Saturday, September 25, 2010

Project Runway - Guatemala is the new tacky.

I was watching the new episode of Project Runway yesterday and noticed a few comments during the judging that seemed very off to me.

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country of Guatemala - she brings into play the idea of anything below the south of the US border being antiquated and outdated, which is very much in keeping with the stereotypes of “Hispanics’ [supposed] fervent love of tradition,” as Davila states, and as we have discussed in class.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.


  1. And it is Nina Garcia--a Columbian fashion journalist saying this!!!!! Just another confirmation about how racialized and nationalized discourse also functions within Latin America. UGLY.

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  3. I wasn't entirely sure if I should include the fact that Nina Garcia herself is Colombian in the blog post. While I personally felt like she should "know better" than to make a comment like that because she is Colombian herself, I don't know if it is right to feel that way.

    Is it fair to critique Latin American people more harshly for perpetuating these stereotypes than you would, say a white or Asian person? Should we expect Latin Americans to be more exempt from these racialized/nationalized discourses than the rest of the world, despite how prevalent such discourses are everywhere, not just the US?

  4. I have watched this show for several seasons and have loved some of the designers that have participated, but lately I have been rather frustrated with it. In the previous episode, the challenge was to design "American Sportswear" inspired by Jackie O. The designer Andy South produced a pair of draped harem pants which the judges panned. The guest judge says, "they don't look AMERICAN..." drawing the word out. Heidi Klum expresses dismay that anyone could design something like this in response to "American Sportswear." And while the pants fit awkwardly in the crotch, one suspects that the judge's objections to the outfit are not that it is not "American" enough but not white enough. And while what is meant by "American" is never really explained, Andy South's design apparently wasn't it.

    Fashion is a universal mode of self expression and fashion in America is influenced by the rest of the world. It is shameful that this show denies that and insists on calling things "not American" or "Guatemalan" when they mean "tasteless" and "tacky." The implications of the adjectives the judges choose to describe clothing they don't like is offensive and confused at best and I agree with your assessment that this sort of discourse sets up a binary between the "ultra- modern West" and the countries "a few steps behind."

  5. I can't believe she said that, and considering she is Hispianic herself. I thought it was so inappropriate for her to use the country as a way to criticize the dress, like the whole country wears the same thing or has one fashion sense, and all the negativity associate with a "Guatemalan" dress, too. I could be wrong, but I think they did something similar to one of Casanova's design, maybe his very first one. I can't find the episode online and I can't really remember too well, but they criticized it along the lines of being slutty.

    With that aside, the contestants often are criticized for having questionable taste, which I would imagine is subjective in the fashion industry. It's that strange to me because America is so diverse, how can everyone have the same taste in clothing? Aren't Latin Americans part of the America and the fashion industry, too? So what if she wants to make Latin American (or "Guatemalan") inspired dresses? Someone is gonna like them and want them.