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Episode 5: How Much is that Maxi in the Window?

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The final showcase, featuring Laricks, Newton and Oputa.<br>
The final showcase, featuring Laricks, Newton and Oputa.

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Last night's Fashion Star, on NBC, featured a new kind of challenge. Well, new for Fashion Star—for the group challenge in and of itself is as old as time (or at least as old as Project Runway). And, as you know, it always ends up with mixed results.

But Fashion Star's ten remaining designers weren't tag-teaming on individual pieces. Rather, they worked together, with a budget, on merchandising their wares in living window displays. Displays so riveting passersbys might take one look and bum rush the store.

This may come as a shock, as everything on this show so far has been utterly without schlock and features only the utmost in production values, but the windows? They were pretty goofy.

The episode, of course, began with a recap, and fun fact: Nearly $1.5 million in clothing has already been sold. From there, it's on to the showcases. Nikki Poulos and Barbara Bates are first up. And they're not working very well together. Bates certainly seems like she can be a little bit bull-headed; but Poulos is downright impossible. Furthermore, their looks are fairly disparate: Bates is showing a menswear-inspired dress with a pinstriped bottom and a blousy top; Poulos is showing—try not to be too shocked here because this is way out of left field—a maxi dress (above).

Bates suggests a photoshoot-themed window; Poulos suggests that such a window would be as schlocky as Fashion Star. And frankly, Poulos doesn't totally seem to understand the concept or relevance of the whole window display thing—her clothes, apparently, speak for themselves. Nicole Richie—she likes it, assuring the duo that store display isn't "subtle," it's about "telling a story."

They get it done, and before taking the stage Bates says, with utter relief: "We get to eat after this!" Contestants are forbidden snacks until all work is completed.

Anyway, the showcase happens—and models emerge from said window displays. Richie likes Bates' dresses; John Varvatos thinks the whole thing might've been more interesting if each look didn't have the same pinstriped bottom. There are no offers, to which Bates declares: "Don't wait until I'm big and famous! You can get me cheap here!" Something tells me the buyers aren't too worried.

Poulos scores, however—Varvatos approves of both the window and the dresses. Richie didn't have much to say about either, but was totally sold on Poulos's chest—comparing them to Jessica Simpson's and saying those "chimichangas are on fire!" Saks Fifth Avenue and H&M each bid on the dress. It ends up at H&M for $80,000.

Next up: A friendship montage featuring the designers becoming intimate buddies over the course of the show. And what better way to segue into the Luciana Scarabello and Ronnie Escalante showcase—which is glossed over in much the same way every other segment featuring either designer has been glossed over in the past. It's fair to say neither is going to end up in the top three, right? They've been edited to the hilt. But, hey, they have each other! The duo bonded over failing to sell a single design over the course of the first three episodes and now they're practically inseparable. Losers unite!

Yet, both sell their designs this time around—and they still can't get any air time! Escalante made his first sale to Macy's. It's a simple dress (above) with some flounce at the back, and it inspires Macy's and H&M to start a bidding war. Caprice Willard ends up buying it for Macy's for $110,000, and thanks the mentors for saving Escalante and giving him the chance to show such a fabulous garment. Meanwhile, Scarabello's sexy dress goes to Saks Fifth Avenue for $100,000. Both designers are thrilled and emotional.

But not thrilled or emotional enough to get as much airtime as Ross Bennett, Orly Shani and Sarah Parrott. As the trio are "all really in love with Gossip Girl," (Really? Still?) they come up with a Gossip Girl/Upper East Side-themed window display. It features a cafe table and a photographic backdrop of skyscrapers.

Parrott designs a reversible blazer (above)—it's sort of cute and shaped a bit like a motorcycle jacket without closures. Varvatos calls it "nice," but "not superstar." Yet, H&M wants it—Nicole Christie bids $60,000 and calls it "the new cardigan." This marks Parrott's "unprecedented" (what precedent? It's the shows fifth episode) fifth straight sale to H&M. Parrott is thrilled but confounded: She wonders how to create "something all three [buyers] want, but still be [her]—it's a big challenge."

Bennett, oozing over-confidence once again, produces a menswear-inspired waistcoat (above) that would not have been out of place in a Fashion Bug or on the set of Blossom. The styling is as saccharine as you might expect—he literally calls one model his "mini me." But Simpson loves it: "Deliver it to me on a platter, please!" Willard buys the look for Macy's, for $50,000, telling the designer he's "just hitting [his] stride."

Shani attempts a lace dress—something she's never done before. But it didn't go very well—it's like "if you had somewhere to go tonight and you don't even want to wear your own dress." Several minor mental breakdowns later, the designer pulls a pair of nondescript shorts out of her ass. Like Bennett's, they're pretty Fashion Bug. She's not pleased with herself, though, saying she's been "given this amazing opportunity—and I'm just throwing something down the runway." Richie points out that the shorts create "a wedgina" and says "if [she] was on Gossip Girl [she'd] say WTF." The consensus is that it's too late in the game for basics; Shani gets no offers.

Lastly, Kara Laricks is up with, as she calls them, her two Guy Smileys, Nzimiro Oputa and Edmund Newton. The smiles don't last however, as no-one in the group sells their designs.

The theme is navy and white, and the trio decides to present a nautical window display. It was starts out fine—Larick's billowing shirt dress is nothing if not preppy, a hip take on a yacht club look. And Oputa designs an anorak/cropped trench look that—while not exactly show-stopping—is very marina appropriate.

Newton flips gears, though, switching from a gabardine blazer to a trio of men’s oxford shirts. Perhaps he was inspired by Richie’s warning to “stay away from club rat fabric.” Nothing is less club rat than broadcloth. Oputa, the reigning menswear go-to, is needlessly threatened—everyone with eyes knows that Newton’s designs are a threat to exactly no one.

Newton’s shift forces the showcase to go from nautical to travel-themed—vintage luggage and maps to boot. The scenery is largely ignored, however. Richie calls Oputa’s jackets “spot on” (she also calls the designer “Zamimi”—it’s moments like this that make one long for the carefree millennial days of The Simple Life) but Varvatos warns they “weren’t aggressive enough for a window.” He also calls Newton’s shirts—one of which is just a white shirt, another is just black—“pretty basic.” The best line of the night, however, is courtesy of Saks’ Terron Schaefer, on those very shirts: Are they “interesting enough to hang in Saks Fifth Avenue? I don't think so.” Upon receiving zero bids Newton muses: "Maybe they're broke."

Last but never least: Laricks. Her dress receives high marks from Simpson and her choice of print and use of color is called out. But the "dress doesn't hit the mark" in terms of spring trends or, more importantly, as an anchor for a window display.

So that’s that—five sales tonight: Poulos, Bennett, Scarabello, Escalante, and Parrott are safe. The buyers deem Newton (“lack of judgement”), Shani (everyone hated those shorts), and Bates (she’s talented but does she know what customers are looking for) the bottom three. Bouncing back to the mentors, Varvatos says “the world needs a little more crazy” and saves Bates. Bates, not exactly flattered: “is that a compliment?” The response: “Crazy’s good.”

With little fanfare the buyers oust Newton who declares, “No problem!” “This won't be the last you'll hear of me!" Though, actually, yeah it will.

Next week's challenge promises discomfort—whatever that means. In the meantime, you need another maxi dress. Buy that and the other stuff here.

· Fashion Star [NBC]
· All Fashion Star coverage [Racked]