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It's the fashion statement of the year: Bravo's new reality series "The Fashion Show" is not — repeat, not — a knockoff of "Project Runway," the recently decamped Bravo show that has moved to Lifetime.

But sometimes it's hard to tell. First, look at the facts: "Fashion" has two hosts, designer Isaac Mizrahi and Kelly Rowland, formerly of Destiny's Child. They harangue a gaggle of designers racing through challenges small (in the pilot: design a "little black dress" from a black T-shirt in an hour) to big (pick a "must have" and design five outfits around it while working in a group). At show's end, those outfits are judged, and a contestant leaves.

That sounds familiar, but subtle differences emerge amid the fine stitching. "Fashion" takes itself far more seriously than "Runway," and a certain je ne sais quois is lost in the translation. The show, the contestants and even the judges — who have no chemistry — are almost entirely without flair. "Fashion" plods through the paces but never seems to gather momentum, and there's little spontaneity or a true clash of creative wills. The contestants just seem to get on one another's nerves.

On the other hand, examining fashion with a more serious attitude leads to informative, interesting discussions. The runway segment of "Fashion" puts outfitted models on display before a room full of industry leaders, and producers seek feedback from top names. During the runway examination, contestants provide a play-by-play on their fashions; later, when called on the carpet, they're articulate and insightful as to their design motivations and theories. In those moments, "Fashion" raises the bar for fashion reality.

"Fashion" is no "Runway," though they're cut from the same cloth. Denying that is like pretending Pepsi is different from Coke. Sure, there are variations in the piquant aroma and fizz, but ultimately, you're still getting a soda. For "Runway" fans thirsty for fashion fights and fits, "Fashion" is certainly worth a taste. (partialdiff)
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