Oscar Guns for Finale

Recap of episode 10 of Project Runway: Under The Gunn

The dust from the emotional departure of Michelle Uberreste last week hadn’t quite settled when episode 10 cranked-up.  Tongues and tempers were still acidic.  To make matters worse, for this do-or-die team challenge the outspoken Asha Daniels was paired with the designer deemed the weakest link—Natalia Fedner.  Even mentor Mondo Guerra was a sourpuss, who anticipated a negative scenario from having to collaborate with Natalia’s mentor Nick Verreos: “Some of my personal eUTGshanmotions are going to get in the way.  This is going to be a disaster.”

Sam Donovan on Team Mondo credited Natalia with making “the most progress in this competition.”  But he overlooked that Oscar Garcia Lopez has evolved from an aesthetic that over-draped Cuban cha-cha drag queens from the 1940s, into a powerhouse able to deliver and edit modern ideas with Fifth Avenue finesse.

Either way you pair the designers you hope advance to the finale, Oscar is a winner. This recap series concludes before the final show airs.  Garments in the final show reflect Oscar’s flare for well-draped elegance.  All three mentors walk the red carpet at the final show, which was recorded December 16, 2013.  Actor Neil Patrick Harris joins the delicious Heidi Klum who dons red kinky boots to judge the collections that will determine the overall winner.  Shan Keith Oliver saved the day for Team Anya, and earned his invite to the finale.


Designers Shan Keith Oliver and Oscar Garcia Lopez collaborate on a mini-collection. Top: Shan’s blazer walks the runway. Below: Blake Smith (l) and Sam Donovan. Bottom: Oscar’s maxi dress. Photos: Under The Gunn/Lifetime TV

At this week’s judging, Oscar and Shan were praised for bringing “obvious genius” to the mini-collection team challenge they won.  Sam and Blake Smith escaped judging unscathed.  Asha and Natalia had their necks on the chopping block for an awkward dashiki and ill-constructed dress.  “It looked so much better before I put the pleats down,” cried Natalia about the messy bust of her dress.

UTG01-ep10-episode8The facial cue of judge Jen Rade usually says enough, but her critique is incomplete without her colorful narrative:  “I love a dashiki, but this looks like she yanked a curtain off a motel and wrapped it around herself.”  “This dress is mirroring the worst construction ever seen, why is one nipple over here and one up here?!”  Their collection made “even the models look uncomfortable,” added Rachel Roy.

UTGoscarWhen Tim Gunn revealed the vote to cut Natalia, mentor Nick cried: “This has been life-changing to see how much she has developed into a great designer.”  “Pursue your dream,” he told Natalia, “Thank you for letting me grow.”  Though Team Nick is on its last leg, Oscar is a consistently strong and favored contender.

As her 15 minutes dwindled to seconds, Natalia told the camera: “Although I let the criticism and lack of respect to get to me, I did not take it out on anyone.  It showed me that under pressure I’m a good person.”  That offers a usable takeaway.  To which I add, win or lose, being chronicled with a slight side of pepper, benefits the popularity of those who willfully step into the critical lens of reality TV.


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Anya, Mondo Under Attack

As episode 9 of Under The Gunn unfolded viewers were drenched by venomous comments from castmates on the show.  It was easy to assume this week’s challenge was to explain why everybody hates Natalia.  “I don’t think Natalia deserves to be here.  I’m not sure who she is as a designer,” explained designer Asha Daniels.  “I don’t think she’s trying to bring anything new or different, or take any risks.”  Another Team Mondo designer, Michelle Uberreste added, “Natalia should have gone home, there are other people here with a lot more talent and a lot more drive.


Above: Tim Gunn and Nick Verreos with Natalia Fedner in the workroom. Pictured below: Tim Gunn with judges Jen Rade, Rachel Roy and recording artist Macklemore. Oscar Garcia Lopez with his winning design. Natalia Fedner with her design on the runway. Photos: Under The Gunn / Lifetime TV

””I’m perceptive,” defended Natalia Fedner choking back tears, “I can tell they don’t like me, at the same time I so badly want to show everyone what I have.  I know the other designers don’t see me as a threat.”  Her perception is on target though her designs falter.  Mentor Anya Ayoung-Chee chimed in with two-cents saying Natalia delivers “inconsistent work, incomplete ideas.”  The slinging of hot grease at nervous Natalia was nonstop.

Designers were required to create a garment that transforms from a daytime look to an evening statement.  Judges Jen Rade and Rachel Roy were joined by recording artist Macklemore for the task of applauding and slamming the final designs.  Judges#9_UTG

The bacchanal around Natalia was a distraction from the focus on the complexities of negotiating the design challenge.  Meanwhile, mentor Nick Verreos was ambushed for nurturing co-dependency with his mentees.  Finally, Tim Gunn ushered Nick to an Ah-Ha moment by suggesting he use a socratic approach and pummel mentees with questions such as, What do you think?  How do you feel?

After runway judging of the transitional garment challenge the playing field was leveled, each mentor supports two designers.  Oscar Garcia Lopez from Team Nick stole the show with his sleek, black shimmery design for an heiress of a philanthropic family.  “At the end of the day I’m happy to go home on something I love,” admitted Michelle from Team Mondo, who was eliminated.Oscar#9_UTG

While Anya is usually critical and complimentary in the same breath, her observation of Shan’s design was conservative and borderline clueless.  “I still think there are issues with the construction, at least there is thought and innovation,” noted Anya as the dress that revealed mid-section cutouts and a zippered skirt sauntered down the runway.  In the end, the judges felt: “It has a sexy, cheerleader feel to it; this met the challenge.  It’s youthful, super successful in a really modern way; great construction.”

Judge Rade felt Blake Smith’s evening look befit an ObGyn’s office, not a runway.  Macklemore reinforced that sentiment with his vote: “Would I want my girlfriend to go out in this, absolutely not!”

Credit Natalia for this week’s takeaway: “Although I am at a disadvantage at being able to edit and construct quickly, the judges see a lot of imagination in me and for that reason I’m still here.”  In other words, having ideas matters.Natalia#9_UTG

After the runway cleared mentors Mondo Guerra and Anya stood defiantly to show their disagreement with the verdict of the judges.  Mondo argued, “Why should someone stay who depends so much on their mentor!?”  Anya vowed the judges will regret their elimination decision.  Then hundreds of viewers raced to Facebook to ignite a firestorm of critiques that denounce Anya and Mondo as ‘bullies,’ ‘disappointing,’ ‘appalling,’  ‘despicable,’ ‘immature,’ ‘arrogant,’ and ‘shameful.’  Read for yourself, visit Tim Gunn: Official Page, Mondo Guerra Fan Page and the Project Runway Page.

We’re tuning in to see if an underdog can shutdown the antagonists and if Anya will be forced to eat her words.


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Sculpted for Eternity

Nijel Binns Sculpted Creative Encounters with

Jackie Chan, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder

She’s the only cornrow-wearing Black woman in the world who stands 16-feet-tall and embodies aesthetic attributes of Asian, African, Native American and European people.  She’s part mythical goddess, part urban princess whose presence in the south-central district of Watts was intended as a symbol to urge community healing after the infamous Los Angeles riots of 1992.  Every enduring gesture of The Mother of Humanity™, as she’s called by her creator Nijel Binns, offers thoughtful symbolism: She holds “a feather of peace found not only in Native American culture but it was used by the Egyptian goddess Maat,” shared Binns, “her left breast is concealed while the other is exposed, not for pornographic nature […] in the Amazon women warriors used bow and arrows and amputated their left breast to make it easier to draw their bow—the breast is symbolic of the source of mineral resources for all humanity, and her form is modeled on the continent of Africa that is sublimely established in her shape.”  This graceful two-ton monument, valued at U$200,000, would be followed by six reproductions to be placed in Africa, Australia, Brazil, China, India and Spain if this portrait sculptor’s vision is ever realized.

For Binns, The Mother of Humanity™ is a testimony that the art of figurative sculpting isn’t confined to creating portrayals of living or deceased heroes.  Binns, a native of Battersea, England, spent four years in Mandeville, Jamaica before migrating to Newark, New Jersey in 1963.  “My first exposure to sculpting was at St Benedict’s Preparatory [in 1971], I fashioned a hand flashing a peace sign that I finished in antique gold.”  Being highlighted for his talent in a Newark newspaper inspired Binns to explore his artistic ability.  But his first professional sculpture wasn’t executed until 1990.

“I’m an anomaly in many ways: I’m self-taught as a sculptor and as a writer,” shared Binns, who tutored himself in ancient Egyptian history, Greek sculpture and the Renaissance period.  “I did one semester at Montclair State College in New Jersey, I learned to draw lines and squiggly circles and felt that was not for me.”  Binns traded college for four years in the U.S. Air Force, with the intent of entering the film industry.  “I became a stuntman in Jackie Chan’s first American film The Big Brawl.  Being a stuntman and fight coordinator was his priority until he decided to create a 3/4 life-size bust of Michael Jackson.

“It was clay with a ceramic gold finish,” he recalls, “I gave it as a gift to Joseph Jackson [Michael’s dad].”  A photo of that statue and a thank you note from Joseph Jackson that read: “In acknowledgement of the gold statue of Michael that you sculpted for my family, I express sincerest appreciation.  Your work is a pleasure to own.  I find the statue is beautifully detailed and well crafted.  It captures the likeness of Michael very well.”  That note was in Binns’ folio during a chance meeting in 1990 with Stan Hilas of The Fitzgerald Hartley Company, who was searching for a sculptor to create a bronze figure of Michael Jackson.

That note and photograph, coupled with being prepared for the opportunity, secured the commission to create the Artist of the Decade Award that was presented to Michael Jackson by CBS/Epic executives Tommy Motolla and Dave Glew.  That year, Binns was retained by Motown to create the Maasai Princess, a 18K gold-plated bronze statue valued at $75,000, that was presented to Stevie Wonder on the occasion of his 40th birthday.  Among Binns’ other illustrious commissions is a bronze bust of John W. Mack, former president of the LA Urban League, and the first bronze monument of actress Shirley Temple for a daycare center that bears her name at Fox Studios in Century City, California.

From a piece of clay to a silicon mold to a wax form for a ceramic shell in which molten metal is poured, the process of crafting a bronze bust can consume four months and requires painstaking attention to details.  Binns scours photographs of his subjects taken from all angles in search of the expression that “captures the soul of the person.”  He passes on his ‘love of beauty’ through sculpting classes at his Los Angeles studio.

In spite of his impressive commissions, the creative life for Binns is peppered with struggle and angst.  “I manufacture for eternity,” he said, “most people don’t see the value in that.  I usually have to initiate projects for people to say, ‘Oh, yeah I need that.’  If there’s a Nate Holden Performing Arts Center there should be a statue of Nate Holden not just a name on a building.”  One can say the same for the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial site.  Songwriter and music producer Joshua Thompson of Tallest Tree Music attests, “[Nijel’s] a living master who has trained with masters, he’s nearing his peak and is someone the world ought to notice.  When you see how people react [with amazement] to the accuracy of his work that impact is what art is supposed to do.”


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LA Confidential: Brad Johnson fuels a Downtown revival

An appetite for dining out is integral to life in Los Angeles.  It’s pretty common for movie scripts and record deals to get the greenlight over a four-course meal.  For restauranteur Brad Johnson, success in the fine dining sector of the food service industry affords prized access to the pulse of Hollywood.

Brad Johnson atop Windows in Downtown Los Angeles.

Johnson, a native New Yorker, migrated west in 1989 and opened the Roxbury, an immensely popular restaurant and dance club that was immortalized in the movie A Night at the Roxbury.”  His follow-up contributions to LA’s nightlife, Georgia (co-owned by Denzel Washington) then The Sunset Room (both now closed),  helped spark the revival of the Hollywood business district.  These days his passion for dining is invested in Downtown Los Angeles where he manages an impressive net income turnaround for Windows restaurant, which is part of Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson’s portfolio.

Table at Windows with a drop dead gorgeous view.

When Johnson entertains visitors he avoids the beaten-track.  “I’ve taken friends to classes at Power Yoga, to dine along the Malibu coast, and to The Ivy or the Newsroom where you might find a fair number of [film] industry networkers.”  “I love exploring Chinatown and The Farmer’s Market on Main St. in Santa Monica on Sundays,” adds Johnson, who frequents the nine-mile bike path that starts in Manhattan Beach and snakes along the vibrant Venice Beach boardwalk.  Major boxing events and the uninhibited nightlife in Las Vegas provide an alternative weekend experience for Johnson who manages V Bar at The Venetian resort.  “Jobs and people are always turning over so there’s a constant search for what the next thing is,” he says, “since people [in LA] define themselves by where they go and who they’re sitting next to it’s important to know what place that is at any given time.”

Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Restaurant sales in California in 2005 tipped the $50 billion mark, in 2004 visitors to LA spent $12 billion, and LA ports handled $235 billion in trading activity.  “Obviously the entertainment industry is the hub of the wheel,” shares Johnson, “as for emerging opportunities, LA’s gone through its cycle there are a lot of Downtown developments going up [and fueling the construction industry], but we’re at the tail end of that boom.”  The Staples Center, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and Los Angeles Music Center have principal roles in casting Downtown as a hip destination for sports and performing arts attractions.  The 2007 arrival of LA Live, a sports and nightlife venue that houses the Grammy Museum, an ESPN studio, bars and bistros, should confirm LA’s new ‘It’ address.

“LA’s an easy place to live though it’s getting more expensive and congested,” admits Johnson, “it’s still a forward thinking city.  If you’re not in New York the only other place to be is Los Angeles.”  Learn more, visit the official site of the LA Convention and Visitors Bureau.

STAYThe Sunset Tower Hotel “Is low-key, a little more exclusive and a bit more expensive,” offers Johnson.  Its art deco architecture hints at the elegance of its suites that offer views of Beverly Hills and Hollywood Hills.

Petit Filet with Lobster Tail.

DINE: The unobstructed 360-degree penthouse view from Windows is as luscious as the Petit Filet with Australian Lobster Tail or Bone in Rib Eye, both specialties of this steak house and martini bar situated near Staples Center.

CHILL:  After lunch Johnson designs a relaxing afternoon in West Hollywood by perusing “spiritual, meditation and New Age releases” at Bodhi Tree Bookstore before drifting to Elixr for a mind-clearing herbal tonic.  Here a tranquil garden offers “a place to sit and read.”

ENJOY:  Downtown’s cultural jewel, Walt Disney Concert Hall, offers self-guided audio tours of this spectacular structure and year-round performances by touring choirs and orchestras.  Catch a free exhibit at California African American Museum, which preserves the legacy of African American culture in the western states.


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