First things first - "The Fashion Show," Bravo's newest fashion designer competition series is first and foremost not "Project Runway." And while a nasty reality show catfight between Tim Gunn and Isaac Mizrahi would undoubtedly be ratings gold, Mizrahi quickly squelched rumors of any bad blood between the two shows during a press call with judge/co-host Kelly Rowland and judge Fern Mallis.
"I don't even necessarily know that we were trying in any way to sort of compete with 'Project Runway,' except for the fact that the show was created by the producers of Bravo." In fact, Mizrahi raved that he would not want to be anywhere but Bravo with this project. "I was so comfortable working with those producers, I felt so incredibly in touch with them, connected with them, and I feel that Bravo makes this kind of programming better than anybody out there."
The designer also said that while some will bring up the obvious comparisons, he's not worried about long-term comparisons to the Tim Gunn/Heidi Klum show, which is moving from Bravo to Lifetime after a much-publicized dispute between The Weinstein Company and NBC/Universal. "The comparison to 'Project Runway' I think will go away eventually. I can imagine why it's being brought up, but I think eventually it's just going to go away, because ['The Fashion Show'] is a different show."
Mallis chimed in that one way that their show is different is the way it has a more direct line to the audience and, in turn, people who want to buy the fashion they see every week on the show. "It has a reference to 'Project Runway' because that's what people are familiar with in this genre, but ['The Fashion Show'] made it modern and brought it up to speed for right now, in that each week there is a winner who has clothing made, and manufactured and sold on www.bravotv.com. They'll hear our comments through the series, but clothing is being made every week, which is extraordinary and a great accomplishment for these young designers to have that opportunity to be selling something online."
However, while "Runway" has a runway show solely for the judges to decide who should stay and who should go, "The Fashion Show" takes its name literally and has a full-on fashion show every episode that takes place in front of an audience as well as the regular and guest judges who all weigh in on the designs they see parade down the catwalk. In terms of the audience participation, Mallis explained, "there is an audience at each fashion show, and an audience who votes, and speaks and has their opinions heard, which is important because the clothing is ultimately made and designed for customers, and the end of the season you know America will vote, and as well it should." For example, in the first episode, Rowland reads some of the not-so-kind comments provided by the fashion show audience and the designers must hear them in front of their competitors.
As much as their roles were to be as truthful and, at times, harsh with the criticism they put on the designers, the intention of all the judges was to help make the designers better and not merely dampen their respective spirits. Rowland offered, "I think that every week when myself, Isaac and Fern were talking to these designers and letting them know you know whether it was the body shape that they were designing for, or the color that they should use, or you know even the way they basically present their clothes down the runway. We made sure that every single thing that we could possibly do to get them to better themselves, or to grow, or to even stay in the competition, we wanted to get that point across, and I think they got it." Rowland then quickly added, "Some got it, some didn't."
The very vocal Mizrahi admitted that he had a difficult time not telling the designers what they could do to make some not-so-great designs better but keeping his mouth shut was a matter of legalities. "It's kind of like that Tom Colicchio moment in "Top Chef," when he goes in and sort of checks in with the chefs. And I kind of now know what Tom was going through, because I know that he looks at a certain thing and says, 'Oh, no, no, no, no, no.' I went in there every day thinking like if only I could say to that person like you know � you know no print, or those pleats are wrong, or the zippers in the wrong place or something but I couldn't. I had to hold to tongue at all cost, and that was a legal thing."
And what of the designers? There is a good mix that runs the gamut from the fifteen contestants who are quiet and focused to others who are ultra-flamboyant. For every 23-yr old like Kristin who is younger than most of the designers on the show, there is Merlin, who is not only eccentric with his all-red pantsuit and flashy hats-with-feathers but also not afraid to be bitchy with his competitors. Not shy about his talent, Merlin may brag that "My fashion is like a fingerprint" on the Bravo website, but he is confronted with the challenges of working with a group in the first episode and his abrasiveness quickly alienates more than one fellow contestant. "The difference with Merlin," Mizrahi said, "is that he has a sick personality, but he's also quite a good designer, one of the better ones you know and so it was difficult because at some point you just want to � we wanted to eliminate him just because he was so obnoxious."
Despite all the drama that goes on between the contestants, Mallis said viewers could expect a progression with some designers who needed a jolt of reality to get serious about the competition. "I think there were lots of light bulbs that went off at all different times. You know there were some people who, from my perspective, some of them are designers and have collections, and yet some of them boldly admit throughout the course of the show that they don't know how to sew, or they don't know how to do something, and we'd all look at each other and go you know that just doesn't work. You better get some sewing. How do you do that job if you don't know how to do so much of it?"
Mizrahi spoke of one designer who surprised him with his/her longevity in the competition. "I noticed that, and there's one in particular that I'm thinking of. I will not give away who this person was, but this person started out as really an outside horse. This person I thought would have been eliminated within three of the shows, and now this person is one of the strongest contenders of all. That person really, really listened to us when we asked it � when we asked this person to step it up and to really focus on fabrics and now that person has every chance of winning and it's shocking to me. I thought that person would have been eliminated long ago."
While competing in a reality show is one thing, the judges all agreed that competing in the real fashion industry can be even more cutthroat. Aside from talent, what is the one thing that Mizrahi feels every aspiring designer must possess? "I think it's the ability to surprise people," he said. "You know, you have to really be able to surprise people. It's like I think of a prizefighter, and like the way they kind of faint, and they kind of � you know they fake, and they fool, and then they throw a punch that no one expects you know. It's all about surprise and timing."
To see who surprises and who wins the competition, tune into "The Fashion Show" every Thursday at 10:00/9:00c on Bravo.