The Reality of ‘Fashion Star’

Unlike some of its predecessors, the latest entry in the fashion-reality genre landed with a concept that was compelling — too bad the clothes weren't.

with contributions from Marcy Medina
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NEW YORK — Fashion and entertainment is nothing new.

But add commerce into the mix and you’ve got the novel ingredients for “Fashion Star,” the latest entry in the fashion-reality genre that made its debut on NBC Tuesday. Unlike some of its predecessors, this show landed with a concept that was compelling — too bad the clothes weren’t.

That didn’t seem to hurt sales, though. The three retailers involved in the program — Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and H&M — all said they had strong sell-throughs of the first deliveries, both online on Tuesday night and in stores on Wednesday. It proves once again that in the new order of fashion, hype can outshine talent.

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Where other similar reality shows have designers vying for the top prize with wares that may never hit a retail floor, the crux of “Fashion Star” is the clothes’ commercial appeal — determined by the stores’ buyers themselves. The merch is first critiqued by an oddly disparate trio of judges — Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie and John Varvatos — and then bid for by executives from Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and H&M (with the option to make “no offer”).

“Fashion Star” averaged 4.6 million viewers and won its time slot among the age 18-to-49 demographic — albeit on what was considered a slow night for television.

Within minutes of the show’s end, the selected pieces are up for retail online and in stores the next day.

In that respect, there’s a sense of instant gratification. By midday Wednesday, the three retailers reported strong selling of their choices. While they declined to disclose the number of units produced, they boasted that the show’s buzz translated onto the selling floors. sold out of Orly Shani’s $350 convertible zipper miniskirt by 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, and a spokeswoman added that the item was also selling well in its 49 stores. H&M’s Web site sold out of Sarah Parrott’s $19.95 formfitting minidress and Nzimiro Oputa’s $49.95 men’s blazers 20 minutes after the show ended Tuesday night, and by lunchtime Wednesday, all back stock was cleaned out of the 101 stores that sold the looks. Macy’s wares — Lizzie Parker’s $79 jersey tunic, Edmond Newton’s $110 cocktail dress and Nikki Poulos’ $89 kimono-sleeve caftan — were available exclusively at the Herald Square location and, much of which had sold out by press time.

Talk about the power of TV — for without it, it’s unlikely the merch would light up the retail floors.

The slick television production is a far cry from the runways of New York, Milan and Paris, and more in the vein of other reality concepts like “The X Factor,” i.e., a big set, strobe lights, smoke machines, “Solid Gold”-like dancers and self-motivational proclamations from contestants, replete with tear-jerking personal stories. They at least added a narrative to the clothes, which were soulless at best, with little relevance to current fashion trends. The designers proposed lots of half-baked ideas, including a caftan with a print that looked dangerously like Pucci, several poufy cocktail numbers destined for Eighties-themed proms and short-short shift dresses that might have appealed to Snooki in her pre-pregnancy days (or maybe even now).

The only notable exception was Shani’s convertible skirt, which layered a tight miniskirt under a fluid chiffon one, the two meant to be detached by a zipper. (“My mom and I call it a twofer,” piped Simpson, in her most insightful comment of the night.) It was gimmicky, but at least it was based on a novel idea.

While lacking any strokes of sartorial genius, the show set itself apart by promoting the concept of selling clothes on the heels of runway buzz — an idea that’s been floating around for years. (Just ask Donna Karan about her idea to time her runway shows with real sales.)

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