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Designer Knockoff: Bravo's "The Fashion Show"

I was curious to see just what Bravo would do to hold onto its fashion-focused audience now that it had lost its protracted legal battle with Lifetime over its brand-defining reality hit series Project Runway.

Last night, Bravo attempted to recreate its own success by offering what can only be described as a designer knockoff of the venerable Runway label: the generically titled The Fashion Show, which features hosts Isaac Mizrahi and Kelly Rowland and fifteen professional designers vying for a cash prize of $150,000 and the chance to sell their designs... on

And while it might sound in theory very similar to Project Runway, there's a lot to be said about Runway's own skin tight format, the wise and knowing presence of mentor Tim Gunn, and the troika of cutting judges Michael Kors, Heidi Klum, and Nina Garcia. In fact, watching The Fashion Show reminds you that there's more to a piece of clothing than just the cloth; it's how it's cut and shaped by the hands of a master craftsman.

There are some minor changes to the tried-and-true Runway formula at play here. In addition to an elimination challenge (last night's episode had the designers split into teams and create five different looks based around a single must-have item), the designers now have to face a mini-challenge at the episode's start, rather like Top Chef's Quickfire Challenge. In last night's episode, this meant the designers had an hour to transform a simple black t-shirt into a little black dress with varied levels of success. The three winners then gained the ability to choose their teams for the elimination challenge based around their thoughts on the finished garments. And, oh, did I mention that the runway show--the basis of the elimination challenge--now features a triangular catwalk, a gathering of the fashion elite, and an audience vote to determine the top and low scores? Snooze...

The casting for The Fashion Show features an array of kooks and visionaries, eccentrics and the fatally ambitious. There's an overemphasis so far on "big" personalities, such as the over the top Merlin, who turns up in head-to-toe red with a gigantic feather sticking out of his hat, Johnny Depp-wannabe Keith, uppity and pink-streaked 23-year-old Kristin, and former stripper designer Reco. The intent seems to be to make the audience gawk at just how "quirky" these designers are and how larger-than-life their egos really are. As a result, it's hard to connect with any of them, much less root for their advancement in this competition.

What seems to be missing, really, is heart, something that Project Runway always had in abundance, as well as the series' trademark slick editing and packaging. As it is, The Fashion Show feels like a bit of a sub-par clone, moaning on about Tresemme sponsorship even as it feels like a cheap knockoff of Runway.

Not helping matter is that Mizrahi is no Tim Gunn (and Rowland is no Heidi Klum for that matter) and this is felt from his first entry into the studio during the elimination challenge. Whereas Gunn would have asked questions, made suggestions, and told designers to "make it work," Mizrahi is mostly silent, giving the designers little to work with, and there's no feeling of mentorship or support that Gunn offered to Runway's contestants.

I can understand why Bravo would seek to recapture some of the magic of Project Runway but I don't feel that The Fashion Show contains quite the right level of smart, heart, and skill to--let's all say it now--make it work.

The Fashion Show airs Thursday evenings at 10 pm ET/PT on Bravo.


Ellen said…
A very fair and excellent review. I watched and felt the same way. I love Isaac, but all of his fun personality seems stripped away in this show. Kelly is pretty but aside from her funny remark about needing "butter and a miracle" to fit into that tube skirt, the show was lackluster on so many levels.
When Isaac was explaining the main challenge, I started tuning out.
It was fun watching and tweeting about it last night, but not sure I'll be back.
Bella Spruce said…
Ditto. I'm a Mizrahi fan but this show had none of the personality of Project Runway and felt very stale. It was like Project Runway "Bizarro World" - all of the elements were there but, somehow, it just
Mazza said…
Watched 20 mins and then turned it off. Couldn't do it. Definitely not in the same league as PR.
PMrry said…
I miss the old runway shows. I hate it that they don't bring out all the models at the end and question each designer about his or her outfit. It seems the emphasis of the show is on the big (annoying!) personalities of a select few designers and very little attention for the designs. Definitely not as much fun to watch. Here's hoping it improves as the season unfolds!

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