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LOS ANGELES — “American Idol” has produced Grammy winners, but reality TV has yet to produce a designer with mass commercial success. By adding retail to the formula, NBC’s “Fashion Star,” premiering Tuesday, aims to make business part of the entertainment.
“It’s the fashion version of ‘American Idol,’ a real business process,” said E.J. Johnston, a former IMG Fashion executive who created the show’s concept with producing partner James Deutch, a former Hearst Entertainment executive.
The grand prize, a $6 million contract with Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and H&M, will be awarded to one of 14 contestants on the 10th episode finale. In addition, each week buyers can place orders after each runway presentation, and viewers can buy product online that night and in stores the next day.
“We like the idea of big entertainment with tangible prizes, not to mention viewers like instant gratification,” said Deutch. (The show was taped over the summer, allowing retailers time to produce the clothes.)
“With other shows, winners still need to find a way to make their business work,” said Johnston. “We wanted to show that dream-come-true moment where a buyer says ‘I want that,’ so we made them the judges.”
In addition to decision making on camera, buyers must bid against one another to carry a look exclusively. “I can honestly say the show was really competitive both from the design and the buying process,” said Nicole Christie, H&M’s communications manager who was one of the show’s “featured buyers.” “It’s like going to Sotheby’s. You have to act fast and outbid the competition,” said Terron E. Schaefer, Saks’ executive vice president and chief creative officer, also a featured buyer. But the advantages far outweighed the challenges. “It’s like a 10-hour commercial for Saks,” he said.
Noted Macy’s vice president-regional planning manager for women’s apparel Caprice Willard, “We’re on the cutting edge of new ways to find talent and bring fashion to viewers. It’s important that retailers be open [to it] because we have to evolve in order to stay relevant. Customers are armed with far more product knowledge than ever before, so it puts the onus on us to be one step ahead.”
For contestants, who ranged from designers at major fashion brands to bartenders, the show means a fast track to success. “Whether or not they progress to the finale, their success is limitless. I wouldn’t be surprised if some end up in Macy’s and other storefronts,” said Willard. “There were designers who sold hundreds of thousands of dollars who didn’t win the grand prize,” added Deutsch.
While it remains to be seen how the clothes will sell, all retailers were optimistic about their profitability. As for the show, it has sold to 25 countries, and producers are in discussions to develop foreign versions with local retailers. Deutsch and Johnston are now developing a similar show with a 1,000-door home goods retailer. Said Johnston, “There are thousands of fascinating processes out there to add entertainment to.”