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The Finale: When Reality TV Makes Everything Feel Right in the World for Like Two Seconds

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It has been ten long weeks—ten and a half hours, to be exact—since NBC's Fashion Star first entered our hearts and homes. Well, our homes. Well, a few dozen people's homes. And it all came to a head last night—the season 1 finale! In which directional designer of fashion Kara Laricks, quirky menswear designer Nzimiro Oputa, and Ronnie Escalante, resident master of flounce and glamor, competed for a $6 million contract across all three retailers. Those being, of course, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's and H&M.

But, naturally, before any of that, we got Jessica Simpson's Spring/Summer '12 fashion show! It was tiki-themed (above)! Like, over the top torches-and-masks-and-foliage luau-themed. There were flame throwers. But, cute clothes nonetheless (note: Start pairing green and orange more often).

From there, Simpson emerges, taking the runway in the most insane, inappropriate dress ever: A little bit country, a little bit stripper, a little bit Xena Warrior Princess, with a lace-up bodice and fringe just everywhere. Her opening line: "I've never seen my clothes walk down a runway!"

Now, this being Fashion Star, the structure of the finale and the way in which the designers present is as confusing as humanly possible. The deal: Each designer is responsible for nine complete looksthree for each retailer. Each showcase will be devoted to a single retailer and feature vignettes from each designer. Commentary is provided upon completion from both buyers and mentors but there's no real indication of whether or not anybody is buying anything until approximately 10:56pm.

And it starts with H&M, a retailer described by buyer Nicole Christie as cutting edge, commercial, unique, and price conscious, yet fashion first. The showcase: '80s lasers and the Black Eyed Peas (who are so cutting edge).

Escalante's group is '70s glam (above)—that means there's a jumpsuit (and it's cool, John Varvatos loves it and Simpson calls it "actually really chic." There's also a black, strapless sack dress and an odd pants/waistcoat/jacket situation that is probably vaguely forgiving looking because it's in all black. The overarching consensus—It's H&M! Where's the color?

Laricks, who after accidentally pinning a bit of trim to herself, is doing a shorts look with a sheer top, a beautiful, maxi-length printed shift, and a suit involving a (hideous) drop crotch bottom. Varvatos wonder if the crotch is "too crotchety;" to which Elle McPherson responds: "Nothing wrong with a bit of crotch!" Christie dubs the whole thing "high fashion but commercial;" noting the drop crotch as "bold but a bit difficult."

Oputa, who decides to add womenswear—but only here, for H&M—shows a series of pants with contrast pocket linings (his technical designer thinks it all looks like the model's boxers are just showing). Each pant is paired with a vest bedecked with over-sized leather epaulets. Richie, after being skeptical of the women's look, approves: he "proved [her] wrong, up and down." Christie agrees: "That ladies outfit blew my socks out!" And, it all felt very spring.

Saks was up next. Alluding to buyer Terron Schaefer's discriminating tastes, MacPherson dubs him "Terron the Terrible." Meanwhile, Oputa declares that "Terron is virtually impossible to please." Leave the man alone—he knows what he likes! Anyway, the showcase—it involves Lady Gaga and a string quartet.

Escalante, again, went with glamor. The designer developed a structured dress, a suit and a day dress in a blown out winter floral. The suit seems overwrought; there are tuxedo details and odd double lapels—but Richie is obsessed with it (she loves a white suit). Schaeffer calls them "three strong looks," but didn't understand how it all formed a capsule.

Laricks, who has had success at Saks, finds herself in a quandary. She wonders what to send down the runway when she's already had one of each traditional type of piece in the store—a dress, a suit, etc. Richie is unconcerned: "Kara is the one, to me, that stands out." And she does, showing an amazing trench—cropped with contrast panels and long, glamorous skirt-pants. Varvatos calls all of it "gorgeous" and notes it's "just inspiring to see those pieces." Schaeffer obviously agrees, saying he's kept an eye on the designer and deeming her "absolutely a leader."

Oputa's collection (above) is summery—paneled shorts, floods, jersey cardigans, and a knit vest that Chandler Bing once wore on Friends. Simpson, fawning, calls the collection "beach to boardwalk" appropriate. Richie, defending her Oputa-obsessed territory, shrieks: "We're going to be ripping out eachother's hair extensions," when they fight over him. Schaeffer agrees in terms of the beachiness, he calls it "a perfect wardrobe for a beach weekend."

Last but not least: Macy's, which Caprice Willard appropriately calls "America's department store."

Ronnie is up first—he shows a slim-fit tuxedo with a bow tie ("it's not an ode to Ross [Bennett]"). The fit of the pants is a nightmare. A dress is fashioned from another heavy, over-sized floral print. Another dress, with a center panel, is disgusting. Reviews are warm, just barely.

Oputa is second, and he's pumped. The idea of selling at Macy's—his childhood, family department store—inspires him. So, he goes and designs another collection of the same menswear—this one including a shirt with vented, bias-cut breast pockets that create the illusion of large man boobs. Nonetheless, the mentors are tickled. Varvatos, who calls Oputa his "brother from another mother," says the group is a "home run." Richie congratulates him on staying true to himself throughout "this entire competition." And Willard, she says he "nailed it," but wonders where the structured jackets were.

Finally, Laricks—who is a little worried about Escalante's designs. She thinks he's the one to beat, as does Oputa. That said, her collection (above) ends up being both very Kara and very Macy's—it's chic, very cute and colorful. There's a suit with a print halter blouse, a little black dress with a varied hemline, a tailored short. Varvatos says she "never disappoint[s]!" And Willard, who loves the suit and says each individual piece in said suit look could stand alone, says the full collection is "kind of out there."

From there, the mentors and buyers have a round table discussion. They wonder if Laricks is commercial enough (she's "a specialty designer"); if Escalante is too much like everyone else in contemporary ("I have alot of Ronnie's on my floor"); what Oputa's trademark is supposed to be.

Finally, they wrap up and call the finalists back out. Varvatos, acknowledging all eleven other contestants out in the audience—along with the final three—says "we haven't heard the last of you, that's for sure!" Simpson is literally weeping, telling them all they've "inspired [her] to be better." With that, the buyers announce—mind you the mentors are tightly clutching eachother's hands, it's surreal—announce that Laricks is their winner!

Relief. Finally, a reality TV competition that doesn't end in some awful hack winning everything; the real talent or the nice girl going home never to be heard from again.

Larick's is hugely emotional—as are Oputa and Escalante, they seem happy for her. She's just thrilled to have the "opportunity to keep going; to continue."

MacPherson sums it all up with her profound closing comment: "Remember! Be fashionable!"

Also remember: There's a whole lotta Larick's at all three retailers as we speak. Whole micro-collections you haven't even seen yet. Shop now.
· Fashion Star [NBC]
· All Fashion Star coverage [Racked]