‘Project Runway’: Is boring really worse than ugly?

After this week’s episode of “Project Runway,” it seems a theme is developing. I’m not sure it’s one I’m excited about, either. On Thursday, Kahindo Mateene was sent packing for the crime of making a nice dress. Sure, it wasn’t a showstopper. It was hard to notice the multi-million dollar jewels the model was wearing. But it was a perfectly pleasant cocktail-length dress that you could probably find at a department store.

Last week, Angela Bacskocky got the boot for making a less-than-amazing poncho, one that judge Zac Posen lauded for its use of a pop of hot pink detailing. It wasn’t wow, but let’s remember that this walked down the runway the same week as Sandro Masmanidi’s crotch-exposed bathing suit. Call me crazy, but I think when the show needs to pixelate an outfit, that’s a good reason to send a designer home before he gives us any more of an anatomy lesson.

I get it. The judges want wow, they want pop, they want clothing that spins their heads around. But what about good design? What about execution? Given the people who haven’t been sent home in the last two weeks for their hot messes, I have to think priorities have been skewed to the point of being lost all together. Even Helen Castillo, who sent a ham-fisted mess down the runway this week, seemed flabbergasted that she wasn’t sent home. The other designers seemed even more flummoxed that nutjob green designer Timothy Westbrook wasn’t ordered to pack up his scraps and his recycling and go the hell home. That the judges’ seem willing to let incomplete, poorly executed and sometimes burnt (burnt!) outfits stay and damn perfectly okay dresses to the garbage bin suggests fashion madness at its most ridiculous.

The message is, I suppose, that this season the judges want the designers to go big or go home (which everyone apparently has to say at one point during the season or be in violation of contract). This comes after many seasons of designers being beaten about the heads for not making wearable clothing. Maybe the desire for crazy, editorial-worthy outfits comes as a result of Michael Kors not being on the judges’ panel. I think having a guy who has boutiques in malls and diffusion lines probably made the desire for clothing real people could wear in public without getting arrested more of a priority, but that’s only a guess. 

So, we get judges who have become apologists for total incompetence. Even when forced to examine the mess that Castillo made, Nina wheedled and meekly tried to make a case for “trying,” which made even Heidi Klum arch an eyebrow in disbelief. That Westbrook managed to pass off a damn “racerfront” dress (which defied all bra logic, a longtime sticking point for Garcia) with a ragged hem makes little sense. Well, it makes little sense unless producers are begging the judges to keep this guy around for as long as they can tolerate him, as he’s just crazy enough to make good TV and gets fans tweeting their horror that he’s still around. 

This all feeds back into my biggest problem with “Project Runway” — while the judges sniff that all they want is “good design,” the reality is that the target has never been defined. If a dress is nicely constructed but not exciting, is that really worse than someone putting together some fabric with tape and spit and calling it a dress? Is it a greater affront to be boring than to have no idea what you’re doing? What makes a great designer great? Good ideas or an ability to sell to retail?

I wouldn’t care if the answer to that question changed every season. It might even be interesting. But the judges’ wish list needs to be articulated to, if not the designers (if they know they can make crap with good sketches, that can only lead to more disasters) then to us, the audience. This season we’re seeing more of the decision process as the judges grill Tim Gunn and examine the outfits with cameras running. Now the show needs to take the next step and let the judges tell us exactly what they’re looking for before the challenge begins. Then, we’ll see if they can stick to their judgements — or at least justify them

What do you think of the season thus far? Do you think boring is worse than badly made?

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