For those unfamiliar with the show, in each episode, the designers/contestants must create dresses to fit a given theme, and at the end of the episode, the dresses are critiqued by a panel of judges. In this episode (with the theme being high fashion), judge Nina Garcia critiqued designer Valerie Mayen’s dress, stating, “Wow, I think this looks like a beauty pageant dress. I mean, she looks like Miss Guatemala.” The tone with which Garcia expresses this statement clearly conveys that this was not meant as a compliment, but just in case we weren’t sure, she makes sure to add, “the fit of this dress is shabby,” and that she “really [questions Valerie’s] taste with this [dress]; there’s nothing modern about it.” To sum it up, the dress lacks modernity, is poorly constructed, is tasteless and tacky, and overall, looks like something Miss Guatemala would wear.
The comments that Garcia makes about the dress in relation to Miss Guatemala take up only about 20 seconds of a 60 minute show, but they say a whole lot. If her true intentions were in fact to criticize the dress as looking too pageant, she easily could have related the dress to Miss USA, but in specifically mentioning Guatemala, her comments extend beyond just the realm of beauty pageants. Garcia’s critique about the dress’s pre-modernity and tastelessness and tackiness extend to representing the entire country of Guatemala - she brings into play the idea of anything below the south of the US border being antiquated and outdated, which is very much in keeping with the stereotypes of “Hispanics’ [supposed] fervent love of tradition,” as Davila states, and as we have discussed in class. This is all the more true given the theme of the episode – “high fashion” is supposed to involve hyper-modern, innovative design and creation. In criticizing the dress as failing to be representative of high fashion and in further linking this failure to Guatemala, Garcia establishes a binary between the supposedly fashion-forward and ultra-modern West, versus the few-steps-behind Guatemala.
To make matters worse, after Garcia’s “Miss Guatemala” comment, Valerie, the designer under fire, states, “That’s where my family’s from, actually.” Awkward? Not as much as Nina Garcia laughing off the comment, stating “No offense to you!” Her pseudo-apology sounded far more like she was sorry she had picked Guatemala over some other country to represent the outdatedness of the dress rather than an apology for the actual implications of her previous statements.
You can watch Nina Garcia’s comments on the latest episode of Project Runway here at 46:40.
Pictured above is the designer Valerie Mayen (left), with the dress (right) that sparked the comment.