Not the sort of post that usually fills this space. Call it an admission of a guilty pleasure.
The art of fashion, the processes of creativity in what is, in real life, a truly brutal business are fascinating. But increasingly, the show (and, in fact, its entire extended franchise of All-Stars and Under the Gunn) seems determined to dive lemming-like to its own extinction. And this makes me very sad.
The merchandizing of certain elements of the show—the So-and-So Makeup Room, the Such-and-Such Accessory Wall: These conceits, though mildly annoying, are bearable enough…although one wonders why we need to watch commercials if the show itself has become one. The conceit might be bearable if the show weren’t so coy about it, pretending that the naming is anything else but a bought-and-paid device. One wonders what the next step might be…the La-Z-Boy designers’ lounge? The Wonder Bread snack room? The Charmin Ladies’ Room?
Perhaps more disconcerting is the paid-placement episode theming that threatens to turn the entire series into an extended infomercial. Designing after a car? Or a frozen yogurt dessert? Really? Such blatant product placement throws the legitimacy and veracity of the entire series into question. Sorry, but we are not going to believe that frozen yogurt is either fashion or an exercise worthy of our time. Stop it.
Another growing annoyance: Like the truly confounding choice for the host of All-Stars, the enlisting of celebrities for celebrity’s sake is cheapening; individuals whose dubious fashion design credentials reach no further than their desire to flog an upcoming project. What’s next: “Meet guest judge, fashion icon, the exquisite Neil Young, whose newly-introduced line of flannel shirts will appear in stores this Fall”?
Perhaps most deadly is the increasingly gossamer premise on which the shows themselves are built. More and more, the show seems to be, a tired parody of itself, little more than a cross between The Voice in Knockoff Gowns or a throwback to Beat the Clock; a cross between a three-legged race and American ninja warrior…an exercise in how much can we torment these people and still call it fashion? Making designers run a wind-sprint to snatch up as much fabric as they can in 30 seconds”? How does that add to the respect for fashion design or the people who create it?
The saddest of all for me is the commoditization of the wonderful Tim Gunn.
The idea-bankruptcy of the unfortunate new Gunn-named endeavor turns this beloved man into little more than a cardboard cutout in the spotlight; a marquee name without a real reason for being. Tune in: Watch Tim in real and unexpected emotions! Watch him finally lose his temper at someone who truly deserves it! But watch fast…in the 60 seconds he actually contributes to each show, you might miss the one thing worth seeing.
For me, the franchise has been as close to “appointment TV” as exists in the who-cares cable desert. But the increasing on-command snarkification of the show (always the style of the arrogant Nina Garcia, but now, too, the directed disrespect creeping into people like the charming Zac Posen) is just distasteful and cringe-making. And please don’t try to rationalize by telling us that harshness is the reality of the business—not unless you would like to incorporate in equal measure fashion-business realities such as sweatshops overseas or mob-driven labor issues here at home.
This is a show that has been, at its least, fascinating and, at its best, thrilling (can anybody say “Christian Siriano”?)…and, at its worst, shallow and trivial. A show that, like so many others, seems to be sinking faster and faster under its own self-reverential weight. Where are the understandings that will add substance to the fluff? How does fashion work for us—how can we make it our own? How do designers balance the demands of self-promotion and creation? What is the thinking behind the extraordinary act of creation? How do the designers create relevancy in a me-too industry? What is this show these days beside an endurance test?
Okay. I know. Project Runway and it entire ilk… not the cure for cancer. Not a PBS Frontline report. Granted. But even entertainment of this kind does not need to become a parody of itself. This may be an open letter to the show, but it is also a request. Please do something to stop that forward lemming-rush to the cliff. Please save this show. While there is something left worth saving.