Tom and Lorenzo are the eponymous bloggers at Tom and Lorenzo (formerly known as Project Rungay). They blog about Project Runway, Mad Men, and fashion (among other things). For ages I’ve admired them and thought they were awesome. After the hugely controversial finale of Project Runway Season 8 (there will be spoilers below), I thought they’d be interesting folks to interview, and we set it up.
Our very long interview covered three basic topics, so that’s how it’ll be broken up. We talked about blogging (a subject I find fascinating), about Project Runway, and about Mad Men. Part 1 will cover Project Runway so…let’s start the show.
Deborah: So one of the reasons I wanted to interview you guys, was I was as horrified as 90% of the people who watch Project Runway.
Lorenzo: Please don’t look to us for answers, because we cannot explain it.
Deborah: No, no, no, I’m not looking to you for answers. I mean, God. (sigh) It was insane. I mean, my head exploded. Arthur was out. Arthur and I usually watch the show together, and it really was a good thing because the screaming, if I hadn’t been alone, would have been unbearable.
Tom: We had heard a rumor that she won. And in fact, it was bouncing around on the Internet for a week or two, it was on Television Without Pity, I believe, and we wrote it off. We were like, “No, that’s some flack from Bunim/Murray is trying to generate controversy. I don’t believe it for a second.” Like, we just didn’t believe it. Like, when it got down to the last couple of minutes of judging, before Heidi announced it, we kind of figured it out. We were like, “Wow. It’s really going to go to Gretchen and not Mondo.” So, we were a little prepared for it, even if we didn’t believe it at the time.
Deborah: Honestly, when Nina said, “That was a perfect ready-to-wear collection,” that was the quote, right?
Deborah: I said to myself, “Kiss of death. She’s done!” Because that’s what they said to Emilio.
Deborah: Nobody wants a perfect ready-to-wear collection. I was so, I was so, I was speechless. But I really wasn’t calling to make you insane about [that]. It’s really more like: How mad would you have to be at Project Runway to break up with the show that made your blog?
Tom: Oh, that’s a good question. Well, I don’t want to sound like I’m making threats, because I don’t know what I’ll do in a given situation. But we both have said in the past if they got rid of Tim Gunn, it would be hard for us to continue blogging the show.
Deborah: Oh! Yeah, I wouldn’t watch it anymore.
Tom: Yeah, it would be a little hard to. And especially if Tim didn’t leave under his own cognizance. If he quit then maybe I would continue watching it, but if they fired him or something like that, I would probably never watch it again. Awarding the win to Gretchen is not, I don’t know, we didn’t agree when Jeffrey won in Season 3. And to be honest, we weren’t even rooting for Christian Siriano that much. So, this isn’t the first time that they’ve awarded the win to someone that we didn’t agree [on], but I have to admit this is the most “WTF” moment the show has ever had. I mean, I could accept Jeffrey, I could understand Christian Siriano, But Gretchen? I just don’t get it at all. It seems to fly in the face of everything they’ve said before in previous seasons.
Deborah: I wasn’t actually rooting for Christian, but Christian looked like a shoo-in.
Tom: We weren’t rooting for him either, but we were resigned to the fact that that was what the judges loved. And, you know, I’m not putting him down. He is insanely talented and certainly knows how to work the press. So I don’t think it was a bad decision on their part, but you know, there were other designers in the finale that we liked more than Christian.
Deborah: That was actually, I started with Season 4 and worked my way backwards and haven’t actually seen all three, first three seasons. You know, Bravo was always really good about marathons, so if you had a cold you could catch up.
Lorenzo: Right. Well, Season 1 and 2 are our favorites. I mean, you should watch that.
Tom: [Season 1] is the best out of all of the seasons because nobody involved, not even Heidi, Michael, and Nina, knew what they had, so everybody was kind of raw on camera. Now they’re very polished, and everybody’s very aware of the camera.
Deborah: Yes, I feel like sometimes I’m right on the edge when Heidi says, “Have we made a decision,” and Michael does his little nod.
Deborah: That little nod is so for the camera that every single week I’m like, “Ahhh!”
Deborah: “No! Stop! Don’t do it! Don’t nod!” It’s disturbing. But…there have been episodes that we have blogged of Mad Men where I said, “I did not like this episode.” But there’s almost an existential question; ‘this is your show’ versus ‘do I really want to keep watching it?’
Lorenzo: We react like every fan or every viewer of the show. We throw things at the TV, I mean, face it, we still have that kind of reaction. Although we know, I mean it’s a little different because we know so much stuff now, you know, for having blogged the show for so long. But we still have genuine reactions, like any viewer of the show. And we do say, “I can’t stand this anymore,” or whatever. But every time a new season is announced, I mean, we’re excited about it again. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that we really like the show. We feel it’s flawed, has ups and downs, but bottom line, we still like the show very much.
Tom: Yeah, I mean regardless of how it ended, and we don’t agree at all with how it ended, this was actually, for us, a very entertaining season. In fact, if it had ended with Mondo’s win, it probably would have ranked as one of our top three favorite seasons. It had very colorful personalities, they had good guest judges, the talent level was not as high as the show has been in the past, but it’s certainly not the worst we’ve ever seen. It’s just, yeah, they gave it to the wrong person at the end. And I don’t even…all season long, we thought Gretchen was highly entertaining. Highly entertaining, like in a Wendy Pepper kind of way. Well, you didn’t watch Season 1, but someday you’ll know who we mean when we say Wendy Pepper. But she was just un-self-aware, and put herself out there in a very raw way that you don’t see on reality television anymore because everybody’s way too savvy. And on that level, we found her very, very entertaining. I never thought she was evil or a bitch or what a lot of people on the Internet seemed to think that she was. She seemed to us to have a high self-regard, which may not have been earned, and she had a certain prissy attitude that caused her to give her opinions when nobody wanted to hear them, but aside from that I wouldn’t have called her a villain, you know?
Lorenzo: I think the key, too, is for us is, it’s entertainment. We watch it to have fun. We don’t take it as seriously as a lot of people do. So I think that’s the way to approach a reality TV show. You know, it’s still a reality TV show.
Deborah: It’s not like the winner and the designer you hear from in the future are necessarily the same.
Tom: Yeah! No, you’re absolutely right. So good luck to Gretchen, but I honestly think Mondo will have a better post-show career than she will.
Deborah: I mean, if we’re gonna look at who’s the next one designing for Meryl Streep, it’s not going to be Gretchen.
Tom: No! It wasn’t even Christian Siriano, and he won that season.
Deborah: No! That’s exactly my point! I mean, Chris March was eliminated before the final, and look who gets Meryl Streep.
Deborah: I’d call that a pretty good runner-up prize.
Tom: Yep, absolutely.
Deborah: So let’s do some favorites. Your favorite Project Runway designer?
Tom: Laura Bennett.
Deborah: Does Lorenzo disagree?
Lorenzo: Best contestant by far, no doubt, Laura Bennett. Designer? Leanne Marshall.
Tom: I would say, yeah, I’ll say that. Laura Bennett was our favorite contestant, but our favorite designer, let’s say Lorenzo says Leanne Marshall, I say Jay McCarroll.
Lorenzo: Right, right. I forgot Jay. Both, absolutely, no doubt.
Tom: Jay McCarroll was the Season 1 winner.
Deborah: Right, right. I do remember that. I mean, it’s not like I don’t have an Internet.
Tom: That’s true, I’m sorry. Sometimes we can’t gauge how much other know about this show, because we live and breath it, so we never know how much other people are, you know.
Deborah: Oh, God, I totally understand that! (Deborah tells a long story about quoting an episode by title and number.)
Tom: Yeah, that is scary.
Lorenzo: Well, on our level, we can’t do that, but we can name every outfit that every female character ever wore on [Mad Men], so.
Deborah: Okay, that’s just as good (laughs). I’m going to get to Mad Men in a minute, I just want to keep wracking your brains on Project Runway for another minute. Your favorite contestant was Laura Bennett; your favorite designers were both winners, actually, Leanne and Jay. So who’s your favorite designer who didn’t win?
Lorenzo: Oh, gosh.
Tom: Who didn’t win?
Lorenzo: I guess Jillian.
Tom: Okay. I’ll go with Jillian in terms of her design. She was a finalist the same year that Christian Siriano was.
Deborah: I remember.
Tom: Yeah, we thought she “had it,” whatever “it” is. But we thought she had it in terms of design and personality and [ability] to market herself, and she was producing clothes that were beautiful and wearable and feminine, but also had a little twist on them.
Deborah: And you guys love knitwear, and she’s a knitwear person.
Tom: Yes. We love well done knitwear, because very few of these designers in Project Runway have the nerve to use it. And then when some of them do use it, they don’t necessarily use it all that well. But [Jillian] was one of the few who used knitwear and used it very, very well. And just to go back, so was Jay McCarroll. Jay McCarroll used knitwear very, very well in his finale collection.
Lorenzo: I mean, Jay McCarroll’s collection still is, after eight seasons, the best stuff sent down the runway, ever.
Tom: You look at those pictures, and they’re almost six years old, and they’re still fashion-forward looking.
Deborah: Pretty much I’m getting off the phone, going on Netflix, and getting Season 1. You’ve convinced me. [I did, in fact, do this, and have already completed the first disc. –Deborah] Bravo’s not showing them anymore because of the whole Lifetime thing.
Lorenzo: They’re not. But it’s an incredible season, it’s a very good season. And you can see, you can smell, you can touch the creativity, the raw talent.
Lorenzo: I mean, it’s so much focus on creating things, and that’s how we got so excited about the show. Because at the time you didn’t see that in a reality [show], right?
Tom: No, you never saw that kind of reality, that sort of creativity on reality TV.
Lorenzo: I mean, that’s why we were so excited about the show.
Deborah: Roberta was watching from Season 1, and she kept telling me, “You have to watch it, you have to watch it.” And I was really on an anti-TV thing [for a while].
Deborah: So, do you have a favorite single challenge?
Lorenzo: The Paris one, of course. I mean, everybody still talks about that one. When they went to Paris, Season 3, so that was a very special moment, because you have Paris, the capital of fashion, and you have all these designers going to Paris. So that, to me, was an incredible episode.
Tom: I am not going to say that one, I am going to say, this is a challenge from Season 1, which was the 2055 challenge, where the designers were broken up into two teams, and they were to each produce a mini-collection based on the concept of ‘What would people be wearing in 2055.’ This was shot in 2005, so it was fifty years in the future. And it was some really interesting clothing, and just the basic concept was all about being purely, purely creative. It wasn’t about trends or fashion, it was about design. So that, to me, is probably the gold standard in terms of design challenges.
Lorenzo: I wish they’d focus more on designing. I know it’s fun to design, you know —
Tom: Red carpet dresses
Lorenzo: — or wrapping paper or candy or tires, that kind of challenge, using that kind of material. But it’s still interesting, to me at least, if they went back to real design for real situations, like a bridal challenge, or something like the Post Office challenge. And again, these are all from Season 1, so I’m sorry we keep referring back to Season 1. But these challenges were so—we still remember them. I mean, the bridal challenge was amazing. Remember that? Like the model was crying when she tried on her dress. I mean, that’s the kind of impact we’re talking about, you know, watching the show. We still remember that.
Deborah: I have to say, my favorite challenge was the menswear, just because you never saw so many people hit a wall so hard.
Tom: Oh, my God, it was a disaster.
Deborah: Oh, I loved that! The disaster was amazing. I think I never understood how difficult that was until I saw that challenge. It was kind of a thrill.
Tom: Oh, it tends to be, you know, fashion designers tend to specialize in either one gender or the other; they don’t tend to have the same skills. And when you’re talking about big name designers, like Michael Kors or someone like that, well, they have other people designing those clothes for them. But it’s very rare that you’ll find a small name designer or a struggling designer who can whip out a dress as easily as he or she can whip out a suit.
Deborah: It was fascinating. So what’s your — if you could just remake Project Runway, and I hear what you’re saying about design, but your fantasy Project Runway with a unicorn horn would be?
Lorenzo: What are you asking us, a specific design?
Deborah: No, what you would like to see happen on the show, what you would like the show to be?
Tom: Well, we have to strike the balance every year in the casting, and that has always been where Project Runway has had the most difficulty. But generally, what most fans consider their worst seasons are the seasons where they didn’t cast it that well. Either they had people who were talented but had no personality whatsoever, or they had people full of personality and the talent level wasn’t just all that exciting. That’s part of the reason why we felt that Season 8 was actually in certain respects a very good season, because no, there were no Jay McCarrolls in this group, there were no Christian Sirianos in this group, but there was talent there, and there were points of view there. I mean, if you said a Gretchen dress, you can picture what I’m talking about. If you say a Mondo dress, if you say an Andy dress, or even an April dress, you can picture that.
Tom: That’s half the battle right there in terms of talent. It’s finding people who have easily definable points of view that can be summed up very quickly. And then the problem becomes how do you find people with that talent level who are also fun and/or interesting on camera. Like I said, I think Season 8, they managed to do that this year. It wasn’t the highest talent level they’ve ever had, nor were these the most interesting people they’ve ever had, but it was a return to form for the show. Seasons 6 and 7 were probably the weakest seasons the show’s ever had. So, I guess to answer your question, first and foremost, I wish the people in the casting process realize that you have to strike a balance between characters and designers. You have to find the right number of each. You can’t sway too far over into either side. And then aside from that, I think a minimum of female celebrities as guest judges. I would rather see editors or other designers or people involved in the industry, buyers or stuff like that; people who can talk about the clothes on a deeper level than, “I would wear that,” or, “I would not wear that.” And then just to keep the — the challenges have to be interesting. It can’t just be make a dress every week. In fact, we keep saying, “We wish they had a challenge where they said, ‘You can’t make a dress. Here are the parameters of the challenge. Oh, and by the way, you can’t make a dress.’”
Deborah: That would be fantastic.
Lorenzo: Right. Just stuff like that where it doesn’t cause the designers to default to, ‘Oh, I’ll just pull a pretty dress out of my trick bag.’ And usually it’s dresses they’ve made a dozen times before in their career, so there’s no interest, there’s no tension, there’s no nothing; it’s just a dress. So interesting challenges, interesting people, talent level and good judges. That’s all the show has ever needed.
Deborah: Roberta wants to know, are there patterns that you’ve recognized? Like this kind of challenge is going to have this kind of outcome, or this kind of contestant will or will not work?
Lorenzo: Well, I can tell you that if they ever do a challenge that consists of making a dress for Heidi, it’s whoever makes the shortest dress wins the challenge.
Lorenzo: Short and shiny, yeah. You can go back and check. Whoever makes the shortest, tightest, shiniest dress wins the challenge.
Tom: Right. That’s it.
Lorenzo: Yeah, I mean, we’ve been blogging this show, again, for eight seasons now, so we kind of know where they go and what the judges, having the same judges, you know, we kind of know what they’re going to like or dislike, you know, unless they’re on crack.
Tom: Well, granted, this season they seemed to be smoking a lot of crack.
Deborah: They really are.
Lorenzo: And it’s very much focused on styling this season. I don’t know what’s up with Nina this season, but she’s very much focused on the style.
Tom: I think that’s a Marie Claire thing.
Lorenzo: Yeah, I think it’s a Marie Claire thing. But all she talks about is, you know, the shoes matching the dress and how well they accessorize the look, blah, blah, blah.
Coming soon, we talk about the crazy world of blogging, and about our favorite show, Mad Men, and Tom and Lorenzo’s highly influential Mad Style feature.