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One designer emerges at center of 'Runway'

Email|Print| Text size + By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / February 9, 2008

NEW YORK - Sadly, there's no need to tag this story with a spoiler alert, unless of course you want the guest judge of the "Project Runway" season finale to be a surprise. In that case - spoiler alert! - it's Victoria Beckham. But much like the fourth season of Bravo's fashion reality show, yesterday's "Project Runway" fashion show at Bryant Park ran as imagined: Christian Siriano stuck with his love of 1980s influenced gigot de mouton sleeves, Rami Kashou draped gorgeous gowns, Jillian Lewis showed a futuristic coat . . . you get the idea.

The fashion show, which was taped to air on Bravo for the two-part season finale Feb. 27 and March 5, found the remaining designers (plus a decoy or two) presenting their full collections to adoring fans at the Bryant Park tents yesterday morning. The favorite pre-show activity among audience members (who ignored requests to take their seats) was speculating on who should win this season's relatively drama-free contest.

"It's really hard to say," mused season three finalist Laura Bennett, who looked dazzling in a sleeveless cocktail dress despite the early hour. "I really think Christian should be slapped sometimes, but I'm saying that from my perspective as a mother. But I also think he's an incredible designer."

For those not following the show, Siriano is the 21-year-old designer who has been much admired for his work, and much maligned for his cocksure attitude.

"Tell people in Boston I'm really not that nasty," Siriano said earlier in the week. "It's all editing. Really. OK, mostly editing."

The glitterati in attendance seemed to favor Siriano as the winner (there was no judging in front of the audience at the show). Model and Bravo's "Make Me a Supermodel" cohost Tyson Beckford, when not complaining that he was thrown out of the Zac Posen show the night before, also confessed to being a fan of Siriano's work.

"I guess the winner will depend on what the judges are looking for," said season two contestant Diana Eng. "They may be looking solely at the design, or they may be looking for who they think will be the most successful commercially."

Five designers showed collections, but the opinion of many in the crowd was that the "Runway" final three will be Kashou, Lewis, and Siriano. The clothes that came down the catwalk were in line with this popular hypothesis. The first collection was from Los Angeles designer Kathleen "Sweet P" Vaughn. While her pieces, constructed primarily in lavenders and greens, showed far more confidence than her work on the series, there were still touches such as exposed zippers and odd pouches of fabric that left her dresses feeling unfinished and sometimes dowdy.

Designer Chris March received an overwhelming response from the audience when he introduced his collection, but his velvet dresses, some adorned with long mohair trim, were heavy, curtain-like, and dated. If Joan Collins were searching for a personal wardrobe consultant, March would be an ideal candidate.

Lewis's collection, filled with immaculately tailored miniskirts and bizarre equestrian headdresses, was quite wearable (aside from those equine hats and a gold lame minidress). A cocktail dress with a gossamer-like silver band at the bottom was particularly stunning. Lewis didn't create much evening wear, but she made chic, forward-looking separates.

When the current season of "Runway" began in November, Kashou was an immediate front-runner. But with each episode, he seemed to only have one look in his arsenal, the drape. Indeed, he draped this collection, then draped some more. He did it in some very clever ways, however. He used the technique for blouses, skirts, and of course, dresses. His evening gowns were flawlessly executed.

When Siriano emerged and told the crowd they looked fierce, it felt like a precursor to Christian key chains, bottle openers, and pens that say "Fierce" at the push of the button. It's the show's biggest catch phrase since "Make it work." Fortunately, it belongs to the cast member who appears to have the most talent this season. Siriano's collection was over-the-top and frothy.

When he sent a model down the runway in a mammoth hat with a neckline of ruffles that nearly covered her face, it was the kind of risky moment you wait for at a show of young designers. He found a balance between making clothes that are beautiful and making clothes that are innovative. OK, we'll say it: He made it work.

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com.

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