Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Experiencing Project Accessory

October 27th Project Accessory debuts on Lifetime.  The previews of this Project Runway spin off are shot with muted colors and shades of grey.  The previews cut quickly between the contestants, the hosts, and various tools such as a solder iron with sparks flying, and tin snips.  The dark colors, the elements of fire and metal, and the intimidating facial expressions create a fierce impression of the upcoming show. 

As the previews are quite cryptic let me provide some additional information by regaling you with my audition for Project Accessory during the early phases of production.  It may not have been a successful attempt as I will not be on this debut season; however, the experience was interesting and worthwhile.

It was June and it was just getting warm.  I “like” Project Runway on the Facebook and saw a post in my news feed about auditions for a new show, “Project Accessory.”  There was very little information about the audition process, premise, etc apart from a list of questions for the application process and eventually a list of dates and locations for the audition.  The application asked basic questions about design experience, business models, passion, and work history.  There was also a section that focused on more personal items such as if the applicant ever had a romantic relationship with a coworker, and “when was the last time you cried?”  Clearly, while accessories are the subject, as with all reality shows, drama is the business. 

Auditions were held in LA, Chicago on a Thursday, NYC, and Miami.  One of the only prerequisites for participation in the show was to be able to leave your life and work for six weeks.  Both of these items posed barriers to entry for a girl with a day job and a creative ambition from Ohio.  However, when I realized I had three weeks of vacation left, and a slim shot at making it past the audition let alone week three, the distance to an audition site seemed like a travel adventure to take.  I happened upon a flight to NYC for less than I have ever seen a flight to NYC, and it happened to be for the weekend of the audition!  Now it felt like fate.  Perhaps FoundryM and my basement jewelry making efforts would be brought to the masses.  I decided to make the audition a weekend trip to New York.

FoundryM experimental design
There was little time to prepare for my last minute effort.  Having lost all the previous photos of my work in an unfortunate hard drive failure I brought out the light box and camera and reshot all the FoundryM pieces and the new “unofficial FoundryM” experiments one evening after work.  The next evening was spent working late, the following evening packing and editing the photos.  That left me purchasing supplies to throw together a portfolio on the plane for the audition the same day.  Not the ideal set up for success but as the saying goes on the original Project Runway, “Make it work!”

Unsure what to expect for the open casting I went straight to Yotel, the first fully automated Hotel in NYC, for the audition.  I was given a wristband and a number and told to stand in a short six-person line.  Relieved it was not a scene like the open casting for American Idol, I alternated standing and sitting on my suitcase and admired the characters in front of me. 

One particular woman stood out.  She was about 60, had on a flat topped, broad rimmed hat, short cropped hair, and was wearing a white and black stripped blouse paired with cropped cigarette pants, platform sandals, sunglasses, and bright red lips.  A tourist from another country approached and asked to take the woman’s picture.  “What is this for?” the woman answered coldly, her mouth still a pursed pout.  “I like you style,” the girl managed in halting English, holding up her camera.  The woman agreed with a slight nod and the picture was taken, pout in place.  The woman went back to her phone call describing where she was, holding a well-worn portfolio and the audition application still blank. 

The six at the front of the line were called into the audition leaving me the first one in line.  The only one left in line.  I struck up a conversation with the two guys running the outside line.  “How is the day going?  How was the turn out?  How did you get involved with this? , Etc.”  My wristband number “61” indicated I was the 61st person of the day to audition.  Not the 61st in the “x ‘batch of 100 but simply the 61st.  The turn out in the earlier city auditions had been similar and everything was going smoothly.  One of the guys was a fill in, presenting a Christopher Walken impression to demonstrate he was a comedian when not filling in on similar projects.  The other was a more experienced reality show production man.  He made a phone call and introduced himself as “Jim [not his actual name] from The Apprentice.”  I should have inquired for more reality audition tips but was nervous and not thinking strategically.

I was not the only one in line for long.  A friendly woman looking to be about my age soon fell in behind me.  She picked my brain for details about how it was going as I checked out her electric purple eyeliner and eclectic casual look.  She was friendly, seemed to know what to expect, and her willingness to chat made her approachable.  She was calming my nerves.  She had been in the industry for ten years and her most recent work was designing for the Nicole Richie House of Harlow fall 2011 handbag collection.  The feeling of being slightly out of my league was not relieved with the next few people to join the line.  There was a very put together looking blond in brown and taupe tones, heavily accessorized with bronze inscribed with Hebrew like symbols.  Her Kabbalah inspired collection, she shared, is distributed through Donna Karen’s Urban Zen clothing line.  Reading her jewelry right to left, even if you were unable to understand the reading, brought the song of the universe.  You can’t go wrong with the song of the universe on your side.  Next in line was an older woman brightly dressed, talking in a friendly way, but authoritatively in her New York accent about her shoe line production, and her casual friendship with Jill Zarin of the Real Housewives of New York.  As the line grew I grew silent taking in all the conversation, feeling a bit out of place.

The conversation in line was an education in itself.  There were clear brand perspectives, discussion of the importance of knowing your character and presenting a dramatic storyline or being booted from reality television, and much casual networking.  Two of the women that were personally invited to the audition were having none of standing in the late day sun and our line was repositioned to a nearby spot of shade.  More comfortable, and having completed introductions, we were cordial and attempted to understand more about this new show.  Consistent among the group was a lack of understanding on how the show would work. 

How many accessory designers at the professional level make their merchandise or patterns?  I can make an accessory out of almost anything, self-taught and with many near injury mishaps, I would not consider myself an expert but I felt confident I could figure jewelry samples out.  Shoes would be much more challenging.  The shoe designer in our bunch was beyond self-construction, the handbag designer with the purple eyeliner also produced designs electronically; someone else prepared the products.  Would we all have to make shoes one week, jewelry the next; or would each person be designing with a particular medium from the start?  It was not clear from the application or the little information that was available.

Our short outdoor line was moved upstairs to stand in line again.  The Yotel interior was beyond modern.  Here there were beverages available, hip hotel guests congregating on a nearby balcony with cocktails, and the woman with the flat top wide brim hat was sitting on a mod sofa.  Her style looked out of place in the purple lighting of the upstairs lounge.  She floated from one production member to another, brushed off but still not ready to leave.  We tried to determine if she was still supposed to be there but no one seemed to be paying attention or asking her to leave.  We became more focused as we were clearly closing in on the audition.

We were prepped to present our portfolios to the casting director and told that if she felt we were a possibility we would move on to present our samples to another group of people in another room.  It was exciting to see the portfolios of the other people auditioning.  Calming my nerves, my new friend the handbag designer offered to assist with getting ready for the judge panel.  She offered to give me some merchandising tips and direction on what to show and how to present my samples after we both talked to the casting director.  I appreciated her optimism that we would both be moving on. 

FoundryM necklace loved by casting directors 
The casting director was also from Ohio.  She was friendly, energetic, and personable.  I didn’t know her but she had a familiar look about her.  She liked hearing about how I had purchased my grandparents house and used the remaining contents of the closets to start FoundryM.  She loved my portfolio and told me to tell the woman that would direct the next line that I was “fun.”  I wasn’t quite sure how to work, “I am fun” into a conversation with a stranger without feeling a little uncomfortable but hey, whatever.  Talking to the casting director was extremely encouraging and I was directed to another line for the panel. 

It was clear from this third line that things were getting serious.  The woman I was instructed to tell I was “fun” was not, herself, all that fun.  She was enthusiastic but it was nearing 5pm and her enthusiasm seemed a forced.  She directed me to organize my samples, keep my portfolio out, and wait in line to be “mic’d.”  I watched, as the shoe designer, and the Kabbalah maven, in turn, were mic’d, introduced to the floor tape marker standing spots, and escorted into a room with three judges.  (If you have not already picked up, being “specially invited” got you moved up in line.)  I was excited to have the anticipated consultation from my new friend, the handbag designer, for the final test in the audition.

Ten minutes went by, then 15.  Where was my new friend?  It was my turn to be mic’d.  A good-looking young mic guy joked about it being a good thing I wasn’t wearing a dress.  He wasn’t kidding as he reached up the back of my shirt to pull down a mic wire.  I was relieved as my friend the handbag designer finally joined the line.  She had hit it off with the casting director and it delayed her progression.  I was excited that she made it but my uncertainty continued as it was now my time to go into the room and I did not have a chance to hear her suggestions for presentation. 

I walked into the room with a panel of three judges, one camera, five camera and microphone operators, and three other technical assistants sitting there looking fifteen years old and way too cool.  I handed my samples and portfolio to the table of judges and stood on the taped “X” on the floor.  I surveyed the situation and attempted to figure out who these women were on the three-person panel.  One was obviously a sit-in for the model host as there is no way anyone with a television personality would be caught dead on camera with messy hair knotted on top of her head and no makeup.  The other two looked like they could be familiar but I couldn’t quite put my finger on their identities. 

FoundryM earrings.  Not as cool looking in a ball.
They might as well have said, “Go” or shot a gun in the air.  From the second I hit the taped “X” time seemed to be on fast-forward.  I gave a thirty-second intro and description of my concept.  They barely looked up.  They asked one question, “How much time would you say you dedicate to making your jewelry?”  I responded honestly and modestly that I on average get to spend several hours a week.  This was a significant mistake.  I then watched as they balled up and then pulled my samples into funny shapes, apparently baffled by how an earring may hang down from the hook or how a necklace may hang down from the clasp. I was expecting a conversation similar to what occurred with the casting director.  I paused for some kind of question or response to propel the conversation.  This was my second significant mistake.  My pause was taken as a conclusion, like a defendant resting their case. Each of the women launched, in turn, into a brief monologue.  The first one (that was still twisting the items into different shapes as she was speaking) suggested that the construction could be better and that the designs were too literal.  Fair enough, they are very literal and these were the initial samples, my first attempts at soldering.  The second one told me I needed to take a few years and find my voice.  Clearly a canned response, not only because it didn’t make any sense but because I heard a girl leaving earlier report the same comment.  The third woman on the panel indicated they were looking for someone with more passion and suggested I quit my day job and come back when I needed it more.  What!?!  Quitting the day job may increase my hunger (literally) and give me more time to dedicate to FoundryM but not good general life advice.  I left the room dizzy from the three-minute experience running through all the things I should have done differently.

The mic was removed as I attempted to get my bearings.  My new friend suggested I wait for her and we go get a drink after she had her time in front of the panel.  While she waited her turn I shared my experience.  She took note of the things I felt I should have done differently.  We introduced ourselves to the two new people in line.  One guy walked in with a distinct look about him.  Jeans, loafers, thick rimmed glasses, collared shirt, a fitted blazer with a pinafore, and well manicured face and nails, he looked very put together.  He was attractive and had an appearance that was interesting and made you want to learn more.  He presented a printed portfolio from a previous collection he sold, and a box of more experimental samples.  I immediately fell in love with his earring samples made out of razor blades.  Up close they were glued together but from a distance they were brilliant, sparkling, and a little dangerous.  He talked about his previous experience as a designer on the reality show “Nothing to wear,” his experiences in design school, and his newly born son.  Shoot, if I were casting a show, he would be hired on the spot (for the record, as would my new handbag designer friend).  I then had an opportunity to see my new friend, the handbag designer, work the merchandising magic I was counting on.  She looked at his samples, pointed out the strongest pieces, suggested things to highlight, and most importantly, stressed he should not hand them his samples but to hold them, describe their makeup and feature them to the judges, only handing them over if they specifically requested.  In hindsight, the approach I should have taken was clear.

How would the results of my audition been different if I had an experience like this in the past?  I don’t know but I know what I would have done differently.  First, I would have had a printed portfolio instead of taping my photos in the portfolio on the plane.  I would have changed after getting off of the plane. I would have come in the final interview guns blazing, fire in my eyes, killing them with boastful enthusiasm.  I would have had a clear two-minute monologue to present my concept.  I would have been more self promoting and dramatic in my description of my commitment, “Did I say several hours a week?  I meant I slave over a solder iron every available moment after my slaving day job until I pass out. (Not a lie coming from a narcoleptic.)”  Most importantly, I would have held onto my samples featuring just a few of the strongest pieces’ inspiration, construction, and intended buyer.  These are things to remember for next time.

My friend the handbag designer, and the shoe designer were also not invited past the interview for the show, although for different reasons.  They too received the canned, “Find your voice” comment but their dismissal was due to not being “hands on” enough for the judges liking.  Could they construct a shoe or a purse?  Yes, maybe, but apparently they were not enthusiastic enough in expressing their construction confidence to make the cut.  Ironically, one of the shoe designer’s biggest clients was judge number one and the judge pointed out during the interview that she had ordered but not received one of the samples the designer brought.  I feel like we all could have saved much time if the show had specified, “Applicants must be able to construct 100% of what they design, must be dramatic, and must be a little desperate and hungry, formal design experience preferred.”

No one really told us to stay, no one really told us to leave.  My new friend then wanted to wait for the guy with the razor blade earrings to complete his audition.  I had nowhere to be for several hours and was curious about how his audition went as well.  Like the woman in the stripped shirt and flat top hat, we hung out and took it all in for a while, the not so fun woman running line number three shooting concerned looks in our direction as we sat.  The wait was worth it because razor blade earring guy made the interview cut and was given an assignment to construct something for one more round of evaluation.  The Kabbalah maven also received this assignment.  I attempt to scan for these two people on the preview and can never quite tell in the two second shots if they made it onto the show.  Eventually my new friend and I made our way back out of the mod alter-reality world in Yotel to the streets of NYC and shared a much-awaited cocktail. 

the Met
I had the rest of the weekend to enjoy all things New York.  I may not have made it to reality TV this season but I did make it to the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibit at the Met, to a fantastic dinner in Little Italy, and to Central Park in the early summer.  Not having to wait in line all weekend freed me up to catch up with one of my extremely focused young friends, on an internship in the city for the summer.  I may not be meeting Molly Sims but I met a new friend that provided valuable insight into the world of merchandising and shared wisdom from her ten years as an accessory designer over much anticipated drinks.  I consider the weekend a success. 

Me lovin life and "rockin" in Central Park
 For me the debut of Project Accessory this Thursday is a must-watch item.  I know that the competition will be fierce and I am interested to see if the show is truly as dramatic as the previews suggest.  I want to learn if the interesting designer with the razor blade earrings made it, and if the designer with the bronze etched Kabbalah inspired items actually does her own metal work.  I want to learn more about who the otherwise unknown judges are and what they do.  Most of all I am interested to see if it is going to make it to another season as my experience auditioning the first time would be invaluable in trying again.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fall and its cool breeze

Trying to transition from summer to fall is always a challenge.  Not because of the change of textures, the need for layers, or difference in color palette but because I am never ready to see the foliage wilt and the temperature drop.  Fall is beautiful in a special way all its own but it is a precursor to the cold, and even more frustrating for me, the dry air and static.  
I find what often draws me into this transition and brings me the joys of fall are the new colors.  Often deeply saturated and rich, I cannot help but get interested.  Then, my attention diverted, surprise, its cooler and its fall.
I love the saturated electric cobalt and emerald hues this season.  They topped my “must have” list.  So much so that I hastily bought these Steve Madden pumps an entire size too large.  Thank you Dr Scholl’s massaging gel insoles (and your ability to stick to one another for stacking) and heel grippers.  A little ingenuity and the electric cobalt suede is cozy and in place.
With the back-to-school season I also found myself recalling the favorite days of new school supplies and new classes.  I thought of all the protractors, and rulers and geometry class.  Which then reminded me I have been eyeing the geometric trend for a while and it’s about time I bought a few pieces.  (Ok, all of this nostalgia happened in about twenty-seconds while shopping online, but it did occur.)  I picked up this Maggie London dress and thought, “What a perfect streamlined and work appropriate look!”  Thinking how striking the black and white would look with my new pop of saturated colorful pumps I was excited to dive into the newly emerging crisp air.
The outfit was a hit at the office.  I got immediate compliments from my few female coworkers, and I was productive and direct in my tasks, as I felt confident walking through the halls.... That is, until, I realized the seam that ran below the back zipper, dividing the back of the dress in two halves was quickly coming undone.  Unfortunately this realization came around noon when I noticed the cool draft of the new season on my rear, and upon examination in the restroom could see aforementioned rear through a two inch split.  When exactly this occurred was a bit of concern as I had spent my morning sauntering around confidently.  
After some searching, I was able to borrow a sewing kit.  I took the dress off in the restroom and repaired the hole.  When putting it back on I let out a frustrated and exasperated scream as a different five-inch spot of the seam came undone.  I quickly explained to the other women in the restroom that I was ok despite my scream, and repeated the process of stitching my dress together again.  Luckily the sewing kit had just enough white thread to secure the length of the dress.  Crisis averted.  However, my confidence was diminished as I spent the rest of the day hiding in my cubical attempting not to make any sudden or stretching motions.
This brings up a great lesson in sewing and wardrobe prep.  ALWAYS CHECK THE SEAMS!  Vintage and new this is often the first place a look unravels.  In this case the designer (by flaw or oversight) used a straight single seam stitched on a neoprene like stretch material.  The fabric had much give however the seam did not, and without reinforcement snapped leaving me ass-out at the office.
Not one to give up I am in the process of reinforcing all the seams in the dress.  There are several options for fabric with stretch that I will mention.  Take a look at a jersey seam in something you own.  You will notice there is a stitch that appears to form triangles and criss crosses over itself.  This is important to make sure that the edges do not unravel.  This is also an option for seaming to ensure that the fabric does not stretch beyond the hold of a single piece of thread.  Another option is to sew a separate fabric that does not stretch, or has equal elasticity to the thread, along the inside of the fabric at the seam to keep the stretch fabric from pulling the thread to its breaking point.  This later technique was used along the length of the zipper in the back of the dress but not continued along the remaining bottom portion of the dress.  I suspect this was left out in an attempt to keep the seam invisible, however, a more appropriate approach would have been to use a single back panel of fabric and not continue the seam the length of the dress, or to use a reinforcing stitch.  In any case I would rather have a slightly visible seam than a very visible rear.  
Hello fall.  May your static be minor, and your cool breezes be appropriately placed.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Stylish (?) Book report: The Secrets of the FBI

Just finished the book, The Secrets of the FBI by Ronald Kessler.  As usual, I started it while on a plane.  It really didn’t match my mood while flying to South Beach and then a cruise to the Bahamas but in a bookstore full of similar fiction items and over emotional novels, the shiny black cover and large red lettering “FBI” screamed, “read me.” The last three chapters have been screaming “read me” from my coffee table for the last several months so today is a win for finishing things!  I do not have anything “stylish” to report.  I take that back, the items about the FBI dress code through the years, and ways to conceal ones identity with dress were interesting.  They were interesting but probably not going to help you get dressed on Monday.   In any case, here is my report:

The Secrets of the FBI is full of interesting items communicating the evolution of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from establishment to present day.  It gives an honest view of the changes over time.  It presents interesting secrets, and does not shy away from revealing shortcomings of the past.  It concludes with a description of the positive developments in the most recent ten years leaving the reader with confidence and a feeling of protection by capable hands.

It is rare that a book can be striking and dramatic without embellishment or emotional lament.  Ronald Kessler is speaking from experience as he reveals so much new information about the FBI.  Reading this evokes a variety of emotional responses but there is a clear dedication to truthfulness that is refreshing.  The stories cause intrigue, slight nausea at times, fear, and reassurance with straightforward presentation.  This fascinating look inside the guarded walls of the FBI is worth a read.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bossypants: always in style.

I just finished reading Bossypants by Tina Fey and I am trying to decide if, even though I do not normally have a chance to finish a book unless on a plane, I can find time to reread it.  This is not a book about fashion.   Maybe the one very short comment about shag haircuts could be considered somewhat style oriented, but even if not, this book is so hilarious I feel the need to blog about it.   

This book is so good that I laughed out loud to varying degrees of intensity on my way to and from my recent trip to Boston.  In the airport waiting to board the plane to bean town I had two people tell me my out loud laughter had cinched their decision to buy the book ASAP.  On the plane to Boston I laughed so hard I cried causing the guy next to me to pretend to sleep in fear I was having some kind of a breakdown… he did not fool me.  In the few short days I was visiting I attempted, and failed, to regale those around me with a dramatic retelling of passages on no less than six occasions.  Finally on the flight home to Cincinnati my constant smile and feminine giggles attracted the attention of a handsome man across the isle. 

In short, reading Bossypants you will laugh, you will cry, and you will be more attractive having read Tina Fey’s hilarious book!