Press Tour: NBC’s ‘Fashion Star’ puts a flashy, celeb spin on design

In an effort to outshine defector “Project Runway” (which hopped from NBC-owned Bravo to Lifetime), NBC unveiled “Fashion Star” at a panel during the network’s first press tour day. Big and splashy where “Project Runway” is comparatively subtle, the show allows buyers from three different stores (H&M, Saks and Macy’s) to bid on outfits by fledgling designers while big brand celebrities (Nicole Richie, Jessica Simpson and Elle Macpherson) act as mentors. The most significant difference with “Fashion Star,” however, might be a boon to consumers. “One thing that was important to us in creating this is, it was as much about shopping as it is about fashion,” said Macpherson, who is also an executive producer and host. “We wanted to capitalize on the technology that could make that happen.”

Viewers who fall in love with a design will be able to buy said design in stores (or online) the next day. Not that they’ll definitely get that dream dress if everyone else wants it. “We’ve had people camp out for two, three days for certain designer collections,” said Nicole Christie of H&M. “We wouldn’t be surprised if that happened again.”

Having stars with successful brands (Simpson’s many collections make an estimated $1 billion per year) to offer tips will likely help designers pump out clothes that have mainstream appeal. “We really wanted to mentor all of these designers for having a lifestyle brand, not just about setting trends, but really making a name for yourself,” said a very pregnant Jessica Simpson. “We got to really encourage them. We were all working on our spring launches while we were working on the show, so we knew what was on the runway and what was trending. We were able to inform them what America wanted from them.”

Though Simpson stands out as the most successful celebrity brand, Nicole Richie (whose Winter Kate clothing brand and House of Harlow 1960 jewelry are on the market) stressed that all of the stars brought something to the table. “John [Varvatos] is a legend. He’s an icon. And Jessica knows this business. She built her brand from the ground up. And I’m a genius.” She was joking. Probably. “We all brought different opinions, and we weren’t competing against each other but were all working together to make each designer the best version of themselves.” 

One designer was also working on a new collection. When asked if her pregnancy had inspired her, Simpson said, “I definitely look at comfort; I buy bigger sizes. I don’t really love a lot of maternity stuff, so I’m using it as a fun business thing to do,” noting that she’s planning a Jessica Simpson line of maternity wear.  

While there’s no arguing that this take on a fashion competition is bigger, louder and… well, bigger and louder than “Project Runway,” it’s hard not to feel like this show misses the point. As models strut down a runway that looks like an overblown reject from “The X Factor,” navigating ridiculous blasts of artificial fog while buyers bid for designs, it seems Macpherson is right — this is more about shopping than design. The fact that only one honest-to-God designer is mentoring (Simpson and pals get points for branding themselves effectively and working with good companies, but the idea they’ve ever actually designed a dress beyond “I like that pink bow and you should add some buttons in the back” isn’t likely) suggests creativity will be taking a deep backseat to designs with a broad appeal. But hey, if you’re looking for a new dress, this is probably more entertaining than a night spent watching QVC. Maybe.