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Elle Macpherson on Why Fashion Star Isn't Project Runway

Viewers are probably expecting Fashion Star to be NBC's version of Project Runway.

Lindsay Silberman

Viewers are probably expecting Fashion Star to be NBC's version of Project Runway. And it's understandable: the show follows a group of aspiring designers all vying for their big break. They'll work under the watchful eye of a panel of influential judges/mentors, and ultimately, one winner will be awarded a career-changing grand prize.
The series, which premieres Tuesday (9:30/8:30c), is going to be a "big surprise for a lot of people," says model, host and executive producer Elle Macpherson, who also has her own line of lingerie. "People are going to go in with a preconceived idea, and say this is a program about how to make a dress. And actually, it's a program about how to sell a dress."
What differentiates Fashion Star from its designer-competition predecessor is the fact that contestants have the opportunity to have their designs bid on by buyers (Macy's, H&M and Saks Fifth Avenue will all be represented) during each episode. Then, viewers are able to buy the products featured during the show in stores the next day, and online that same night.
The focus on the business aspect of the fashion industry (as opposed to strictly the fashion aspect) is actually the point of the show. The mentors and buyers work with contestants in an attempt to turn them into a mass commercial success, and the winner will land a total of $6 million in orders for collections in the three retailers. "I wanted to create a show that was about business, branding, buying and selling clothing," Macpherson says. "It's a different piece of the business — a different perspective on the fashion industry." To do so, Macpherson assembled a panel of judges who know a thing or two about launching successful lines: Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie and John Varvatos.
We got a sneak-peek at the series, and with the help of Macpherson, we were able to break down what else makes Fashion Star unique. As is the case with many new shows, some of it works, and some of it doesn't. Our analysis below:
1. It's a big production that takes place in a flashy auditorium, with the host, mentors, buyers and contestants all "performing" in front of a live audience.
What works
: For starters, it's a refreshing change of pace to have an audience. There's also something to be said for the high-energy songs that accompany each runway show and keep things upbeat.
What doesn't: McPherson explained that her role as host was completely unscripted — no cue cards, no teleprompter — and unfortunately, she doesn't seem as comfortable playing host as we would have hoped — at least not in the first two episodes. But she promises things start to get more natural as the season progresses. "Working with such a bold, glossy and big production was completely new to me," she says. "There were so many different components: three stages, the buyers, mentors, contestants, the runway shows, musical acts —  it was just completely new. I can see that in my performance... It gets better! The show gets better and better. We all relax into it. It's a new format. None of us knew exactly how it was going to turn out."
2. Once viewers see something they love waltz down the runway, they will literally be able to purchase it in stores the next day, or online immediately following the program.
What works
: It's a brilliant concept and a win-win for everyone: the retailers, the designers, the network, and the fans. "It's about exclusivity from a hot designer," Macpherson says. "There are millions of clothes that you can get that everybody else has, but it's so cool to be able to have something that's quite exclusive and only out today."
What doesn't: We won't be able to say for sure until the clothes actually become available, but at this point, there don't seem to be any drawbacks to the concept.
3. The show puts a greater focus on the clothes, the critiques, and the mentoring experience, and less on the behind-the-scenes interaction between the contestants.
What works
: For the most part, the designers are an eclectic bunch with a wide variety of experience in the fashion industry. They range from a 55-year-old breast cancer survivor who has been designing clothes for over 25 years, to an outspoken immigrant from El Salvador who's known for overtly sexy party dresses.
What doesn't
: With a greater focus on the business, there's less screen time for the interpersonal relationships of the designers. And that means... no drama! We know, we know. It's all about the clothes and the business. But aren't catfights and name-calling part of the guilty pleasure reality TV experience? "We're not interested in all the backstabbing that goes on behind the scenes," says Macpherson. "This is focused on the excitement of peoples' lives changing overnight because Macy's buys $200,000 worth of their clothes. That's phenomenal for a young designer."
4. There are no outlandish challenges, and the clothes are strictly designed with "wearability" in mind.
What works: The clothes are intended to have mass appeal and are marketed toward the everyday man or woman. Macpherson points out that, "we're looking at jeans and T-shirts and leather jackets and beach cover ups. We're not looking for couture gowns."
What doesn't: Because the designs are so focused toward the mainstream, they lack a bit of the bizarre, over-the-top creativity we loved on Project Runway. Sometimes it's fun to see designers forced to create a garment using old car parts or grocery store items, you know?
Fashion Star premieres Tuesday, March 13 at 9:30/8:30 on NBC.