Tomorrow, while you and I are returning phone calls and faxing signatures and sitting in meetings, designers from the Seattle area will be trying very hard to impress a panel of judges representing Project Runway. Yeah, the Seattle auditions are Friday, April 29. If you’re going to be there, good luck to you—and maybe consider reading this quick Q and A with boutique owner Patricia Wolfkill. When Merge’s owner told me she asked, for the second year, to help out, I thought it’d be fun to share her criteria and insight with you here.
WWW: What do you know about why the show’s producers asked you to help judge this round of Seattle-area Project Runway hopefuls?
I’m not sure how Project Runway got my name! They called one afternoon and asked me to send them my resume and bio and said that they would be making a decision shortly on who they would pick to help judge the auditions. I suppose my background in the garment industry in NYC and LA sealed the deal. I worked for over 20 years in the wholesale side of the fashion business doing everything from sales, PR, marketing, production/manufacturing, design/merchandising as well as owning two different apparel companies. I think I bring a very real world perspective to the table at audition time. I know how hard good designers have to work at every step of the process and how their business and creativity need to come together to make it a success.
What will you be looking for when you meet each of the candidates and see their work?
I not only want to see talent but also the drive to succeed. The fashion industry is a multi-billion dollar global industry and is not for the thin skinned or faint of heart. It’s tough out there in the real world outside of Seattle and Portland. Designers are “judged” every season they show a collection. They need to have the stamina and confidence to carry on. I don’t care what they look like or how sassy they are. That’s something for the producers of the show to deal with. I’m looking for the designer with the most talent.
We sometimes see contestants who are technically gifted but lack, perhaps, a sharp sense of modern style and current, worthwhile trends. On the other hand you get really stylish and interesting candidates who get not just the current look, but the one we’ll all want next season, too. But oftentimes that type of person can’t sew … When it really comes down to it, what’s more important?
The ability to sew, to artfully construct a garment, is a very marketable one. Good pattern makers and seamstresses make a great living. But the ability to do those things does not a designer make. A true designer has the vision and creativity to transcend the ordinary and create a work of art. I’m not going to name names, but there are quite a few designers out there that don’t sew. They work with the best pattern makers and tailors/seamstresses to create their vision. I think great designers understand style, have an eye for how a garment will flatter the body, understand fabric and how it will conform (or not) to different shapes, and have impeccable taste levels. So in the end, in answer to the question, I think vision and creativity is more important than being able to sew. However, Project Runway is looking for designers that can sew. It’s the nature of the competition (and the norm for the business) and they want to see the whole package.
Looking back at last year’s judging round, what did you think of Logan Neitzel? What did you think of his work versus how he came across as a character and a designer during the season?
I think Logan is an interesting designer. He reminds me a little of Haider Ackermann, Rad Hourani, et cetera…that dark edgy mysterious thing. I don’t think that really came through enough in the competition though. I wish there had been more “luxury” to his pieces, more refinement—the kind of garments you want to sink your teeth into because they look and feel so good. “Luxurious edge” is just hard to beat in my opinion. He’s young and doing a great job. I’d love to see where he is in five years!
And what about Gretchen Jones, last season’s winner?
Ohhhhh……Gretchen. Hmmmm. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance that I think was crossed. It made “good” TV, but distracted me from being objective about her designs. Not one of my favorites. Sorry.
Complete this sentence: If I could dream up the perfect Seattle-based designer to represent our city on the show and ultimately knock the socks off of everyone at Fashion Week, he/she would hold designers like ___________ and _________ in the highest regard, he/she would strive to make garments that would be desired by _________ and __________ and he/she would fit perfectly in my store alongside labels like _____________ and _____________.
-Phoebe Philo AND Ann Demeulemeester
-young AND old
-IAN and Ilaria Nistri