Does fashion ever translate well on to TV? When you look at the mix of shopping, styling, makeover and modeling shows we’ve been bombarded with over the years, often the answer is sadly, no.
Fashion TV has lacked the necessary sparkle to really portray the industry in all its glory, instead delivering us shows which present it as fiercely competitive, brash, brutal at times, false, shallow and duller than dull. Actually, some of those phrases might apply to certain areas of fashion, but dull? Never. So why can’t these TV shows just reflect the industry as the stomach-churning joyride it really is?
Since the introduction of ‘Fashion TV’ in 1997 – the international satellite channel dedicated to fashion news, shows, models and designers – the nature of fashion broadcasting has changed in format. Both in the UK and US, a variety of design, clotheshorse, styling and shopping shows have hit our screens, along with “docu-series” which are like a front row ticket to the fashion world.
In the UK, we’ve had the Grand Dames of makeover TV, Trinny and Susannah, with their series What Not To Wear and Undress the Nation, promising to transform women’s lives and wardrobes. However, the reality showed the posh girl duo fixated with grabbing the rumps and bumps of every woman they found, while using phrases such as “too clitty” to describe their overly tight jeans and “pussy pelmet” for skirts that were a little too short. Unsurprisingly, neither of the pair’s wardrobes suggested they were in a position to dole out advice on how to dress, and they disappeared off our screens.
Then there was fashion stylist, designer and presenter Gok Wan providing his style therapy sessions in How to Look Good Naked, and Gok’s Fashion Fix. One show taught you how to strip off and love your wobbly bits, while the other told you to stick a belt on every outfit you wear and horribly accentuate them; Gok thought you looked great anyway.
It wasn’t long of course until high street guru Mary Portas got in on the act, trying to re-energise British manufacturing with her fashion-docu series, Bottom Line. But there’s only so many episodes about Northerners making ‘kinky knickers’ you can watch, and only so much Mary, too.
So when Styled to Rock, the British version of America’s Project Runway popped up last year, executively produced by style and music icon, Rihanna, we waited with baited breath to see if fashion TV would finally get its moment, paired with an explosive mix of celebrity, music and drama. No is the easy answer to that.
Unfortunately, the show’s budding designers – all competing to create an outfit for the singer to wear on stage – were annoyingly over-the-top and false, much like the show’s hosts, and with low ratings and a struggle for viewers, it was styled to hit rock bottom. So we sent it over to the US instead.
Speaking of the US, they too have produced their fair share of eyebrow-raising fashion TV, such as 2008‘s Stylista, the reality show which starred US ELLE’s fashion news director, Anne Slowey. Complete with high hair and high stilettos, Slowey presided over contestants all vying for an editorial post at the fashion bible. The show didn’t return for a second season.
More high stilettos dominated Running In Heels, which followed three interns at Marie Claire, all of whom thought they were entering the glam end of fashion, but were actually thrown in at the deep and ugly end, minus the usual stunt challenges seen in reality shows. The program might have had legs (pardon the pun), if they replaced intern Talita with ANYONE else. The graduate hailed from the Lauren Conrad Institute of Design and Merchandising (otherwise known as FIDM in Los Angeles) and owned a Chihuahua named Chanel–say no more.
The US is also responsible for Heidi Klum’s Project Runway, and America’s Next Top Model, created by Tyra Banks, which should just be re-named America’s Next Top Tyra, judged by Tyra, styled by Tyra, and starring only Tyra. There have been spin-offs of the show’s format around the globe too, including the UK and Australia, but let’s not talk about those.
Celebrity super stylist, Rachel Zoe, also got in on the action with her self-titled show The Rachel Zoe Project, which followed her daily fashion life. And of course, how could I forget E!‘s Fashion Police, with the caustic humour of Joan Rivers, which sees an LA-based “celebrity” panel evaluate red carpet and other fashion disasters. If you’ve ever managed to actually sit through an entire show without your eyes rolling backwards, congrats. I also avoid watching it because Joan’s face frightens my little shitzhu.
Hollywood is continuing to get into bed with fashion TV, as Charlize Theron’s production company is behind the yet-to-air show Whose Closet Is It Anyway?, which will take three women and swap their wardrobes, helping them change the way they think about personal style. Yes, yet another fashion makeover show we don’t need. Why can’t Charlize just hold a search for the person whose hair, beauty regime and style most resembles hers in the 2003 film Monster, and then make them over? I’ve seen a few people on the tube in the morning I could nominate.
Most recently, British fashion TV has been flirting with supermodels on The Face, where modeling ingenues compete in teams to impress their fashion leaders – those leaders being Caroline Winberg, Erin O’Connor, and from the land of ‘where legs go on forever’, Naomi Campbell. The show’s agenda was to tell it exactly like it is in the world of modeling, by kicking one person off planet fashion at a time.
Next up in the US is Under the Gunn, from Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, another fashion competition show in which he and three other know-it-all’s mentor 15 up-and-coming designers. The show premieres early next year and is essentially a copy-and-paste of Project Runway, but with Rachel Roy, stylist Jen Rade and Marie Claire editor Zanna Roberts Rassi in the judges seats.
Is it too much to ask to have a fashion TV show which not only holds our attention span for longer than 3 seconds, but actually reflects the dark and eclectic eccentricity which surrounds our industry? A show which explores the multifarious moments, elements, personalities and characters which make it so interesting to be part of?
Most of the shows aired so far make my face screw up awkwardly in the same way it does when I see a Terry Richardson shoot.
Even the uber-satire of Absolutely Fabulous came closer to representing fashion truthfully, and let’s be honest, most of us know a Patsy or Edina in real life.
Please TV producers, ditch the war of the poses shows, that format is as overdone as a dry Christmas turkey. And forget the ‘fashwan wannabes’ filled with more ego than Kanye, competing to make a dress a 5-year-old could sew together. Or fashion hasbeens telling me what Shirley on the supermarket checkout would look good in, because I just don’t care.
Fashion isn’t just about pretty frocks and pretty people, it’s a creative zeitgeist born from art, photography, music, film, design, architecture, books, all kinds of influences impacting one another. And at its core, it’s a business which both reflects and informs popular culture.
Unlike Rachel Zoe who proclaims “I die!” when something about fashion excites her, I also die a little (and not in a good way), every time another show about the industry hits our screens. Give us some serious fashion on the box for a change please.