Talk about a cheap knockoff. Bravo’s look-alike replacement for “Project Runway” is what Christian Siriano would call a hot mess. By raiding the production closets of shows like “The Biggest Loser,” “The Fashion Show” attempts to jazz up the old business model with the idea of real life, real people, real fashion. Problem is, making the fashion more accessible also makes it a lot less, well, fashionable and, inevitably, much less fierce. There’s just not that same level of drama when designing a standard blue blazer.
At first, it seems like a brilliant new approach to the familiar format — audiences might be more invested if they actually see something wearable — but it’s quickly apparent from the premiere episode that a good part of the appeal of “Runway” lies in the outrageous designs. Haute couture is not always accessible to Main Street America, but producing it is a very creative and entertaining process.
If the designs themselves seem less inspired, the contestants more than compensate. Many familiar attributes and quirks are seen among the 15 designers: Merlin is all about feathers and capes; James-Paul is Siriano-esque; Kristin is a control freak. Every episode includes a Harper’s Bazaar Mini Challenge, judged by the magazine’s special projects director Laura Brown, as well as a fashion show in front of a real audience of designers and buyers.
The winning design, voted on by the fashion show attendees and ultimately decided on by the judges, will then be available for sale online. Lowest-scoring design gets the boot. Contestants vie for the ultimate prize of $125,000 and seeing their designs sold at a yet-to-be-named major retail outlet. The ultimate winner will be chosen by viewers.
The first challenge sets an uneasy standard when the designers have to create the quintessential little black dress out of a T-shirt. Most of the results look like carny worker duds or leftovers from a summer camp project. The elimination challenge doesn’t fare much better, as the contestants divide into three teams to create five looks for one must-have item. Who knew parachute pants were a must have?
Even delightfully entertaining host Isaac Mizrahi seems slightly aghast at the designs, often unable to mask his horror. If Tim Gunn was diplomatic, Mizrahi is just melodramatic. His signature sign-off of “Bah-bye darling” seems rather harsh even by Heidi Klum’s gruff, auf Wiedersehen standards. Still, he totally eclipses bland co-host Kelly Rowland, whose credentials in fashion seem rather nebulous. The two, along with Fern Mallis and a weekly guest judge, weigh fashion show votes to pick a winner and loser. Mallis, a popular judge from “Runway,” adds practical, relatable advice and some much-needed clout.