In last night’s Fashion Show challenge, designers were asked to ditch their regular models and create body-flattering looks for “average women.” Unfortunately for Keith Lissner, his red cocktail dress just turned out “average” (to quote Isaac Mizrahi). So what went wrong? Was it lack of creativity? Lack of time? Or perhaps just a lack of knowledge that Maggie was keeping something stuffed in her bra? In an interview this morning, Keith dished out the details.
Coming from a dressmaking dynasty, did it sting even more to go home on a dress? No, not really. I give the viewer of these shows a lot of credit. I think the Bravo viewer is very intelligent and I think they all recognize the circumstances under which these pieces are created. Not every piece is going to come out a winner.
How was it watching last night when you knew the result? It was a little painful. But it was interesting to see what it actually looked liked as opposed to what it was like to personally experience it. When you’re going through it, and you’re so in the moment, and you literally finish sewing five minutes prior, and you’re hearing all these negative things, you just kind of buy into it. Seeing it on TV and actually looking at the work I was able to realize ‘oh, it really wasn’t that bad.’
You stood behind your design in front of the judges, but did you have doubts? What I was trying to stay is that I stood behind the design under those circumstances. That dress is what Maggie had requested, that’s why I stood by it. As a fashion piece, like in my real life would I stand behind that dress? No.
Why not? Because my collections take months to create and ten fittings before I get things right. I’m extremely meticulous and very slow and methodical.
Your personal collection is full of embellishments and attention to detail, so do you just chalk last night’s design up to not having enough time to work on it more? Absolutely. And, I know everyone is watching this show and saying ‘why don’t these designers know how to sew?’ Bravo actually went out looking for professional designers in the actual industry of fashion. In the fashion industry designers don’t sew. It’s a completely different profession than being a seamstress or a tailor or a technician. There was a real disconnect there. As a result, I don’t sew my own collections. I have people who’ve been sewing their whole lives so that I can provide the quality that my customer deserves. What I offer is the designing which is something I’ve been doing for many years. So ultimately, as far as being a designer and sewing the stuff myself, it kind of tied my hands behind my back. Also, this show was not Project Runway, so we didn’t know there was going to be such a focus on sewing.
So you were led to believe that it was going to be design-based and there would be no emphasis on sewing? Yes.
How shocking was it for you to initially discover that so much sewing was involved? It was very shocking. I was glad that I still had the ability to sew. It’s not that we came into the competition thinking we wouldn’t need to do some sewing, but they really wanted to emphasize the point that this was not Project Runway. They were very keen on letting us know this was a competition about what happens in the professional fashion industry.
You said you were feeling the heat of criticism while you were designing last night. One of the people who was vocal about his dislike for your dress was Reco. What was your take on that? I like Reco a lot. He is one of my good friends now because of the show. I think at the time when he was looking at the dress it was still in pieces. So to assess what it was going to be as a final product, you can’t really say. Also, Reco is not necessarily known for being the tight-lipped one. I wasn’t that surprised to see it.
In watching these episodes, has anything really surprised you? Any glaring omissions? One thing that was not aired from last night is there was a fit issue with the dress. They show me at the very last minute sewing that ruching in the front, which I believe everyone was referring to as puckering. Maggie, my model, had been wearing a padded bra during each one of our fittings, but she didn’t tell me her bra was padded. In fact, I’d asked her if it was a padded bra and she said no. So it wasn’t until right when she was putting the dress on for the show – and you know she’s not a model, you can’t ask her to do the fitting without a bra, it’s just not appropriate, she insisted on doing all her fittings with her bra on – when she put the dress on before the fashion show it was the first time she was putting it on without a bra. There was some structure in the dress to hold her in the way an unpadded bra would, and when she put the dress on it didn’t fit. I was like ‘this fit yesterday, what’s going on here?’ Now keep in mind: we could put padding in the dress, but they couldn’t come with a padded bra. So I said ‘why don’t you get your bra?’ Because obviously there was something about the lift or the shape that was helping. So she brought me the bra she’d been wearing, which was the same she’d been wearing throughout the fittings, and it was padded. And I said ‘Maggie, this is padding!’ And she said ‘oh, that’s padding?’ I said ‘yes!’ So immediately I went into rescue mode to try to mold the dress around her body, which is why I had to do that ruching detail in three seconds before it went out. I was surprised not to see that.
Did the judges know that? No, they didn’t.
It seemed like Maggie sort of threw you under the bus with the judges. You know what? She really didn’t. Maggie actually liked the dress. What happened was the judges asked her, if you see the line of questioning, do you think this is just like a dress you would get in a store? And Maggie being the average woman, was under the impression that it was a good thing, but they were phrasing it in a way that it was a bad thing. So she was confused because she didn’t really know how to answer the question.
What’s your impression of Merlin? Nobody has probably told you that Merlin is actually a good guy.
If you could sum up your experience on the show in one word, what would it be? Startling.