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'Fashion Star' Recap: The Contestants Get 'Out of Africa'

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Sarah Parrott and Jessica Simpson on 'Fashion Star.'
Tyler Golden/NBC

Before we get down to business, we can already state that this week's Fashion Star isn't any of the seven remaining contestants on the show; it's a 9-pound baby named Maxwell Drew. Yes, as you may have heard, Jessica Simpson finally delivered her daughter. So if this "fashion" show gets picked up for a second season, Simpson won't be saying things like, "Those dresses would be perfect for my bridesmaids," but rather, "Maxwell Drew would look so cute in that. Can you make that for infants?" And we'll be downing a martini right along with her.

Back to pressing matters: this week, the designers are asked to create an entire campaign based on their newly invented brands. Lately, the designers have been having a really difficult time with each mission, mostly due to the fact that the mentors are acting as puppet masters and leaving the designers in a tangled mess. You can really see some of the designers like Nikki Poulos, Ross Bennett and Nzimiro Oputa feel conflicted as they try to further their own vision despite what their mentors suggest. Others like Ronnie Escalante and Luciana Scarabello simply do as they are told and continue to make sales, but at what price? Are these designs really worth it? The real talent here needs to be cultivated.

The show begins with a runway show of John Varvatos' spring collection. Was this segment really necessary? We're thinking the segment talks went something like this:

Varvatos: "Middle America isn't all that familiar with my designs. Allow me to put on a fashion show and so they can see what a real designer can do."

Producers: "Sure, okay."

Producers also thought it would be a brilliant idea to recruit Cindi Leive, Editor-in-Chief of Glamour magazine, to help the designers figure out what their brands will be. Leive reminds the designers of their mentors' successful brands, perhaps to serve as inspiration. She tells them that Varvatos is rock & roll, Nicole Richie's look is bohemian glamour and Simpson's brand is the sexy girl next door.

"She's making a billion dollars a year because people want to buy a piece of that fantasy," Leive says of Simpson. Thus, the designers' goal should be to make people want to be part of their worlds.

For Kara Laricks and Oputa, this shouldn't be too taxing. These two designers have always have a distinct perspective on who they are, what their vision is and who their customers are.

Laricks tells Varvatos that she wants to do a tuxedo shirt featuring the same model photographed twice. In one image, the model's hair is in an updo like a boy, and in the other, flowing down femininely. She says that she wants to create a genderless world for her customers. During the photoshoot, she becomes very emotional as she sees her model transition from a very "girly-girl" to more of a masculine look; she goes on to say how she always struggled with her identity and hid who she really was mostly to her students.

"My one regret was that I wasn't an out, proud, gay role model," Laricks says. "Throughout this competition, I have been telling myself I'm okay with who I am."

Okay, now we have a real reality fashion show! (Despite the fact that her tuxedo shirt resembles an upscale version of Jerry Seinfeld's puffy shirt.)

Back at the studio, Oputa tells Richie that he wants to do a sweater for his branding.

"Being from Detroit, I was always in layers," he tells her. Right away, Richie has an issue with this. She doesn't think that at this point in the competition he should be showcasing sweaters. Without even seeing what he is designing, we already know Oputa would do a magnificent men's sweater, so where's the problem?

"When I think sweater, I think Bill Cosby," Richie says. "A campaign is a real game-changer. If you can tell a story with that sweater, fine."

Once Oputa reassures Richie that he can sell this sweater as a story, she approves of his idea. This little exchange is very interesting, particularly because Richie initially didn't like Oputa's idea but as soon as he came across more strongly about what he wanted to do, she bought it. This tells us that the more will the contestants show, the more the mentors believe in them, regardless of what they are showing.

During the fashion show, Laricks' shirt, which comes in white and charcoal, looks very glamorous and is worn long with shorts or stockings.

Oputa's cardigans are great, just as we knew they would be. The sweaters are in beige and gray with elbow patches and big buttons. The cuts on these sweaters are completely revolutionary. Brilliant!

"I thought it was perfect," Richie says to Oputa, "I thought it was a great representation of you."

"You really...knocked...my panties off," Simpson says to Oputa. Even Simpson herself had a hard time spitting that one out.

"If I was flipping through a magazine and saw that ad, I would immediately go online and find out who this person is. Amazing. Really, really amazing," Varvatos tells Laricks.

Macy's buys Oputa's cardigan for $100,000. Both H&M and Saks want the tuxedo shirt. Saks takes the shirt for $80,000. Oputa's sweaters are now $119, and Laricks' collared shirt is $235 at Saks. Every time Laricks makes a sale, she reacts as though she's been crowned Miss America.

Next up is Scarabello and Poulos. Poulos informs us that her swimsuits have already been photographed in Sports Illustrated so she's completely comfortable with the idea of a brand and the "feeling" she wants to convey. She tells Simpson that she wants to do a 1970s-inspired maxi dress. Again?!

"I think you should show glamour," Simpson says to Poulos. During the photoshoot, Poulos is not feeling the images. She begins yelling at the photographer, "Shoot her, shoot her, shoot her!" She tells the guy in charge of photoshopping to completely take the dress out of the image, which leaves her with a shot of the model's head.

Scarabello's vision for her brand is a bit more defined. She tells Leive that she envisions a "girl in the woods, lost."

"Not lost in the woods, but stalking her prey," Leive says to Scarabello.

"Yes, I like that," Scarabello replies. She says she was a little nervous during the beginning of the show and now she has more confidence. Aha! That explains the skanky dresses from the first episode.

At the fashion show, Scarabello's knee-length cut-out dresses are nice. We appreciate the solid black dress far more than the patterned versions. Poulos' maxi dresses are more of the same and the only bit of glamour on them is that she's shortened up the hem a little and added fancy jewelry.

When Poulos' images are brought up during the critique session and the photograph featuring the model's face and not the clothes is singled out, Richie says that was the worst thing she could have done.

"I thought, 'This has to be a joke,'" Richie says.

"If you had a huge celebrity then you could pay a lot of money to show your campaign," Simpson says to Poulos.

"Jessica Simpson?" Varvatos says.

"No, that is not what I'm saying," Simpson says.

Poulos, obviously gets no bids. Scarabello, on the other hand, gets a bid from her sweetheart, Terron E. Schaefer at Saks, for $50,000. The dresses, minus the cutouts, are on sale from $295-$325 at Saks.

"We are very fond of you at Saks Fifth Avenue," Schaefer says to Scarabello.

The last three are Orly Shani, Escalante and Bennett. Shani says she wants to do a motorcycle vest-dress. (Oh no, we hope not like what Barbara Bates did awhile back).

Shani's campaign is very contemporary, featuring an outside "paparazzi" shoot and visually looks very much like the images posted by bloggers.

Escalante says that his vision for this week is to show his goal of being an established designer. This means what, exactly? He goes on to discuss how he's been designing since he was a kid and how his parents didn't support him at first. Yadda, yadda, yadda, his dresses this week are beyond dull. The main feature on his knee-length, sleeveless dresses is extra embellished cuts at the back of the dress.

Bennett decides to showcase a jacket. But not just any kind of jacket, a Texas-style one that features the Ross Bennett "detailed" tailoring!

"I'm inspired by you," Bennett tells Simpson, which really means he's been kissing her ass all season.

"In all my collections, I always put Texas on everything," Simpson says.

He truly uses Simpson as his muse. He literally copies a photo campaign featuring Jessica Simpson in a field of long grass and puts his model in a field as well.

During the fashion show, Orly features her motorcycle vest dress, which can be worn zipped up or open. (Yes, again with the zippers.) However, the open vest is much more fashionable than the others. We won't even get into Escalante's dresses or his stale models.

Bennett shows his "hunting jacket" that could also double as a bolero jacket, but hey, we know nothing about how they do it in Texas. The jackets come in blue, olive and red, and they all feature color-blocking at the pockets and right shoulder.

Jessica Simpson voices her disapproval for Bennett's use of color and campaign choices, sort of.

"I think you need to take your wife to the photo shoot and help you style it better," she says.

Richie, a firm believer of Escalante from the get-go, says she likes his campaign.

"I love the use of the balloons," Richie says. "It was a way to use color-blocking but without putting it on the dress."

"It was a little reminiscent of some of the dresses you have already shown us," Varvatos says to Escalante. Thank you! "But I will say that if I saw that ad again, I'd definitely want to know who that designer was."

During the bidding session, Bennett gets zero offers. "I'm going to be brutally honest," Schaefer says. "The campaign looked like a poster still from the movie Out of Africa."

H&M bids $50,000 for Escalante's dresses, making it his first for H&M sale for $39.95. Shani gets no offers.

Now, let's be perfectly clear: perhaps Bennett's jackets are not commercial enough or even that appealing, but they are completely unique and done out of his own creation. While Escalante's dresses get a bid, that does not make him a better designer. In fact, it makes him less of a designer, because he is conforming to other people's ideals and expectations.

Having said that, the designers in jeopardy of going home are Shani, Bennett and Poulos. Out of this batch, we'd have to say Bennett and Poulos are pretty much tied, while Shani is still a preferred designer by the mentors' and buyers' standards.

Varvatos says the mentors are "locked" and don't save any of them. The buyers ultimately choose Bennett to go home.

"I'm upset I didn't win. Maybe they don't want this conservative Republican from Texas at their stores," Bennett says.

A preview of next week's show teases that three designers go home! We're counting on Escalante, Poulos and Scarabello. We shall see how all this "crapatola" transpires. Those are Richie's words, not ours.

Last Week: John Varvatos Holds a Grudge

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