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Project Runway All Stars Faces The Future With The Avant-Garde Challenge

And, as usual, no one can agree on what 'avant-garde' means. Your editors discuss!

Our Players

Hello, I'm East Coast Editor Sarah D. Bunting.
Hello, I'm West Coast Editor Tara Ariano.

The Talk

We've made many jokes in this space, and I have made them on Twitter, about my serving as Sam's lawyer, and I stand beside all the motions I filed in that capacity, up to the judging discussion in this week's episode -- but here, I must resign, because he clearly does not require the assistance of counsel in the first place given how well Isaac's crush on him is functioning in that role. Seriously, people of earth: what in the slapped-up fuck was that? How does he not go home on that pride kite?

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I'm so relieved about this because I'm truly not sure how we could have gone on if you had defended Sam's garment this week. His original "idea" was completely amateurish not just in his creation of that rainbow fabric with paint -- and, not that it would have been a better idea had he not come up with something that looked like he fingerpainted it, but you're telling me in all of Mood there wasn't a rainbow FABRIC he could have bought instead? -- but in the first thought-iness of "gay marriage"/"rainbow print," and yet as horrible as all that is, we also have to point out that NOTHING HE CAME UP WITH HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE ART HE CLAIMS INSPIRED HIM. It's a fucking avant-garde challenge and you spent half an hour staring at a digital owl. He could have made a headdress for his model with a face on the back! He could have done something with feathers! Except, no, he couldn't, because as Kini and Ken both said all episode, Sam doesn't actually have the technical skills to have pulled any of that off. ...We assume he went into the challenge planning to do something on gay marriage and came up with that tortured "moment in time" story to try (and fail) to justify it, right?

Well, look, you know how I feel about the avant-garde challenges on all the iterations of PR, to wit, they're bullshit. The application of the definition is all over the place depending on which designer the production wants kept around; the brief always contains the word "wearable" so the designers are hamstrung as to how cutting-edge they can get; and the end result is revealing, and not in a good or educational way, about the manipulations that we all sort of agree to pretend don't go on so we can enjoy the show. Soooooo this episode was that, like, cubed -- and I can't really even defend Sam on those bases, because of what you've just said. The bird is one of nature's most beautifully designed creations (or hilariously so; see: chickens) and if you can't figure out some way to jump off that with a clothing design, even if it's something literal like feathers, you don't belong on All Stars. And in five years, or ten, I think Sam will have the intellectual and skills tools to have something to say in this challenge. Right now, and though it pains me to say because Ken should keep his eyes on his own paper more? He's too young, and he IS coasting on that flirty shit.

I do give Ken credit for postponing his confrontation with Sam until after the actual runway; I don't know if the Ken of his original season would have been able to compartmentalize that way, and the results of Ken's greater maturity are obvious: he won the challenge this week by creating the only thing that I -- as an admitted non-expert -- thought looked avant-garde. (As an admitted non-expert, I was also gratified when guest judge Boy George reacted to it the same way I had: by saying it was made for Grace Jones.) When you look at the craft on display in Ken's and compare it to Sam's, they just...really should not be in competition with each other at all. Ken is right.

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Lifetime

Ken is right, and I will also give Sam some credit for 1) realizing out loud that there's nothing he can really say to change Ken's mind; and 2) realizing to himself, I think, that he's in over his head. Like, when the camera cut to him during the announcement of the challenge I thought he might literally vomit and sprint away. And he probably should have, because while I agree that none of the garments really got to "avant-garde" except Ken's -- and I adored its Victorian-reaper vibe -- the others at least were made relatively well and with an actual relationship to their artworks. I mean, I would wear the hell out of Emily's, but she should just go home, start a line that explicitly markets that "summer in NYC, 1984" vibe she nails so consistently, and begin sending me samples.

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Lifetime

As you say, the judging is always a shitshow on these challenges, but for me that was never more clear than with her garment. Alyssa's bigger shoulders suggestion, okay, but why, exactly, would it have been more avant-garde if it had been all black? Because it would have been more boring? Because it would have been harder to see what she actually did with the cabling in the front? That made no sense to me. The second most incomprehensible critique, for me, was Georgina's on Kini.

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Lifetime

Georgina's right that there's nothing about the garment that makes it "avant-garde" as opposed to "knockoff Oscar de la Renta"...so it's a good thing that he stuck his model in a bodysuit that covered her torso including her entire head?! That isn't an avant-garde cliché?

Well, really. My notes read "American Horror Story: Alexis Colby" and there's not really a lot else to say about it. Or about Dom's.

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Lifetime

The garment is lovely, but it feels very expected, this cocoon/armor idea, because it's what all the designers inevitably land on in the avant-garde challenge for lack of better direction on what it really means. The only thing really outré about that look was the weird mime-pocalypse makeup.

I agree...and again, a totally incomprehensible critique. "This is avant-garde for her. Some designers just aren't avant-garde." ...So then what are we doing here? If the idea of the competition is to test designers' competency with all areas of fashion design, then let's figure out ahead of time what it will mean to pull that off successfully and make that clear in the brief. If the idea is to give designers opportunities to demonstrate their unique aesthetic, let's please stop doing this challenge. See also: COUTURE.

Ugh, yes. That word got dropped by someone in the episode and I was like, don't say it two more times or they'll have to do it next week, and nobody can figure that shit out either. It probably sounds simplistic but I would way rather they base the challenges on stuff like single colors, print-mixing, Edison bulbs, etc. than on "kinds" of fashion this show isn't set up for them to do properly in the time allowed.

...Anyway: we agree. But NOW who do you think is the frontrunner? Because if they'll keep Sam with that science-fair foolishness, he's uneliminatable. Do you think he's going to win?

Oh god, I can't imagine it, which probably means he will. If no one's getting the winner edit, does that mean the beneficiary of the underdog edit gets it by default?! Producer manipulation aside, though, I have to think Sam would have to pull off a really spectacular garment next week to stay in when everyone but Isaac has pretty much turned on him. I think it'll be Dom or Ken. Do you think Sam's going to win?!

I don't know what to think, honestly. If I hadn't just seen Isaac seem helpless to stop himself from defending Sam, I would guess Kini wins, because the production is historically more impressed with Kini's seamster skills than perhaps it should be. But I did see Le Miz call Sam's work his favorite, so I don't know what to tell you. Well, other than that I won't be wearing a gauzy rainbow home plate anytime soon.

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