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Pop CultureOctober 29, 2018

Project Runway Power Rankings, week five: Avant-car

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In the fifth episode of Project Runway New Zealand, the designers had to make an avant-garde look inspired by a family-friendly car. Henry Oliver ranks the results.

So how do you follow-up the sustainability challenge? With the Holden challenge of course!

Last week, my five-year-old daughter asked: “Why do they all have the same car?” This week, her question was finally answered when our I-hope-they’re-getting-even-a-little-bit-for-this designers were asked to make an avant-garde look inspired by the Holdens they drive to and from the sites of inspiration for the challenges and fabric stores.

For those whose French is a little rusty, ‘avant-garde’ (which literally translates to ‘advanced guard’) means new and experimental, but, on Project Runway, usually means lots of black, voluminous shoulders, metres and metres of extraneous fabric, and an Orientalism that, at best, translates into a naive cultural appropriation and, at worst, casual racism. Ahh, fashion!

Despite these cliches, the avant-garde challenge is an episode I always look forward to. It’s when the most pretentious contestants have to put up or shut up, someone who you think will be good always sinks, and someone surprising usually pulls through.

All of which happened this week…

10. Caitlin

Caitlin, who, according to Kerry, eats “glitter for breakfast” but might be “trying to mask something” was clearly given some production favouritism this week. Based purely on the garment and not on good-on-a-TV-show or potential-to-do-well-in-future-challenges, Caitlin should have been saying goodbye to her new BFF Benjamin and being asked to clean up her workroom.

She was clearly out of her depth this challenge and spent much of the episode on the verge of tears (except for the time she was actually in tears). There’s nothing wrong with not being suited to avant-garde design, but she didn’t even really give it a stab in the dark. Benny said the dress had “a lot of ideas” but the problem was actually a distinct a lack of ideas.

Count your blessings, Caitlin – you got a Get Out Of Jail Free card. I hope you make good use of it.


9. Beau

Oh, Beau. I feel sorry that you went home with the second to worst dress, but still… it was the second to worst dress.

One of the things this show does well is finding people’s limits and Beau seems to have met his. I didn’t hate it as it first walked down (really liked the use of colour) but each time you got a look, it got worse and worse. 

8. Beth

Better than I expected. I thought she’d do some twist on her usual vibe, but she pushed the boat out and you have to respect her for it. I mean, it was a kind of cliched take on the challenge but kind of fine. I’m undecided about the hooves, but I’ll take that as a good thing.


7. Kerry

I know I’m going to start getting accused of some kind of anti-Kerry bias, but as well made as his work is, I just don’t get anything from it. Obviously, the show really likes him as he has become the de facto narrator of the last couple of episodes, but his work feels so joyless, so riskless, so lifeless. He can sew super well (that’s why he has a fancy job with Karen Walker) but he obviously thinks that puts him on some pedestal where he can look down on everyone else. One of my favourite moments of the episode was when he was bragging about winning an avant-garde design competition only for it to turn out to have been at Fieldays. Amazing! I mean, you couldn’t write this shit!

His dress? Technically good, as usual, but as sterile as a dog that no longer barks. His model looks like she’s wearing one of those neck pillows your mum takes when she flies to the Gold Coast. That said, the quilting is super cool and a lot of work, so that’s good.

6. Peni

“This is my lane!” he said. “This is what I love!”

I kind of like this. The patterns, the asymmetry. And I can get behind it playing Joan of Arc-style ancient militarism instead of the cliche of the samurai/ninja ancient militarism. It’s close to being something, but it just didn’t quite come together. He just didn’t quite make it work.


5. Camille

Frank Gehry meets Project Runway Orientalist avant-garde cliche (i.e. better than a straight-up cliche). Still, Camille is very good at shapes and folds and all of that. I hope she makes one great thing before her time’s up.

4. Misty

I like this more and more every time I look at it. From a distance, you think you’ve totally seen it before, but look closely and you see you totally haven’t. Misty was pretty much overlooked this week, but I would have been keen to hear what the judges thought of this.


3. Judy

Judy! You keep doing it! And you won!

Ok, I didn’t think as much of this as the judges, but it was super well-done and benefitted from being seen up-close. The construction was amazing and the engineering was a feat, but (BUT!) there was something just a little meh about the end result. It did not equal the sum of its parts. Someone said Disney villain about one of the other dresses, but it works for this one too. Plus, there was the makeup. I’m taking a point off for the makeup.

2. Jess

There are things you could dislike about it. It looks a bit like a tropical fish and I’m not sure about the flower thing. And it’s black and Disney-villainish like most of the others. But, Jess found a way to use volume in an interesting way without going big and poofy. It was immaculate, intricate, subtle (difficult in an avant-garde challenge). Plus – and bear with me here – it looks like it was inspired by an Australian car.


1. Benjamin

Surprise, surprise – I like this. Like really like this. The hat (generously compared to Yohji Yamamoto) is great. The pants are perfectly cut. The off-the-shoulder coat looks like a blown-up Comme des Garçons wallet. What’s not to like? This might be my favourite thing made on the show so far.

(Plus, Benjamin gets a good-TV-moment bonus point for when he said he “actually likes Caitlin” like he’s genuinely not used to liking people.)

Keep going!