Fashion Star: Must-Watch Show or TV Dud?

Dear Reader, Have you ever uttered the compound noun “fashion star?” NBC insists that you have. Obviously, you’ve spoken of fashion icons, darlings and victims. But fashion “stars?” Now, you may wonder why, of all the bizarre stylistic choices NBC made stitching together its gaudy Project Runway knock-off, I’m chafing at the network’s choice of title. The answer is simple: the title is crap and NBC knows it, as does anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of current American idiomatic speech.

However, NBC is betting that you’ll forgive its word turd in exchange for the opportunity to go shopping from your couch, with Nicole Richie, Jessica Simpson and John Varvatos as your personal shoppers. The network may not be wrong, if my own inability to resist the hypnotic pull of late-night infomercials is any indication. (I’ve never actually bought anything, which makes my addiction all the more maddening.)

For, make no mistakes, Fashion Star is nothing more than a gussied up infomercial. Every single fashion conquistador (there’s no such term — I just made that up!) planted on that pulsating sound stage is trying to sell you something. Mechanical MC Elle Macpherson plugs her lingerie line at the very top of the premiere. The mentors have their own fashion lines (Nicole, we’re told, has a brand. I’m unsure of the difference). And each episode is a default promo for H & M, Macy’s and Saks Fashion Star: Must Watch Show or TV Dud? Fifth Avenue.

The Pilot Episode of Fashion Star

Advertising has now become content. That’s on trend, but is it entertaining? As far as infomercials go, the answer is yes. True, I only watch those in a dimly conscious state. (Does that make me a fashion zombie?)

Following the pattern of Project Runway, Fashion Star showcases a colorful patchwork of contestants. The most eye-popping of which is Oscar, a lilliputian El Salvadorian immigrant, whose permanent accessories are cotton candy colored top hats, which manage to remain on his head despite his constant Tigger-like bouncing. Also on a permanent cry cycle, Oscar describes his line as “an orgy of over the top things,” which is also a fitting description of the show.

What passes for suspense is the moment Elle asks the department store reps if they’re going to make an offer on a contestant’s line. “NO OFFER” or a dollar amount then flashes on each store rep’s Jeopardy-like monitor. Poor Oscar got no offers for his perfectly competent butterfly dresses. Oscar’s failure to sell meant he risked being chopped. However, the mentors ultimately spared him. Naturally, he cried.

The first designer eliminated was Nicholas, the show’s obligatory jerk. (He didn’t believe “the girls” had informed opinions about men’s fashion. In response, Jessica said she wanted to smack him across the face.) Nicholas didn’t sell his signature piece, a “James Dean” biker jacket that bore close resemblance to windbreaker I once bought for my Ken doll.

Only six contestants managed to sell anything, and $80,000 was the top ticket price. I have no idea if that’s a sweatshop wage figure or the going market rate. (Macy’s made two $50,000 offers, which seemed pretty exploitative to me.)

Other standouts were Ross, a Texan fop whose line featured full-length culottes, which, according to Nicole, were vagina “grabbing,” though not in a good way.

Barbara, a defector from corporate America and breast cancer survivor, designed classically chic cocktail dresses. Unfortunately, Barbara’s signature embellishment, fluffy external pockets at the hips, resembled merkin barnacles. No offers for Barbara, but she’ll live to fight another week.

My vote for most promising is Nikki Poulos, who designs resort wear. While I’ve never been to a resort (unless Coney Island counts), I particularly liked Nikki’s Kimono Sleeve Maxi Caftan with matching head wrap. (It reminded me of something Diana Ross wore in Mahogany, that 70s film in which she played an aspiring fashion star.)

So, do I think Fashion Star has a future? At one point (a very low point for the English language), Jessica Simpson, complimenting a designer, employed the oxymoronic turn of phrase, “I’m kind of believing in you a lot.” That pretty much sums up my prediction for the show’s success.

Dear Reader, I now have a confession to make. NBC’s sinister plan worked; after the show, I wanted to shop. I went online, and, after taking a few wrong turns through NBC’s labyrinthine website, I finally found my way to the Macy’s Fashion Star page, where I could purchase Nikki’s caftan for $89. Not an unreasonable price, I thought, seeing as it includes the head wrap. If I could find an item for $10, I could even get free shipping (to me paying for shipping is like paying for sex; it’s a waste of money on something you might not like). I was seconds away from doing just as NBC had programmed me to do, when I clicked on the available size menu and learned that Nikki’s caftan is only available in small or extra small. Now THAT’S crap!

Alison McDonald is a TV comedy writer, and also the creator of the “She Got Problems” web series. Follow Alison on Twitter: @shegotproblems.