NBC's 'Fashion Star' is going where no reality TV show has gone before. The fashion reality show debuts next Tuesday and puts a new twist on how consumers buy clothes.
Like other reality TV shows, the main talent are celebrities. Model Elle Macpherson is the host of the show, while pop-singer and fashion diva Jessica Simpson, menswear designer John Varvatos and actress and fashion designer Nicole Richie act as mentors to the 14 contestants who are vying for the chance to have their clothing chosen each week by the judges.
What makes this show different are the judges, who are the actual buyers for three major U.S. retailers, including Macy's (M), H&M and Saks Fifth Avenue (SKS). "They act as judges but in real-time they are [bidding and] buying" for each week's winning designs, says executive producer E.J. Johnston.
After a show airs, consumers can purchase the winning design online through the highest bidding retailer each week. "You can actually wear the winner" after each show, says Johnston. "That night you can buy it online and the next day you can go in the stores and wear it."
The Daily Ticker's Aaron Task sat down with Johnston and Varvatos to get a sense of what really sets this show apart from 'Project Runway,' 'Top Model' and other fashion shows. Johnston and Varvatos say "Fashion Star" could change the fashion industry for both retailers and up and coming designers.
"Other than it is about fashion, there is nothing about [Fashion Star] that is like 'Project Runway'," says Varvatos. "'Project Runway' is great as it is but it is more about fantasy. This is real clothes for real people that you can buy right now."
The three participating retailers contributed an unprecedented total of $9 million dollars to this project. Johnston, along with the co-creator of the show James Deutch, convinced the stores to buy large quantities of the winning designs, something unheard of in the industry for new and untested designers.
The grand prize for the winning designer is a multimillion deal to have his or her collection sold in all three retailers under the new 'Fashion Star' brand, essentially launching the designer's career.
It is hard for designers today to be truly successful without having their designers sold in stores. 'Fashion Star' allows designers to "go from no where to some where real quick and in our industry that almost never happens," says Varvatos, who got his start at Ralph Lauren (RL) and Calvin Klein. "Even if they don't win, their name is out there."
Varvatos' role as a mentor is to help guide these new talents through the complexities of the fashion industry in terms of both design and business.
"It is not about a one-hit wonder with this show or with having a brand. It is having the ability to continue to move and perpetuate what you've started. Somebody may have one good idea, but can you execute beyond that?" says Varvatos. "I guide [the contestants] through the process and help them think in terms of a brand, help them think in terms of dealing with the buyers, help them think in terms of what the products should be and how true it is to your voice."
In general, retail sales and earnings data have been fairly good in recent months, signaling a slight improvement in the consumer. Both Macy's and Saks posted double-digit earnings gains during the fourth quarter of 2011. Macy's reported a 12% increase in earnings while Saks reported a 48% increase.
"The retailers made the strategic decision to become involved because they saw that this format allowed them to achieve core business objectives to market their brands, find new talent, and acquire new customers," say the creators of the show.
While ratings for most reality shows have been on the decline, especially for the CW's 'Top Model', this new show has the potential to put a further positive spin on sales figures for these three retailers.
But one thing is for certain: in the age of instant gratification, being able to immediately touch and buy that new product on TV is pretty fashion forward.
We'd like to hear what you think: Do you think this show will change the business of fashion or spur a revolution in retailing?
'Fashion Star' launches March 13 at 9:30 pm EST on NBC in a two-hour premiere. In the weeks to follow, the shows 9 other episodes will air during the NBC's 10 pm time slot.
For more of our interview with John Varvatos see: