'Fashion Star' host Louise Roe and producer Ben Silverman: New season amps up the drama and competition
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 03/08/2013
Fashion Star's second season is set to premiere tonight at 8PM ET/PT on NBC.
For the new season, Louise Roe -- a British fashion journalist and editor-at-large of Glamour Magazine who previously hosted The CW's Plain Jane makeover series and also appeared on MTV's The City -- will serve as the new host instead of first-season host Elle Macpherson, while Express will replace H&M as one of the show's three retail store buyers.
Express will join Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue as buyers on the panel in which a representative from each company makes purchase offers on the designs created by the show's contestants. The winning designs in every broadcast will be sold in stores and on each retailer's website.
Fashion Star's celebrity mentors Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie and John Varvatos will all return for the reality fashion competition's next season.
During a Wednesday conference call with reporters, Roe and Fashion Star executive producer Ben Silverman discussed the new upcoming season -- including its changes, improvements and what viewers can expect to see.
Ben, can you talk a bit about what you felt worked last season and what you had to tweak a bit this season?
Ben Silverman: Of course. Well we obviously felt the buyers really playing the game worked amazing. And when you see this season, it's even more competitive with the buyers and I just think the audience is more and more interested in real-world dynamics and shows that have real-world results and application.
And you'll see in this season that level of competitive giving and buying is exceptional and starting right off in the first episode where we have multiple bids on different designers from the retailers and stores.
And then I, on the tweaking side, you know, felt that we needed to get our mentors more heavily invested and connected to the process and also create a little bit of a dynamic between the buyers and the mentors. And so we brought them physically closer together.
But the big change this year is the mentors actually have teams and are actively participating with specific designers week in, week out and giving them not only advice but also working with them to try and lobby and get the stores to buy their products and their clothes.
So it's really a more dynamic and dramatic show with deeper rooting interests that connect Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie and John Varvatos more profoundly to the contestants but also puts them at a little bit of odds with the buyers in terms of being now aggressively lobbying or pushing them on behalf of their contestants.
Louise, what was your impression of the format of Fashion Star and what you liked about it? What do you think the show added to fashion television?
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Louise Roe: Well it has never ever, ever been done before and it was just fantastic coming from my background as someone as a fashion journalist. So I've been used to critiquing new trends right on the runway through to in stores [because] you buy everything immediately.
And actually, that's another change we've made this season... So instead of waiting until the end of the show to [purchase items], you can buy them at home as soon as the buyers buy them.
So it's just really awesome because, as we all know, people watch TV in a very multiple screen, immediate interactive way now. And so it's more, you know, young women and men are able to kind of get their hands on something physically as their watching it.
It's just awesome. So for me that kind of amped up the excitement and the suspense and as Ben mentioned the drama. There was definitely a lot of drama on the stage -- which was brilliant.
So we were wondering if you could talk a little bit about what makes a designer worthy of a being brand rather than just someone who makes clothes?
Louise Roe: That's a really great question.
Ben Silverman: Ooh, I'll let -- yes, go first on that, Louise.
Louise Roe: That's a really great question and interestingly, you know, the talent we have on the show this season was fantastic but also ranged a lot aesthetically, and as you mentioned, from a brand perspective.
So for some of them, it was a lot of the learning curve on actually what's more marketable and commercial, what is going to sell and how do you balance that with your own core aesthetic and the things that you believe in -- whereas other designers already kind of have that down pat and completely blew it away.
So they took a lot of advice not just from their team mentors. I think what was cool to see -- especially as the series progressed -- was that yes, Jessica, Nicole and John had their own team members and were very much teaching the designers about brands.
Then towards the end, they sort of crossed over a little more and were helping each other out... a designer that wasn't in John's team, he would still give him advice. So I thought that dynamic was cool because it was at times competitive and at times very much like sharing and caring.
And of course the feedback that they got from the buyers was just gold dust in terms of progressing their brand and taking negative as well as positive feedback. So I think to get -- and then, you know, we did have special guests in certain episodes as well from various other areas of the fashion industry to give more advice on that. So it was a pretty unique experience, even if you didn't come out as the winner, on to how to move your brand forward.
Ben Silverman: And it's just a little bit like if you cut down a tree in the middle of the forest, who hears you? And I think what everyone recognizes in 2013 is the amount of noise there is out there and how difficult it is to break through in anything.
And from Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie, John Varvatos, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Express, you're getting the ultimate boot camp in not only design development but brand development.
And what I think is so fascinating about fashion specifically is Jessica Simpson's line is leveraged off her celebrity brand and it's called Jessica Simpson. But John Varvatos who started, you know, cutting and tailoring and never was an actor or singer his brand is called John Varvatos also.
And so, just that relationship of brand to personality in the design world is more profound than in any other industry. Google is not called Sergey Brin and Apple was not called Steve Jobs. I think it is so profound within the fashion world that you connect your personality to the brand and that also creates authenticity.
You mentioned the special guests. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the special guests coming up?
Louise Roe: I'm not sure. Am I allowed, Ben?
Ben Silverman: I think so... that's not an issue. Yes.
Louise Roe: We have, well just one example is Susan Cernek from Glamour Magazine. And she's, you know, an extremely well versed fashion editor there and I've worked with her. She came to critique all the designers' pieces one week, give them really, really valuable advice.
She's just one example of -- you know, the press side of the fashion industry, going back to the brand question, is absolutely huge and enormous and for some of those designers they were quite green on that side of things. So how it's going to be received by the press is another dynamic to creating your brand. So they got some really awesome, you know, tips from her.
How do you go about selecting the designers to be on your show? Because I know you probably have so many people fighting to get their chance.
Ben Silverman: Yes. I mean this year specifically because the show was already onair and people saw the clothes then for sale and in store and saw three or four of the people from last year not just sell through the store but continue to sell and expand their line. We had an incredible pool of talent. Everyone from the kind of F-I-T boy genius to a woman who was actually working at Elie Tahari and quit to come go on the show.
So there were accomplished people within the fashion world already who just had never been able to get any traction on their own brands as well as new... who have all the promise and opportunity of this next generation of designers that we're seeing kind of slowly emerge over the past three to five years.
So it was an amazingly diverse group of people from every state in the country and internationally who tried out for the show this year. And I think you see it reflected in the clothing, how good it is and the level of quality and also in the amount of money being spent by the buyers this year because of their belief in the designers.
Are there any designers we should watch out for on the show, any standout designers?
Ben Silverman: Oh yes. Episode 1 will tell you a lot because there were multiple sales but there are also some that didn't sell. So I'd rather leave that... I don't want to tip our hand in terms of, you know, what the results are.
But you will find them and connect them. And I think what's also great about the designers is they represent all different shapes, sizes and walks of life and I think, you know, that's the amazing thing about fashion. It's so personal for everybody.
Everyone's wearing clothes today as they leave the house hopefully, but they're also -- they're wearing clothes that work for them and I think they'll each align with a different designer. It's as personal a choice as your music.
I wanted to know about, and this will go to Ben, how did the sales fare for the first season's contestants and what do you expect to happen with the next season's contestants?
Ben Silverman: Well the show clearly did well for the retailers as evidenced by two them -- the two we wanted back -- being back and participating. But additionally, they are still out there and you're seeing different contestants appear in new outlets. One of our contestants made a deal with HSN. One of our contestants reupped their commitment with the retailers.
And there's an ongoing career now being established by being on Fashion Star that wasn't evidenced in the first season because, you know, time has to judge that. And now we're seeing a year later, you know, last year's winner's show in the fashion shows just recently in New York. And so I think that's amazing traction for the show and something that's just an obvious reason that we're back again.
Ms. Roe, as the new host of the show, what interests you about the first season and what surprised you about the second season that you probably would have expected from the first season but didn't?
Louise Roe: Good question. I mentioned earlier the immediacy of being able to buy the clothes. I mean, that's fascinating and I'm always wanting to be a part of any kind of new way of looking at things and doing things within TV and the fashion industry.
But for me, I mean, I've said this before and it's genuinely true, it was a dream job because it combined all the -- I love interviewing people. It's one of my favorite things to do in the world and to get inside the heads and lives of all these other interesting, fascinating people -- some of whom were like overflowing with confidence and some of whom just didn't believe in themselves when they really should have.
It was just amazing and to bring out their stories onstage and see literally their dream come to life or get crushed was just to be the sort of conduit to that and was awesome. But I'm also a big, big fan of seeing fresh new talents straight out the blocks...
These are people, young people, who have got no money really and so many hopes and dreams and are just giving their absolute [all] to sort of put out new ideas and come up with fresh silhouettes and fabrics and prints.
So I really, really get a kick out of that and I think I don't know what surprised me, probably the bonds that I ended up creating with all of them. Because I also hosted the online show for NBC.com, so I spent a lot of time down at the design studio -- which is a much more intimate environment than, you know, the big runway stage with lots of lights and cameras and an audience.
So getting to know them and -- I root for them and I really, really care what's going on onstage and what goes down even though I'm supposed to be not biased. But it's very, very hard not to be because these people, you know, like Ben said that more than one person gave up their full-time job to stay on the show -- which is a big deal. So I think for me, that was just it. It was an emotional and awesome journey.
I have a question for both of you. I'm not sure if you're able to answer this as soon as now. But are you able to share what types of themes the contestants will be competing in throughout this season?
Ben Silverman: Does sex sell, that's one of them. You can interpret it in many different ways. As Alfred Hitchcock just said, he never wanted to show any of his leading ladies naked because he felt the imagination was the sexiest tool known to man. So, you know, I think you'll see that in how everyone reacts to that thought.
And the different episodes do have great different themes that play out and really challenge the designers to think outside of their normal day-to-day but also think to what being a fashion designer and a fashion brand really is -- which is diversity in what you can do.
You have to be not just making clothes for winter but then come spring and summer and then come fall and then comes -- you know, so that kind of cycle of seasons is a big, big element.
But also, you know, what you design for someone going to a dinner party is different than what you design for someone going to their first interview is different than what you design for someone going on a date. So there's a lot of that interwoven into different episodic themes. Louise, do you want to mention any of the ones that you felt connected to?
Louise Roe: Yes, definitely. For me, we have one episode which was about any size fits, you know, shape and size creating clothes for any figure, and for me, that's a universal to not just America but the world because men and women come in all shapes and sizes. My thought has always been since coming into the fashion industry that trends have to be for everyone and they're not just for runway models.
So I think that for me was fascinating and really made me happy to see that, you know, these clothes are being created for everyone. But also, it was interesting to see which designers just nailed it and which really struggled, because it's not as easy as you might imagine. So that was a very interesting episode.
Ben Silverman: Real people. Real fashion.
As far as the department stores go that you selected for your show, was there competition with other retailers who wanted to try to get into the show and compete for the designers for the second season?
Ben Silverman: Absolutely, and there were a ton of retailers who wanted to get involved with the show who recognize that the show was an incredible proving ground for new designers and they're constantly looking for new voices and new creativity.
But they don't have an A&R industry like the music business does as profoundly, so this show really, really provides them with a canvas across the artistic spectrum of designers. We got 10,000-plus people applying to the show.
But then on the other side obviously, you know, they get to sell the product, so there's a direct correlation to what they do that's very different than their normal approach to television. And specifically, Macy's, Saks and Express -- Saks Fifth Avenue and Express -- are just three real brands.
They're on Main Street in America. They are the corner tenant of the best shopping centers and malls in America. They are Fifth Avenue. They are Broadway. You know, they are really I think, you know, penultimate -- not penultimate -- they are the ultimate stores and they really , I don't think NBC would have done the show unless there were stores like that involved.
And for us, you know, Macy's and Saks have been with the show from the beginning and are incredible partners and just really know their business. And Express was new this season and just upped the game big time and really know their consumers so well and it just has been fabulous to have the three of them.
And specifically, there's ten others who were desperate to get involved, but we really felt these three were the best and obviously with Macy's and Saks had had a great season with them prior.
The designers will be competing in groups, correct?
Ben Silverman: They're competing as individuals but they're going into teams vis-a-vis the mentors so that the mentors will have a team of contestants that they're working on, but the contestants are still competing as individuals.
Sometimes other shows I've watched have featured mentors who offer little suggestions here or there while others are extremely influential. How do you think a designer still maintains their individuality but takes in the things from the mentor and maybe sometimes gets steered wrong or right or whatever? Have you noticed that? I mean is there a thin line you walk?
Louise Roe: I'm definitely -- I mean, when you see some of the stuff that goes on off stage, Nicole, Jessica and John are all very, very committed. And when you watch some of the episodes, they are blunt and very honest or tactful. But I think it's interesting to see how each designer reacts to that criticism, because sometimes, they do take it personally.
And at first, they don't listen and then they learn the hard way. Other times, they really kind of do change their whole idea that week based on their mentors advice and then it's kind of, "Wow what's going to happen right in front of the buyers?" So that is, I think that's one of the key interesting narratives of the whole journey and season because some people don't want to listen. And so, it's fascinating.
But you've got, like Ben, said these three incredibly successful in very diverse ways designers essentially giving you advice that you could never, never get otherwise.
Louise, you have been a journalist and you have been able to see it from not really outside looking in but you've been able to look with a more objective eye I guess you would say. Has that proven to be the strong part of what you're doing now or do you find it sometimes not as good having done that?
Louise Roe: No it's brilliant. And I mean, what's funny is that my role on the show is not to critique the clothes but obviously there's a lot of stuff going through my mind... you know, "That's going to work."
But it definitely helps me because I can speak with authority when things go down or I've definitely got a little, "Okay I think that's going to be a winner and get bought." And I'm definitely not always predicting right. But it helps me feel very confident onstage up there with them.
And I can also empathize, because I also have my own line of clothes and shoes, so I've also stood in front of buyers and thought, "Oh my God, are they going to like this." I'm pouring my heart out onto this table with all my new thoughts and my ideas and money. So you sort of -- I can totally understand how it feels to be [on that side]
Ben, where did you find this brilliant woman?
Ben Silverman: Louise Roe, are you kidding me? It's the gift that keeps on giving. She is incredible. We're aware of her through her reporting work and she came in and just wowed us on the show and Paul Telegdy at NBC had been a fan as well as us, and she really has nailed it. And when you see how inside what's going on with the contestants, she is throughout the show I think we have a little... Ryan Seacrest here.
Have you watched other reality TV shows and taken notes on what works and what doesn't?
Ben Silverman: Well I think that, you know, we're all learning from each other consistently. You know, when I first kind of was one of the architects of reality TV in America and brought Who Wants to be a Millionaire? into the United States, the moment I heard the title I was living in London, the show was in development, I thought, "Who doesn't want to be a millionaire?" And it was unique that it came from England but it was such an American concept.
Here in Fashion Star, what I'm so proud of as one of the co-creators of the show is that we built in something for today. This show couldn't have worked five years ago because people weren't doing as much e-commerce and they weren't buying product through their tablet or they weren't watching television and also playing games on their social networks with their friends.
And so, it's uniquely built of today and the fact that you can buy the product is so cool to me. The idea that you can vote on the winner with your pocketbook, not just with a phone call, and have a tangible relationship is extraordinary in terms of kind of next generation idea in storytelling.
And absolutely we also recognize things that work in other shows and think about those elements but specifically on Fashion Star it's so unique because of that ability to buy the clothes and wear the winner -- which had never been done ever, you know, and is a first time. And then you learn as the show goes along just like other shows -- which I won't mention specifically -- went from having two hosts to one host after season one to season two... and really took off.
Something we recognize was we need our mentors who are brilliant to be hyper-invested in these contestants. How do we do that? They need to be just as you referenced kind of The Voice, they need to be rooting for their guys and girls. And the way to do that was have them pick people that they would work with and be the mentors of and have real rooting interest.
Because there's so much drama for the contestants on the show, every episode there's a winner and a loser. But we wanted that same drama for the mentors, for Jessica, John and Nicole and then obviously the buyers. This is a real job and I think that's an element that we're seeing in television that's kind of exploded since The Apprentice -- which is the fascination with real work.
And whether it's the docu-soaps that do well on cable or the big primetime shows, you know, I think that was an element of this show that makes it really broad and fun for an entire audience to watch.
Do you think a sports element fares well when being brought into these types of shows? Like because competition is fierce and there's competition between the contestants, mentors and buyers on Fashion Star. It's almost like a sports set-up.
Ben Silverman: I completely know what you mean, totally identify with it. And one of the things I tell anyone who comes in and watches how we produce our Fashion Star episodes, you go into our truck or booth where we're watching the cameras -- we literally have a sports director type director managing it the way you would an NFL game.
We have somebody going, "Oh my gosh, go to Jessica. She's in the moment. Go get her. You know, go film her. We've got to watch her. She's about to get in a fight with the Express." You know, go get [Cassandra] our contestant. She's about to lose it over there. And Louise is not just our -- you know, she's an active participant, so she's not just a sideline reporter. She's an on-the-field reporter.
Louise Roe: I'm the quarterback.
Ben Silverman: Exactly. No, the player coach. And so, I think that is a great analogy and it's so true. And obviously everyone in television sees how well events do -- whether they're sporting events or live events or live to tape events like Fashion Star and I think it's a big advantage in today's world to have those elements. And let's forget the original granddaddy of all those but the game shows -- which were the ultimate competition.
You've done a lot as an executive producer. How do you continue to basically juggle all the projects that you have in the works and just also continue to meet the demands of the viewers?
Ben Silverman: Well one of the things that I think anyone who likes to tell stories and does tell stories or, you know, look at Judd Apatow today making Girls and a movie at the same time is you look for great partners and great collaborators and great creative, you know, elements like Louise, like Jessica, like Nicole... like John.. You know, these people are all handpicked and come together to make something extraordinary.
But also I think what's amazing about today is you look for the right partner from distribution as well. So what we do with NBC is very different than what we would do on a website we own like College Humor. And the amount of energy, attention and focus that goes into a broadcast show is more than anything else you work on because it hits the largest audience, is on the largest platform and has the greatest opportunity to push and move culture.
And as storytellers and creative people, that's what we're hooked on. We're hooked on where our creativity meets cultural impact. And that's what I think drives all of us who are in showbiz.
Louise, is there any fashion trend that you would like to se come back?
Louise Roe: You know, funny enough, everything. Every decade it seems to be on a runway somewhere. And I was having this conversation with someone the other day because I don't if that's a cyclical result of the fact that fashion things are available to buy in the stores immediately and you can kind of get every trend all at once; whereas before there was one trend and you kind of waited for it and rocked it.
But everything from sort of mod '60s I love to very Boho '70s. But those things are bang out the moment. So definitely the Boho '70s is my absolute favorite. I think Nicole Richie rocks that trend to a T.
But I'm not -- we had a bit of the '90s neon flashback and I don't really want to see that again. I'm kind of done with that. I think if you were alive to do something the first time around, then you hate it when it comes back the second time.