Last night’s episode of Project Runway involved my favorite challenge of every season – the “real women” challenge. I don’t particularly like using the term “real women” because if you exist and are a woman you are a “real woman” regardless of your weight. (I get so ticked off when women put down other women by saying they aren’t “real women” because they don’t meet some weight standard.) By “real women,” I mean women who don’t make their living modeling clothing. In other words, women who have been plucked off the street.
It seems like it would be easy to design for a model. They are tall and thin and usually have small boobs. They are meant to be clothes hangers. Arguably, you aren’t even supposed to notice them – you are supposed to notice the clothes. You don’t have to worry about bulges. Women who don’t make their living doing this have a wide variety of body types. We have curves and bulges, maybe we are long waisted, short waisted, pear shaped, apple shaped, big boobs, small boobs, big thighs, big calves, short, tall, big butt, flat butt, whatever. There is variety here. This means it is more challenging to design clothing for “real women” because you have to take this into account.
It’s a good challenge because in the real world as a designer you have to think about the shapes of “real women” if you want to sell clothes. As much as fashion designers would like to imagine that it’s all about the art and creativity, the bottom line is that people have to want to buy your clothes if you want to succeed. If you are really successful, you might be chosen to design a gown for an actress or other woman, and her body might have some “flaws” that you have to contend with. Plenty of fashion designers have failed when they haven’t done that. It’s why each season on Project Runway there is usually at least one contestant who is praised because they understand a woman’s body.
Each season in the “real women” challenge, at least one designer bitches and moans about their huuugggge client. Many times this woman is around a size 8. Other times she is plus sized, maybe a size 14 or 16. I’ve never seen the show pick anyone hugely obese for the “real women” challenge. These are the types of women you see everywhere on a daily basis. For better or worse, the norm, as opposed to a sample size 4 model. These are the vast majority of the women who are buying clothes in the real world. And women who buy clothes usually like to look good in them.
Inevitably in this episode, all design capabilities go out the window. Last night’s episode looked like a runway show for Kohl’s. For whatever reason, these budding fashion designers don’t understand that “real women” who aren’t models might want to be fashion forward or fashionable also. Everything they would do if it was a model wearing the outfit is cast by the wayside when it is a “real woman.” Why is that? They all resorted to dress designs that were boring, and that I feel like I’ve seen 100 times on the 50% off rack at Macy’s.
One designer last night – Ven Budhu – was in rare form. While the rest of the designers appeared to have learned from the mistakes of past contestants, Ven did not. He could not stop insulting his (he said in a hushed tone) size 14 client. He seemed to have no concept that it was embarrassing for her when he went on and on about how none of the belts fit her. He reminded her that black is slimming. Even when he complimented her it sounded like an insult. He made her and her friend cry. The other designers were shocked and horrified. And he sent her out on the runway in what looked like a satin sheet wrapped around her top. It was hideous. It was an “old lady” matronly outfit. Then again, as he told Tim Gunn, she was “almost 40.” He said this in a horrified tone, as if we should all start wearing sweat pants or muumuu dresses and give up once we hit our late 30s.
This is another attitude that appears every season in Project Runway, usually from a 22 year old designer who can’t fathom life after 30. I remember being 22 and thinking 40 was old, so I can’t really blame them for thinking that way, but now as I’m inching toward 40, I don’t feel old at all. And I certainly don’t intend to give up and start dressing like a slob. Hell, I have way more money to spend on frivolous crap like fashion now than I ever did at 22. At 22 I was slogging through the racks at TJ Maxx and couldn’t have even imagined ever spending three digits on a pair of shoes. When designers on this show start insulting people who are over 30, it makes me know I will never buy their clothes. At least have the brains to keep those thoughts to yourself.
I liked Ven’s designs prior to last night. No more. He’s the type of person you want to see fail. I don’t care what you think about plus sized women – you don’t say it on television over and over again. He was Tweeting last night trying to redeem himself, and it made him look worse. He said it “wasn’t fair” that he had such a big model. Gunnar’s model was equally as big, if not bigger. He said it was a conspiracy against him. He blamed everyone except himself. A good designer would have risen to the challenge and made this woman look spectacular. Instead, Ven hid her under a mound of teal blue satin. (I hate Gunnar, but he made damn sure his plus sized woman had a great time and a great outfit.) The word “douche” was invented for men like Ven. And let’s not forget that Ven himself is plus sized. (It’s always the fat men that hate the fat women the most, isn’t it?) Unfortunately, Ven didn’t get aufed last night, so we will have to put up with him at least another week.