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Mentor John Varvatos and the show's executive producer Ben Silverman recently chatted about Fashion Star, so read on to find out what they had to say about the designers, whether there were any backstage rows, and why we can expect to see more from behind the scenes...
What will the winner of Fashion Star need to do to make an impact? Will they get support after the show?
John: "First of all, the exposure that they're getting on television is great, number one. But the whole show is about building a brand. It's not just about building a product. So it's about the life cycle these people have to think about - creating a product, how do you market it, how do you brand it, how do you image it, how do you get it sold, how do you get through those buyers?
"So our role there is to really help guide them through that process, to be able to set them up to be a brand when they leave that show so they've created a breadth of product that's not a one trick pony, something that they can perpetuate and also has a broad reaching consumer base. Which is one of the most intriguing parts of the show - you have to be able to understand how to sell product at all different price points.
"This next show that we're doing is exactly to that point. It's about how do we do a garment that we can sell at the top level and then also do its little sister that still is exciting and has a consumer breadth to it as well that they can buy at an opening price point. It makes the designers think about everything from the fit to the styling to the fabric choices to the colors. It's a whole process. It goes well beyond just being creative at that point of time."
What one piece of advice would you give to someone on the show?
John: "I would say that you've got to think big. You can't get caught up in the one thing you're doing at that moment. You've got to be listening to the buyers, you have to be listening to the mentors. You have to be a sponge and suck up as much information as possible and filter that through your system to what's right for you.
"As we go through the next group of episodes each one of these people have to sell something to each one of the retailers. They can't just be bought by Macy's all the time and get to the end. That's what's great about this week's competition - you truly have to understand the difference between high and low... In the end, the consumer's not a naive consumer today at the lower end. They may not have the money to spend but they're much more fashion astute than they used to be."
Sarah came in with little experience but has been purchased by H&M every three weeks.
Ben: "She's sold out! My wife and I, we watch the show, and every single time my wife's credit card is out. She was so mad she couldn't buy Sarah's skirt!"
John: "She has virtually no experience but she has talent and I think Sarah's biggest challenge is being able to do exactly what I just talked about - being able to understand the different levels of business out there. She definitely has what I call 'the spark'. Our job in the show is to ignite it into a flame. That spark is not so easy to find in our industry - you can interview hundreds of people for design jobs and a lot of them know what's going on out there but to create something on their own is much more difficult."
What does she need to do to get the other two buyers on board?
John: "She needs to think bigger picture. She needs to think, 'OK, if I'm going to be on the Saks floor, what does my competition look like on the Saks floor? What are they offering in terms of look, quality, finish, fit?' Because the buyers are thinking, 'Where would I put it in the store, where would it sell next to, who's the consumer I have presently?' That's what's so exciting for me about the show because these people need to think on their feet. They don't have a lot of time and they need to do as much research as possible.
"That's what makes it exciting and that's what makes every week a little bit different. You can hit it out of the park one week and the next week you can stumble around the bases because you got caught up in one little thing and you weren't thinking big picture."
What do you think of Edmond?
John: "From my point of view, Edmond's another diamond in the rough. Edmond's got a good eye, his enthusiasm and passion is as high as anybody on the show. He's got an electrifying personality and enthusiasm and passion for what he does. Again he doesn't have a lot of experience. I think Edmond's a barber, and I think he's a little bit like Sarah in that this is a big burning passion within him. I look at Edmond and say could he be the Cinderella story?"
How have the buyers surprised you, John?
John: "It's no different than when I deal with the buyers every day! It's one thing to have your own stores and you can do it any way you want and we're lucky we have that as well, but we still need to get through the buyers... You can be super excited about what you're presenting to them in certain cases and they can just wash right over it or, 'It's not right for me', so it's no different.
"So I'm not surprised. I know it's not easy, and it's the one thing we talk to these designers every week about when we're working with them. It's not that they're difficult - they know their business, they know their customer. That's what they're paid for. And how difficult it is to try to outguess them. What you need to understand more than anything else is their stores and who their customer is. If you can dial into that, you'll get bought... This show is not about just having some things for fluff in the store. They're seriously looking at this product as being sold. That's why they're particular and the exciting thing is the clothes are selling out, so they're pretty good buyers I guess!"
How much do the buyers take into account your opinions?
John: "Well they always take into account my opinion! No, just joking. I think there's a respect for each one of the mentors. I think in the end it has to be right for their store and for their customer. But I definitely think that they listen to what we have to say, and I listen to what they have to say. It makes you think why something didn't get bought. They have to think when they see it going down the runway or when they saw it in the studio that maybe they had a preconceived idea... there's a lot going through their heads. And sometimes we're looking at just what it looks like on the runway at that moment.
"That's another thing you'll see more and more and if we all agreed the world wouldn't be interesting. I think that's the other great thing about fashion in the show - Jessica and I sitting there don't agree about the same thing. That's what makes the world go round, that we all have our own opinion."
Did you learn anything from the designers, other mentors or buyers?
John: "I learn something every single day in my studio, in my office and on the show. Listening to the three buyers and the way they approach their stores and their customer makes me think a lot about my business and how I approach it. The designers, sometimes you're looking at something and saying, 'Guys, I'm not sure where you're going with this' and then three hours later I might go back to them and say, 'You know what? I want to take another look... You might be on to something here'. You've got to be open - just like we're asking them to be open and be sponges, I feel that I have to be the same way. It's been a great experience in that way. I know Jessica and Nicole would say exactly the same thing."
John, often the designers get quite stressed in the studio. What's the dynamic like when you're working with them?
Ben: "John's very stress-inducing!"
John: "It is stressful. I mean, I feel like my days are stressed generally because there's so much going on, but they have this very short period of time that they're working on this product that they need to find the fabric, make the design, make the patterns, do the fittings. It's definitely stressful, especially if you don't have a clear thought. Not everything pops out at every moment. And they don't know the challenges until they're presented... a day before the show, two days before the show.
"Even in my world you start on a project and it's not going exactly the way you want it and you have to decide to trash it and start over or fix it. They have to be much quicker because they have such a short period of time to make that decision. That's hopefully where we can be somewhat of a guide to them... But it's stressful and we're there to try to help calm them down a bit. Some of them don't ever get very stressed, but at some point in time over the ten shows I think just about everybody gets stressed at some point in time because the pressure gets bigger as it goes on and the pressure to get bought is so important because they don't want to be eliminated. There's a lot going through their heads... Hopefully we're there to hold their hand a bit through it."
Do you find that they're quite receptive to your advice or have you had any clashes or arguments in the studio?
John: "Never an argument. I would definitely say that internally, I've rolled my eyes a few times. Internally, not externally! Just because I'm thinking, 'Are you kidding me? You don't even want to listen to anything here?' But I'll tell you that that was probably more in the beginning episodes when people were cocky. Then all of a sudden they didn't get bought and they were shot down... If you're smart, you learn that if you've got another chance, maybe you should listen a little bit.
"And there were others that from day one were just sponges and they wanted everybody's thoughts and they wanted to sift through it because that's what they're there for. I can't even say - some of the ones that are a bit cocky about it, maybe they deserve to be in a way with the talent that they have. But again it's not my job to fight with them or tell them what they should do, it's really to say, 'Hey listen, I've done this before... I've got enough scars on my knees from falling down and making mistakes over the years. If you want to listen to a little bit of that and it makes sense to you, great. If you don't want to hear it, that's OK too'."
There's a huge range of contestants in the show, from beginners to professional designers. How did you go about casting?
Ben: "It was an unbelievable process, because we utilised not only the internet and newspapers and fashion oriented press, but we also had people in multiple markets doing castings and looking for people who had real fashion chops. We had thousands of entries. It was incredible to see the range of people who didn't have that much experience to those who already owned their own stores. I think that the other part that was really invaluable in our casting process was being able to talk with the stores generally, so that when we had our final fifty people the stores also could have a little point of view about whether they were people who not only had a great story to tell, but had real chops in terms of fashion expertise."
Did the talent meet your expectations? Exceed it? Were you surprised by the level of talent?
Ben: "I think as you watch the show, you see people who are exceptional. And as you continue to watch the show, you see them flourish, too, with the guidance John, Nicole and Jessica give, but also with the input the buyers are giving from what they like or don't like. And then there are others who just can't rise up in that kind of competition and deliver at the scale that's needed. So overall, we were very happy with the talent pool and the contestant pool. And I think it's demonstrated in the amount of immediate sales they're making and impact their designers are having with the consumer. And I love how broad a range it is - mothers and single people, it's a very diverse cast, which I'm really proud of too."
Have you noticed any designers who have sacrificed their personal style in order to make it through the show? To please the buyers?
John: "No, I haven't. I think they knew what they were walking into when they started. In the end, I think their handwriting is still as clear or even probably clearer by the end because they learned a lot about themselves and where they need to go and how to build their own personality and their own brand. So I don't think so. In life there's always some compromise, I guess, but I don't think any of them really felt that way at all. We never heard a word about it, about any of them complaining about it. I think they're thrilled with the opportunity, thrilled with the exposure, thrilled with the competitiveness of the show. I don't think that was even a question, really."
When the buyers make a bid for, say, $80,000, how does that translate when the designer's done fulfilling the order? How many dresses are they ordering? How do they get paid?
Ben: "They get a percentage of the bid you see, and then if there's long-term success they'll participate. So this is not only a big time statement of their arrival on the national fashion scene, but it's also potentially a lucrative endeavour if they have great success with an item."
John: "When you asked about how many dresses, it all depends on which store. If it's H&M and it's $80,000, it's a lot more dresses than if it's Saks Fifth Avenue."
Will we see more of the design studio in the future?
John: "It's a tough show to edit, because it was never set up to be just about the design. It's about the whole business end of it... and then there's the personalities behind the scenes and the personalities that represent each one of those designers. There's a lot of stories to be told. I think it's a juggling act and as you go further into the competition you'll see more and more of behind the scenes because there's less designers.
"There's more of what really makes them tick and our interaction with them. I'm already starting to see it as the episodes proceed and I think over the next couple of episodes it becomes even more evident. I think Ben would agree, as the season goes on it really becomes this dynamic. You start to see more of the buyers. There's just a lot more going into it."
Fashion Star airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on NBC.