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The Paul Lynde of Project Runway

The Paul Lynde of Project Runway by David Matthew Schultz

November 1, 2010

Michael Kors is a caricature and just perhaps angry that Mondo is the first gay character on Project Runway (gay is an unnecessary moniker –we can say first character, period; and we do need to say character – because none of these people is playing him or herself).

The man who took it to heart that New Yorkers are afraid to wear anything that isn’t black plays the stock gay character who makes witty, bitchy remarks to people and says “hello?” a lot. He is the Paul Lynde of today, with quick retorts which seem clever yet obviously scripted before. In the past, these takedowns have been directed at the designer/contestants who play along: Yeah, yeah, he knows as well as we that Tim and Heidi gave us only 18 hours, goofy restrictions, and a last second twist that we had to sew each other’s garments with medical sutures, so when he says the dress looks like something Mother Theresa threw up on, we don’t take it seriously.

But then he turned on poor Jessica Simpson. I’m not calling her “poor.” That’s the adjective that must precede her name now, to which a Google search of her name will attest. Kors attacked her for not knowing the current trend of fashion that is Gretchen’s frumpy, burlappy, earth shoes-inspired, commune hospital gowns. In every shade of medium brown.

That’s the direction of fashion, he scolded her confused, plump visage. “Hello? Read a magazine!” I don’t know if she looked hurt because her fashion cred was attacked or because she did in fact read a magazine once. Poor Jessica: It’s not her fault Heidi tricked her and told her she would be a guest judge on Top Chef.

So now, why was Kors angry? Because he had to share a stage with someone who doesn’t know fashion? Come on, most of you designers cream your jeans when celebrities attend your fashion shows. Besides, he didn’t get mad when Parker Posey was a judge. (Aside: he better not; she’s fantastic). Maybe because he won the something-something lifetime achievement award and the only place you and I heard about it was on Project Runway.

But can a caricature be angry? Sure. Anger is one of those faux emotions that plays so well on “reality teevee,” like pride, envy and avarice. But wait, those are vices, and the two dimensional cutout of Michael Kors, with accompanying woody scent of pine and xanthium gum (I recall his cologne), has them in spades. Don’t get upset Michael, I’m not talking about you, just your wooden cutout.

On the small screen, it is awfully difficult to discern if Heidi Klum made Kors using an electric jig-saw on ¾ inch plywood and covering him in a black t-shirt; but made him she did, by wearing his stuff on the red carpet, or to a Victoria Secret’s reception, or at a party with Seal, or wherever she has been photographed not wearing negligees. It’s like a veteran tennis coach who languishes in obscurity, training young talent and guiding the occasional junior Olympic champion, until getting lucky and landing a prodigy who grows up to be Venus Williams. Or Serena. Or even Jennifer Capriati. The point is, the athlete often makes the coach and the model sometimes makes the designer. Eventually, the designer gets a big head and thinks he is an artist. Unless he is John Galliano, in which case he really is an artist.

Before you Kors aficionados get your black t-shirts in a bunch, ranting about how great a designer Kors is, let me explain that I am no authority on Kors. He might be good. I just don’t know. That’s the point. I don’t own any Kors stuff (except that ghastly cologne that I gave to my ex one Christmas and which he left in the bathroom when he moved out). I’ve seen Kors stuff in photographs on Style.com and in a few shops, but nothing appealed to me enough to buy: partly because I’m rather cheap, and partly because I’m afraid to buy anything besides jeans and t-shirts without guidance from Davide, my Milanese style guru.

The funniest Project Runway was several seasons ago when I roped Davide into watching an episode where Vera Wang guest judged some particularly wretched craft fair of a challenge. He judged the judging of such rags to be beneath Mrs. Wang.

“Come on,” he gestured at the screen. “You are Vera Wang! I mean, Heidi Klum, I can see you doing this show. You’re not Gisele or Carla Bruni. You model Victoria Secret. And who the hell is Michael Kors? But you! You are Vera Wang!”

So he didn’t know who Michael Kors was, I still don’t, and I suspect most Project Runway viewers don’t know either. Oh, we know the cutout -- the caricature -- and that could be what makes Mr. Kors angry. Or the reason could be Mondo -- better than Gretchen, but hardly one of the best in Project Runway history, and certain to be mired in fashion obscurity soon enough along with Jay McCarroll, Chloe Dao, Jeffery Sebella and Leanne Marshall. Oh, and Austin and Santino. Please.

The crowd consensus seems to be that Mondo should have beaten Gretchen – something like 99% of online comments think that Mondo “wuz robbed.” But the fact that Gretchen’s dreary duds won the day over Mondo’s ersatz Marimekko prints is evidence that this was one of the weakest fields in PR history. Still, Mondo pulled that meanest of feats: becoming a three-dimensional gay character on Project Runway (and a more likable one too). By revealing his HIV status after being too afraid to do it with his mother; by confessing that only after weeks on the show that he finally feels good about himself; by acting like a jerk to Michael (in textbook reality show villainy), and then publicly recanting his jerkiness and backing it up with demonstrable affection for the guy, Mondo seemed like a real person. That’s hard to pull off on reality TV.

To Michael Kors, however, Mondo is like John Galliano, and not in a good way. Not as many American women wear Galliano, supposedly, and that makes Gretchen, with her ready-to-wear line of sensible hippie cloth, just like Kors.

So maybe that’s why Michael Kors was so bitter. He won an award. People buy his stuff and he makes money. Fewer Lifetime viewers know John Galliano than do Kors despite Galliano's work with Givenchy and Dior, his winning of four British Designer of the Year Awards and his admittanceto the French Legion of Honour . Could it be that in Kors' mind, Galliano is the real designer.