NBC's fashion/reality show Fashion Star can be hard to watch, especially for a die-hard Project Runway fan. On one hand, you want to give the show a fair shake, without comparing it to its Bravo Channel counterpart; on the other, it's a fashion design show hosted by a model and judged/mentored by fashion designers and celebrities, which by definition begs the PR comparison.
Viewings of the first couple of episodes left us uninterested and uninspired. And slightly confused, as the grand prize includes a presence for the winning designer's clothes in all three stores participating on the show: H&M, Macy's, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Now there might be room for overlap between Macy's and Saks, and between H&M and Macy's, but it's hard to imagine the garment that would look equally at home in a Saks window as an H&M window. This glaring issue is reinforced when you watch the show--rarely do H&M buyer Nicole Christie and Saks' buyer Terron E. Schaefer bid on the same designer's clothing. Ultimately that is an issue for the buyers and designers to resolve -- as viewers, here are a few of the issues that result in Fashion Star missing the mark.
1. The episode segments open with a fashion show, while the narrative leading up to the fashion shows (concept, design, execution) are presented via flashback. As a result, we get less insight into the designer and his or her aesthetic -- a casualty of the show's focus on marketing, branding, and salability. Further, in spite of the show's focus on branding and marketing, we don't get much insight -- beyond a few comments from the buyers on what they like -- on what constitutes good branding, or how to effectively market a designer. Because we don't follow designers from concept to execution, we don't have much reason to get invested in them as contestants, and the show fails to deliver on the promise to illuminate the business side of fashion -- double fail.
2. The live audience gives Fashion Star a game show feeling, but not in a good way. Rather than adding energy, the presence of a live audience is distracting. Further confusion ensues when the focus moves from the mentors' feedback to the buyers' turn to make a bid. The house lights go down while flashing neons go up, and bass-heavy music booms to let us know shit's about to get serious. The overall effect is like The Voice-meets-Let's Make a Deal.
3. Elle Macpherson is cute, but she lacks warmth. When your show -- and you -- are perceived to be in direct competition with Project Runway and its much-adored host, you need to bring out a lot of charm. Heidi Klum is one of the big reasons PR was so immediately successful--she took everyone by surprise with her down-to-earth attitude and sense of humor. You feel like you could sit down and have a glass of wine with Klum, but Macpherson hasn't found a way to connect to the audience; we see this as an extension of #2 on our list. The live audience, the over-the-top production obscures the humanity of the celebrities on Fashion Star. PR works because its personalities -- Klum, Tim Gunn, Michael Kors, and Nina Garcia -- are portrayed in a more intimate, stripped-down setting.
4. Jessica Simpson likes everything! She never offers constructive criticism to any of the designers, and she acts more like a cheerleader than a mentor. Positivity is a good thing, and we aren't asking her to make anyone cry, but she's not offering anyone any real critiques and aren't the designers there to learn?
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The show does display a few redeeming qualities, and should a second season get ordered we hope that Fashion Star will build on these for a more entertaining show.
1. The segment in which buyers actually compete to carry the designs is cool. The buyers from H&M, Saks, and Macy's are allowed to offer initial bids for the collections they like, and then counterbid against the other buyer(s) who wants to carry the line. The show should let the buyers inform us more on what makes something salable, and give the designers more insight on self-branding.
2. Nicole Richie displays practical knowledge and fashion acumen -- she is easily the best of the three on the panel of judges. John Varvatos is good, but not as engaging, although it's great to have menswear take a more prominent role -- this is one area where Project Runway can't really compete, presenting just a single menswear challenge each season. Which leads us to number three ...
3. The show features menswear designers, rather than "menswear challenges." This is pretty fascinating stuff -- women's fashion gets all the love -- but true fashion fans want to see it all. The only problem is that we don't see enough of the designers and their processes in the first place. Hopefully Season Two keeps the menswear designers and expands our access to footage of the actual design process.