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Fashion is a big as sports. At least, that's what E.J. Johnston, creator of NBC's new fashion reality series Fashion Star, told us when we spoke to him on the phone last week. And if he's anything, Johnston is a man who loves his sports metaphors.
When we asked him what he thinks is the most entertaining part of Project Runway-style series, he skipped right over the show's stars Nicole Richie and Jessica Simpson—who will be joining John Varvatos as mentors and who have created some addictively entertaining TV in their day, lord knows—and compares Fashion Star to the Stanley Cup. "People follow the show they same way they would when watching a hockey game. They want to see the surprise and delight of what comes out on the runway, the unknown of who gets sent home, and the end goal: who ends up winning," he said.
Frankly, we've never analyzed the similarities between fashion and hockey, but we see his point. Fashion Star is about competition, and this show claims to have higher stakes than any of its predecessors. Not only does it mark the first time a major network has backed a fashion reality series (even Project Runway, the most successful of television's fashion shows, ran on Bravo for its first five seasons before defecting to Lifetime in 2009), it's the first time retailers are investing in the shows designs in real time, which means everyone has a lot to lose if the designs don't strike a cord with shoppers.
Unlike Runway, where contestants are assigned quirky challenges and judges are major fashion industry personalities, Fashion Star's 14 contestants are designing for stores: specifically Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's, and H&M, whose buyers fill the equivalent of the judge's panel, and who will be placing orders for the contestant's designs—or not—each week.
Each episode's challenge is based on an actual business need—rain coats, bridesmaid gowns, bikinis, whatever—and then the store's buyers bid on the designs they want to produce. The store with the highest bid wins the rights to produce the garment, and by the time each episode airs they've already stocked the pieces you're seeing on the show that night.
This means you can actually shop them immediately after the show ends. Saks will carry Fashion Star designs in all 46 locations, H&M will have pieces in 100 American stores, and Macy's is stocking their Manhattan flagship. Additionally, all three stores will be selling the clothing online—yes, even H&M, which doesn't currently have an e-commerce platform in the US, but will offer online shopping specifically for the items they've produced from the show.
It's an interesting interactive twist, one that has a lot of potential to play up the social aspects of shopping. It's not a stretch to imagine girlfriends getting together in a living room to watch the show and get each other's opinions on what to shop. But back to those sports metaphors: could Johnston see women gathering in a bar to knock back a few while cheering on their favorite contestant? In his opinion, "That would have to be a very female-oriented bar."
Fashion Star airs tonight on NBC at 9:30
· Fashion Star [Official site]