As a longtime fan of "Project Runway," I was so happy when NBC finally decided to launch their own clothing design competition series, "Fashion Star" (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET). But now, three weeks into the first season, I've got some major questions about "Fashion Star" that still haven't been answered, and I know I'm not alone.
Each week, the "Fashion Star" designers present three seasonal looks with some design advice from mentors Jessica Simpson, John Varvatos and Nicole Richie. Then the ultimate win-or-lose decision comes from the buyers of the show's three retail partners, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and H&M, who can choose to place an order with each designer or not. The clothing from the designers who receive orders is online right after the show airs, and in stores the following day; the designers with no orders placed are up for elimination. Simple enough, right? Wrong.
The show was shot quite a while ago, so any obvious necessary tweaks likely won't get made until Season 2 (I imagine a spinning stage to make turning from the mentors to the buyers even more dramatic). But there are a few things that NBC and host Elle Macpherson need to explain a little better -- or at all -- to make the rest of this season must-see TV. Here, five "Fashion Star" questions we'd like answers to.
1. What do the weekly order prices really mean?
When a designer makes a sale, they're understandably excited; but it's unclear if a higher sale price actually makes a difference for them, beyond bragging rights. Is all of that money going to production, or do they get a percentage? When asked for clarification from executive producer Ben Silverman or anyone from the show's Magical Elves production company, NBC declined to share specifics. "It is a business deal that we aren't sharing unfortunately." What? Why? It's hard to get excited about these weekly wins for the designers if it's not clear what the dollar amounts mean, or how it will play into their ultimate success on the show. Speaking of which ...
2. What is the ultimate prize?
Host Elle Macpherson starts each show reminding us that the contestants are "still in the race to have their very own collection worth $6 million, sitting on the shelves of Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and H&M." But what exactly does that mean? That's another question NBC isn't willing to answer. We get that the collection will be worth $6 million dollars, but again, what do the designers actually get, monetarily, if anything?
The show's Web site clarifies that there will only be one final winner -- not three, one for each retailer, as I'd originally thought: "In the end, one designer will successfully combine fashion and business to become the next Fashion Star and will receive the prize of a lifetime -- $6,000,000 in orders for capsule collections in Macy's, H&M and Saks Fifth Avenue stores." So does that mean all three retailers have to agree on the winner (see more on this in the next question)? And does that mean that the winner's designs will definitely appear in all three stores?
Going back to the successful "Project Runway" model that started it all, that show makes a point to repeat the prizes at least three times an episode -- during opening credits, when the designers are given their challenges and again before the final runway -- because it's that important. Otherwise how will viewers know what the stakes are?
3. Will selling to every store make you more likely to win it all?
If a designer's aesthetic is completely in line with one retailer, and not the other two, is that such a bad thing? Obviously the designers all want the most exposure possible, so getting sold in all three retailers would be a huge deal, but is it factoring into their final judgement? Sarah Parrott's maxi dress got a $50,000 order from H&M this week, making this her third week in a row to be ordered by H&M. That seems like a big win, but during consulting she seemed concerned. "I was bought twice, but I have only been bought from H&M," Parrott said. "At the end of the day, you want a collection in every store, so I need to start working on every store."
We know versatility as a designer is key, but will someone who's sold every single week to one retailer be considered less successful in this competition than someone who has only sold a few times, but has been ordered by all three retailers at least once? That's unclear, and that's an issue. Plus, considering the drastically different price points for the three retailers (H&M winning designs range from $19.95 to $29.95; Macy's from $59 to $110; and Saks from $225 to $350), how will that work?
4. Why doesn't each designer get equal air time?
The format of "Fashion Star" is interesting enough, if not a little frenetic. But that's a simple fix -- my advice would be to follow the process through in the same way for each designer or group of designers instead of trying to mix it up. Ross Bennett made his first sale this week, but viewers only got to see his group's show, critique and orders in quick recap format. Granted, he was the only designer to get an order in his group, but so was Orly Shani in her group and we spent plenty of time with her, even getting to see her family in the audience. We also got a little show from LMFAO, which was fun for fans, I'm sure, but not why they're tuning in at the end of the day. If you want to make this a fair competition, cut the filler and give everyone equal air time.
5. How are the winning clothes selling in stores?
Poor Elle Macpherson has been saddled with quite a bit of information to share each week, and again, we know she'll never be too specific since A) The details of the final prize are apparently some big NBC secret, and B) These were all pre-taped so sales analysis for the previous weeks wasn't available then. But would it kill the show to replace some of the less necessary elements (the Elle Macpherson fashion shows, LMFAO concerts and trapeze artists, for example) to maybe add in a recap of the previous week's sales, show some video of how the clothes looked in-store and maybe tell us which ones have sold out and which are still for sale, and for how much? I'm not a producer, but that seems like 60 seconds of programming put to very good use, reminding viewers that these winning designs really are being produced.
I'd also personally love to see a quick tag on the end of each episode explaining what happens next, what colors will be sold in store and what changes, if any, will be made to the final garments. It's so nice, as a viewer, to see the design process, even for only a minute, but the retailer consultations and modifications also seem like a key part of the process. Orly Shani's colorblocked jersey sheath dress started a bidding war between Macy's and Saks, driving the order price up to an impressive $120,000 from Saks. It's now selling on the site for $295 in the bright orange color with the hot pink waistband, but that's without the "wow" pop of color contrast lining detail on the pockets (the pockets are non-existent, actually) and the back slit hem. Would those details have driven the price up to closer to $400 a dress? It's possible, but that's a note that viewers would benefit from hearing as much as the designers do.
UPDATE: NBC gave some clarification after seeing this article ... but not much. "The designers get a percentage of the weekly buys. The winner also gets a percentage of the final prize as well. That is about all we can share."
What do you think of "Fashion Star" so far? Are there more questions you want answered? Chime in down in the comments.
"Fashion Star" airs Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET on NBC.
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