Last night's Project Runway included the now-familiar "avant garde" design challenge. I have to admit, I've always been a bit bemused by these episodes. It seems that, at least to PR contestants, avant garde means there is required to be at least one huge poufy or sculptural thing extending from the model's body, like Irina and Johnny's design, pictured above.
Why, I wondered, in the world of Project Runway, does avant-garde always mean playing with volume? I suspect it has much to do with the nature of Project Runway itself, that little fashion tempest in a teapot. Considering that the very definition of avant-garde is something that opens boundaries of art forms, is it really feasible to conceive, design, and create an avant-garde look in one day?
I think that's the thing that's always bothered me about these PR challenges: the avant-garde project seems like an afterthought, something to be whipped together. So the designers rush around like the insane, taking breaks to whine at each other, and then end up just plopping a big pouf of organza on a model's shoulder and crossing their fingers that they don't get cut.
In reality, I suspect that experimental looks actually require a lot more planning and technical expertise than traditional designs. As we've seen, to try to be a "conceptual" designer on Project Runway is to essentially be ridiculous - and a death wish, competitively speaking. Just this season, we've met the unforgivably weird Ari Fish, who was cut for her "disco soccer ball halter diaper," and then the ethereally annoying Malvin who was axed for his bizarre chicken/egg take on fertility for the maternity challenge. I think we all collectively groaned when he primly posited that he was "just too conceptual for America."
Oddly enough, the designs I've seen on PR that have felt the most avant garde to me were Chris March's from the All-Star Challenge. His minimalistic and monastic creations seemed both beautiful and ominious, evoking something beyond just clothes. (Maybe he wasn't napping through the challenge, he was just thinking really hard.)
But I suppose this all opens up the question: what the hell is avant-garde fashion anyway? What makes a design truly experimental, in the way avant-garde theatre or art is experimental? And I'm afraid that's one I'm not prepared to answer. I guess I just wish the producers, judges, and contestants of Project Runway were.
And you, lovely readers? What do you think of the avant garde challenges? Also, any fashion nerds out there that could help out with some historical context?