Ellen Gray: Seeing 'Stars'

Fashion, with a heavy dash of celebrities

Jessica Simpson (left), John Varvatos (center) and Nicole Ritchie are "Fashion Star's" celeb judges. (Associated Press)

* FASHION STAR. 9:30 tonight, NBC10. Moves to 10 p.m. next week.


FAMOUS PEOPLE have always gotten to cut the line: They get the best tables, the backstage passes, the seats behind the velvet ropes.

Thanks to television, they also vie for glitter-ball trophies or the opportunity to call themselves Donald Trump's fake apprentice. They've lost weight on "Celebrity Fit Club" and gotten clean on "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew."

There's nothing in "reality" television, in fact, that someone somewhere doesn't think can be improved by the addition of a celebrity. Or 12.

I've found it, though, and it's called "Fashion Star."

Premiering tonight on NBC after "The Biggest Loser," "Fashion Star" is "Project Runway" for people with short attention spans, "Shark Tank" for people more interested in clothes than inventions and yet another branding opportunity for Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie, who, along with menswear designer John Varvatos, have been tapped as "celebrity mentors" to a group of aspiring designers.

Because, as you've probably heard, Simpson and Richie have clothing lines. Which makes them, of course, fashion stars.

Simpson, at least, doesn't appear to take herself too seriously. Richie, whose original claim to fame was that she was Lionel Richie's daughter and Paris Hilton's TV sidekick, clearly considers herself an expert.

(She also has her name on the cover of two novels, so I suppose it's only a matter of time before some publicity-hungry school offers to make her a writer-in-residence.)

There's a germ of a good idea in the massively overproduced "Fashion Star," which is hosted by Elle Macpherson (who's way less scary than Heidi Klum).

Just as on "Runway," designers may receive advice from their mentors - though they'd be crazy to listen too hard to anyone but Varvatos - but it's the judges who count.

And the judges - buyers from H&M, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue - are putting their company's money where their mouths are, each week ordering designs they've seen on the runway for immediate production.

The winning designs go on sale the next day (the shows were shot last summer and, yes, everything's made in China, according to executive producer Ben Silverman). The season's overall winner gets a deal estimated to be worth more than $6 million in orders from all three stores.

For anyone who watches a show like "Project Runway" for insight into the creative process, "Fashion Star" is likely to disappoint, the time in the workroom largely serving as an excuse to show the celebrity mentors mentoring.

Or meddling.

It's worth remembering that "Runway" mentor Tim Gunn, before he was an ubiquitous TV personality, was a longtime fashion and design educator whose solid advice and genuine charm made him a star.

That's what "reality" TV does - it makes stars of people whose names we wouldn't otherwise have known.

Even (sigh) Snooki.

Aside from the designers, who'll have to be extra-sharp to cut through the noise, there are at least three potential stars on "Fashion Star" and they're the three you've likely never heard of: judges Caprice Willard, of Macy's, Terron E. Schaefer, of Saks Fifth Avenue, and Nicole Christie.

None of them is exactly Simon Cowell, but as fashion executives, they bring the same attitude to "Fashion Star" he once did to "American Idol": Whatever happens on the show, it's only what they can sell that counts.

My advice to "Fashion Star"?

Forget the famous and follow the money.


Contact Ellen Gray at 215-854-

5950 or graye@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @elgray. Read her blog EllenGray.tv.