The Fashion Show – 5/07 Premiere Recap: I’ll See You on the Triangle!
Remember the end of part one of Gone with the Wind? Scarlett O’Hara, after grabbing a rancid carrot from the dirt in order to avoid starvation in the aftermath of the Civil War, pounds her fist to her chest and declares, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” Well, that’s Bravo right about now. Their flagship show Project Runway was their Tara, and that evil Yankee Harvey Weinstein picked it up and singlehandedly carried it across the Mason-Dixon line to Lifetime.
Keeping that sweeping analogy in mind, let me tell you know that it remains to be seen whether The Fashion Show, which premiered last night, will turn out to be Bravo’s Rhett Butler, or its well-meaning milquetoast Ashley Wilkes…or the rancid carrot.
Many of the advance reviews of The Fashion Show – Bravo’s blatant attempt to thumb their nose at Harvey Weinstein and Lifetime – have been mixed. Make that scathing. The burning question on everyone’s minds is, just how much of a copycat is this show? My initial answer would be: not enough.
If anything, the show borrows just as much from Top Chef as it does from Runway, both in form and attitude. Like Chef, TFS features two challenges per show: a mini-challenge sponsored by Harper’s Bazaar magazine, and an elimination challenge. Isaac Mizrahi and Kelly Rowland are judges as as well as co-hosts, just like Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi on TC.
The show is also more like TC in that Mizrahi is no mentor to the designers; he’s just as cold and brusque to them as Colicchio is to his chefs. And at first glance, Rowland (ex-member of Destiny’s Child, one of the two that wasn’t Beyoncé) seems like a polite deer in the headlights compared to Das Heidi, but that’s partly due to Isaac the Anti-Tim’s natural need to dominate in any wildlife situation. After one viewing, it’s still not quite clear to me what her role is on the show, other than to give Isaac someone to talk trash with.
Waltz of the Snowflakes
As Season One begins, 15 budding fashion designers make their way to New York City, and arrive at an undisclosed location with big church door handles. Inside this mystery building that serves as the show’s tacky headquarters, they meet each other and establish their personalities as quickly as possible, some more easily than others. The obvious focal point for the producers is a little man named Merlin, who dresses in Star Trek-era riding gear and loves wearing big hats with long protruding feathers, with which he often “accidentally” swipes other designers. He is being set up as the Santino/Charlie/Marcel villain-savant of the cast; his big, babbling mouth instantly shows him to be in good company. He tries too hard to come up with sassy one-liners, and I tired of him quickly; I fear he’s going to be in our faces for some time to come.
The rest of the cast runs the gamut of all PR-era designer stereotypes, from crunchy hippies to mouthy beanpole divas to sensitive waifs, and even a Jay McCarroll 2.0 type with a samurai bun. Sadly, Daniel Franco did not make the cast, though I’m sure he tried.
”Real life. Real people. Real fashion.” Mmmkay.
Mere minutes into this first episode, it’s clear that visually, the show is an outright photocopy of PR, and I’m sure Bravo likes it that way. Unfortunately, the look of the sets and workrooms screams “we wish we had PR’s budget” – it all looks cheap, as does the lighting. In fact, most of the overall production values look sloppy; hopefully they were just shaking out the bugs in the premiere, and things will look better as the season progresses.
Entry of Clara and the Nutcracker
After the meet and greet, Isaac and Kelly appear and, dispensing with any warm wishes or niceties, give the designers the lowdown: the buzzwords for the competition are construction, creativity, wearability and salability. Each week, a panel of judges and a studio audience will choose a winner, and eliminate one designer. Some of the season’s winning garments will go on sale at BravoTV.com. At season’s end, the viewing audience will vote on the winning collection at the finale. The grand prize package is comparable to PR’s package, but with more emphasis on selling clothes than career mentoring.
And with that, we’re off! The first Harper’s Bazaar Mini-Challenge (oy vey, it’s going to be a product-placement jungle just like PR, too) is to take a plain black t-shirt, and use it to fashion a classic “little black dress” – in one hour. They don’t elaborate much beyond that, or else the editors didn’t think any other details were necessary, since, hey, we’ve all been watching PR all these years, right? Just assume they have the same tools, accessories and constraints.
Hunkish dandy Keith (sort of an Anglo Nick Verreos) tells us he primarily designs evening gowns and cocktail dresses, so this should be a walk. Samurai Fashion Designer Johnny (the Jay McCarroll 2.0 mentioned above) takes us through the nuts and bolts of how he’s using the parts of the t-shirt to make details on the dress. Third Gay Man From the Right Markus finds some white material with which he can jazz up his little black dress (oookay). Sensitive waif James-Paul (who likes to dress up like Ben Franklin’s hairdresser) decides to take a garment bag and fuse it into his look (is that legal?). Unidentified Rachel Dratch Type With an Accent (I later find out her name is Lidia) adds some purple trim and tells us that her design is very avant-garde, very unusual (read: she’s in over her head). Sandy-haired flustered girl Anna is concerned her dress will look too “souvenir” (like, a ceramic Statue of Liberty or something?).
America’s Favorite Merlin plops his white Nancy Sinatra boots on a sewing table to mark his territory. Isn’t he cute! An oblivious Anna sits at the table and starts sewing, not realizing the Nancy Sinatra rule is in effect. Marlin makes her feel bad and kicks her out, and then says something into the camera that is supposed to make us think he’s adorable. We’re halfway through the very first challenge, and I already want to find out where he lives, so I can kick him in the teeth.
Time’s up, and Isaac and Kelly order the designers to bring their dress forms forward (they’re not good enough for real-life models yet). They are surprised to learn that MizRo will not be judging the mini-challenges this season; this will be handled by Laura Brown, a person of some title at Harper’s Bazaar who is most likely there to make sure her magazine isn’t embarrassed for participating.
Laura walks by each dress and makes benignly bitchy comments about each, and then picks her three favorites (Isaac asks her to drag the dress forms herself…we know who the alpha-diva is in the room). Kelly asks the three designers of these looks to come stand by them, and from the parting crowd emerge Keith, Samurai Johnny, and (oh crap) Merlin the Magnifico. Johnny is happy and lets us know that he is totally into instant gratification. I suspect he’s hiding a box of Ring Dings under his kimono.
As winners, the three victors will be leaders in the first elimination challenge, in which the designers will be split into teams. These are usually the worst challenges on PR, so it stands to reason that this show would lead with it…that sound you heard was my hand hitting my forehead.
The leaders choose their teams not by person, but by dress form. Johnny picks Reco’s dress first; Reco, a tall cross between Jimmie J.J. Walker and Jackeé, tells us that he knew he was going to be picked first. Did I mention that he said in his introduction that the reason he needs to win the competition is so that he can move out of his parents’ house? Mmm-hmm. Keith picks crunchy hippie Kristin’s dress because he loves the pockets. Merlin picks Angel’s dress for its amazing detail; Angel is a grinning overachiever from the Chloe Dao school. Dresses are picked until finally, the one belonging to Rachel Dratch Jr. is picked last by Merlin. Poor Debbie Downer!
Isaac and Kelly hastily explain that the elimination challenge is all about must-have pieces. Each team must choose a must-have basic, and each team member must use the same piece as the foundation for their individual look. The collections must be cohesive, while the most distinctive look on the winning team will be declared the overall winner. The designers have a day and a half to complete it, and while there are lots of other details I’m wondering about, Kelly shouts “NOW!” and they scatter about the room as if they had the slightest clue where/how to begin. This show loves leaving things to the viewer’s imagination.
Samurai Johnny wants their must-have basic to be harem pants. For lack of a better idea, the team agrees that they will produce this season’s MC Hammer collection. Keith’s team is full of ideas, and he is afraid of all of them; he wants the basic to be a pencil skirt; Kristin suggests it be a wool tube dress so that it can be used in more ways. Merlin’s team is full of alpha dogs; overachiever Angel suggests a vest, but 22-year-old recent grad Daniella shoots it down as stale; after all, she’s 22, she must know what is fresh and young now, right? We’ll see. They (meaning Daniella) decide on a navy bolero jacket as their piece; team leader Merlin is unusually quiet, that is until he gets to be interviewed, where he complains that their pieces are going to look like uniforms. What just happened here?
The designers go fabric shopping at some place in the middle of a building that doesn’t seem to want to be identified, unlike the legendary Mood Fabrics on PR. It is here that Merlin decides to confront Daniella and shoot down her ideas about jackets and the color navy in general. Daniella fights back and admits that she’s kind of taking over, but insists that she knows what she’s talking about and doesn’t want to work with any idea that she doesn’t agree with. Amazingly, Merlin doesn’t seem to be able to fight back, and the navy brigade continues in spite of his feathered protests.
Back in the workroom, Kristin is fashioning the skirts for Team Keith, and is making them one-piece tubes with only one seam each. Hopefully their models will be made of liquid, and can simply be poured into the skirts. Keith is doing a daytime look, Anna is making a short jacket, and Andrew, an impish underwear designer known as the Panty Christ, is making a cowl-neck blouse.
Team Merlin is still bickering, this time over the length of the jacket. Merlin wants it shorter; Daniella thinks that’s too Gucci-precious and lengthens it. So ends a brief Day One, and the designers depart and move into their suites at the swank Parker Meridien hotel. Lest you think they have it too good, they are sleeping in bunk beds (much like on Top Chef 4 and 5). Jonny D, a menswear designer from North Hollywood, tells us he’s so nervous that won’t be able to sleep. That, or because Merlin’s feather will be tickling him from the bottom bunk all night. Haven, a sweet-as-pie(?) blonde lady, loves her roommates Anna and Daniella. As they all hang out and unwind, Keith notices James-Paul’s Japanese wooden sandals, and asks if he was able to use his sewing machine’s foot pedal while wearing them (he wasn’t, and the room laughs).
The New York City skyline time-lapses from night to day (hey, just like on PR!), and the designers begin Day Two. Haven explains to us that Team Johnny has to utilize an identical charcoal gray satin harem pant in their designs (for those of us who weren’t listening earlier). She also lets us know that she’s not very good at sewing. And we all know what happens to people on fashion competition shows that can’t sew, right? Think Vanessa. Emmett. Marla. Bradley and his insane crotches. I’ll be surprised if we ever learn Haven’s last name. Meanwhile, sassy Reco boasts that he finished his jacket in four hours.
Daniella’s Trepak (Russian Dance)
Speaking of jackets, Team Merlin are still squabbling over their must-have item. Merlin thinks that Daniella’s jacket design is too serious and dated. She counters that the simpler it is, the younger it looks. Merlin asks incredulously, “Who told you that?” She tells him that she’s 22 (so, she told herself). Merlin finally lands a good one by mentioning that she may be 22 but she dresses like she’s 40 (actually, she kinda does). Merlin suddenly grows a pair, and takes his navy jacket off the form and starts cutting it up. The only problem is, at this late stage, whatever changes he makes to his jacket, everyone else has to duplicate on theirs as well. Hilarity ensues! Merlin, getting acquainted with the new-found testosterone surging through his system, snaps at Daniella, “Male domination, girl! Get it!” To which Daniella observes all too accurately, “Male? Where?” Ouch!
Back to Team Keith, the members are each trying to make their tube skirts tighter than the next. Jonny D is sitting and puzzling over his skirt and halter top, probably because not many men wear them. Panty-Christ Andrew comes over and registers his concern that if Jonny doesn’t get it in gear, the judges will call him out for having an unfinished look.
Dance of the Mean Girls
Before Jonny can agree with him, Kelly and Isaac come into the workroom to inspect everyone’s work. On PR, this is where Tim Gunn would offer advice and encouragement, giving the designers a pep talk where needed. Isaac and Kelly, however, are basically there to snicker and pile on the pressure. They remind the little lambs that an audience of industry experts will be looking over their work, and that the winning garment (or as Isaac put it, “a version of” the winning garment) will be sold on BravoTV.com.
The first stop on MizRo’s snark tour is Team Samurai Johnny. When Isaac learns that the must-have piece is satin harem pants, he laughs openly, and sarcastically proclaims it a great idea. Ouch. None of the pieces seem to be coming together, at least as far as MizRo are concerned. Next, they look to be enchanted by Merlin, only to be greeted by Daniella, who seems comfortable speaking for everyone. Her first magic trick is to misidentify their must-have piece as a blazer; Isaac immediately corrects her, and she quickly deflects things over to Merlin. When they arrive at James-Paul’s look, he talks about his concept being based on a Rubik’s cube, which accounts for the sculptural quality of his dress. Isaac just nods. And nods. And nods. The silence is something they are not accustomed to, but it also seems to indicate that our hosts have finally come across someone who knows what he’s talking about, and has the skills to back it up.
They reclaim their vocal chords when they reach Team Keith and his Band of Tubes. The skirt is more of a dress, really, and on some models it will be worn full, while others will fold the top half down into the tight-tight skirt and wear a separate top. Kristin demonstrates the folding on a dress form, and can barely get the thing on or off. MizRo gasp with concern. They grill Kristin further since no one else on her team can seem to find their vocal chords. She goes on to say that the team isn’t communicating as much as she thought they would, and Keith appears to have a small stroke in one eye as she keeps babbling.
They move on to Jonny D’s halter top, which seems uneven and cheap-looking, even more so as he tries to sell it as classy. MizRo give their thanks to everyone, and literally scuttle out out the door so that they can laugh like Mean Girls at all the crap they’ve just seen and heard. Wow. These two are probably the ones who stole Tim Gunn’s milk money at school. Isaac, who hasn’t given a word of advice or direction to these lost souls, is more concerned that he is going to look bad in front of the “experts” he invited to the show. Kelly, sensing how shallow they are sounding, tries to be upbeat and says she’s excited to see what will happen. Isaac takes his cue from her, and says he’s more scared for the designers than he is for himself. Too late, MizRo, we caught you in all your catty glory!
Meanwhile, Keith scrapes his jaw off the floor long enough to ask Kristin why she decided to wait until the judges were present to sell him down the river…especially since the tube dress was her idea. She suddenly turns into the little girl she really is and claims she didn’t mean to be rude, and Keith forgives her…for now. She then tells us in an interview that when others don’t work up to her standards, she gets frustrated. Mommy, wow -- she’s a big girl now!
The Battle and Transformation
Another morning breaks in the Big Apple, and Kristin is applying her makeup as she tells us that she doesn’t want the money, she doesn’t want the fame -- she just wants to see people wearing her clothes. (Then why not just give your clothes away instead of going on a TV show?) The designers make themselves pretty for show day, and head over to the Fashion Show studio, where we get our first look at the runway…which is a big gray triangle, less than a foot off the ground, surrounded by wall panels, smoky lights, and chairs for a full audience. Here is where TFS wants to set itself apart from its Bravo godmother: unlike PR’s simple, unobtrusive runway set, this show wants the room to be interesting to behold, just in case the clothes aren’t.
The designers, stylists and models arrive and go through their usual frenetic paces before showtime. The audience spills into the studio, including regular guest judge Fern Mallis of IMG Fashion (you remember her!) and today’s guest-guest judge, designer Elie Tahari. The camera quickly flashes by a couple of other designers who we are supposed to know and/or care about. The designers have a few final anxiety attacks before time is up, and the models are sent to meet their fates.
The show begins (with no introduction from MizRo…just what are they paying these people for?), and Team Harem Pants goes first...and is met with grim silence and polite applause. All the designers (save Reco) seem to hate their outfits. Team Toothpaste Dress walk next, with Kristin’s layered outfit leading the way. It’s so layered, you can’t see the tube dress underneath. Jonny D’s model tries to walk in her too-tight skirt, and the audience tries not to laugh. Keith, Anna and Andrew’s looks don’t fare much better. Finally, Team Navy Bolero takes the stage, and Daniella and Merlin are still bickering as their outfits actually get compliments from the judges. Angel has some fit problems, but James-Paul’s dress seems to take the room by storm. Lidia gift-wraps her jacket in a huge pink bow...it's very avant-garde, very unusual.
The show ends, and Isaac finally un-scrunches his face. The audience begins sharing their thoughts with us, and they are mostly kind if not blown away. Later, the judges and designers gather for the final judging.
The Guy in Tights Usually Wins These Things
Kelly starts things off by letting the poor designers know that she didn’t see a single must-have look that she would wear. Ouch! Isaac tries to sympathize by saying that he heard a lot of criticism when he was starting out, and most of it ended up being true (nice way to absolve yourself for being cruel for the rest of the season, Miz). Fern steps in to compliment the ideas of the three must-have pieces, but Isaac steps over her because he needs to tell the designers that he felt embarrassed for them today. OUCH! Nina Garcia on her worst day was never this cold, folks! This is not your mother’s fashion competition show. As a bitter cherry on the sourdough cake, Isaac lets them know how much they let him down, because, y’know, ultimately it’s really all about him.
Kelly announces that the audience voted Johnny’s team in the middle, so they are safe and can take a seat. Then Kelly pronounces the winning team is…Bickering Team Merlin! They celebrate, and Merlin opens his big mouth about how it’s good to be a bitch sometimes, and how they were a team of bitches…and Isaac is flabbergasted, and then he notices Daniella hiding her face in her hands. Merlin and Daniella resume bickering in front of everyone, and Isaac admonishes them without really helping much.
Kelly brings out Merlin’s and James-Paul’s bolero outfits as the two top looks, one of which will be declared the winner. They both explain their outfits and receive compliments, and the winner is…sensitive waif James-Paul! His face breaks out (pun intended) in a huge smile, and the other team members take their feathers and sit down.
Now the judges must deal with Team Keith (Keith, Kristin, Jonny D, Haven and Anna). Two models enter the room, and they are wearing Kristin’s and Jonny D’s outfits. Kelly lets Kristin know that the audience was brutal about her look, and the judges can’t help but agree. As for Jonny, he made a “slutty, ill-fitting” garment that made the model’s breasts look “weird”. Jonny defends himself by describing what could have been if things had gone right, but Isaac cuts him off so he can get in a couple of more jabs. He asks Jonny what his specialty is (menswear, read your cards Isaac!), and when Mr. D tells them that he made the striking suit that he’s wearing, the judges are all taken aback for a moment…because they really like it!
The judges then go into a dark, gloomy coat room to deliberate, and to help make the show look even cheaper. They pass the potato around a few times, and re-enter the studio. After Isaac gives Jonny and Kristin a final dressing-down (just in case they didn’t hear it the first two times), he informs Jonny D that “we’re just not buying it” – apparently, that is to be this show’s “auf wiedersehen”. Not to be left out, Kelly lays her catchphrase on surviving designer Kristin: “You’re hanging by a thread!” Jonny D gets his exit interview and packing scene, just like on PR.
Well, there you have it, the premiere of a brand new show that’s a fairly humorless knock-off of another, better show. Will it emerge from its predecessor’s shadow and find its own way? Find out in the weeks ahead as PhoneGrrrl (a true original if ever there was one) guides you through the rest of the season. It’s been a pleasure warming up the chair for her, and we’ll see you all on the triangle! …or something.
PM me with linked evidence that my original nickname “MizRo” is going viral o’er the interwebs…
Re: The Fashion Show – 5/07 Premiere Recap: I’ll See You on the Triangle!
ROTL! Ha! great recap....eh its difficult to say wether im gonna like this show or not. Kelly didnt really seem to fit in with everything but idk...
Kinda sad to see Johnny D go, he seemed like a decent sort of fellow. I wish he had more camera time
Mixing Old Fashioneds
Re: The Fashion Show – 5/07 Premiere Recap: I’ll See You on the Triangle!
Awesome recap, MFW! I may just be "borrowing" the MizRo moniker.
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