This story first appeared in the May 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Despite the continued popularity of shows like Lifetime's Project Runway and Bravo's The Fashion Show, fashion-competition reality shows have yet to provide a profitable launch pad for aspiring designers (as, say, Bravo's Top Chef has for restaurateurs). With the exception of fan-favorite Christian Siriano, who once dressed the likes of Victoria Beckham and launched a short-lived collection at online store Spiegel, not one contestant has designed a collection that, after 10 seasons of Project Runway, has been distributed through a national retailer. Compare that to Jessica Simpson, from Newlyweds, a reality show that hasn't aired since early 2005, whose collection of apparel, footwear, jewelry and accessories has generated an estimated half- billion dollars in revenue. Barneys creative consultant Simon Doonan says, "Gals like Jessica Simpson have massive, adoring fan bases. In terms of name recognition, the Project Runway kids don't stand a chance, no matter how talented they are. Simpson is always going to sell more halter tops. It's a marketing thing."
In March, NBC attempted to remake the fashion-competition mold with Ben Silverman's Fashion Star by using representatives of such retail partners as H&M, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue as judges on the show. The day after each episode -- starring Simpson and another reality veteran, Nicole Richie, as well as fashion expert Elle Macpherson and designer John Varvatos -- viewers can purchase winning designs at the three stores. "Fashion Star transformed viewers into consumers," says Women's Wear Daily West Coast bureau chief Marcy Medina. "There's no lag time like with shows where the winner might need months to get a collection into stores. By then, the world could have forgotten about them."
While the H&M and Macy's collections have sold out, NBC took its time renewing the series, what with modest but steady ratings and an average of 4.9 million viewers. The show's retail partners, the backbone of its unique format, have signed on for another round. NBC calls the show "the No. 4 most upscale unscripted series" on major networks, but a network consultant says: "The show has failed to carry any real cultural significance; its lack of buzz is evidence."
Meanwhile, the landscape continues to be dominated by reality stars-turned designers who sell tons of fashion product. Here's a look at the most successful.