We’ve come a long way from Fashion Star‘s first episode, when our hero Kara Laricks brought her signature collar stand and tie accessory to the runway, only to have the buyers raise their eyebrows and ask if Kara was a one trick pony. Nothing defies such a statement like last night’s finale, where Kara and the two other finalists, Ronnie Escalante and Nzmiro Oputa, had four days to create nine signature looks in hopes of wooing all three buyers for the $6 million prize.
The episode began with Jessica Simpson‘s runway debut, which looked like an ode to fashion stars who didn’t make it: a maxi beach cover up a la Nikki Poulos? A full polka dot sundress a la Ross Bennett? I’m tempted to comment on the fringe festival Jessica Simpson was wearing herself, but will instead take the Kara Laricks high road (it’s no small feat to never be portrayed as snarky on a reality television show) and simply say, “Bless her fashion heart.”
The episode continued at full tilt, debuting three-piece capsule collections for each of the buyers. First up was H&M, where fun and commercial appeal were the name of the game. Kara designed some fabulous trousers shorts in peony red, a color blocked dress that confused me for being both long and short, and a little tailored suit with some drop-crotch harem pants.
Ronnie whipped up a stunning women’s suit (don’t steal all of our girl Kara’s thunder!), a to-die for jump suit, and a classic LBD with a flowy silhouette.
Nzmiro cast his menswear magic with one exception, and went out on a limb to create a pair of cute capris, tailored sleeveless button down with complimentary vest. He said for the pieces he took his menswear ideas and just scaled them down for women. Hmmm, menswear refashioned for women, where have we seen that one before? Looks like Kara’s influence is already being felt.
The mentors weigh in, which really is only worth it for the Nzmiro/Nicole Richie flirtation. Best line of the night is after Jessica compliments Nzmiro’s nude scarf, Nzmiro smiles and says, “They’re Nicole’s pantyhose.” Ha! We also get a quick shot of Team Kara in the audience: her mother, sister, girlfriend Melissa and a former student of hers, all beaming. Too cute.
Nikki Christe of H&M is impressed: she compliments Kara’s dress for its “new rendition of a circle print” (I’m putting that in my fashion lexicon), but admits that the drop crotch suit pants are “bold but difficult.” Nzmiro is praised for nailing it with his women’s clothes (seriously, I would snatch up that whole ensemble in a New York minute), and Ronnie, while his collection lacks color, would still be a hit with H&M customers.
Next up: Saks Fifth Avenue, where the designers can be more creative and less consumer conscious. Nzmiro names Kara the Saks Princess, since Terren Schaefer has been smitten with her from the beginning, and her clothes always sell to Saks. (“Are you currently making fun of me right now?” Kara grins. I’m hoping Nzmiro and Kara’s friendship lasts long after the credits roll!)
In her element, Kara creates some looks that, while echoing items she’s already made (didn’t we see that trench last week?), nails everything: a long, flowing pant that wraps around in front to imitate a skirt (you have to see it to believe it), a haute couture floor length dress with killer detail in the back, and a white trench with leather details that rule.
Ronnie has never sold to Saks, so he tries to dig deep, creating a super sexy white women’s suit, flowing evening gown in a bold rose pattern, and a structured dress that’s all sparkle in the front with great detail.
Nzmiro has never wooed Terren — there’s a quick clip of Terren flipping through Nzmiro collection, muttering “NG” for No Good — but he puts his best foot (best vest?) forward with a capsule collection titled Beast to Boardwalk. (Should “beast” ever be invoked in menswear? Let’s not think about it.) His pieces include a surfer type knit vest, an over sized cardigan, and a button down shirt that I can’t tell is shiny or not.
John Varvatos calls Kara’s dress “friggin’ gorgeous,” and she begins to weep. Nicole describes Ronnie’s white tux by shouting the porn-worthy “bow-chicka-bow-wow.” All of these things are true. Terren gives a nod to Nzmiro’s beach weekend, without excess. Ronnie he questions for not having a coherent collection (quiet Ronnie momentarily pipes up to defend himself, and Nikki of H&M backs him up.) But, as we could’ve guessed, Kara remains the apple of his eye. “You are absolutely a leader,” he tells her.
Last but not least is Macy’s, where commercial appeal and accessibility rule. Kara’s a little stumped on this, not wanting to compromise her signature masculine influence for mass appeal, but says she’s determined to make something “all women want.” Nzmiro also needs to reign in his creativity to hit a bulls eye here. Ronnie, meanwhile, is on a roll, creating a tailored tuxedo for women (really, have we ever seen more menswear for women before tonight?), another bold rose patterned silk dress, this time with high leg slit (paging Angelina!), and three-quarter length sleeve dress with a great center panel of pattern. As they watch each other work, Nzmiro thinks that Ronnie is his main competition right now.
On the runway, Nzmiro nails it: a color block polo shirt, hooded cardigan (give me one, like, now), and a blue button down with jeans, simple yet banging.
And our girl Kara knocks it out of the park: a cute black shift dress with adorable pocket detail which matches the lining of the dress, and her signature blouse with tie, paired with jacket and tailored white shorts. Caprice Willard of Macy’s is wowed, complementing the versatility of her suit, but still hung up on how accessible her looks are. Nzmiro is totally sellable, as is Ronnie, but she’s concerned about how Ronnie’s pieces could be a collection.
With all the buyers now served, it’s time to deliberate. The conversation between mentors and buyers is quick and edited, but the favorites are obvious. Saks immediately pitches for Kara, saying “I feel very strongly about her.” H&M and Macy’s quickly counter by doubting about her accessibility and commercial appeal. The conversation appears to have slammed Kara from the running. Nicole is on Team Nzmiro all the way, citing how he’s taken advice, listened, and always delivered. Ronnie is a perennial fave, but as Macy’s points out, there’s a lot of Ronnies already on the floor.
The finalists are brought back on stage, and the mentors bid their final best wishes. Jessica Simpson cries. Kara weeps. Nzmiro and Ronnie look like they’re about to keel over in suspense. John Varvatos holds Jessica and Nicole’s hands. The finalists turn to face the buyers a final time. Who is America’s first ever fashion star?
It’s a long time since I’ve jumped up from my couch to scream while watching television, but that is exactly what I did when our girl Kara Laricks was crowned national fashion sweetheart. If you had told me that a queer woman who values androgyny and creating masculine-flavored clothing for female bodies would win $6 million dollars in a mainstream competition, I would’ve scoffed. But it’s true!
Streamers erupt from the ceiling. Elle Macpherson tries to ask Kara how she feels through Kara’s adorable shock and tears. “I feel so overwhelmed,” she gushes. Then there’s a shot of her embracing girlfriend Melissa. Now I’m weeping. Time to dig out my credit card and snag some of Kara’s awesome designs from Macy’s. Or Saks! Or H&M! Bonus feature: her in store collections will include items not shown tonight (like those awesome black cropped pants Kara herself rocked with heels during the finale). Congratulations, Kara! Let’s hope this is just the beginning of more queer fashion in the world!