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Episode 7: Former Underdog Is First to Sell to All Three Retailers

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Last's night's Fashion Star episode—NBC's fourth to last for the season—began like all the others. A recap centering around the frantic promise that each and every garment the show has shipped to stores is absolutely "flying off the shelves." From there we learn the episode's challenge: Mentor's Choice.

That means—in case the term "Mentor's Choice" isn't immediately crystal clear—that mentors are each working very closely and independently with their chosen designers; encouraging them to challenge themselves with projects that are either slightly outside their comfort zone or take their standards to a higher level.

The episode opens with Nicole Richie working with Kara Laricks. Richie wants the designer to expand upon the fantastic trousers she's already shown by developing a complete suit (above). Further, Richie wants one of these suits to be white. "I love a white suitI love it." Maybe you had to see it, but kudos to Richie for another hilarious/ridiculous/creepy moment. Moving on: Larick's showcase—to the totally appropriate, totally sweet sounds of Quiet Riot's "Come On Feel the Noise"—was spectacular: The three hottest, chicest models in gloriously out-sized power suits. Jessica Simpson loves it; and when no offers are immediately made John Varvatos scolds the buying panel: "You're crazy for not buying this." But it was all a tease: Terron Schaefer offers $100,000. Which inspires host Elle MacPherson to call Schaefer a "cheeky monkey."

And then there's Ross Bennett—who, along with John Varvatos, is attempting to move an inch of two beyond tailoring with a flirty, fun, feminine chiffon dress. As early on as fabric sourcing, Bennett is convinced that Varvatos "doesn't understand [his] vision." He mostly ignores the (immensely successful, world renowned) designer, declaring that he's "not working for John Varvatos." From there he poops all over Laricks' designs as well as the pattern makers he works with, telling his staffers they're "killing [him]," and that the "dress is a fucking disaster." And he's right! Varvatos likens it to "Little House on the Prairie" and says Bennett "missed the mark." The "live studio audience" is appalled by Varvatos' assessment, to which Richie shrieks: "John! Everyone hates you! But you still love me, right?" Yes! We do!

Bennett's failure to sell a lick goes without saying.

Before the second showcase, it's montage time! Let's go get inspired! Varvatos takes his mentees to one of his flagships and explains that design is "a fight every day;" "you need to out-do yourself every season." Richie brings her crew to a high-end vintage store for a look at "fashion history." And Simpson shows her group some mood boards while expounding on how sucky it is when your you-ness doesn't sell.

And then there's Sarah Parrott—working with Simpson. Simpson's challenge: "An elegant dress" for Macy's or Saks Fifth Avenue. Per usual, Parrott's design process is clouded by a series of small break downs and gallons of self doubt—which Laricks can't understand: "She always knocks it out of the park!" Not so much this week—her look is essentially a printed house coat. Simpson: "I don't hate 'em, hate 'em." Varvatos, less generous: "Terrible." Parrott's on stage excuse: "I was lost." Richie, not so thrilled by that response, lectures the designer on standing up for her designs—even if she has to fake it; and Nicole Christie—Parrott's number one fan, the buyer for H&M—agrees: "Maybe you missed the interpretation of elegant?" Elegant is a big, hard to understand word. There are no offers.

Nzimiro Oputa—who works with Varvatos—fairs only slightly better than Parrott. His blazers still have a lot of that wonky Oputa detail that everyone seems to like so much—despite his mentor warning against possible Oputa overkill. That said, the mentors are happy with his presentation. Yet, there are no offers, and Caprice Willard of Macy's notes that "the detailing took away from" a very on-trend jacket. Not everything needs a dumb bias pocket, Oputa.

Varvatos also works with Orly Shani; and he makes her promise to not show anything convertible—warning "they'll shoot [her] down with a machine gun" if she pulls that shit again. She almost keeps her promise, opting for subtle customability in her cute zipper-back column dresses (above). Saks and H&M both bid on the looks—opening up at $50,000 and ending with H&M for $70,000. But not before some buyer spite. Schaefer tells her to "make the right decision" and go with Saks; Christie retorts: "Make the business decision," go to H&M. And she does—as she's not yet sold at the mass retailer.

Meanwhile, Richie is working with Ronnie Escalante. She tells him she sees him as a go-to eveningwear designer and wants him to just go with it. Also, it's "time to be a full blown slut." Bennett, whose insecurities are clearly manifesting in the form of cruel critiques for all of his more successful colleagues, declares the dresses have "no hanger appeal at all." Escalante and his pattern makers hear the small Southern nothing jabbering to no one and shrug it off. For good reason: Simpson wants him to design her bridesmaids dresses. (Is she engaged or something? Who cares.) And, Macy's picks up the gowns (above) for $50,000. Willard: "We like to dress our customers for all occasions."

All above showcases were set to live tribal drumming.

Next up is Argentinian bowling pro Luciana Scarabello, who, along with Simpson, opts to do something a little more sophisticated and structured; something sort of "sexy little firecracker." And, they're great. Varvatos declares "those dresses could be bought by all three!" At least Saks and H&M agree—with bids opening at $60,000. The dresses end up at H&M for $70,000, making Scarabello—former underdog—the first designer to sell to all three stores!

Last but not least: Nikki Poulos, as guided by Richie. Richie wants Poulos to try something less maxi, more mini, suggesting something short, mod, or a-line. "You can't just do long dresses!" So, already, the designer is flummoxed; and ends up more so at the fabric store where the prints on hand are leaving her uninspired. She has trouble "[finding] those fabrics that make [her] dresses sing." ("I just can't pick a solid!") She ends up with a trio of very cute engineered mini dresses. Alas—there are no offers; the buyers want more detail.

It's 10:48pm. MacPherson: "This is Fashion Star."

The mentors now have four failing designers from which to save one: Oputa, Parrott, Poulos and Bennett. They inexplicably save Oputa before the buyers cite each individual designer's flaws. Poulos doesn't show enough range or innovation. Parrott can't even convince H&M to buy her designs anymore. And Bennett—another misstep in a series of missteps deriving from an ego of unwarranted proportions.

They off Parrott—despite (or because of) her $300,000 winning streak with H&M.
So that's that! Shop here. Only three more to go. This is Fashion Star.

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