Judging the Project Runway Judges: Does This Thought Make Me Look Fat?

[30 January 2010]

By Terry Sawyer

I can’t help leaving Episode Two behind with a distinct distaste for the judges and their pipe cleaner frameworks, especially the slithering way Michael Kors talks about women and age. He may as well come out and call some of the dresses “deathy”.

There’s this stunningly vacant moment in the introduction to the Vogue documentary, The September Issue, where Anna Wintour theorizes (as much as a woman who spends her days saying “this one”, “that one” can be said to theorize) that people make fun of fashion because they are intimidated and have never been part of the popular crowd. I’ve always made fun of people in fashion because many of them, like Anna Wintour, seem self-important and dumb. And yet, in the same documentary, the viewer meets Grace Coddington, a woman whose sense of the beautiful was so painterly and grand, that I instantly understood how someone could devote their life to capturing the essence of rapture. She had instinct, intellect and vision. Fashion is not intrinsically the province of special needs.

From those heights, we tumble, tumble down to what is laughably called “judging” on Project Runway, but is really just gassy reaction from sour fashionistas who ramble on like every sentence is a new throw of the bitch dice. I found Episode Two’s judging fascinating in the way that it exposes how little they actually try to do something as contextual and aspirational as judging. With the glamorous exception of guest, Lauren Hutton, who is still gorgeous and classy, making the other judges seem like Randy Quaid looking at the balance due.

I admit at the outset that, like every conscious reality TV viewer, I tire of watching people promoted through the shows because they have toxic personality disorders that cause much of the secondary drama that is the dullest part of the franchise. Last season’s winner, Irina, was the vanity-plate embodiment of “I’m not here to make friends”. Of course you’re not, you’re an unsophisticated sociopath whose monied cocoon meant that you knew how to convey Aspen “luxe” to Michael Kors. That someone that socially maladjusted could succeed anywhere says as much about the S&M abuse and dominance of fashion as any of our unconscious fears of being Ann Wintour’s “other”: the fat, badly dressed people. 

Suffice it is to say, that I don’t pretend to believe that reality television is some kind of gladiatorial vindication of the winner or else Kevin would have won Top Chef for being the deeper artisan who produced the most consistent pleasure. I know, I digress, but it’s only to draw kohl circles around the brazen idiocy of the conference of wizened ones that amounts to “judging” on Runway. At the end of Episode Two, we’re left with two frightened people in the crosshairs of damnation. The judges note that Jesus basically sieved through the contest, taking the potato sack and making the dress he would have made anyway on top of it. Tim Gunn (the silver fox mentor who is the only judicious voice on the show) even told him that he ignored the existence of the challenge and pulled the lazy man’s version of “show me in the rulebook where it says I can’t win the race by starting at the finish line”. The judges even questioned his ability to recognize good colors, which seems like one of those things that might be a fashion fundamental. For Pamela, they were clearly panicked that they believed the dress made the model look fat, which is, of course, synonymous with firing squad in their world.  Yet they all conceded that Pamela showed exemplary skill in dying the burlap to look like denim, a feat they treated like alchemy.

So I guess I was surprised when by their own pitiful constructions of reasoning; they were unreasonable. One contestant:  had no taste (according to them) and didn’t do the challenge. The other contestant: showed considerable skill but made the model look roomy. But Pamela was also one of the older contestants so perhaps she committed the twofer of making a woman look “fat” and being older, thereby becoming an impossibly unbrandable person. Jesus had his youth, the potential to be a sassy gay and perhaps after several more incoherent slashing sessions he will be able to be molded into a battered and obedient servant of Loreal. I assume that this might be some of the logic. I have to do quite a bit of assuming with Runway because the judges speak in what might generously be referred to as gaps. This isn’t the Supreme Court and I don’t expect Nina Garcia to offer a defense of textualism over originalism. (Though Justice Scalia should take a cue from Runway and try being more vibrantly venomous.)  All I ask is that if you say this person totally sucked and the other person kind of sucked that you keep the person who kind of sucked on the show. If we have to sit through the haute couture council of Sling Blade every week, then you, the judges, should also have to listen to yourselves. I’m excited to see much of the show I love return to form, but as Heidi reminds herself every episode to freshen her familiarity with the rules, you are either in or you are out—presumably because fashion people are allowed only one conjunction per thought. However, Judges, on this ruling, it’s clearly time to clean up your work spaces, which, luckily for you, means simply emptying a chair.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/119852-judging-the-project-runway-judges-does-this-thought-make-me-look-fat/