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TV review: ‘Fashion Star’

I may not be a fashionista, but I wear clothes as often as the next person — I’m wearing some right now as a matter of fact. And stung into curiosity by that withering monologue about the cerulean blue sweater in “The Devil Wears Prada,” I am interested in how certain styles wind up dominating major commercial outlets like Macy’s, H&M and Saks Fifth Avenue.

What I am not interested in is another reality program in which a carefully selected group of poignantly back-storied and teary-eyed “up ‘n comers” attempt to leapfrog the traditional rigors of their craft to win a competition guaranteeing them a contract.

“Fashion Star” is NBC’s attempt to refurbish “Project Runway.” Many of the contestants showing their designs in the pilot and second episode are advised by a panel of celebrity mentors to be fresher and more innovative, to push beyond a simple or gimmicky tweak of an old design. The adage “Physician, heal thyself” comes oddly to mind — if only the producers had received similar instruction.

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PHOTOS: Reality TV fashion stars

Hosted by Elle Macpherson, “Fashion Star” corrals a patly diverse group of designers — the stay-at-home mom! The urban outlier! The guy who cries! — and allows them to show their creations to a panel of celebrity mentors consisting of Nicole Richie, Jessica Simpson and designer John Varvatos. Then, buyers from Macy’s, H&M and Saks actually bid, or not, on the designs. The twist is that some designs are actually purchased and made available to you, the television viewing public, in one of these chains. The winner will be showcased in all three.

Here’s the good news: Richie looks terrific, healthy and confident, and everyone on the panel is smart, articulate and comfortable in front of the camera to put the audience at ease. The same goes for the buyers, who are informative and direct when they explain why they want nothing to do with one fashion or another.

Here’s the bad news: It gets old really fast. As in, halfway through the pilot. Like every reality show of its type, there are only a few minutes each episode of real action — most screen time is occupied by repeats and promos and reminders of how tense and fabulous the competition is.

PHOTOS: Reality TV fashion stars

But where “Project Runway” showed participants at work, meeting actual challenges — Make a dress out of food! — “Fashion Star” is all about the clothes, which are just not that interesting. The contestants are not attempting couture, so most of the advice is about responding to the realities of the marketplace. This is certainly a truth of design, but as a television viewing experience it’s a dud.

A couple of the dresses were cute though.

PHOTOS: Reality TV fashion stars

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com


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