The Telefile

Fashion Star: Project Runway Gone Very Wrong

by Rachel Stein March 14, 2012 6:00 am
<I>Fashion Star</i>: <I>Project Runway</i> Gone Very Wrong

What the hell did we just watch? After seeing the pilot episode of NBC's Fashion Star, we cannot remember what expectations we had of it, other than we thought it sounded vaguely like a Project Runway rip-off. Don't get us wrong -- it kind of is one, but we think it missed the mark so badly that we've gone beyond the wannabe zone and straight into the disaster phase. Here's why it can't possibly stack up to the O.G. of fashion shows:

On Project Runway: 15 or so contestants compete with each other to create, execute and style the best clothes under various restrictions in time, materials and theme. Their designs are judged by a panel of experts, and one or more designers are eliminated each week.
On Fashion Star: Instead of a contest to make the best garments, the challenge is to make an arbitrarily decided three-piece collection that retail buyers from Macy's, H&M and Saks Fifth Avenue think will sell the most to a mass market. There's also a slew of celebrity mentor/judges like Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie and John Varvatos, who basically do squat. Each week, designers who do not sell any of their items to the buyers will be up for elimination; also -- for some reason -- the celebrity mentors will be able to save one of the designers from the chopping block. Confusing enough for you?

On Project Runway: On a typical first new episode of a season, we meet the designers (most of them, anyways), learn the challenge together, watch them construct their garments and style their assigned models. Then we have a quiet runway show with the judges and competitors, where the judges decide one or two contestants to boot off.
On Fashion Star: Before we can even learn what the grand prize is, Fashion Star immediately starts the series with runway shows, skipping over many contestants (and the models, obviously) and explaining the actual set-up in between individual mini-shows, often only by playing talking head interviews with contestants who explain the rules of the challenges within their interviews. Many designers get skimmed over, all get haphazardly pitted together with no explanation and (spoiler!) it doesn't become any clearer in the second episode, either. Even worse, Fashion Star is so lazy about the actual quality of the reality game that nixed contestants are told: "You're not our Fashion Star. You're going home."

Product Placement
On Project Runway: The challenges, studio, accessory wall and tools for the designers have definitely gotten more branded over the years, but at the end of the day it's about the clothes. Occasionally, challenges reward the winner with their outfit being up for sale, but it's by no means the norm.
On Fashion Star: This show is essentially a not-so subliminal commercial for H&M, Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy's, who are constantly revered as the most forward-thinking, universally loved brands in fashion. Literally, succeeding on this reality show revolves having one of the buyers think your design is worthy of a contract with their store and offer you in the ballpark of $50,000 to $100,000 for it. If you don't get a bid, you're up for elimination.

On Project Runway: Big names will come in to judge or host a challenge, but Runway lets the designs speak for themselves.
On Fashion Star: Because this series doesn't think the average viewer can handle any sort of cohesive set-up, we're bombarded with sometimes-live performances of blaring pop music playing over models strutting the runway as fireworks explode and choreographed dancers (sometimes they're girls in bikinis on motorcycles!) rock out on the sides, all in front of a screaming studio audience. We're not exaggerating -- every single mini-show is essentially a three-minute clip of the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show as we're told over and over again that what we (and we're constantly simply referred to as "America") see today, we can buy in stores tomorrow. When a contestant learns that they're through to the next round, it's because one of the buyers will punch a number representing a large sum of money on a giant blue screen, which we're somehow supposed to understand the context of, and that will maybe sometimes turn into a bidding war. And don't get us started on the theme song.

On Project Runway: This show has been on forever, and though it felt like it lost a bit of its edge there for a while (specifically when it jumped networks and moved to Los Angeles), this current All Stars season has proven that there's obviously real talent being displayed week to week. Some of the designs -- especially in more avant-garde challenges -- are truly works of art to the point that the fashion community still has respect for the reality series, generally speaking.
On Fashion Star: The designers don't actually construct or sew their own clothes (at this point, anyway), making their skillset that much less impressive. Simply put, Fashion Star spoon-feeds stupidity. Instead of allowing designers to think for themselves and come up with unique and often-risk-taking designs, contestants are challenge to create clothes that can be marketed to the masses -- and as viewers, we're supposed to love this.

Will the real winners of this competition be the sweatshops that get new designs to sew? Our vlogger Sean Crespo goes between the seams in this video:

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