'Project Runway' returns &mdash will it be haute stuff or a hot mess?
Season 6 was the show's first outing on Lifetime, and many fans worried that it would be different than the Bravo editions of the catwalk chronicle.
Prs7 Though the fashion contest had temporarily relocated to Los Angeles, the first Season 6 episode was not much different than past "Runway" incarnations. However "Runway's" Season 6 turned out to be a dud in the long run, largely because the usual judges, Michael Kors and Nina Garcia, were missing for most of it.
Another problem with Season 6: The designers just weren't that impressive (a problem that also afflicted "Runway's" slapdash, slack final season on Bravo).
Thanks to the lack of drama in the workroom, the lack of pizazz on the runway and the infuriating decisions of the judging panels, which were dominated by an array of guest judges, the first Lifetime season of "Runway" just didn't work for me. I gave my best Tim Gunn sigh, threw up my hands, and walked away from the whole hot mess midway through the season.
This year, the show is back in New York -- thank goodness -- and so are the wonderfully waspish Kors and Garcia. And the contestants in Season 7 seem to have a reasonable amount of talent. Still, we're still in Too Early to Tell territory as far as the new season of "Runway" is concerned.
Will the challenges, which notably lacked creativity in Season 6, be more inspiring and surprising this time around? The first challenge of Season 7 is not reassuring on this front. Will the contestants have not just interesting personalities but design aesthetics worth paying attention to? There are a few interesting garments on the runway Thursday, but all in all, whether the contestants or their clothes will be compelling remains to be seen.
The first episode of Season 7 is pleasant, but upcoming episodes will tell the tale. If the new edition of "Runway" is boring or blah, you can believe I'll be focusing the fashion-addicted part of my brain on the fabulosity of "RuPaul's Drag Race," which begins its second season Feb. 1 on Logo.
The latest bunch of contestants on “Project Runway” are the usual mix of young strivers and veteran stylehounds. One of the most distinctive personalities to emerge in the season premiere is the irrepressible Ping Wu, a designer who was born in China but most recently lived in Chicago.
She made an impression on her fellow designers by draping her materials on her own body while working, and her aesthetic appears to be far more avant-garde than that of the typical “Runway” contestants. Wu is in China visiting family, but when she returns, she’ll be living in New York. Via e-mail, Wu, who has also worked as a physical therapist, talked about her fashion training, her unconventional design process and her ties to the Midwest, China and New York.
(The dialogue below has been edited and condensed.)
Pr7-ping Can you talk a bit about your training as a designer?
I was admitted to the most prestigious fashion design school, Istituto Marangoni, in Italy for eight months of intense training from 2004-2005. I was almost 29 when I entered this field. My parents thought I’d lost my mind. My German design teacher shouted at me, “Your name is the most boring name in the world! No one would ever remember it! Don’t ever use it for any brands!” You can imagine the humiliation.
No one believed I could go far. My life in Milan was pure hell. But the experience, the training and the knowledge I gained about the industry during that time was extraordinary! Later, I was accepted for another internship in Paris. In comparison, those were days in heaven. Looking back, I’m very thankful that I had such an extremely tough beginning — it forced me to see things through without any mercy or fantasy.
Do you always drape your garments on yourself as you design?
Not always. I do sketch or play with plastic bags or tissue paper to experiment with the forms. But I feel more natural and direct and I have more ideas flow in me when I drape the fabrics on myself in front of a mirror. I want my entire body to interact with my ideas, and provide me with accurate feedback instantly.
How did you end up living in Chicago?
I lived Champaign-Urbana for four years prior to moving to Chicago in 2004. At the time, it was purely because Chicago is the closest cosmopolitan city to Champaign-Urbana, where the majority of my close friends are. When I returned to the U.S. after my fashion studies in 2006, I purposely chose Chicago to set up my small business because of the people here! They are laid back and super-friendly. I felt my business could develop better here during its infancy. Sure enough, I was right. The Ping Wu brand was born and (grew) under the support of kind (Chicago-based consultants).
Now, it’s time for me to bring my business to a bigger stage to further its development while I still have the energy and ambition. That’s why I moved to New York City a few months ago. As (designer) Yohji Yamamoto said, “I’m walking back to the future facing where I came from.”
What do you feel you learned from being on “Project Runway”?
No matter what social roles you choose to play in society — designers, stylists, models, therapist, teachers etc. — they’re just the hats we put on our heads. Underneath, you have to be a decent human being first and foremost. Then love and beauty will show through your work in a powerful and genuine way.
Did you become friends with any of the other designers?
Oh for sure! I believe unique experiences bond people together, especially those that we can’t easily explain to others.
Had you watched past seasons of "Project Runway"? Were you glad it was back in New York this season?
Well, to be quite honest, I've never paid attention on the locations of the show! Why would it matter? I was glad the show was in New York, however, because I was going to move there afterwards. So it was like a warm-up for me.
What was your favorite “Project Runway” memory?
I deeply cherish every second of the time I spent with the industrial sewing machines, the superb cutting table and the mannequin ... and the crazy opportunities to make exciting garments in the public eye. I rarely have opportunities like that, and I don’t have any of these luxury tools in my real life. I [love] to create and to experiment and I only wish I could live like that!
Anything else you want to add about your experience?
Maybe that I could really be an actress?! As a child, I always loved stories and films -- they served my imagination perfectly. My biggest wish in childhood was to be involved in making movies. But in China, people only wanted pretty girls to be actresses, with big eyes and small nose. And I have big nose and small eyes. Plus, as I grow, I am more moved by the reality [of life,] in which people get sick and die. Suddenly, movies seem to be quite light and artificial in comparison. Gradually, that childish wish became a forgotten dream.
Who would ever guess years later, I'm standing in front of camera, in a reality TV show, watched by nationwide audience on another side of the ocean!? Life is full of surprises. Now with the experience of "Project Runway," I can really proudly say: The best role I could ever imagine is really being myself!
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