Too Much Reality: Why I Don’t Dig Fashion Star

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I recently watched the first episode from Season 2 of Fashion Star as a homework assignment for this week’s round table. I thought it would be the perfect choice considering my love of Project RunwayProject Runway is one of my all time favorite reality shows and I will be comparing the two frequently in this post (that may be biased and unfair but I’m OK with that).

Fashion Star is similar to Project Runway in that up-and-coming fashion designers compete to design and create garments to be judged by a panel of experts at the end of each episode. In the case of Fashion Star the panel of experts are buyers from Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Express. The buyers judge the garments by bidding on or rejecting each design with the push of a giant button (“push the button” seems to be the shows catchphrase). If a contestant receives the “no offer” button push from each of the judges they face elimination.

I didn’t like Fashion Star at all. In fact, it hurt my heart. More on that later, first here are my less dramatic issues with the show.

I don’t know the rules. I understand the big picture: the designers must complete a garment to be showcased to the judges in a flashy runway show at the end of the episode. But what are the parameters of the challenge? We are told they must design “showstoppers” but what does that mean? What is the contestant’s fabric budget? How long have they been given to brainstorm and sketch their ideas? How long do they have to complete their garment? Are they responsible for styling? Do they have help or are they working alone? There are two contestants who are functioning as one team. How is that fair? It’s not even entirely clear if the contestants are responsible for the construction of their garments. You never see them at a sewing machine. It appears that the designers have helpers but it is never explained how many they have or what their roles are in the construction phase. I understand that many of these questions spring from watching 11 Seasons of Project Runway but they are still valid. The contestants often fret about not completing their looks on time, however the time-frame is never outlined. There is no tension because I have no idea how much time they are given or how much time is left before the runway show. I don’t even know if not finishing on time results in disqualification.The garment construction portion of the episode is so murky that it isn’t clear how the clothes made it onto the runway at all.

The mentor/mentee (it’s a word!) relationship is meaningless. At the beginning of the episode the contestants have been divided into teams of three headed by mentors Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie and John Varvatos.  Each designer was “handpicked” by each mentor but we don’t see the process nor is it explained why each mentor chose their designers. Connections and stakes are never established. The mentors dole out advice while hovering over sketches and half finished garments that seem to have appeared out of nowhere. Jessica Simpson explains to contestant Hunter that her black and purple striped maxi dress is great but, “you want to keep it commercial. Showstopper but accessible.” What? Tim Gunn taught me that the word commercial is a bad thing so now I’m confused. This musing from Nichol Richie really added to my confusion. She explains, “Daniel is the most high fashion [designer]. It’s too early to tell if that’s a negative or a positive.” Isn’t high fashion always a good thing? Tim?

I learn later that these mentor-ship sessions are on point with the shows purpose. This is the part that makes my heart hurt. The entire function of Fashion Star is to sell stuff. Contestants advance if buyers make big offers on their clothes. If buyers successfully bid on a design it is available the next day for viewers to purchase online. We are reminded of this about a billion times. We are told that the designers were challenged to make “showstoppers” but really their challenge is to create looks that will sell and sell quickly. It’s never explained what a show stopper is because it really isn’t important. A run-of-the-mill reversible hoodie or “two-fer” as Jessica Simpson deems it, is purchased by Macy’s for $120,000. Did it stop the show? No. But it will sell so that’s OK. Because garments are designed to be sold immediately to a large demographic, nothing that walks down the runway wows or even impresses me. I can see the same things online shopping at Sears.

There are no critiques of the garments save from the odd aside from the mentors while the models walk the runway. Nichole Richie would occasionally throw in a, “that’s a showstopper” or “I don’t know if that’s showstopper.” Critiques don’t matter. The bottom line of the show is: Will these clothes sell? It is really one giant commercial.

Fashion Star has no heart. The contestants fate is determined solely by numbers. Creativity, point-of-view or passion are not taken into consideration. Risk is discouraged. There is no back story as to why the designers created their garments or if the designs are even important to them. Because there is no insight into the creative process tears from contestants up for elimination are meaningless. They are literally crying over numbers or lack thereof.

I’m sure you are all screaming at me right now, “that is reality!” I get it. In the real world rules, process, and creativity don’t necessarily matter. At the end of day if the buyer wants what you have to sell you are considered successful. That is too much reality for me. I prefer to believe that passion, hard work and talent count for something.

PS As the credits start to roll the icy host asks us to “tune in next time to find out if sex really sells.” No thank you.


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