If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then pity the ghost of Jackie Kennedy. Girlfriend is not feeling very flattered this morning. Maybe it’s a sign of just how singular the former First Lady’s style was, because other than Mondo and (shockingly) Ivy, no one came close to nailing last night’s challenge, which was to create an outfit that personifies modern American sportswear and is worthy of Jackie O. It was one of those episodes where the results were so dismal, the judges strained to find three outfits to round out the top spots. Dark days, friends. Dark days.
It’s not as if the designers didn’t have plenty to draw from. When they met Tim in that gorgeous loft, he was standing in front of a giant screen covered in Great Moments in Jackie. And in the workroom, the contestants were able to flip through those iconic photos on their HP Touch Me I’m Smart (or whatever) screens. I get that this group is young and grew up long after the Age of Bouvier. Heck, April didn’t even enter the world until Jackie was getting ready to leave it. But that’s no excuse: I was born some 15 years after Camelot and you wouldn’t catch me trying to put a pair of that-crotch-is-insane MC Hammer pants on a true fashion icon. Who are these kids? And why won’t they get off my lawn?
I was hoping that by the eighth episode, the Michael-C.-sucks rhetoric would have run its course. But the hate was still flowing like the River Styx from usual suspects Valerie, Gretchen, and Ivy. At least Michael D., who had called Michael C. “an idiot” just a few weeks ago, came to his namesake’s defense this time — and offered a theory as to why the guy became the pariah in the first place. “I feel like the other designers don’t like Michael C. because of an elitist thing,” he said. “They come here with a big head and think they know what they’re talking about. He may not be as seasoned, but it doesn’t mean he’s not talented.” (Many of you had surmised this weeks ago.) As for the object of scorn himself, Michael C. was in a fighting mood. Alluding to his colleagues’ dismay at his two wins, he told the cameras: “If you’re gonna hate on me for that, step up your game and win a f***ing challenge.” Might he have had Ivy in mind when speaking these words? He’s certainly no fan of her stubborn inability to work with anything but washed-out tones: “Opaque is not a color. But if it was, it would be called Ivy.”
The challenge started off as a one-day, $150 affair, but then Tim announced the shocking twist that the gang would have an extra day and another 150 big ones to whip up a piece of outerwear to accompany the main attraction. That spooked Michael C., who’s from Palm Springs and doesn’t know outerwear from moon boots. But the other Mikey, he liked it. He liked it! And the shrunken jacket he made was cute. Unfortunately, by this time, Michael D. was so far gone he could have made a silk parka and lined it with gold from King Tut’s tomb and he still would have been holding a snowball in hell.
Really, what was he thinking with that dastardly skirt? First of all, he chose to make it in a gray that came off as dowdy and cheap. Then there was that pleated, dropped waist with the lace trim. Tim hated the thing from the beginning and could barely suppress his gag reflex during his workroom rounds. Who could blame him? The designer himself knew he was heading down a perilous path. “For this challenge, I decided to channel the earliest Americans: the Puritans,” he joked. (Gretchen, I gotta say, also brought a dash of funny: “It’s Prairie Home Sex Shop. Michael Drummond, I can’t tell if I should be harvesting wheat or smacking you with it!”) Michael D.’s aesthetic might have hit rock bottom this week, but his sense of humor was in full bloom. “If you took Jackie Kennedy to the desert and gave her some mescaline to eat, you would have Jackie Kennedy in Mondo,” he cracked. It didn’t end there. When April announced she was “following my butt, not my gut,” Michael D. didn’t miss a beat. “Does that mean you’re making her a fanny pack?” Tip of the hat to you, clever one. Thanks to those bons mots, you’re forgiven for not catching Tim’s Waterloo reference. Maybe you thought he was alluding to the Abba song?
Now for the runway show. April had immunity, so she was safe. Well, good for her, I guess. While I didn’t mind her black ensemble with zippers and sheer asymmetrical “outerwear” shrug, it was about as Jackie O. as the polka dot pajama pants I’m wearing as I type this. April is a perfectly competent designer. And she has a point of view. But that point of view — edgy rock princess — is AAA narrow. The young lass needs to get out into the world and gain some perspective and experience. Then maybe we can get past her trying to convince us those puffy sleeves were Jackie O. Um, no.
Joining April in the Safety Dance were Michael C. and Gretchen. And that pretty much sums up how dreadful the majority of the designs were this week. Neither of these outfits was what you’d call, you know, stylish, let alone worthy of Little Edie’s glamorous cousin. Michael’s denim (denim!) vest? Gretchen’s Pocahontas coat? What was wrong with these people this week? Oh, if only Gretchen knew how right she was that more than three people deserved to be in the bottom.
I would have yelped with glee if the judges had pushed more than a trio of low-scorers into the ring of fire this week. But of course they stuck to three: Valerie, Andy, and Michael D. All of them richly deserved to be there. The show’s Susan Lucci, who showed such promise earlier in the season, struck out yet again with a plum jacket/top, black Lycra skirt, and charcoal vest that somehow managed to be both over-designed and boring. Nina rightly called Valerie out for constantly digging into her same ole gimmicky bag of tricks: zippers and pleating. Back to bottom she went. Oh, the shame.
Yet even if Val committed the cardinal sin of boring Nina, it’s hard to argue that her too-sporty sportswear was worse than Andy’s journey to an entirely different solar system. How. On. Earth. Could. Any. Designer. Put. That. Into. The. World. And. Argue. That. Jackie. Would. Wear. It. WHAT? “She’s more Jackie Yo than Jackie O,” said April. Well, I was thinking more a color-blind, cross-dressing medieval court jester who hides his opium pipe in the folds of his bloomers. Those balloon pants weren’t just ridiculous — the fit was deplorable too. Camel toe in the front, wedgie in the back, folks! The worst part is that Andy wouldn’t even entertain the idea that he’d tanked. He’s so enthralled with his own vision, he’s blinded by it. Dude kept repeating how much he loved his monstrosity and tried to defend it by arguing that he didn’t consider himself an American sportswear designer. Oooh, bad choice, mister. Baaaaad choice. “So what, are you a grand couturier?” Michael Kors sneered. “Did I miss something? I mean, come on.” Ladies and gentlemen, please try not to step on Andy’s pulverized ego as you exit.
Of course, however horrifically Andy and Valerie performed, it was Michael D. whom the judges drop-kicked out of the Parson’s stadium. What a shame to see the poor guy kick the bucket so soon after miraculously surviving the multiple stab wounds inflicted by IvyGate last week.
As for the winner’s circle, Heidi was absolutely right when she proclaimed Mondo “the clear winner.” Yes, Ivy showed great improvement from the shapeless sacks of blah she’s forced on us so far. And no question the look she put together was elegant, well-tailored (save for the too-small jacket), and cannily styled. But the outfit was still devoid of color and spark. And it reminded me too much of Eileen Fisher. That said, I’d still vote it higher than Christopher’s ensemble for this particular challenge. The judges’ praise for the handsome one’s design was muted at best — but what else could they have put in the top three? While his sparkly dress was pretty (and guest judge January Jones’ favorite), it did not qualify as sportswear. It was too sexy-tight to be Jackie. And the less said about the dead animals perched on the model’s shoulders, the better. Dirty old dishrag indeed, Heidi.
In truth, Mondo’s design was so far ahead of the competition he ran his own race this week — or rather, tap-danced it while dressed like the emcee from Cabaret. (I know, I know, he said his inspiration was The Cotton Club.) Mondo brilliantly captured the stylish spirit of Jackie while infusing it with his own deliciously cuckoo flair. He chose the right fabrics (no surprise — they talk to him, after all), mixed them with the appropriate amount of verve (love the way he echoed the purple of the houndstooth skirt in the jacket lining), and delivered an overall look that was giddy fun and super sophisticated. Mondo my dear, you owned this challenge. Finally, you won! That picture of Jackie hanging in your kitchen must be smiling right now.
Before I sign off, two final sound bites:
Michael D. to Mondo: “You look like Jackie Kennedy today.”
Christopher: “If Jackie came back as a tranny.”
MK on Andy: “Why is she wearing Nicole Kidman’s boots from Cold Mountain?”
January Jones: “And her hair from Far and Away?”
What do you think? Was there any competition for Mondo this week? Can Valerie turn it around and make it to the finals? What did you think of January Jones? (At least she left her blue Dixie cup Emmy dress at home.) Was anyone else unsettled by Michael C.’s overt two-facedness vis-à-vis Gretchen backstage? How many times this season have we seen that busted black belt that cinched together Michael D.’s losing look? And finally, what’s more delightful: Tim uttering the words “old fart” or “Jackie Kennedy would not have a camel toe”?