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Television Review

Fast-moving ‘Fashion Star’ goes for the gloss

The competition’s designers show their clothes to buyers from H&M, Macy’s, and Saks, who bid on the chance to sell them. The competition’s designers show their clothes to buyers from H&M, Macy’s, and Saks, who bid on the chance to sell them. (Photos by john russo/nbc)
By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / March 8, 2012
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The problem with “Project Runway’’ knockoffs is exactly that - they have all been unmemorable imitations. Like a discount store copy of an original design, these canceled messes (remember “The Fashion Show’’? “Launch My Line’’?) felt like a poorly constructed, off-the-rack fake without the je ne sais quoi or charm of the original.

But NBC’s new show “Fashion Star’’ not only dispenses with the “Runway’’ formula, at times it makes the Tim Gunn- and Heidi Klum-anchored series feel like a seventh grade home economics class. “Fashion Star’’ opens with an atomic blast of a fashion show, highlighting host Elle Macpherson’s lingerie line (nothing says style like underwear on motorcycles), and then immediately begins with quick contestant back stories followed by more fashion shows.

Instead of competing for a spread in Marie Claire, these 14 designers are showing their clothes to buyers from H&M, Macy’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue. The three buyers bid on a chance to sell the clothes. Then the clothes are available the next day in the store that offered up the highest bid.

The big winner of “Fashion Star,’’ will have his or her line sold in all three stores, a contract - the show boasts - is worth over $6 million.

“I don’t want to find the next great designer,’’ says Macpherson. “I want to find the next great fashion icon.’’

Take that, Michael Kors.

“Fashion Star’’ is the “American Idol’’ of clothes. A live audience watching the shows applauds, ooohs, and aaahs as the models sashay in quick succession. They also react to design critiques. The robust soundtrack is not the generic electronic thud of “Runway,’’ but songs by Lady Gaga and Ke$ha. There are swooshes of steam, pyrotechnics, and, most notably, a catwalk loaded with a lot of instant gratification. After each designer presents a collection, buyers from the three stores bid to sell it or offer no bids. And the cycle begins again.

The three mentors offer quick snippets of advice in the rarely seen workroom, and then again after each runway show. Nicole Richie, a minor figure in fashion, seemed like a baffling choice as a judge but gives intelligent feedback. Menswear designer John Varvatos offers a more realistic view of the fashion market, and Jessica Simpson seems to like everything and everyone.

The clothes then go before the three buyers. If the show survives, its true star should be the cranky, no-nonsense, and endlessly articulate Saks buyer Terron Schaefer. He is the South American equivalent of Simon Cowell, and he gets the delicious pleasure of delivering the line: “You are not our fashion star.’’

But for all its flash, “Fashion Star’’ lacks the heart of “Runway.’’ It’s all moving so quickly that the challenge of the week seems muddied by the pace. There is no sense of the design process. We barely see these contestants sew. There are pattern makers and fabric cutters for these tasks. There is also no feel for how long the contestants have to complete the challenges.

With this choppy pace, “Fashion Star’’ lacks heroes and villains - at least in the first two episodes. But what it lacks in Gunn power, it makes up for in sheer visual gloss. It is a network, big-budget take on the fashion world. Which means no one necessarily cares about landing a show at Lincoln Center. These designers will immediately become mass market commodities, as opposed to the “Runway’’ winners, who have traditionally had a difficult time reaching a wide audience - save for season five winner Christian Siriano.

Though “Fashion Star’’ is created for an audience with the attention span of a cricket, the show is addictive. It is a smartly conceived look at the populist side of fashion. These are fantasy fashion shows with bigger-than-life prizes. And isn’t the world of fashion really about fantasy anyway?

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.

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FASHION STAR

Starring: Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie, John Varvatos, Elle Macpherson

On: NBC (Channel 7)

Time: Premieres Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.