Sometimes I think that DEs send or tell me things just because they know it’ll piss me off. I don’t mean to imply they do it in a mean spirited sort of way but rather as a form of entertainment. I mean, nobody gets mad quite like I do so I can see there’s plenty of potential entertainment value in pissing me off just to see where I’ll run with it. In that vein, many people keep asking me what I think of that TV show Project Runway, knowing full well that I most assuredly won’t or don’t like it. Jinjer (bless her heart) send me the 3 DVD set from last season because she knows I don’t watch TV -at all. Anyway, after having the DVDs for three weeks (sorry Jinjer!) I finally got around to watching the first episode.
For those who remain pure and unsullied -never having witnessed such putrid ugliness masquerading as entertainment- Project Runway is a pathetic pandering to the masses of wannabe fashion designers in the vein of the “Survivor” series. It bears not one whit of realism. Moreover, it is insulting to the professionalism of all those who’ve chosen this trade as their vocation. It reinforces the cultural stereotypes of those who’ve never stepped into a workroom. As most of my visitors know, Project Runway does not represent daily life in the needle trades industry. While I know our history is imperfect, the sum of our tradition deserves better treatment.
I really took issue with the constant references to fashion as being “cut throat”. It’s as though they’re deliberately instilling fear in participants to unseat them. Why? Other than that it makes for better TV -an abject fiction- I think the process and the message instills in viewers (and participants) the tendency to gestate the basest of instincts in people. I really dislike how they’ve played up the calculating angle, it doesn’t work like that in real life. The people you work with are not your enemy. Other designers are your colleagues, not your competitors. There is plenty of room in the market -do you only listen to one band or enjoy one actor/actress to the exclusion of others? I thought not.
Similarly, I resent the message that it is only fashion that is a worthwhile endeavor. The reality is, fashion is the smallest segment of the sewn products industry. As a matter of fact, it is the sewn products side -utility producers of goods- who are holding up half the sky. Or rather, about 57% of it. Apparel production constitutes about 43% of the industry with high fashion portion of that pie at about 3%. Now, if fashion were so successful and thus worthy of emulation, wouldn’t their slice be larger? As it is, it’s well known that many of America’s top designers are running record losses. Some of them are known to be sleeping on their parent’s sofas. That’s success? That’s a worthy goal for young people? It’s ludicrous. Any day of the week, I’d be willing to bow down to the mundane manufacturer of car seats, baby slings, tablecloths, throw pillows and uniforms because they are the ones providing the jobs. They’re the ones providing opportunity and the mechanisms by which families can support themselves. Who wants to work for an arrogant, self absorbed prima donna who can’t make payroll? That is success? Rather, I’d argue this is an absolute perversion.
The overwhelming cultural message is that fashion is the only endeavor worthy of public admiration to the extent that people within this industry have also internalized that belief themselves! This pains me. Sewn products manufacturers get no respect. Nothing is geared for their needs, very little addresses the basic needs they have day in and day out. Sadly, I’d have to conclude this site is similarly guilty of making short shrift of their needs. Several times a week, I get letters from sewn products producers who are practically apologizing for failing to produce “fashion”. It’s as though they’re apologizing for their own existence when these people are the backbone to our industry. They are the companies employing thousands, they’re the ones making payroll, they’re the ones buying fabrics and machines, they’re the ones providing opportunities and growth. They deserve much more of our respect. Sewn products producers hold up more than half of our sky.
Returning to my vivisection of Project Runway (I don’t believe my computer can handle of the bytes of data I can spew in derision), here are some of the problems I see with it. For one, most successful entrepreneurs in this business have never gone to design school. In Project Runway, all but 3 did. I reviewed the education history of the contestants and compared the tuition they paid and compared that to their rankings in the show. The bottom 60% of contestants paid 300% more in tuition at expensive (private) design schools than the top 40% of contestants did, so at least that bears some resemblance to real life. You don’t need an expensive private school education to make it in this business. In fact, the person who spent the most on tuition (Daniel, aka arrogant ass #2) was the first eliminated. For the contestants without a design school background, I calculated their tuition as zero because it was. In real life, most entrepreneurs don’t have a design school background, they’re coming from other fields.
Now, since I went to Bravo’s website to do my research, I already know who “won” (it is splashed on the loading page, otherwise I didn’t “cheat”). Regardless, here are my impressions of the contestants based on viewing one episode. From one episode you can’t tell much but I will still offer what I saw in each of the contestants that drew my attention. Perhaps I’ll amend this as I view the other episodes.One thing you must understand before you read this is that I didn’t actually view their designs. Success has nothing to do with design talent! Nothing!
Most likely to succeed in real life: Kara. No doubt about it. While initially taken aback by the lack of a model, she was able to regroup. She had the guts to go to the mat and canvass the streets looking for a model even though it was likely she’d be considered a fruit cake or some kind of scammer. She didn’t panic. She was dismayed but she didn’t panic. She regrouped. In real life, I think she’ll be a winner. And no, I don’t give a damn what her clothes look like. She’d be just as successful making tea cozies. Of all the contestants, I’d think she’d be the easiest client to work with.
Most likely to be ignored by contractors, suppliers and service providers: Austin. What a putz. While I know that the popular image is that flaming queens are the most common among fashion designers, this belief is utterly and patently false. How can you take a guy seriously who’s wearing foundation? His every camera shot was orchestrated, seemingly well practiced in front of a mirror. You don’t see these kinds of mannerisms naturally displayed by anyone other than 9 year old girls. How can you take this guy seriously in a cutting room? For my part, I’d wait for the check to clear before I started any of his work.That said, I think he has some options if he can leave theater behind. He’s no dummy and he’s talented.
Least likely to weather a crisis: Starr. What happened with this chick? She’s an attorney -most attorneys cum designers don’t act like she did although they do have a tendency to hedge their bets. Usually they make better backers or product developers than designers. I think she was too easily taken in by her surroundings, believing all the trappings. I think her greatest liability was that she had the most to fall back on so she pulled her punches. Considering her relative security, I don’t think she gave herself a fair shot. It’s as though she felt she didn’t belong when she could have. I see a lot of DEs who do Starr-like things. Take some lessons from her. Give yourself a chance and give it all you’ve got. I don’t care what cushions you have to land on. Assume you have nothing. If she were an entrepreneur, she strikes me as the type most likely to be affected by “paralysis by analysis”. Her posture was to react, rather than to take any initiative.
Most likely to never make it as a designer: Daniel. This guy was arrogant, almost as arrogant as Jay. A butcher paper jacket? What was he thinking? Utterly unimaginative and he was lazy; designing is a lot of hard work. I really hate designers who act like they don’t care what they look like; he needed to wash and brush his hair, it looked dirty and unkempt. Utterly convinced of his own superiority, he was shocked to be eliminated, he never saw it coming. He’ll be lucky to get any job as an assistant or at most, a second-string designer. His highest career aspiration would be to get a job as “button designer” for RL. Then again, maybe Wal-Mart will hire him but I think they’re too smart for that. His tuition certainly paid off poorly.
I have three runners-up for the category of not making it as a designer and they are Vanessa, Nora and Wendy. Vanessa and Nora aren’t team players. I don’t know why I say that, I just don’t think they are. If you want to make it in this business, you have to be a team player. This whole competition thing of one against all others is crap. In real life, you have to work with your teams to make it. There is no room for prima donnas, only leadership. I think Wendy would only have a chance as an entrepreneur but even then I think she’d have a tough going of it. Wendy strikes me as someone who pretends to be nurturing and supportive but I got a feeling of passive-aggressiveness from her. She seemed too quick to play mommy. I worked with designers like this. On the surface, they mother the world but if things don’t go their way (often with unrealistic demands), they’re known to eat their young.
Most likely to take the most bodies down with him when he goes up in flames: Jay. I know he won because the site spoils it for you, splashing it on the load page. This guy is an arrogant ass, more so than Daniel (arrogant ass #2). He had the nerve to say that if he was eliminated, it would mean there wasn’t one whit of design appreciation and taste from the panel of judges. Jay isn’t particularly talented per se but he has a forceful personality and he’s bright. He’s someone I wouldn’t trust; I don’t see him as someone who is likely to develop long term relationships with production and suppliers, rather, he strikes me as an opportunist. If he gets the right backing, I could see him becoming “successful” ala Tommy H -for a time- provided he matures and stops leaving a bunch of bodies around that he has to keep stepping over. As a woman, I think he’s gross, he makes my skin crawl.
In real life, jerks aren’t successful. Nobody wants to work for a jerk. If you’re a jerk, you’re going to have problems that more socially astute people will never have. You’ve created unnecessary barriers for yourself. This business is not the exclusive domain of hoity-toity design school graduates. Rather, the latter are the exception, not the rule. And again, fashion is not survival of the fittest one. There is lots of room in this business for talent and brains wherever you’re coming from. Successful companies are constituted of talented, hard working teams who are led by team oriented leadership. Success doesn’t mean mandating that your underlings comply with your slightest whims; there is no royalty here. Anyone can make it in this business. The messages propagated by Project Runway are unmitigated fiction that insults the commitment of people who’ve made this their chosen vocation. It is insulting to have one’s career summarized by such a caricature.
Oh, and in real life -for most companies- the significance of models is zero. Trust me, most companies never hire models beyond product shots for catalogs. You certainly do not hire models before you’ve decided what to design. Models have no say in the development of styles. Of all the ridiculousness of the show, the relatively important position that models had was the greatest fiction. I guess if you had to rely on a one-shot deal at being “successful” (in other words, not being eliminated) then it’d matter. Otherwise, it just sends the message that models are yet another barrier to the success of launching a designer entrepreneur.