Ever since the fashion design competition Project Runway became an unmitigated success, a parade of reality TV shows attempting to replicate its formula — The Fashion Show, Launch My Line, Mad Fashion — have stumbled down the catwalk. Is NBC's newest reality series Fashion Star, which debuts Tuesday night, simply another "cheap Project Runway knockoff?" Hosted by Elle MacPherson, the reality competition puts its twist on the Runway format by asking the question, "Who besides a supermodel would ever wear this stuff?" Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie, and designer John Varvatos mentor contestants on how to make their designs more marketable before the designers show their creations to corporate buyers from Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, and H&M. Designs that receive a bid from one of the retailers become available for purchase online immediately, and in stores the next day. Does Fashion Star's focus on creating marketable clothing set it apart?

This show is terrific: Fashion Star is instantly gratifying, although the fact that designs become available for purchase immediately might just confirm the "transformation of television into one giant commercial," says Neil Genzlinger at The New York Times. "But dang it, it's kind of fun." The runway shows boast entertaining bombast and theatrical spectacle, and Richie and Simpson are winning and surprisingly intelligent as mentors. Plus, the eclectic designers are "real stars." But the main reason to tune-in: You will really want to wear the clothes, too.
"The closet question: Who would wear this stuff?"

But it lacks soul: Fashion Star is so appealingly flashy and fun that it makes Project Runway "seem like a seventh grade home economics class," says Christopher Muther at The Boston Globe. But for all that "sheer visual gloss," it lacks the heart of its reality TV predecessor. Viewers don't get to see the challenges the designers face in building their creations, and we're largely robbed of seeing their interactions with each other. As such, there are no "heroes and villains" of the variety that make Project Runway so entertaining.
"Fast-moving Fashion Star goes for the gloss"

It's a fashion disaster: This is essentially "the first highly-promoted infomercial on primetime TV," says Brian Tallerico at Hollywood Chicago. Most likely, Fashion Star is the brainchild of someone tasked with figuring out "how to advertise clothes to people who fast-forward through commercials." What they came up with is an "overcooked stew" that tries to package too many elements — celebrity mentors, corporate buyers, loud fashion shows, poignant contestant backstories, Elle MacPherson — into a "poorly produced, edited, and put together" reality series. If this were Project Runway, Fashion Star "would be the first one 'out.'"
"TV review: NBC's Fashion Star comes apart at the seams"