After ten weeks of frustration, heartbreak and aggravation, it's finally time to crown the first-ever Fashion Star. But who will it be? Perhaps the former teacher Kara Laricks, who's been selling her womenswear with men's detailing like hotcakes since the beginning of the show? Or Nzimiro Oputa, the ex-engineer, never-had-a-design-lesson wünderkind who is a master at expressive men's clothing? Or Ronnie Escalante, the dark horse who didn't sell diddly squat for about five episodes until he sort of snapped into the game, becoming a favorite of the mentors with his women's eveningwear?
It's really anyone's game at this point. Yet before we get to the matter at hand, we have the pleasure of witnessing the true genius of this show: Jessica Simpson, who brings out her spring, Hawaii-themed collection. Fellow judges John Varvatos and Nicole Richie showed their respective collections on past episodes, but this is evidence that Simpson is seen as the mentor with the most selling power. After all, only she gets to show her line during the finale and the numbers do speak for themselves. (Maybe next season we'll see her maternity line?)
At any rate, cheers to Simpson! She does get a bit emo during the runway show because she's never seen her clothes showcased on the catwalk.
So, back to the contest. In order to win tonight's coveted prize of a $6 million collection deal, the three remaining designers must sell their three separate collections to each store: Macy's, Saks and H&M. The first round is H&M.
H&M buyer Nicole Christie says what we've all known from the start of the season: that Laricks has a "unique perspective." She goes on to say that she is happy to see Escalante's natural "progression" throughout the competition. Is Fashion Star looking for the designer that evolves or who has innate talent? We're not sure.
Laricks' line hits the runway first. We see a very contemporary collection with a black, white, red and taupe color scheme. One dress – a matte satin, color-block sleeveless frock – is paired with a long button-front and pocketed skirt (resembling a dress with a longer skirt underneath). She also shows wide-leg cotton shorts with a flared racerback top and a short-sleeved suit featuring cropped pants with a dropped crotch and a matte satin sleeveless top. (Now, when we say "dropped crotch," we mean dropped crotch, like MC Hammer pants-meets-2012. Woah, perhaps these looks are a bit too contemporary.)
Next up is Oputa, who says he is showcasing both a male and female line for H&M by "doing male clothes for women and just making it smaller."
His line is relatively similar to what we've seen him do in prior weeks, and he does it quite well: tapered menswear-inspired pants (for her) with striped pocket trim and a sleeveless blouse topped with a striped vest with button shoulder detail. For men, Oputa shows a traditional khaki pant with a bold plaid shirt featuring leather epaulettes and elbow patches, shorts with a cotton shirt with shoulder roll detail and a vest. Though it is quite casual and cool, we had hoped Oputa would have done a suit for the average H&M male shopper. It is the finale – why not go all out?
Escalante shows three very classy looks for H&M including a silken pearl gray sleeveless jumpsuit featuring a keyhole in front and slash pockets, a black dress with flowing layers of silk chiffon and a black three-piece suit. Although we are quite impressed with these three looks, the suit is a standard Ross Bennett look and that's a no-no in our book.
Varvatos calls Laricks' low-crotch pants "too crotchety."
"Nothing wrong with a little bit of crotch, John," host Elle Macpherson says. There she goes again, being a cheeky monkey.
Oputa hardly gets a critique from the mentors, as his flirtatious banter with Richie continues during this crucial last episode. He says his nude-colored scarf is actually "Nicole's pantyhose." Meanwhile, Simpson calls Escalante the "unsung hero." Now, let's not get too melodramatic.
Christie says Laricks' collection is a "cohesive capsule," Oputa's women's looks blew her "socks off" and Escalante should have added more color in his line. All offers will be made at the end of the show, but according to her comments, it looks as though Oputa won this round. Why wouldn't she buy a line that leaves her sockless?
Now it's time for Saks Fifth Avenue, a/k/a hard-to-please buyer Terron E. Schaefer, to have his way with the designers. Schaefer says, in retrospect, that Oputa's clothes have too many "bells & whistles," while Laricks says Schaefer has always understood "who she is." Escalante says he "really needs to dig deep for this one." No kidding. We've grown tired of his whole "worked with Zac Posen" shtick. Can someone please tell us what he actually did there?
Laricks shows her line first, which includes a cotton orange tee with a wide-leg trouser and a sleek wrap-front panel (half pants, half skirt? what?), tailored shorts with a contour hemmed jacket with rich leather insets and a pretty stunning split V-neck, long, nude dress with leather inserts and a removable back sash.
Oputa's "beast to boardwalk" line is way too casual (again, and especially for Saks), but hey, this is what he does well. His first look is cuffed swim trunks with neon detailing and a color-blocked t-shirt with a cotton sweater. The second look is a lightweight shirt and pants with a camel-colored knit vest. Lastly a preppy hipster look: red pants and a printed long-sleeve shirt.
Contemplating Oputa's look thus far, we doubt he can win tonight regardless of his impeccable taste and talent. We hardly believe the winner will be a men's designer. Why? Women love to shop largely for themselves. Sad but true.
Last is Escalante, who shows another three-piece suit with double collar (Bennett, cough, cough), an elegant and sparkling sleeveless knee-length dress and a fabulous bold floral print maxi dress. We must give props where props are due: the last dress is incredible and seems Frida Kahlo-inspired.
Varvatos says Laricks' dress is "freaking gorgeous" and that it was "inspiring just to see them."
"I think you know what a man is about," Simpson says to Oputa about his Saks line, which sort of ensues a verbal catfight between her and Richie regarding their adoration of Oputa.
"We're gonna be ripping each other's extensions," Richie says. She says to Escalante, "That suit was bowchickawowwow. I can't get enough of you.''
Schaefer calls Laricks the absolute "leader." Wait, does that mean what we think it means? Did he just call it? Schaefer says Oputa's line is "the perfect wardrobe for the beach'' and then tells Escalante he "didn't understand if it was a capsule collection." This comment makes Escalante defend his line, which is a first for him, and we applaud him for backing up his line.
Finally, the last showcase of the night: Macy's!
During the designers' time in the studio, we can feel the tension building up. Escalante must deliver a line for Macy's that isn't eveningwear. The pattern makers (the real unsung heroes) seem to be losing their minds and clashing with the designers. Both Laricks and Oputa say their main competitor is Escalante. Holy crap.
Laricks showcases three looks that include an A-line black dress, a racerback top with self-tie front off-seam pockets and pleated cuffed shorts and an "office-look" that features a short-sleeved, collarless blazer with cropped, tapered and pleated ankle-length pants and a colorful tie-neck blouse. This line doesn't scream innovation but it does scream Macy's.
Oputa's line for Macy's is a bit more structured, featuring a graphic-print button-up shirt with khaki trousers, a long hoodie sweater and a color-block (zig-zag) polo shirt paired with tailored, cuffed shorts and a tailored linen shirt with pants. Overall: Okay. The zig-zag polo shirt throws us for a loop, but that's always better than a yawn.
Last, and usually least, Escalante shows another bold flower-print maxi dress (this time sleeveless), an hourglass-shaped floral print panel on the front of a black dress, and another(!) three piece suit, this time a tuxedo with a double collar. While these are good looks, we highly doubt Escalante can win based on two lines that look extremely similar. There's no way Saks and Macy's would sell almost identical collections.
"You never disappoint,'' Simpson says to Laricks. Very true. She adds that Laricks' clothes "challenge the everyday woman to step outside the box."
Varvatos says Oputa's Macy's line is a "home run." We say more of a second-base hit. Varvatos also says Escalante's suit was "the best."
Macy's Caprice Willard likes Laricks' suit, says Oputa "nailed it," and tells Escalante that he "found a way to stay true to yourself." That last comment doesn't ensure "winner."
Now the mentors and buyers deliberate. We only hear a tiny bit of what they discuss, which is a darn shame. We're almost positive the juicy conversation here is grade-A gossip. Richie is obviously fighting for Oputa, saying he "really brought it, you guys" and reminds the buyers he is "self-taught."
Schaefer makes his claim for Laricks, while Richie adds she is a "specialty designer" and won't "speak to America the way Ronnie will." Ouch, but America can have dreadful taste.
Willard says, "I have a lot of Ronnies on my floor." Wow, case closed!
From these statements alone, we're going to say Oputa will win (damn you, segment editors!), though he and Laricks have shown the most ambition throughout each episode.
The designers are brought out for one last go-round with the mentors.
"You guys are so unbelievable. You've inspired me to be better,"' Simpson says, bawling.
The winner is...drum roll...LARICKS!
Yikes, the lady is in shock – as are we. Well, not really. "I'm so thrilled that I can keep designing," she cries.
We're just as thrilled that these department stores, especially Macy's, chose an eclectic, innovative and unconventional designer to be this season's first Fashion Star (because it's coming back next season!). Check back tomorrow for our exclusive interview with Laricks.