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Wed, Jul 04, 2012
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Who will be the next Heidi?
by Jill Alphonso

Fashion Star
Mondays, 9.30pm
Diva Universal (StarHub Ch 522)

In the world of fashion, as everyone knows, you're either in, or you're out.

That's the famous punchline model and TV host Heidi Klum uses on her successful reality show, Project Runway.

However, Runway, now in season 9 (airing on Saturdays on the TLC channel here), has yet to propel a fashion designer to actual stardom. Arguably, Christian Siriano - the winner of season 4 - is the best, and only, name you might remember from the series.

Runway, therefore, has yet to give us a designer fashion lovers would actually buy, en masse.

This is what Fashion Star, which aired earlier this year in the United States, hopes to do.

The reality show began in Singapore last Monday with 14 designers. The name of the game is this: Each designer is set a challenge each week, and their designs get paraded in front of three buyers - Caprice Willard of Macy's, Terron E. Schaefer of Saks Fifth Avenue and Nicole Christie of H&M.

After each runway show buyers have the chance to make an offer - flashed on the screens in front of them. That offer means that the store has the right to carry the design, in effect putting the designer on the market.

If the dreaded words "No Offer" pop up on all three screens, the designer is then up for elimination. The winner, by the way, gets US$6 million (S$7.6 million) in orders from all three stores (compare that to Runway's US$100,000).

There is a delicious practicality to the proceedings. And in the US, the designs actually go on sale online after each show.

Designers are mentored by three personalities - Jessica Simpson, the singer-turned-reality-bimbo-turned-fashion-designer; Nicole Richie, socialite and fashion designer; and John Varvatos, who rose in the ranks of design houses like Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren before launching his own line.

Fashion Star has its fair share of drama from designer wannabes - like Oscar Fierro, the diminutive Mexican with "oh-snap!" appeal and who was eliminated on Monday - but puts the emphasis on the clothes, first.

We don't sit around, as we do with Runway, waiting for the catwalk show to begin. Instead, we get the shows upfront, and then wait for mentors' judgments, which come right after.

It's heartening to see Simpson display a Sarah Palin-esque, earthy folksiness ("It's a two-fer!" she cried on episode one, after seeing a mini-skirt that could be worn two ways), and Richie is clearly in her element as she helps guide design choices.

There is enough diversity in the panel (Simpson is the "hey, ya'all!" mass-market guru, Richie appeals to the hip crowd, while Varvatos is the voice of experience) to keep things interesting, while the buyers give the audience industry insight into what appeals in today's fashion landscape.

Schaefer of Saks is interesting as he is the pickiest buyer, given that he is making choices for the luxe consumer.

There is no contender for Klum's crown as host extraordinaire - Fashion Star presenter Elle Macpherson may have been gunning for a Klum-like second career but is, in fact, dead weight - no one with a tart punchline or a fascinating accent.

But there is enough to keep you hooked, and watching.

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