Mad Fashion: TV Review

One of "Project Runway’s" more flamboyant past contestants, Chris March, lands his own campy, over-the-top spinoff show in which he’s allowed to let his fertile fashion imagination run wild as he designs for eccentric New York clients.

Featuring one of "Project Runway's" more memorable contestants, Bravo's new series lets designer Chris March's imagination run wild.

After nine seasons of Project Runway’s tried and true weekly elimination formula, viewers may be excused for occasionally craving a change of pace from the fashion brand that has championed a “one day you’re out” competition format. But while the wildly popular show has made bona fide television stars out of mentor Tim Gunn and judges Michael Kors and Nina Garcia, few of the many contestants whose designs have graced the runway -- save for season four winner, Christian Siriano -- have seemed worthy of spin-off experimentation.

One other exception to that rule, however, is Chris March, the flamboyant, amiable season four also-ran whose creations routinely ignored Kors’ obsession with more conservative sportswear and separates, and Garcia’s tasteful, editorial rebukes.

Unlike so many of Runway’s forgettable contestants who promise new beginnings upon elimination from the show, March parlayed his third-runner-up finish into Chris March Designs, a no-holds-barred embrace of his Beach Blanket Babylon-inspired aesthetic that sometimes proved too over-the-top for the adventurous Heidi Klum.

On Mad Fashion, Bravo’s new series constructed around March’s new business venture, the fan favorite is given creative license by his female clients to produce clothing that is perhaps better suited for the drag queens of Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade than for the women who regularly shop at Saks Fifth Avenue.

In the premiere episode, that means creating a show-stopping ensemble for New York shoe designer Ruthie Davis to wear at a preview of her new line. Meeting with his new client at her apartment to discuss the concept for the get up, March immediately seizes on a design idea.

“Would you like the idea of having some shoes on your outfit?” March asks. “Some actual shoes?”

Davis fears that such a literal motif “could look cliché,” but gives March the green light to see what he can come up with.

“I don’t want to design something that everybody else would do,” March says before heading back to his studio in the old Lord & Taylor building in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. “I want to design something that’s bigger or better or funnier or more beautiful.”

In the absence of a whole lot of actual dramatic tension, executive producers Matt Westmore (Beauty and the Geek, The Biggest Loser) and Noah Scheinmann (Hired) rightly bet March’s fertile imagination and snide sense of humor will keep viewers entertained.

When one of March’s assistants complains about developing a blister on his finger while cutting strips of tough fabric, March quips, “Do you know how many homeless gay people would be happy to cut up glitter canvass?”

And in a hilarious aside squeezed in during a commercial break, March pulls out a blue Sharpie for a solemn moment. “I’ve been fascinated with Stevie Nicks for a long, long time,” he explains with his staff assembled behind him. “I’ve written ‘Stevie Nicks’ inside everything I’ve made for the past 20 years. It blesses everything we make.”

In other words, if you’re looking for fashion’s quirky flipside of Project Runway’s “go, go, go” cutthroat ambition, Mad Fashion is your show.

March is completely at ease with himself and his aesthetic, and the worst that can happen here would be to deliver an outfit that misses the mark for his eccentric clientele. As March gleefully orders one of his team to drill and saw through thousands of dollars worth of Davis’ stiletto heels, even that prospect doesn’t seem all that troubling.

“She might think it’s too crazy,” March says. “If she does, she’s wrong.”