It's down to the wire as we head into week six of Fashion Star, meaning it's almost over and we're down to nine designers. Regarding several of the contestants – such as Sarah Parrott and Kara Laricks, who have consistently sold pieces to either H&M, Macy's or Saks – we can't help but wonder: will fans still remember these designers when the show is over? Case in point: on a recent trip to Macy's, we noticed the Fashion Star garments on display feature a "Fashion Star" label, not the name of the designer. They might as well say "NBC." Clothes featuring the name of a television show, instead of the designer's name, devalues the clothing and makes the entire look gimmicky.
All shticks aside, this week, designers are told to get out of their comfort zone and think "outside the box" to design pieces they've never tried before. This mission would have worked later on in the season, considering how there are a couple of current contenders with loose screws showing. For some of them, it's strange to ask them to design something outside of their range because they have yet to define who they are and what they can do. (On a side note: If this show ever sees a second season, please, we request a new host. Someone with at least a hint of personality, who exudes life and charm, which is the whole point of a host. Elle Macpherson, we love you and your Sports Illustrated pictures, but television isn't your thing.)
The first duo up is Ross Bennett and Luciana Scarabello, two designers whom we've seen rise up from the ashes and sell items after preliminary weeks of being in jeopardy.
Scarabello says she's going to venture out of "sexy" and into the world of structured jackets. We see a montage of Scarabello as a young child. She goes on to talk about how one disastrous bowling incident left her traumatized because she couldn't knock down all the pins. She then got serious about bowling. She practiced every day, entered competitions, and became a champ at bowling. We're pretty impressed by this lovely story of passion and commitment, but imagine what she could have accomplished if she substituted bowling for physics? Guess we'll never know.
"I think she can do pieces that are high-quality, structured, sophisticated and sexy, all in one," Jessica Simpson says, and then admits she doesn't like to cover up. This we know.
During a pow-wow at the studio between Nicole Richie and Bennett, he tells her that he wants to do menswear.
"I don't think changing genders is stepping out of your box," Richie tells him. "We know you can do a great vest. The way I interpret stepping out of your box is trying something that you know nothing about. I would rather you design stripper clothes then do another vest."
Bennett, stumbling for words, finally says, "All right."
Wait one damn minute. Richie told Edmond Newton last week to stay away from "hooker fabric" and, needless to say, he got booted off. But then again, a stripper isn't a hooker. Oh man, how can these designers possibly know what she means? Also, these designers can't think for themselves: it seems the mentors just dictate and tell them what to do. In moments like this, we sure miss Tim Gunn.
Bennett decides that "stripper clothes" equates to lingerie.
At the presentation, we see Bennett's very sexy, vintage-inspired satin lingerie. Then we see Scarabello's cropped jacket, reminiscent of Chanel's signature tweed jackets.
"So cute," Simpson says to John Varvatos. "Very cute," he responds.
Simpon continues, "I think that was beautiful. I don't see myself in that, but definitely something to put on when the lights go out." Right, because she doesn't like to cover up. Got it.
"I couldn't be more proud of you," Richie says to Bennett.
"I couldn't have done this without you," Bennett says to Richie. And he literally means that.
"I love the braiding and the detail work," Simpson says to Scarabello. Hey, look at that: Simpson is giving real feedback. We've never heard her so invested in the actual process of the show before. We're digging it. What's more, H&M digs Bennett's lingerie – they win the line for $50,000.
"I would have never expected you to do lingerie," H&M's Nicole Christie says. "But it's retro and French boudoir."
Stores like H&M don't really sell high-quality undergarments, so will the material be cheap? Well, the pieces are now $14.95 each, so question answered.
Macy's and Saks both want Scarabello's jackets. They increase their bids from $50,000 to $80,000, with Macy's winning the line for $100,000. "I think the world is your oyster at this point," Macy's Caprice Willard says to Scarabello. "I think you have what it takes to go all the way."
We beg to differ. Sure, she's gained momentum recently but her clothes are hardly innovative. They're wearable and commercial but nothing new. See for yourself; they're $99 at Macy's – and sold out.
Next up is Parrott and Nzimiro Oputa. Parrot takes a major risk and decides to design an asymmetrical swimsuit with side cutouts.
"Nikki designed an impeccable swimsuit that is her niche and they didn't buy it," Parrott says. That should have been her red flag, but we give her props for following through with her own vision anyway. Oputa, who hasn't sold in the past two weeks, is still a master at menswear, though he opts to do women's bohemian wear.
"My speciality is flowy, boho-style dresses," Nikki says. "And to be honest, I don't know a woman under 55 who's not the mother of the bride who would be seen dead in it." But did she tell him that? No!
And boy, was she right. Upon first look at the dresses during the fashion show, we immediately think "baby shower." The dresses, some in floral prints with see-through flowy sleeves, are knee-length. Boho dresses are never knee-length.
"That print's cute," Simpsons says to Richie. Richie looks like she's about to slap her.
Then we see Parrott's color-blocking swimsuits. They're relatively cool, but not extraordinary. During the judging, Simpson says to Parrott that she would have liked to have seen brighter colors, while Richie says to Oputa that she's disappointed by him.
"But that being said, I love you. I want to French you," Richie says to Oputa. And we love when Richie's Simple Life persona takes center-stage.
Parrott's swimsuits get no bids, shockingly, not even from H&M. Even more surprising is that H&M buys Oputa's grandma dresses. Christie calls them flirty and romantic, and that's pretty laughable. They're $29 (and not sold out).
Next up: Nikki Poulos, Barbara Bates and Ronnie Escalante. "This looks like some sexiness going on in here," Simpson says to Escalante about his swimsuit idea during her studio visit. "Now, is it going to zip up all the way up and do you think it would stay?" she asks. "Because if I take a deep breath, it's going to go all the way down." Please forget what we said earlier about Simpson being invested in the show.
Like Oputa, Bates attempts the boho look. She admits that she's never understood the style and researches it online. "The queen of bohemia," Bates reads off the computer, "is Nicole [Richie]." Damn right she is.
"When you have a great print, you don't need to go over-the-top," Richie advices Bates – but Bates doesn't know how to not be (badly) over-the-top.
Poulos tries her hand at menswear, specifically men's shorts. We think this is quite a smart move for Poulos, as it ties into her resort looks yet steps into a whole different cut, tailored for men.
At the fashion show, we first see Escalante's swimsuits with mesh detail, and they're smoking hot – very Eighties in neon pink, turquoise and black, like something we'd see in a Robert Palmer video.
Bates' boho dresses in a green pattern (one with a giant flower at the waist) come down the runway and they're pretty much tied with Oputa for Top Pastel Disaster. These dresses, another attempt at color-blocking, look more like summer bridesmaids' dresses. Poulos' men's shorts and capri pants are quite adventurous for menswear. They look great on the male models, but can we see an average Joe in them? Probably not.
At the judging, Simpson calls Escalante's swimsuit the "Borat" line and says it's "very sexy." Varvatos says he wasn't blown away by Poulos' designs. Richie asks the audience if they like the pants. The audience applauds (do they have a choice?).
"You didn't do it for me at all," Varvatos says to Bates. "I don't really think you channeled boho. I think you chose the right print, but it was a bit heavy-handed."
"But it's new for her," Richie says to Varvatos.
"It's new for her but this is a competition," Varvatos responds.
During the buying session, the buyers take a long pause on Bates, and give her no bids. "You know I'm a breast cancer survivor," Bates says, looking down.
"You've used that one already; you can't use it again," Macpherson says to Bates.
"I was born with cleft feet," Bates adds.
My goodness, the audacity of this woman! How desperate must you be to stay on a show that you bring up breast cancer? The nerve of some people is truly shocking.
Poulos doesn't get any offers, as well, though Macy's takes Escalante's designs for $50,000. They are now on sale for $80-$90.
The last two to present is Orly Shani and Laricks. Shani hasn't sold in the past two weeks, so perhaps because of this, she decides to design a "motorcyle meets Confederate jacket" that, of course, is convertible – a staple of hers. "My only concern for Orly is that this is not stepping outside the box," Simpson says. The jacket has a zip-off component like the skirt that she first sold on Fashion Star. This move is definitely her attempt at staying on another week.
Laricks goes completely off the men's-inspired styles and goes for a soft, feminine look, designing flowy dresses. "I think it's pushing it," Varvatos says to Laricks. "I don't think anyone is expecting you to do this."
At the fashion show, Shani's jackets hit the runway first. The long "Confederate" jacket zips off at the bottom and becomes a short motorcycle cropped jacket. The look stuns Varvatos, as he takes off his trademark sunglasses to get a better look. Our take: the zip-off effect on the first episode was cool but now, not to so much.
Laricks' dresses are quite flowy and feature various segments of attached material. They range between goth and feminine. They're definitely modern, but are they worth buying? Not our style.
"You did a great job," Varvatos says to Laricks, emphasizing that he likes the use of subtle pinstripe on one of the pieces.
"You are the perfect example of a brand that stands for something," Richie says to Laricks. "There's a reason why people buy a John Varvatos white t-shirt; it's just a white t-shirt."
"It's more than a white t-shirt," Varvatos says.
"Well I was going there," Richie says. "It's not just a white shirt, it stands for something more and that dress stood for something more."
Wow, those are some pretty high accolades, actually. It definitely shifts the designers into a new dynamic on who will actually win this competition.
The buyers think Shani's "two-fer" is too gimmicky and she gets no bids.
Saks' Terron E. Schaefer takes Laricks' dresses for $100,000 and goes into a spiel about Sally Field's famous "You really like me!" speech during the Oscars in the 1980s, just to make the point that he really likes Laricks. We suppose saying all of that would be the only way to express some sort of admiration, since his robotic voice can't seem to emote anything at all. Laricks' chiffon dress is now on sale for $375.
While the mentors and buyers discuss who they want to keep, we already know that Bates has to be the one to get kicked off (if not for her breast cancer comments alone).
Designers who didn't sell include Shani, Poulos, Parrott and Bates. All four are in jeopardy of going home. The mentors choose to save Poulos because out of the group, she is the only one to have sold to all three stores. Thankfully, the buyers relieve us from another shoe-throwing fit like last week's and decide Bates isn't going to be the next Fashion Star.
So now that Bates is gone, perhaps the show will get interesting!
Last Week: Nicole Richie's Runway 'WTF?' Moment