Fashion Star Premiers on NBC Tuesday, March 13

One can only describe the enthusiasm surrounding the premier of Fashion Star as "lukewarm." After all, this is a poor man's Project Runway, is it not? Elle Macpherson is doing the heavy lifting as far as women's fashion cred goes, but compared to heavy-hitters like Nina Garcia and Michael Kors, Fashion Star mentors Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie have a lot of work to do to convince audiences they are credible voices in the fashion world. Mentor John Varvatos is a bona fide designer, but his specialty is menswear, making him less well-known than women's designers Isaac Mizrahi and Kors. (the male designer/judges on PR All-Stars and Project Runway, respectively)

Last summer, when news of the show first broke, we speculated on how hard Fashion Star would go after Project Runway; whether NBC was looking for a direct competition, or simply capitalizing on the popularity of a "fashion competition" reality show. Now that NBC has released more details, the picture of what Fashion Star will be is becoming clearer.

The focus on branding is what will ultimately set Fashion Star apart from PR. Rather than looking for the next hot designer, the show's "About Us" page explains that they are searching for "the next big brand in fashion." In addition to Macpherson and her merry band of mentors, the show will also feature three buyers: Caprice Willard (Macy's), Terron E. Schaefer (Saks Fifth Avenue) and Nicole Christie (H&M). The buyers are the judges, who compete to purchase and exclusively carry the designs presented each week. The combined focus on branding, and the involvement of three major retailers, could give us an insight into the business part of the fashion world that PR addresses only in passing.

So where do the mentors come in? In addition to their advisory roles à la Tim Gunn, the mentors will have the power to "save" contestants who are up for elimination. It's the challenges that have us scratching our heads, as the setup seems a bit convoluted. Then again, most reality-show challenges would probably look clunky when put down to paper (imagine writing out a Survivor challenge). Here is the basic outline for weekly challenges:

• Each week the show will open with a fashion show for which the designers create a look based on a specific challenge. (This part is pretty familiar.) • The buyers/judges will "make on-the-spot decisions as they vie for the right to purchase and exclusively carry the work of the up-and-coming designers each week." (How does a designer "win"? Are the buyers set up in a hierarchy -- Saks, Macy's, H&M -- in which three designers "win" each week, or does only one collection get purchased each week?) • Designers whose work is not selected are vulnerable to elimination; mentors will have the power to save one designer from the chopping block each week. • At the end of each episode, the winning designs will be available for immediate purchase.

The grand prize for the Fashion Star winner is a staggering $6 million order for a capsule collection at Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's and H&M. Take that, HP/Intel technology suite.

The first field of Fashion Star designers will make their television debut on Tuesday, March 13, on NBC. The show airs at 9:30 p.m. EST/8:30 p.m. CT. We just know Heidi Klum has her DVR all set and ready to go.

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Christina Uticone