It’s a good day in any industry when something comes along and shocks even the veterans of that particular profession. When it comes to licensing, the hit NBC show “Fashion Star” – now in its revamped second season – has come along and done just that.
Entertainment production company Electus, along with NBC, three fashion buyers from well-known retailers, a trio of celebrity designers mentoring talented design contestants, and a host with creds in the fashion editor world have banded together to give those who have seen it all something they’ve never seen before.
“I’ve been in licensing for a while now, and when my friends in the industry find out I’m a part of ‘Fashion Star,’ they always ask, ‘How did you guys pull that off?’” says Kerry O’Donnell, director of global licensing for NBCUniversal Television Consumer Products Group. “It’s such a groundbreaking concept – it’s been really exciting to be a part of it.”
A competition centered on fledgling fashion designers may not be new, but the approach that “Fashion Star” takes is. Rather than pitting designers against one another in seemingly impossible tasks – i.e., who can make the best dress out of coffee filters in 24 hours – “Fashion Star” focuses on the complete business model. From the creative process to how designs are purchased to launching it in retail – “Fashion Star” shows it all to the viewers who, at the end of it all, end up being the consumers, as well. Rather than creating and licensing products based on the television show, the products are the television show.
In season two, which premiered March 8, 12 designers split into three teams are mentored by returning mentors Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie and John Varvatos. Fashion journalist Louise Roe is this season’s host. Aided by the advice of their mentors, each contestant creates pieces based on that week’s theme that are strutted down a long Bryant Park-style catwalk in front of the discerning eyes of fashion buyers from Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Express. Then the bidding begins.
Each week, the buyers bid on the designs they would like to include in their spring line-up, with the most coveted designs setting off bidding wars and spoils going to the highest offer. In a viewer-engagement twist that goes beyond Twitter shout outs, the designs are available online immediately following the buyer’s purchase and available in certain stores the next day.
“This is audience participation blended with e-commerce,” says Laura Caraccioli, president of Electus. “Not a lot of fashion-related shows bring e-commerce into the heart of the story.”
Last season, some designs would sell out online before West Coast viewers even watched the show. The new season accommodates for that with the buyers putting out record bids and purchasing larger but still limited quantities of the designs.
“In season one, traffic to purchase merchandise was very strong, with multiple items selling out quickly, telling us that the “real-time” concept truly resonated with our customers,” says Caprice Willard, Macy’s buyer for “Fashion Star.”
Bids are made, winners arise and crowds cheer, click and buy as the seemingly seamless process gets played out on air. But behind the show’s success is a well-oiled machine that has every process in place to get those designs to market.
The show’s first step is to ensure it has a team of designers worth buying from because a show about fashion buying where nothing gets bought would get stale, fast. Also, big names like Macy’s, Express and Saks Fifth Avenue have style, trend and quality standards that their customers expect. NBC, Electus and the retailers filter through possible design contestants together.
“Going through the first season, you learn a lot and the new designers know what to expect in season two,” explains Kim Niemi, senior vice president of NBCUniversal Television, DVD, Music and Consumer Products Group. “These designers have seen how it works on season one so there is fantastic quality right out of the gate.”
The retailers have licensing agreements with NBC’s Fashion Star label, which allows them to bid on designs. Once the show wraps, which for season two was last November, the retailers and NBC work through the details – fabric, colors, fit, quality, design tweaks, etc., – to get a perfect version of what was seen on the runway into retail by the time each show airs.
For season two, the team had just five months to get the entire process packaged and ready for prime-time television.
With the buying and go-to-market structure refined down to a “T,” Electus and NBC are ready to entertain. Watching talented people struggle, create, get critiqued and then succeed always entertains. This season will also see the mentors take a greater stake in the process. In season one, Simpson, Richie and Varvatos mentored all of the designers; now that they are paired with teams, they become more attached to the contestants and watchers see those relationships play out on air. Each mentor comes with professional experience, with each of their labels carried in major retail stores. Combining that with their varying but nonetheless on-trend aesthetics, ups the show’s interest and credibility.
“All three of them, Jessica, Nicole and John, truly understand what the designer is feeling and what’s going on in their heads,” Niemi says. “They also know how to achieve the goals the contestants want to achieve because they’ve all been there. It’s fantastic that these three mentors come from different places. It would be quite boring if they were all alike or dressed alike because that doesn’t represent our audience.”