Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Runway in Review: Carol Hannah Whitfield

I'll start this by saying straight out: I love Carol Hannah's personality.  She's funny, goofy, good-natured, and probably a lot of fun to hang out with.  Those who are annoyed by her mention her giggle thing, but I like it.  She, Chris, and Shirin were generally the least grumpy people all season, and brought a needed measure of fun to the show.

Her designs, unfortunately, didn't always bowl me over.  In many cases, problems were due to execution in such a short time frame.  I get the impression that CH is a thoughtful designer who needs time to percolate between sketch and final product.  Her swoopy, graceful aesthetic is appealing, but she just kept missing the mark for me.

Funny, her outfit for the first challenge has a Christopher silhouette!  We had no idea about that back then.  Wow, remember how excited everyone was for this season?   And how miserable about it everyone is now?  Sads.  Anyway, let's look into the past... *wavy lines*

All images courtesy of 
Bwaha, amirite?  Total bed-cover dress.  The colors are so tasty, though.  The inside-out seams looked better here than when Korto used them on a skirt last season, but they look bizarre from a short distance when the garment is flesh-colored.   Overall, a promising, if fussy, beginning for Ms. Whitfield.

Her maternity look, unfortunately, continued the fussiness with a farking drapery sash under the belly:

That's really the only thing I disliked about the dress; it looked comfortable to wear, the color is lovely, and it had a nice line.  I almost don't feel I can comment on the little bolero shrug thingy, because I hate them all, always.  This may or may not have been a nice bolero shrug thingy, if you're into that sort of thing. 

Surfwear Challenge!  This third challenge saw CH teamed with Shirin, which proved to be a productive and happily drama-free partnership.  CH got the "avant garde" portion:

The good:  it actually seems influenced by... the surf.  The color is beautiful.  It had a nice shape and moved well for such a, um, large garment.  The bad:  it treads right on the line of "really fussy."  I'm trying to imagine who would actually wear this. Something about that neckline business just makes it too much.  And the STYLING.  Why does the model look like a drag queen?

On to the 4th challenge; here's CH's Pretty Dress for her model:

I still have a hard time with this one.  I love the top.  I love the bottom.  I don't love them together like that.  The oval waistband is just weird to me, not in a good way.  Still, not bad.

For the Unconventional Materials challenge, the whole fussy thing kind of got a little out of hand:

This is just way, way, way too much.  Too much of too many different things all smooshed together.  It was around this point that CH's tendency towards fussiness began to worry me, because it's not like she sticks doodads all over everything; the fussiness is integral to the design.

Well, I actually take that back for one second.  For the Movie Character challenge, CH's Action outfit involves superfluosity (another totally real word). 

It seems she was going for Matrix-like, but it ended up looking more like Goth-club wear. The stuff hanging off the belt was odd-looking and impractical.  It might have looked better with a matte fabric.

For the 7th challenge, CH made this blue look for Macy's/INC:

The fabric of the top just looks so cheap, doesn't it?  Too much contrast between it and the much finer-looking skirt.  The top looked better on the mannequin before she added the neck frippery.  I hadn't really noticed until now, and maybe it's my monitor, but those two shades of blue really don't go together.  At all.

The 8th challenge, one of the worst, saw designers scrambling to make something fine from the proverbial Sow's Ear, and CH's look was one of the more successful ones:

As a dress all on its own, I actually don't like it.  It looks a lot like dirty dryer sheets.  And there's another Bolero shrug thingy!  As an entry in this particular challenge, though, it's hard to knock it too much.  It would have been easier to produce a look using only your left index finger than to work with the all-white acetates and polyesters these kids had.

For the Mackie/Aguilera challenge, CH snagged the win with this understated, feathered number:

The amazing thing is that she managed to make something understated with feathers.  Not easy to do.  However, the lack of contrast that makes it so elegant, is the same thing that makes it a bad choice for a stage dress.  Red carpet, sure.  But from a distance it's just going to look like a black dress with a few hints of sparkle.  Still, it's well-done and she deserved the win.

The 10th challenge called for a location-inspired look.  CH drew Palm Beach, and concocted this little confection:

I actually like this more now than I did then.  The pattern is appropriate without being cheesy, the fit is relaxed and comfortable, the look is airy but completely unfussy, and those twisty details are looking better with time.

The fussiness returned for a moment, however, when CH had to make a companion piece for her winning look, in the 11th Challenge:

This was a cute dress, but the top is so not-good.  Like the bodice detailing on her very first gown, that detailing looks interesting up close, but from a short distance away it looks like Mutant Boobage.  I remember not liking the stiff-but-floofy way the skirt moved.  Then there's the small bit about how this is supposed to be a companion piece, but it has nothing in common with the winning look except for the color.  Take away the bodice detailing and it's an ordinary, but perfectly cute, little black dress.

For the final challenge, CH was inspired by an 18th-century French bed, all draped with lush brocaded fabrics and feathers.  So she made this:

*scratches head*  In the one challenge where the fussiness would come in handy, she held way, way back.  I know that Tim told her not to "lose the sophistication," but I'm surprised by her fabric choices and basic design, here.  The one thing I really love about it is the crossing straps at the shoulder.  The whole thing was pretty nicely done, but somehow just disappointing.  Maybe "underwhelming" would be a better word.

It's been sort of frustrating all season to see CH *almost* make an amazing look and then just sort of miss.  But her basic aesthetic is sound and most of her work has been figure-flattering and looks well-made.  Again, I think she was one of the designers most adversely affected by the lack of designing time.  This season really did shaft these poor kids (as well as us, the viewers).

In any case, we'll all find out tomorrow night who took home the Big Prize.  Between now and then, I'll get the Irina retrospective posted.

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