I think my favorite recurring challenge on Project Runway is the one where the designers have to dress regular people. As Miranda Priestly would curtly remind us, fashion touches every body and fashion is for everyone. That said, the difference between what professional fashion designers on a televised competition want and what normals who are not certain that Andi's boyfriend really was the villain in Devil Wears Prada want can be vast. As a normal who occasionally stares blankly at professionals giving me fashion advice, I completely understand this. Intellectually, I get that tailored designs, exciting textiles, and daring silhouettes often make us look the best, but that would not stop me from rolling up on Project Runway and asking the designer to make me a caftan out of sweatpants material. The best thing about this challenge, which last year featured New York City workers and this year features Olympic athletes, is that it is fully aware that regular normals frequently have hilarious and yet totally relatable ideas about what they want to wear on their bodies in the real world and its the designers, actually, who come out looking strange. Frequently the contestants will try to push their normals into some kind of elevated territory and the normal, who spends her day doing important normal things, will say something like "what would be great is a nice pair of jeans" or "how about a bridesmaid dress? I could use that." I love this. And, not for nothing, who amongst us could not use a nice pair of jeans.
This week each designer is paired with an Olympian and tasked with making a formal dress for the Olympian to wear to a victory party. The athletes rang in sport, body type, and physicality and each designer rises to the challenge of adapting the removed high fashion, sample size aesthetic to a different kind of model. But, as usual, some are more successful than others. Let's get to some superlatives!
I have to give a shoutout to the athletes featured in this episode: Naya Tapper, rugby, Tatyana McFadden, track and field, Helen Maroulis, freestyle wrestling, Foluke Akinradewo Gunderson, indoor volleyball, Kim Rhode, shotgun, and Scout Bassett, track and field. Not only are they incredibly accomplished in their fields and built like Marvel superheroes, but they are dynamite on camera. That's the true challenge of a normal in one of these situations: to maintain self-possession while an entire contest spins around you. Gold medals all around.
Though the athletes are super and very charming on camera, they are, in the end, regular people who, when asked what kind of fancy dress they want, answer "red!" Of the six designs, four of them are in red fabric and the other two are in a shimmery black. Christian tries valiantly to get the designers to push their models a bit, which I'm sure Christian has had success with in his professional life but rarely works out well in Normal People Challenges. Let us regulars live our truth in our red dresses and our pleated jeans, please!
This Week in Victoria-isms
"Today is my birthday but it's very difficult to be excited." Call me a multi-level fabric store because this is a mood.
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Victoria's supportive and encouraging husband sends her three huge bouquets of roses to celebrate her birthday which, in New York City, must have cost roughly $900. She also notes that he used to be a professional soccer player but left his career behind to support hers. I continue to need a reality show based on Victoria and her cast of supporting characters.
Geoffrey thinks rugby is "the one with the net." I immediately think he's referring to volleyball, but it turns out he's referring to lacrosse. What a mess. Frankly, I'm a little surprised he doesn't know rugby, though. I don't know anything about sports but I can tell you a lot about rugby because of the calendars that I buy every year and no I will not be taking questions on this matter.
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Geoffrey explains his lack of sports knowledge by quipping "My muscles are more for visual sport." I love that Geoffrey acknowledges he is a walking thirst trap. Good for you! He then continues, saucily, "Well, they're for 'physical sport' also..." Bless horny, sports-ignorant Geoffrey.
This week in Sergio v. Christian: the two frenemies have this amazing stilted first date conversation where they disagree mildly about the design of Sergio's dress and then Christian pivots to talking about sports. There will not be a second date.
Victoria gets very luck in that she's paired with Helen who wants something asymmetrical and strappy, which is exactly Victoria's aesthetic. Victoria makes a Victoria dress for Helen and Helen loves it so much she declares "I'll wear this with pins in it!"
Geoffrey races through the workroom with 5 minutes to go, ripping seams out and resewing his dress’s hip, and then, with one minute left, Christian finds him hovering in a doorway, smoking. “We’re fitting!” Geoffrey cries. I'm obsessed with the on-going narrative of Geoffrey's nicotine addiction and his strange ability to always be stressed, out of time, and sucking down a Virginia Slim for 20 minutes.
Nancy, the eventual winner and an enthusiastic participant through, creates a shimmering slate gray dress with braided embellishments for Tatyana. The design has adaptable elements like a wheelchair train and velcro panels so Tatyana can put the dress on herself. It's a really wonderful marriage of form and function and shows how attuned Nancy's been to her client.
Sergio works with Foluke, who is 22 week pregnant. He puts her in a breezy, floor-length, daffodil-colored dress that the judges dub a little too daytime. There's cutouts at the sides and back, which Nina calls feminine and sexy, but Elaine wanted to see more of a celebration of the baby bump. Sergio, at multiple points, counters that he would never put a pregnant person in something form-fitting, despite multiple people telling him "yes, some pregnant people would like that." He concludes his critique session by declaring, "I thought it looked perfect." Elaine's eyes replay "Hmph. You thought."
Everyone! No one goes home. The normal people challenge is also a niceness parade, so as long as your model doesn't tell the judges that they feel very awkward and you ignored their wishes, you're safe. Everybody go put on your comfortable jeans!
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