[media-credit name=”NBC's Fashion Star” align=”aligncenter” width=”593″][/media-credit]Tuesday, March 13th brought the premiere of NBC’s new reality show, Fashion Star. Seattle is represented by not one, but two designers on Fashion Star. Lizzie Parker, who sells her line out of her boutique in Kirkland and Lisa Vian Hunter who has a lovely shop in Madison Park.
My first impression? It’s no Project Runway. It’s not about fashion or couture or getting to know the contestants in the workroom. It’s Shark Tank with commercially appealing clothing as the thing they’re trying to sell. Fashion Star has a flashy-cheesey game show vibe, partly because it is filmed live in front of an audience, and partly because, well – it is a game show. Luckily, I’m a professional pop-culture addict, so I can get past all the distractions, and I’m genuinely enthralled by the lottery aspect of it. The designers could win a big pot of money each week they stick around. And at the very end? One designer will be awarded a $6 million dollar contract with all three retailers. That’s phenomenal. Here’s hoping that both Lisa and Lizzie will ride out the show and avoid the axe!
The show’s premise is this: 14 designers from all over the world are chosen to compete on the show, which is filmed in Los Angeles and produced by NBC. Shockingly for a show about making clothing, each designer is given a team of cutters and pattern-makers to assist them in creating their “signature look,” which will be presented in a weekly catwalk show. The whole enchilada is hosted by the stunning and abnormally tall Elle MacPherson. During the first 5 minutes of the show, there was an explosion of dancers and motorcycles on stage wearing what looked like Victoria Secret’s latest, but it turned out to be a live commercial for MacPherson’s lingerie line.
The design mentors are Nicole Richie, Jessica Simpson and John Varvatos. We’re told that they provided input and mentoring to all the designers during the creation process, although [unlike Project Runway] we only get a glimpse of that on screen. I’m a fan of Nicole Richie’s bohemian clothing line, Winter Kate, as well as the jewelry line sold under the label House of Harlow 1960, which also includes shoes, bags and sunnies. But Jessica Simpson is really just a celeb who was given an opportunity to put her name on something. I guess it’s obvious to everyone because on the show she is referred to as a “Billionaire Fashion Brand,” not a designer. As far as Varvatos, he acted as head designer for Ralph Lauren at one time, and now sells his own line of menswear; but he comes across like an older, grumpier version of Michael Kors, and I doubt he has the patience to offer any true mentoring. [There’s only one Tim Gunn, people.]
After each pair of designers present their work on the catwalk, the buyers – representatives from Macy’s, H&M, and Saks Fifth Avenue – get to bid on items they want to sell in their stores. If two buyers want the same design, they can have a bidding war and fight it out with their wallets. The wow moment comes when we learn that each winning design will be available online as soon as the show is over and in the physical stores the next morning. On the flip side, if none of the buyers bid on a contestant’s design, he or she is eligible for elimination. The buyers pick the three least impressive designs from the pool with no bids; the Mentors get to “save” one of the three, and from the remaining two, the buyers give one of them the boot. It’s easier to watch than explain.
Happily, Lizzie Parker achieved great success in the first episode and came through for Seattle! If you’re familiar with her clothing, it’s little surprise that Lizzie was commended for knowing how to dress women of all ages and sizes. Now the world knows it too! For those new to the Lizzie Parker brand, she’s a former Microsoftie who started sewing after her son was born because she couldn’t find what she was looking for in department stores. She focuses on comfortable, wearable pieces and creating universally appealing designs that flatter any and every figure. She proved it by wearing the same garment she sent down the runway, a cute asymmetrical jersey tunic/dress. Her design earned two offers – one from Saks and one from Macy’s with Macy’s prevailing with a $60k bid for the design.
Other winners of the night… Orly Shani, a bartender by day who sews under the label Tuc & Wes (cut and sew backwards), created a mini skirt with a convertible zipper element. She received praise from the mentors as well as two offers, the higher of which was an $80,000 offer from Saks. The gimmick is that the top skirt unzips completely for a whole new look. It was basically the same silhouette underneath, but the buyers and mentors both liked the fact that it stretched your wardrobe. Jessica Simpson loved it. “My mom and I call it a twofer.”
Edmund Newton, a barber/stylist and fashion designer, created a classic looking bubble cocktail dress in easily saleable colors: black, black and white and black and gray. Nicole Richie thought his designs were from different decades even though it was 3 of the same dress in different fabrics. Nonetheless the Macy’s buyer loved them and he received a $60k bid.
Nikki Poulos, an Australian who designs resort and swimwear, presented a retro-chic line of kimono inspired maxi dresses. Two in bold colored prints and one white [and see-through]. The design was very beachy and casual and won her a $50k offer from Macy’s. John Varvatos loved the matchy-match head wraps.
Sarah Parrout, a self-trained seamstress and stay at home mom, presented an edgy cutout dress with very modern cap sleeves in three fabrics: a black leather and two colorful silks or softer looking fabrics. She received an $80k offer from H&M, who had nothing but praise for Sarah’s talents, noting that showing the same dress in both black leather and a softer blue fabric showed tremendous range. H&M decided to produce her dress (without the leather option) and sell it for $19.99. No wonder it sold out in 45 minutes! I personally would have loved to see the leather version carried at Saks.
Nzimiro Oputa, a Nigerian-American, grew up poor in Detroit, and designs menswear. His presentation was a jacket styled three ways, which earned him a $50k offer from H&M. Jessica Simpson was excited by the handsome models, but everybody loved this guy’s work. He really showed 3 totally different looks with the same jacket from crisp and tailored to an urban look to casual chic. The H&M buyer loved the details and the fabric choice and was sure she could sell it. The Saks buyer liked it too, even though he didn’t bid on it, showing his own jacket collar with a surprise reveal of pink underneath the gray exterior.
Those who didn’t make a sale…
The design from Oscar Fierro, the minuscule and flamboyant designer in the huge, colorful bowler hats is left on the hanger. In my opinion it was a simple design, but the colors were tacky and the hem was way too short.
Nicholas Bowes, the Australian menswear designer and former model [with more confidence than talent], presented a trendy motorcycle jacket three ways. He couldn’t handle criticism and retaliated declaring that women should have no opinion about menswear. This made Jessica Simpson fly into a tirade and resulted in no buyer offers for Nicholas.
Barbara Bates, who left her corporate job after the success of selling her clothing to coworkers in the ladies room, created matching separates of a skirt and top. Her signature detail was a prominent applique-looking pocket that she added to the top of one look and the hips of the others, which drew unwanted attention to the hips.
Ross Bennett, the young Texas gun enthusiast who designs for senators and attorneys [and who might have a better sense of his own style than how to style a model], made the most basic, plain, wide legged “Full Culottes” I’ve ever seen. The buyers thought there was too much fabric and it was ill fitting.
Kara Laricks, the androgynous accessory designer, who presented a deconstructed collar/tie combo worn sort of like a necklace. THAT’S ALL SHE MADE. The models were wearing clothing that someone else designed. Elle called it a “bold choice” while Nicole praised her for presentation and styling, but clarified that she missed an opportunity to show clothing to the biggest buyers in the business.
One of the biggest disappointments of the show for me [and I suspect most of Seattle], is that they cut the segment that included Lisa Hunter, as well as a couple of other contestants we may or may not meet next week. I think Lisa’s face (above, right) says it all! Personally, I could have done without all the dancing and theatrics in order to squeeze all 14 designers into the pilot episode, but nobody asked me. Lisa’s models sported my favorite runway hair – the faux hawk – and her dress was really beautiful. She was only criticized for playing it safe, and although she didn’t get an offer this week, she is staying on for Episode 2!
Of the 8 designers that did not make a sale, it was determined that the bottom three were Fierro, Laricks and Bowes. The mentors decided to save Fierro [perhaps because he’s good TV and the producers made them do it?] and for whatever reason, the buyers saved Laricks [maybe next week she’ll make some clothes] and ultimately it was Bowes who was cut from the show with the phrase, “You’re not our Fashion Star.”
I have to give the producers credit for creating a new spin on reality television. It really is in a class by itself. It’s not going to feed my hunger for design competition, but it’s certainly going to be an education in commercial viability. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.