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Episode 9: The Final Three, Sales or No Sales

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We're nearing the end, folks! On Tuesday night, NBC aired the second to last episode of Fashion Star's first (will there be a second?) season. And they aired it two hours early—ensuring that the few dozen people who do care about the show totally missed it.

Anyway—the opening boasts over $2 million in clothing sold so far. It also introduces this week's challenge: Designers will be working directly with the buyers on two looks (each in two variations). The reason for buyer involvement: To get designers who historically have had more luck with, say, Saks Fifth Avenue see their aesthetic through the eyes of, say, H&M. To expand their vision; to stay in the game.

Three designers, of the six remaining, will be eliminated—that's whether they sell their looks or not.

And from there—it's Nicole Richie's opportunity to throw a little fashion show, a harem-themed spring collection of breezy bohemian separates and dresses. Which means it's Jessica Simpson's turn next week—saving the best for last!

From there, we catch up with Nzimiro Oputa in the work room. His goal is to sell to Saks; and the menswear designer sits down with the venerable department store's Terron Schaefer to discuss his chances. In the process, Schaeffer goes through each of Oputa's previous designs—and he's not impressed. He stresses detail, pleasant surprises—but he doesn't think that a lot of Oputa's existing detail is quite right.

He ends up turning out a pair of casual trousers and a safari jacket—both fine, both devoid of Oputa quirk. Richie says he "killed it;" he "deserve[s] to be [there]." That said, neither garment garners any offers and Schaeffer notes the lack of "color under the collar—which [he] thought was a trademark." That said, Macy's buyer Caprice Willard pipes in to say that while these looks might not hang well in stores on their own, they do prove that Oputa has what it takes to design all aspects of a single, cohesive collection.

Kara Laricks shows with Oputa. And while the latter was hoping for a sale at Saks, the former is hoping for anything but. The designer's pieces have only shown up at Saks; and she realizes she needs to look at multiple markets and multiple customers at multiple price points and taste levels to keep on trucking. In other words: "It's hard, but there is sexy in" her. She's accentuating curves, she's cinching waists, she's going as "sexy as [she] possibly can."

She ends up with a boldly-colored tie-neck shirt dresses and a contrast trench coat (above). The dress is borderline sexy; the trench is a no brainer. John Varvatos says, about both looks, "anybody can wear it but it has [Laricks'] handwriting." Macy's and H&M go head to head on the dress, with H&M winning it for $60,000. The trench comes down to Macy's and Saks—with Laricks opting for the $60,000 offer from Macy's. And with that, our girl Laricks has sold across all three retailers. Goal attained!

Orly Shani is next up—and she meets with Nicole Christie of H&M. Christie is a fan of Shani's modern, chic aesthetic; her exposed zippers and unusual details; the less obvious aspects of convertibility. She wants more of that detail. Willard, however, wants more structure. They both assure the designer that she has a lot to offer; yet Shani struggles knowing she's sold fewer looks than her peers.

She opts for a structured dress (above) as well as a suit consisting of a deconstructed blazer and low slung, wide leg trousers. Her pieces look good, and Richie strongly supports both looks. Still, Shani can't help throwing a little shade at showcase-mate Luciana Scarabello. She resents Scarabello for revisiting one of her biggest successes by creating another cropped jacket. This because Shani's reinvented herself each and every week; she's challenged herself; and, well, maybe that's why she's sold fewer garments. Simpson calls the suit bottoms "good butt pants"; while Christie—who nabs the suit look for $100,000 for H&M, says she "cut that pant like a dream." Meanwhile, her dressed fetch $60,000 from Saks.

Scarabello is far less lucky. She opts for daywear—a bolero/shorts suit ensemble and a day dress. Neither sells; and Richie, who has rooted for the designer, approves of the looks and her body of work, assures Scarabello that "sometimes buyers don't know what the eff they're talking about." Willard, probably not loving that comment, responded by stating neither look could really stand alone—but both manage to assure the buying panel that Scarabello has what it takes to create a complete line.

Ronnie Escalante is up next; and in meeting with Willard learns that her every day customers at Macy's "don't buy cocktail dresses." He agrees, he knows he has to go after a more casual customer and create day looks or separates. He also knows he needs to chase Saks. Things get a bit hairy, though—nearly running out of time on his day dress and suit. Still, Varvatos calls him "the one to watch."

And watch we did, as he showed a matronly pants suit and an allegedly menswear-inspired shift (above). Both are universally praised, however; and Simpon calls him "one classy dude." Macy's gets the suit for $50,000. The dress, meanwhile, creates a bidding war. Both H&M and Saks open up the bidding at $50,000 and it ultimately goes to H&M for $100,000. Christie, who loves loves loves it, thinks it will be the biggest dress in it's department all spring.

We're left with that fiery Australian Nikki Poulos, who sits down with Christie. Christie explains that, yes, H&M sells trillions and trillions of jersey dresses. And, as such, they have teams upon teams of people over there in Sweden that design trillions and trillions of jersey dresses. What they need from a signature capsule collection is something different; something with structure.

So Poulos accepts the challenge head on—creating a more structured, short asymmetrical dress (above), using a textile she created from patchwork fabric. In addition, she designs a high-waisted sailor pant and blouse combo. Simpson is understandably leery of the pants: "I had a very big moment with a high-waisted jean that has changed my life forever." Jess—we know.

The mentors approve—the dress is fun and Varvatos says she's an "evolved brand with its personality in tact." While no offers are made on the separates, both Saks and H&M want the dress. She ultimately chooses Schaeffer's $60,000 offer for Saks, saying "you know I made that dress for [him]." Poulos is visibly relieved—in one fell swoop she ended a three week dry spell and managed to sell her way across all three stores.

With little fanfare all three designers are marched back out—each ends up crying (well, maybe not Poulos). Mentors and buyers each sort of say some version of "all six of you deserve to be here;" the mentors give their proteges a standing ovation; and Shani lightens the moment by tearfully shrieking, "Buncha crybabies! What is the deal?"

And with that, Poulos, Scarabello, and Shani are dismissed (two of whom made sales just minutes prior); and Laricks, Escalante, and Oputa are named the final three.

A lot to buy this week—click here.

It all ends next week!

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