"Fashion Star" is the shrewdest hour of TV.
Combining the public's appetite for fashion competition shows with the desire for instant gratification, the NBC series, premiering Tuesday, March 13, allows viewers to buy clothes the night they are on TV.
Granted, QVC caught on ages ago that viewers will buy what's on TV, but "Fashion Star" is different. H&M, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue all have buyers on the show.
Once buyers bid on items, that clothing is available online by the end of the show. The next day it can be bought in the store. The show was shot in July to allow enough time to make the clothes.
"The concept is to make home shopping attractive and immediate," Elle Macpherson, host and an executive producer, says from her home in England. "So often it is quite boring. How cool is it to go online or watch a fashion show on TV and see the way it moved on the body? How they put it together, how is the hair, what do the buyers think? And you get all this great feedback and direction of how to wear the garment."
This is a fun contest, but above all, it is brilliant marketing. The set is what we have come to expect with singing contests -- flashy, shiny with a lot of noise and hype. There are three mentors, all successful in fashion: John Varvatos, Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie.
Richie's role is to encourage designers and "to convey the message that being successful in one season does not mean being successful the next season," she says. "I am here to hold their hands and go through the journey with them and encourage them to be themselves and listen to buyers. Understand there is a difference between being an artist and being a businessperson and pushing them to express their individuality as a designer and make that transition from designer to building a brand.
"Some of them have had success in their own right," Richie continues, "and some are very successful in the cities that they are from. And some had bigger success in department stores, and that hasn't worked out for them. It is important that once they step into department stores, they stay there. This is not about designing the $10,000 gown made out of feathers."
The 10 episodes begin with 14 designers, and as with all competition shows, it's impossible to not form allegiances, fleeting though they may be. The 90-minute pilot introduces some people who genuinely understand clothes and see this as their big break.
Then there is one guy who would be king. He designs leather motorcycle jackets and is incredibly dismissive and rude to Simpson and Richie, saying women couldn't understand men's fashion. Two of the buyers are women. They explain they need to be able to work with a designer.
Each week there is a challenge. Among them, Macpherson says, are: "What does your billboard look like? Or what are your predictions for summer trends? Or what is your logo? How does fashion fit in the marketplace?"
Designers who make clothes that aren't all that flattering on a willowy model must learn that those clothes are going to look far worse on most women.
"We have had designers on the show who are more designing for themselves and what is cool than who their customer is," Richie says. "But unless it means something within this department store, what is the purpose other than just a beautiful piece?"
This is a show that can be watched by families, though it's most likely to be embraced by mothers and daughters. Impulse shoppers, beware! "Fashion Star" could be hazardous to your credit card.
"When creating the show, when creating a concept for television, it was important to combine commerce with fashion," Macpherson says.
The buyers -- Caprice Willard of Macy's, Terron E. Schaefer of Saks and Nicole Christie of H&M -- are looking for clothes that work in their stores. They are forthright with the designers.
When discussing one of the designers (no spoilers here on who will be kicked off the first week), they note that no matter how much personality they may have, that doesn't necessarily translate to the clothes.
"I can't sell personality on a hanger," Willard says.
"We are not a charity," Schaefer says. "It's a business."
And a huge one. By the end of the season, the winner will have a collection in each of the three stores valued at a total of $6 million.
Though the buyers could all bid on one garment, the stores do have their own niches. When the models strut the catwalk, it's pretty clear that an edgier dress would work for H&M's traditionally younger shoppers, and Macy's would snap up another dress, which looks good on curvier women.
"The show is just as much about shopping and retailing garments as about designing," Macpherson says.