'Fashion Star' Recap: John Varvatos Holds a Grudge

It's 'Mentors' Choice' week, which means no one leaves happy

fashion star varvatos
Tyler Golden/NBC
John Varvatos speaks with contestants on 'Fashion Star.'
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With the exit of Barbara Bates last week (the last of the weak links), Fashion Star is finally starting to heat up. Eight contestants remain and this week's mission is "Mentors' Choice," which means Jessica Simpson, John Varvatos and Nicole Richie will work with the designers one-on-one to show them the realities of being a fashion mogul and help them get to the next level.

Richie tells Kara Laricks (now a Saks favorite) that she likes her designs from previous weeks (mostly consisting of jackets and slacks), but this week, Richie wants her to combine these elements and design an entire suit. Varvatos takes on Ross Bennett, saying, "I'd like for you to do something more flirty and young." For Bennett, who loves big dresses that are perfectly tailored, being carefree is easier said than done.

It's interesting to see the mentors pick out fabrics with the designers (à la Project Runway) because we can see how the mentors give input. What we find extremely off-putting is hearing Richie say to Laricks, "What do you think about off-white? I love a white suit." Richie is not suggesting, nor subtly implying, but commanding her on what to do. Is this the definition of mentoring?

We suppose it is up to the designers to take the ideas that the mentors give them and add their own signature to it, but it seems difficult to do so as they are given all the tools and instructions and then asked to create something unique.

It's obvious that Bennett still wants to be his own designer; he says, "Instead of walking around the fabric store, holding John's hand, I am picking out the fabrics that I need to design a long flowy dress." He shows Varvatos his fabric, saying "I like these," and Varvatos, holding another fabric color, responds with, "I like these better."

"Right off the bat," Bennett says, "he doesn't understand my vision." As the two have a "friendly" dispute over materials, Varvatos finally gives up and walks away. Bennett concludes, "I am not working for John Varvatos."

It's not a surprise that Bennett takes this stubborn approach. He's been dragging his feet since the beginning of the show, but in a way that is sort of refreshing and empowering. His designs might not be for everyone, though they do have a niche. We think there's a fine balance between taking advice from the mentors and doing a complete 180. Also, not taking the advice from the mentors is like burning bridges, so it can get pretty sticky.

At the fashion show, Laricks shows her three-piece suits, with models sporting Laricks-style pompadours. The suits feature loose-fitting, wide-leg slacks and long shorts (with an adorning long chain on the side), and loose blazers; they have a L.A.M.B. feel to them. The look is very Laricks and not as innovative for a "mentors' choice" – but then again, they are working her best and most defined qualities.

Bennett, who is having a tantrum backstage over the dresses, shows three Roman goddess-style looks that incorporate a suede decor at the shoulders and a belt cinching the flowy top (that is a tad too flowy). Varvatos calls one of the white dresses "very House on the Prairie." We guess Varvatos is holding a grudge.

We definitely like Bennett's long dresses over Laricks' tough-girl looks, though Laricks' suits are more contemporary. We're alone on this, though. "I feel like you missed the mark," Varvatos says to Bennett while the audiences boos. Richie calls to the audience, "John, everyone hates you, but you guys still love me, right?" They applaud.

Jessica Simpson, as always, has insight to spare. "My crush has always been Ross," she says to Laricks, "but now it's on you!" Laricks is very overwhelmed by this statement and is practically crying. Why?!

There are no bids for Bennett. As for Laricks, both H&M and Macy's withhold a bid. As they wait to see if Saks bids, Simpson whispers, "Do you not think they're going to buy?" prompting Varvatos to make a plea to Terron E. Schaefer from Saks. "These suits that Kara did are so new, you guys are crazy for not buying this," he chides. This is the first time that any of the mentors have reached out to the buyers urging them to act. We can't help but feel bad for Bennett, who is standing up there probably thinking, "Why didn't they do that for me?"

Schaefer bids $100,000 for the suits (then for some reason gestures a peace sign, as if Jay-Z or something). Host/robot Elle Macpherson calls him a "cheeky monkey." Gag. The suits, looking completely different as they did last night, are now on sale at Saks.

The mentors take the designers on a field trip. Varvatos takes his trio to one of his boutiques, Richie takes her group to her favorite vintage store and Simpson, with a wineglass in hand, takes her gang to her workshop.

While Varvatos' relationship with Bennett didn't quite pan out, he seems to have a strong bond with Nzimiro Oputa, as the two are both from Detroit. Varvatos suggests Oputa stray from the sporty look and design a more refined suit, but not the "Wall Street" kind.

Simpson tells Sarah Parrott, who's been missing her mark with her standard buyer (H&M) lately, that she should design an elegant dress in order to help her branch out to Macy's and Saks.

"Do I even fit into Macy's?" Parrott asks.

"Oh, if I can, you can," Simpson replies. "If you make the right dress, Macy's will buy it. That's my store." Wow. Simpson is hilarious! We're so ecstatic that she is back on reality television doing what she does best: talking nonsense.

Parrott is showing obvious self-doubt but, as history has proven, she's still been able to sell despite her mental setbacks.

On the runway, Oputa is up first; he shows his tailored suits that exhibit a casual look (his signature style). The pants are a bit too capri for the average man, but the entire look is great.

Parrott shows three dresses, all with different patterns. They're cut shorter in the front, giving way to a longer back. Like Bennett's dresses, these are flowy at the top and tied with a belt. "I don't hate ‘em... hate ‘em," Simpson says to Varvatos.

"Terrible," Varvatos says, though it's a bit vague who that's referring to. Varvatos tells Oputa that he doesn't like the collar on the suits but felt it was good for him to design something more elegant.

"I'm not in love with it," Simpson says to Parrott. "I would have liked to have seen something more structured."

"To be honest I was completely lost on this one, so lost," Parrott says to the mentors.

Neither designers get offers. This is pretty shocking. The buyers don't like the details, but it's the details that give a designer his/her own brand. It's as if the buyers are looking for basic clothes to sell at their stores, not a one-of-a-kind Parrott dress or Oputa suit.

Back at the studio, Varvatos tells Orly Shani that she should design something that is both sexy and tough, and definitely not another interchangeable outfit.

Richie, working with Ronnie Escalante, says that his strengths lie within eveningwear and gowns. "You're a real [expletive] tease," Richie says to him. "It's time to come out and be a full-blown slut." This Richie-speak translates to: "Stop hiding behind your talent and show us what you got."

However, even though Escalante has been selling lately, he is very demure in everything that he does. His talent isn't groundbreaking, so of course he can't "bring it." There's nothing there to bring.

There's some obvious tension between some of the designers, particularly with Bennett and Escalante. Escalante thinks it's because he is a threat to them. Doubtful.

Ronnie shows three evening dresses, one each in red, black and white. They all feature a half-shoulder cut with a high, frontal leg slit. These dresses, while very pretty, are very boring. You could easily find dresses like these in any store.

Shani showcases three "column" dresses. The first features a long patterned skirt with a yellow, sleeveless, collared top. It's very cute and edgy. The other two, one in red and the other in blue, are shorter with a poofy frontal thing going on, with pockets. Not stylish. Varvatos likes all three of Shani's dresses, especially the use of zippers, which he says are more like jewelry than necessity.

"Ronnie, this is what I've been waiting for," Richie says to Escalante.

"I wouldn't mind if you designed my bridesmaids dresses," Simpson says to Escalante. (Note: This wedding does not appear likely to happen anytime soon, so don't hold your breath.)

Both Saks and H&M bid on Shani's dresses for $70,000. H&M wins the offer and this marks Shani's first sale at H&M. Macy's takes Escalante at $50,000.

The last two to show are Nikki Poulos and Luciana Scarabello. Simpson wants Scarabello to design something with more structure, though with elegance and sex appeal. As for Poulos, Richie says that since she's been mostly designing maxi dresses, she should opt to do something short, particular with an A-line and modish top. Poulos says that it'll be a challenge. "You can't force design," she says. "I'm not a fan of doing a mini-dress, but I will do it."

Again, some designers are willing to stick to their guns (which we applaud), while others do as they are told.

It's clear from Scarabello's "structured dress" that we see on the runway that she basically designed a dress that Parrott did in the first week, which sold to H&M. However, instead of doing the dress in solid colors like Parrott did, she uses floral patterns. We find this extremely appalling.

Poulos shows three mini mod dresses with various prints. They are adorable! The pattern alone makes them modern and spirited.

Varvatos says that all three buyers could sell Scarabello's dresses. Richie approves of Poulos' dresses, though she gets no offers. Why doesn't Richie appeal to the buyers, too?

H&M and Saks both want Scarabello's design, though ultimately H&M wins the dress, making her the first designer to sell to all three stores. Another shift in the competition.

The designers in jeopardy are Poulos, Oputa, Parrott and Bennett. Now the mentors choose who they want to save. This is the first time that all those on the cutting block are actually worth saving. They choose to save Oputa. Out of Poulos, Parrott and Bennett, we would have chosen Bennett to get kicked off. However, the buyers choose Parrott, mostly because she wasn't selling to the other stores.

We saw Parrott as a top contender since the beginning because all of her designs (even the ones she didn't like) are refreshing, fun and exciting. How Parrott can be kicked off and Escalante is still on the show is beyond us, but we're guessing his time will expire come next week.

Last Week: A Flicker of Insight from Jessica Simpson