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Episode 8: You Are Your Ads

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The most surprising thing about last night’s Fashion Star—NBC’s carnival of fashion, colored lights, dance routines and propping—was a Depends commercial featuring Lisa Rina. Well, maybe not surprising; this is a women who will show up at a parking lot as long as there’s a red carpet. But, really? A Depends ad on primetime, network television featuring someone who was once considered (by some people, possibly) young, sexy, and cool enough to be on Melrose Place? The mind reels.

Anyway, the show opens with its usual recap ($2.5 million in sales so far!)—posing the hard-hitting questions: Will those who’ve “faltered” (Ross Bennett) make a comeback? Will Kara Laricks, who has had a spree of success with Saks Fifth Avenue, be able to free herself from the shackles of luxe womenswear and marquee retail? As if anyone would want to escape those shackles.

And with that, the show begins. The challenge: Each designer must create a single advertising image–featuring last night’s fresh new look—that captures the very essence of their brand. Oh thank heavens, Cindy Levy of Glamour is here to consult!

Oh boy—host Elle MacPherson: “Few people know more about branding than Varvatos.” That means it’s Varvatos’ turn on the runway—and suddenly his Spring ’12 looks (above) are on primetime TV. The applause—there is hooting—is unsettling.

Back to brass tacks: We start with Laricks who is making her version of a tuxedo shirt (above) and hopes to create an ad image featuring her model as both androgynous (or more masculine) and very feminine. She calls the notion "a genderless world;" and the resulting image: One model in the top holding hands with the same model in the same top—only more butch!—is captivating. She’s especially proud of the statement, saying her main regret is she wasn't an out and proud role model as a teacher.

The shirt is amazing. Varvatos literally stands up and bows; and he notes that such an ad image in a magazine would send him scrambling to learn more about a designer. Saks and H&M both offer $50,000, and bidding climbs to $80,000 with Saks winning out. H&M bows, and Nicole Christie vows the retailer is "saving up" for one of Laricks’ next designs—assuming she keeps up the good work.

Showing with Laricks is Nzimiro Oputa, who wants to design a sweater (above). Mentor Nicole Richie is skeptical—she calls out Bill Cosby and Mister Rogers. He thinks he can make it work, though—and the sweaters do turn out very cute. They give him a traveling vibe—so naturally the photo shoot features lots of vintage luggage. It’s a little Macy’s Sunday circular. So, it’s no surprise when Caprice Willard offers $100,000 to get the look for Sunday’s circular.

Next up: Nikki Poulos, who is confident that her campaign will sing as she has oodles of experience with her first swimwear collection appearing in Sports Illustrated. The designer opts to design another maxi—this one backless and featuring lots of straps and having an alleged disco-glamour vibe. And the shoot will be glamour-themed as well—but as soon as it starts Poulos begins panicking. The dress isn’t fitting; the shots are too beauty pageant. Meanwhile, wearing his insecurities on his sleeve once again, Bennett is incensed that Poulos can’t sew as she fiddles with her garment’s structure (or lack thereof).

Following the shoot, a frustrated Poulos convinces the bumbling graphic designer to crop the chosen photo—making her ad a headshot. And that’s where things really fall apart: Jessica Simpson calls the dresses merely “wearable;” and wraps up by saying the ad is just a photo of "an unknown model." Richie is less polite, calling the whole thing a “huge mistake.” No offers are presented, and Terron Schaefer of Saks declares: "If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is immaterial." Willard adds that the designer really needs to figure out how to create a collection that doesn’t consist entirely of maxi dresses.

Along with Poulos we have Luciana Scarabello, who finally has the chance to tell us a little about her line. She started the collection with two dresses she fashioned from fabric she bought with a credit card. Today she’s in 100 stores. For her look—a cut-out party dress (above)—she goes with some beautifully printed fabric she brought with her from home. Her campaign: A fiercely independent woman with dramatic makeup in a woodsy atmosphere. Her ad, her whole line, is her—or so she says. Varvatos agrees and Saks will feature the dresses after bidding $50,000.

MacPherson: "I am so loving this episode!"

Orly Shani is up next, along with Bennett and Ronnie Escalante. Shani says she realizes she doesn't need to make everything convertible. She also realizes she’s become very bent on winning the competition. So, with that bit of you’re-not-getting-a-single-offer foreshadowing, we get a glimpse of her moto-vest dress. It’s not her best work. Her ad campaign—featuring a model “as it girl” in an unexpected, narrative moment—is pretty cute though. Varvatos loves it, but says the dresses fall short. And Schaefer brings up that the signature she placed on the ad, in lieu of a proper logo or legible text—is unreadable. The criticism confuses her; but he’s right.

Also, Why are the models posing around an enormous, fake newsstand? That’s what’s confusing us.

Escalante gets a minute to wax as well—he speaks of being obsessed with fashion from a very early age. And that his mother would say his sketching was "wasting paper." She and the rest of his family have come around, though—and he longs to continue to make them proud and inspire them. His dress is fine (above)—a little shifty, with an asymmetrical slit and some fussy pleatings along the back. The shoot is better; it features a model clutching a bunch of red balloons. Richie loves the ad, and calls out the color-blocking created by the blue dress and red balloons. That said, Varvatos notes that the look is kind of old hat for the designer. H&M loves it though—they purchase the look for $50,000. It’s Escalante’s first sale to the fast fashion retailer.

Bennett is last and least. His “vintage-inspired hunting jacket for women,” or "sporting jacket," is cloyingly piped, goofily under-sized and the big contrast buttons scream Donald Duck. Simpson, who says she puts a bit of Texas in everything she “designs,” likes the Texasness of it all. She pushes Bennett to feature her favorite, an olive colored iteration, in the ad. Ever stubborn, he goes with navy and cream. You know, “to stay true” to his vision.

The ad is worse than the garment. Schafaer calls it “Out of Africa” (note to Schaefer: It might be time to update your movie references); we call it one of those wall-sized photographs of scenery your might’ve seen in a dentist’s office in the early ‘90s. The segment’s highlight: Simpson saying Texans “love chewing on hay and stuff."

The bottom three this week include Shani, Poulos, and Bennett—and the mentors refuse to save a single one. Varvatos says "we want to see all of you stay;" and admits the panel is "in a stalemate right now." Leaving the buyers to decide, the trio cites that Bennett lost his way and his momentum. His classics with a twist reverted to dull classics. As for Poulos, they like her aesthetic; they’re disappointed in her campaign; and they can’t just sell maxis. Finally, they wonder if Shani’s obvious potential is enough.

After $220,000 in sales to every retailer but the one he always aimed for (Saks), Bennett is out. Good riddance.

Lots to buy this time around, click here.

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