Jessica Simpson was in the house at Lincoln Center this morning, wearing a shimmering silver dress that would make a disco ball jealous (and, likely, launch a thousand Michael Kors insults, seeing as "disco" is his favorite slur) as she alighted to the stage at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week to serve in her official capacity as guest judge for Project Runway's Season 8 runway show. "Is she fat or skinny?" a woman behind me whispered to her seatmate, a man who claimed to have finished fourth place twice on The Amazing Race.
Actually, the fattest judge in attendance was Nina Garcia. (Apparently she has some kind of uterine growth). Frau Klum went bold in a coral pantsuit, while Kors stuck to his GTL regimen and uniform of black t-shirt, black blazer, jeans, and mirrored sunglasses. As guests waited for the show to start, they dug through goody bags that included a copy of Tim Gunn's new book (YES) as well as products from Garnier and L'Oreal.
Finally, the lights went down and the ten -- yes, ten (there was an audible gasp when Heidi announced it) -- mini-shows began.
Michael Drummond went first, listing his inspirations as X-rays and Mark Rothko. There was a third, but in his nervousness it was escaping him. "Oh!" he remembered just before the lights dimmed. "Women's underwear!" Um, best inspiration list ever.
His collection was full of unfinished-looking (on purpose, I hope) dresses and knitwear in shades of gray punctuated by the odd metallic flash. The models sported gravity-defying ponytails that made them look as though they were trapped in a wind tunnel.
Verdict: No way he makes it all the way.
Next was Valerie Mayen, who cited her "wackadoo childhood" as informing her sensibility. "Being Guatemalan I love color," she said, going on to compare her collection to the love child of Rainbow Brite and David Bowie (again, YES).
Indeed, the models walked in perfect ROYGBIV order, ending with a few more muted black and white looks. The construction was impeccable, the pieces were fun and wearable (well, possibly with the exception of a pair of high-waisted, banana-colored pants), and all in all the crowd loved our gal Val.
Verdict: A definite possibility for the finals.
Christopher Collins went third, barely speaking into his mic as he described his collection as being "about roots, race, and romance." This coming from a white boy who lives alone in a tree.
His looks were all over the place -- the first few showcased a stark black-and-white print, which then disappeared in favor of clingy metallic dresses and a few more casual pieces, including a lace romper. Proportions seemed off.
Casanova came onstage to lots of applause. Now, English is not his first language, but I'm pretty sure he said that his collection was called Arcadia and was inspired by his grandmother...
... who must have been a whorish gypsy showgirl, because OMG these clothes were over-the-top. The first look was a belly shirt (oh, dear God, please let's not allow these to come back in vogue) paired with tight satin pants. Also! Each pair of pants had giant sparkly pieces of flair on each butt cheek that looked like the symbol for Prince. And did I mention that each model was wearing gold face paint? My notes devolved from after that. Here's what I wrote:
ALL PANTS SHINY!
ALL ASSES SPARKLY!!!!
An elderly woman next to me turned and whispered, "Good tops, bad bottoms." She was pretty old, though, so she might have been partially blind.
Verdict: Hell no.
Ivy Higa served as the halftime show, telling us that she was inspired by her favorite beach in her native Hawaii. Her looks were paired with odd, two-layer sunhats and the everything was safe and boring resortwear. Can you tell I don't like Ivy? Also: I don't need another spring and summer season of rompers, people, so stop making them and maybe they'll go away.
Showing sixth was Michael Costello, the most polarizing character this season, who may or may not have little elves coming in the middle of the night to sew his clothes. Michael was inspired by his friend Sunny Lopez, which gives the collection no context whatsoever. The entire thing was brown, though, so we can deduce that Sunny Lopez:
A) Is herself brown (Name sounds Latina; likely)
B) Loves chocolate and/or spray tanning
C) Is a shitty friend
Almost every look was a shiny brown dress with jewel accents and/or fringe. It was not cute. Also, the house music that was playing included a woman whispering "Michael Costello" over and over again, which struck me as unnecessarily masturbatory.
Verdict: Brown. I mean, no.
An uncomfortably long pause (like, five minutes) followed Michael's presentation, leading me to wonder if the remaining designers had tackled him backstage and were in the process of beating him senseless with discount pumps from the Piperlime accessories wall.
Eventually, though, Gretchen Jones emerged, wearing a see-through skirt that showcased a pair of booty shorts. "This has been a long journey of self-discovery," she said somberly. Her collection was called "Running Through Thunder."
"She's a 'See-you-next-Tuesday,'" I heard the Amazing Race guy mutter under his breath. HA.
A lot of Gretchen's looks featured vaguely African prints and chevron-shaped necklaces. A garish, shiny green vinyl that looked like petrified Hefty Bag was incorporated into a few pieces. But overall, the collection was incredibly well-made.
Verdict: Given her villainous role this season and the fact that she's one of the best designers in the bunch, I think odds are even that Gretchen makes it to the final three.
Mondo Guerra came out next, to the biggest applause of the show. And seriously, he is so cute. "My inspiration came from what I know and love," Mondo said. "I like to have fun." He then dedicated the collection to his grandmother and "spiritual guide" Betty. Aw.
Mondo's collection was nothing if not fun -- a super-stylized, riveting parade of wild prints, bedazzled t-shirts, and colorful headgear that made his models look like retro pinup girls. It was kind of Carmen Miranda meets Harajuku. And while it was over-the-top, it also had much more depth and personality than the heavy-handed glitz of Michael C. or the ridiculous excess of Casanova.
Verdict: If there is any justice in the world, Mondo will make it to the finals.
Next up was April Johnston, who was inspired by the image of "dusty dolls going to a tea party and being washed away." Yup.
Her models wore Ace bandage-like head wraps that made them look like accident victims. The first gown out looked like it was made out of hospital sheets and a straight jacket, complete with buckles. The colors were all muted, bloodless pastels, and the whole thing was very Girl, Interrupted.
Verdict: I don't know. I have a theory that would land April in the final 3 but I'll wait to share it until after we've dispensed with...
Andy South, who presented last. Andy gave a little speech about how the moment took his breath away and "makes living so amazing." Then something about following his dreams. Or maybe the collection was inspired by dreams? My attention span, as you can tell, had waned by this point. Then Andy's models came out and each of them had gold head pieces that looked like reindeer antlers or maybe one of those earring trees you can sometimes find at Claire's Accessories, and I'm pretty sure little charms and stars were dangling from the ends of each branch. And when you put your models in distracting conceptual headgear that's meant to communicate the meaningfulness of your dreams, it's hard for people to pay attention to the clothes. I think I saw some green shorts, though, and they were shiny.
Verdict: Dream on.
Okay, so, my theory.
I went to the show last year, and while I didn't know the outcome then, I looked back at my notes and it turns out that Seth Aaron, Emilio, and Mila all showed in a row in the middle of the group (they were 7th, 8th, and 9th to present I believe).
Let's assume for the sake of argument that the same trick was used this year, and that all three finalists showed in a row. Based on the strength of their collections, I'm inclined to believe that Gretchen and Mondo are two of the three. Which would mean that either Michael C. or April would be the third. I can't really imagine that it's Michael C. (if it is, he is the clear third-place finisher), so it's go to be April.
Then again, maybe last year was a fluke and I'm totally off-base. Still, that's my official wager: Gretchen, Mondo and April. In about six weeks, we'll see if I'm right.
Check out some of the designers' work: