Given that clothes make the (hu)man, it’s no surprise to find fashion at the center of those sorts of television series that purport to show us reality. (And there is “Ugly Betty” too.) From “Project Runway,” down through “What Not to Wear,” “The Rachel Zoe Project” and various makeover, styling, and shopping and modeling shows too numerous to watch, if not to name, the rag trade and the people who analyze, promote and apply its products are, as Heidi Klum would say in her Heidi Klum accent, in.
“Running in Heels,” which premieres Sunday on the Style Network, is a “behind-the-scenes” look at the magazine Marie Claire, filtered through the experience of three new interns. It is a little like “The Hills” without the boys, and a little like “Stylista,” the CW reality series in which contestants vied for an editorial post at Elle, except without the stunt challenges and weekly eliminations. But that is not to say that there is no competition.
If this self-styled “docu-series” is partly a piece of self-promotion -- Marie Claire getting in a game already played by rival Elle through “Project Runway” and “Stylista” -- it isn’t the first documentary to have been backed or approved by its subject. And if cooperation comes at the price of the whole truth, there is at least the access and a chance of something interesting. (To be sure, the show is too fast and fragmented to go deeply into anything.) So while you may not see the darker side of new fashion director Nina Garcia, who arrives from Elle to take up her new post -- you see more of it on “Project Runway,” really -- you will get a little bit of an idea of what being Nina Garcia entails.
The main drama is left to the young interns, who have grown up in a world without circumspection or old notions of privacy, are more liable, if not eager, to say whatever’s on their easily provoked minds.
In broad terms, Ashley, who has interned at magazines before and feels herself the most experienced and therefore the most deserving, is the jealous mean girl. (“I always try to be the standout one of the other interns, even if I have to make them look bad.”) Cheerful Samantha, a college student from Oshkosh, Wis., who has never been to the big city and admits to knowing little about fashion magazines -- but looks like she could model -- is the nice girl as target. (“I’m not just some dumb girl,” she says, by way of defense.) And Talita, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (that Lauren Conrad school) who arrives at the SoHo apartment the three girls will share carrying a Chihuahua named Chanel, is the swing vote.
If they imagine they have signed up for some glamorous working vacation, they find they have instead stumbled into a temple of stress where they will have their egos beaten out of them. They will be reprimanded for their lateness, their inattention, their spelling errors. (“It basically hurts my eyes a little to look at it,” one editor says of Talita’s copy.) They will be sent on errands they think beneath them. They will run in heels.
That said, the point here is to show that everyone, from the top on down, works hard and takes their lumps. Although the moment is somewhat overplayed by editing and underscoring, we see senior fashion editor Zanna Roberts shot down by Garcia in a meeting over a proposed nautically themed fashion spread: “I don’t think anybody here is going to dress head to toe in anchors and stripes.”
Even editor in chief Joanna Coles, who can seem something of a dry British biscuit, is portrayed as being as much of a supplicant as a superior, necessarily a slave to the celebrities who sell her magazine. And she is not immune to self-doubt. Standing next to Klum at a party for Garcia, she notes, “You’re taller, thinner, blonder, richer.”
“No,” says Heidi, secure in the knowledge that she is all that. “It’s just the shoes.”
‘Running in Heels’
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)