Last night the much-hyped reality show Fashion Star premiered on NBC, with Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie, and designer John Varvatos acting as mentors to 14 aspiring fashion designers. Supermodel Elle Macpherson serves as host and executive producer.
From the previews, we gathered initially that the most promising aspect of this glitzy new show is that the designs seen on Tuesday night are available for purchase immediately: they are sold online that evening and in stores the next day. (Some of the debut's looks have already sold out.) However, the logistics of how a winner and/or design is selected proves a bit more complicated than that – after all, the show's central goal is to create a brand and fashion icon. The process is extremely convoluted – so convoluted, in fact, that the hour-and-a-half show doesn't spend equal amounts of time on each contestant, instead skipping a few entirely while focusing on the dramatics of some of the other contestants.
The premise of Fashion Star, which was filmed months ago in Los Angeles (Simpson's small baby bump is a dead giveaway of the timeline) is more like The Voice than Project Runway. Two designers go head-to-head on the runway and are critiqued by their mentors, but ultimately, it's not up to the mentors whether they go on to the next round. The buyers – Terron E. Schaefer from Saks Fifth Avenue, Nicole Christie from H&M and Caprice Willard from Macy's – make the designer an offer for their collection, the highest bid meaning that outlet will sell that specific line. If no one makes an offer, that designer is in jeopardy of going home. At the end of the episode, mentors can save one designer out of the three in peril. The buyers then decide who they'd like to keep out of the two remaining.
It is quite evident that this show is over the top, and the elaborate production at times overrides the actual clothes. The entertainment element of Fashion Star is that the runway show resembles a real fashion show, with bright lights and music blaring (though the backup dancers are not necessary). The idea of possibly owning one of the outfits seen on stage, not next season but right now, is pretty electrifying, especially for avid shoppers.
For the premiere, the designers are asked to display a look (three outfits) that define their signature style. The first two designers who hit the runway are Orly Shani, 26, a bartender from New York City, and Edmond Newton, 32, a barber stylist from Atlanta. Shani says that as someone who lives on a budget, she wants to create one outfit that can be worn many different ways. The models strut to Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory" in short skirts; one standout is a beaded chiffon over-skirt that zips off, revealing a black fitted mini underneath.
Newton says that his line of "mobile cocktail" shift dresses are "Studio 54 meets 2012." Simpson approves of Shani's zip-off dress, saying, "My mom calls those a two-for," meaning two outfits for one price. Richie likes Newton's black-and-white halter dress, though says his line suffers an era crisis. "It's more Fifties and Eighties," she notes. Both designers make a sale, with Shani getting an offer for $80,000 from Saks and Macy's giving $60,000 to Newton.
One of the highlights of the show comes when the comical, Salvadorian, top-hat-wearing Oscar Fierro, 37, is introduced. The Texas-based designer proclaims to be like a "cartoon" and has a lot of dedication because he's crossed three borders and knows what it's like to go hungry, or so he claims. But does Fierro, who is evidently going to be the show's drama queen with his constant crying and backstage shit-talk, knock over the buyers with his designs? Not so much. The short cocktail dresses, seen in off-the-shoulder green satin and glittery black, are items seen daily at Forever 21. Richie doesn't like the offerings, saying, "I want to see what I saw in the studio." Varvatos chimes in, "I have seen what you do in Miami, and in South Beach." Fierro retorts, "You have seen it before, but not with my label." Needless to say, he doesn't get any offers.
It is a surprise to see constants demonstrate a flair for elitism and fire back at their critics. Two of those crème de la crème are designers Nicholas Bowes, 38, a former male model from Los Angeles, and the dapper dresser Ross Bennett, 27, from Austin.
Bowes, who shows a variety of motorcycle jackets, skinny jeans and loose-fitting tanks, tells Simpson, "This is what is going on right now in men's fashion" after the star voices her disapproval of the collection. He also dismisses whether "girls" have validity when they have opinions on menswear, and the sexism infuriates Simpson. "I feel little offended right now," she says. "Actually, I feel a lot offended." She then muses out loud about how she'd like to smack him in the face.
Bennett, whose clients include lawyers from Texas, calls himself an "expert tailor" and says that "no one puts on a presentation like I do," showing his signature flowing trousers. He was right; I don't think I've ever heard any designer informed that their pants "grabbed the vagina," as Ritchie tells him.
Other buyer favorites, which are available for purchase, are 28-year-old New Yorker Nzimiro Oputa's blue mark jacket (at H&M); 41-year-old Seattle resident Lizzie Parker's collection of asymmetrical jersey tunics (at Macy's), 43-year-old Floridian (by way of Australia) Nikki Poulos's geo-print kimono-sleeved maxi caftan (at Macy's), and 31-year-old Georgia native and mother Sarah Parrott's turquoise and black mini-dresses (at H&M).
Out of the 14 designers, Bowes is kicked off at the end of the episode – not a surprise, if judge Simpson wants to hit him. "It felt like a slap in the face," Bowes whines. "I wasn't saying that girls don't understand fashion. I don't think they understand high-end fashion."
Even with all of Fashion Star's entangled assets, we're definitely tuning in for them next week. The high-budget show and its overuse of confusing gimmicks shouldn't dismiss what lies at its core, which is showcasing new designers and making their clothes available to the public immediately. It'll be interesting to watch which designers continuously get offers.