections when they showed the pieces in closeup. Andy's felt too old and safe. Gretchen's patterns looked ugly and flat. Mondo's whole line just looked messy. I didn't know who to root for anymore, although Mondo remained my favorite.

But then, during the final runway show, I was surprised to actually have a positive reaction to Gretchen's collection's earthiness. There was a Taos-type spirituality there that I felt strongly and clearly. The new-agey music helped, as did the sun-kissed styling. Overall, this seemed like a new kind of crunchy -- a dynamic illumination of that strangely purified presence one feels in a desert on a spirit-guide quest -- but mixed with an urban hipness that made it feel modern and current.

No, of course I didn't love her granny panties. But the patterns and fabrics and colors suddenly came to electric life with the models' movements, and there was a through-line of spiritual power that I couldn't ignore.

Then Mondo showed his collection. And I was disappointed. His collection seemed predictable and stuck in some familiar pop-art aesthetic. It didn't sing on the runway, but stayed confused and heavy. He did himself a disservice by sticking to low-res Atari houndstooth patterns and mismatching them in a way that went past "fun" and into "goofy". I loved his combinations of colors and patterns throughout the season, but I didn't see that kind of play in this final collection. And dragging in a tired Day of the Dead feel didn't help, either. Yes, I realize that he was influenced by his heritage, but I've seen edgier and more interestingly colorful Day of the Dead designs in tourist trap stores in Mexico. It pains me to say it, but it was kind of a flat mess of a collection.

In a completely unexpected way, I had to agree with Nina Garcia and Michael Kors in feeling that Gretchen's collection added something new to this moment in fashion -- a spiritual, earthy emotional resonance -- that Mondo's lacked with his overly-familiar and forced pop edge.

I hate to admit it, because I was rooting for Mondo wholeheartedly up until tonight, but Gretchen won.

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