Elle Macpherson is well aware that “Fashion Star” is going to get compared to “Project Runway.” Both shows are contests for aspiring fashion designers. Both shows are hosted by a supermodel who is also an executive producer of the show (Heidi Klum for “Project Runway,” Macpherson for “Fashion Star”). And both shows have a grand prize which gives the winner a financial chance to become a successful designer.
But the grand prize for “Fashion Star” is much more lucrative than “Project Runway’s” grand prize. The winner of “Fashion Star” will get $6 million in orders from Macy’s, H&M and Saks Fifth Avenue. “Project Runway’s” grand prize includes $100,000 and a fashion spread in Marie Claire magazine. The three judges on “Fashion Star” are buyers from Macy’s, H&M and Saks Fifth Avenue. “Project Runway” has one mentor (Tim Gunn), while “Fashion Star” has three: Jessica Simpson, John Varvatos and Nicole Richie. In this interview that Macpherson did by telephone conference call with journalists, here is what she had to say about “Fashion Star” and her secrets for her longevity in the fashion industry.
How did executive producer Ben Silverman, convince you to do “Fashion Star”? And what did you initially think of the idea behind it especially given the unique shopping angle?
First of all, I’m thrilled to be working with Ben Silverman and all my producers: 5×5, Electus and Magical Elves. It’s been a really team effort as far as getting the show up and running. I was very interested in the concept because I had seen something a few years ago where I saw a fashion show streamed live from Japan about three years ago. And I noticed that you could move your mouse across the model and click onto the garments and buy them immediately. And I knew that this was revolutionary as far as fashion and shopping was concerned.
And so when I spoke to Ben about it and the format came up for “Fashion Star,” it really felt right for me and felt right for where we are today, as far as technology and shopping is concerned. And that coupled with wonderful heartfelt stories of these 14 unknown designers and a big stage show felt fresh.
What kind of designer do you think could most benefit from “Fashion Star”?
I love the fact that it is clothing that we can wear every day. I think we’re more relaxed as a society in the kind of clothes we want to wear. You know, “Fashion Star” promotes people that can create an evening dress but also a jeans and T-shirt. And I think these are modern designers creating everyday wear for everyday people.
As a model and having worked with different designers and wearing different designers, do you ever wish that you could offer your own opinion on the fashions to the designers during the show?
We have fantastic mentors between Jessica [Simpson], John [Varvatos] and Nicole [Richie] and of course the retailers, so there’s plenty of people giving really experienced feedback to our designers. And I feel that my role is more to orchestrate the proceedings rather than to give my opinion on these very talented designers. They’ve got great people that are really supporting them through this process.
What do you think is scarier for the designers: to facing the mentors or the buyers?
Obviously, the stakes are very high because there’s immediate buys and sells from the buyers on the day. I love the fact with this show that there is a winner every week so it’s not like we’re all holding out for the grand prize at the end. Every week a designer has an opportunity to be a winner even if they don’t win the whole competition they can make a sale to Macy’s, Saks or H&M. And I think that’s what’s really interesting in this program.
People can tune in having not watched the beginning of the series they can tune in halfway through and still have excitement and watching a single episode. It’s not like you have to follow the designers all the way through to get the thrill as an audience because there is this buying and selling on stage immediately every night. The designers really want to get positive feedback from their mentors because they are iconic and are stars themselves.
But, of course, making a sale is paramount because as long as they make a sale each week they’re safe. If they don’t make a sale they risk elimination and risk being sent home. So it’s obviously important that they do get a sale. I would like to add that the retailers are choosing very well because the clothes that they are buying are being sold out week after week after week. So this shopping aspect is working for the designers, for the retailers and for the viewers at home.
Do you have a favorite design on the show so far?
There’s been a few. And I’m a little bit ahead because I’m editing [Episodes] 7, 8 and 9 at the moment so I have to be very careful about what I say. This week the challenge is working in a team and creating a store window. And there’s some great concepts coming through. And so I would urge everybody to tune in this week and see the concepts for the store windows. It’s quite fun.
You look so amazing. What is your secret for staying so youthful?
Oh, it’s the lighting. You know, I’m old school. It’s all about good hair and makeup and lighting. And great wardrobe. I had Alex White from W do my styling. For me it’s professional stuff more than anything else.
How do you think your personal style has evolved over the years? Are you more casual now? Do you still love dressing up? How is that going?
I have two styles; I have my working outfits, my wardrobes that is my show. It’s like my game face or my show face and then I have my “at home running around taking my kids on the school run” type of thing. I do know that as I’ve matured and I’m more confident in who I am on the inside I worry less about how making mistakes on the outside.
I think fashion is really interesting because we can really express ourselves through fashion. And today I can be frivolous, I can be fun, I can experiment and it’s all OK as long as it reflects what I’m feeling and it’s true to me, then I feel confident.
That wasn’t always the case. I think when I was younger I wanted to get it right or I wanted to be on trend or I wanted to look like a model or look like what people expected from me. Today, I use fashion the way I think fashion is meant to be: It’s supposed to be fun.
And I certainly have fun on the show. There are some serious get-ups. When I look back, I laugh at them. I think, “What was I thinking when I wore those black tight leather pants?” There was a bit of cringe-factor going on there for me but, you know, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
What it’s like being on stage with a designer who hasn’t got any buyers?
It’s interesting because I feel very connected to all the designers. We do quite a bit of work with them backstage. I see their journey throughout the week. As a producer I get to see their packages. I know where they’ve come from. I know the hard work, the anxiety and their stories really touch me.
And so obviously, on stage I have more of a poker face and I need to do that. But from a personal level, I follow the designers very closely. I have their triumphs and tribulations with them.
Is it quite hard to stay impartial and not have favorites?
I feel it’s important as host that I’m balanced and nonjudgmental. And I hope that my performance reflects that. I think it’s quite important to be fair and balanced in my presentation of each designer.
So what one piece of advice would you give aspiring designers?
Watch “Fashion Star” because it’s a good show. It’s a cool show. And it gives a different aspect from designing because a lot of shows talk about how to create clothes and this is really the other part which is equally important so it’s not only to how to create clothes but how to sell and to market fashion.
And I feel that this is a different perspective on the fashion industry. It is just as much about shopping as it is about creating fashion. And also it’s about heartfelt stories. Rhese people’s lives and what it takes behind what it takes from a personal aspect to be where they are which is on this huge stage creating clothes that are being bought and sold on the day so that the viewers at home can also have access to them immediately, which is phenomenal.
How do you think “Fashion Star” has impacted the various designers in terms of their own brand awareness even the ones who aren’t on the show anymore?
It’s phenomenal to have the kind of exposure that these designers have had. Also the mentoring from these iconic designers between Jessica, John and Nicole. And actually, all the designers have made sales in one capacity or another.
So having that validation from huge retailers like Macy’s, Saks and H&M is surely to make a difference to them both as far as confidence building, exposure to the general public and exposure to the kind of advice that they’ve had. I feel that it’s a fantastic opportunity for these young designers. And a great opportunity for us, for the viewers at home to be able to tap into these designers and be able to participate by buying immediately and wearing immediately anybody who wins.
Since you’ve built such a great brand yourself, how do you see the future of fashion as more and more designers become big brands?
Fashion is becoming more and more accessible. The fact that we have a fashion show on network television in itself speaks wonders because today fashion has been niche. It’s been kept in cable and it … has been a niche business.
But it is now a business that is global and it is a business that affects the music industry, it affects the film industry, the beauty industry. And it is a big business and people are interested in it. There are whole television stations that are dedicated to fashion. And I think it’s a fantastic testament to the growth of a society’s desire to express ourselves though the clothes that we wear.
You’ve always been known as a supermodel and while some of your contemporaries from that time have kind of faded into the background, you have always stayed very much in the forefront. Was that part of the plan or did it just happen that way?
I started this industry when I was going to law school and wanting to go to Brown University thinking, “Oh, I think I’ll be a model for 30 years.” It sort of didn’t cross my mind. But as I started to work and get more involved and really loved some of the opportunities that I had been exposed to and having the courage to try new things, I felt that I’ve been inspired by stepping out of my comfort zone consistently and having courage to try new things.
And I love what I do, I do what I love. I follow my heart. There’s no sort of end game plan other than to make sure that every choice I make is a choice that I believe in. And I really believed in this project. I believe that it’s a fun, new, creative, modern way to shop. I feel that it gives great opportunity to these young designers. The show itself is really cool to watch. You know, Nicole Richie is hysterical …
I do want to reiterate that it’s not a show that you have to start from the beginning and watch it all the way through. There are some people that are tuning in third and fourth week and are saying, “Wow, we’re really loving this show,” whether they’ve seen the beginning the opening episodes or not. Thank goodness they’re tuning in because as a host I feel like I get better as the series goes on.
How are you enjoying being an executive producer of “The Fashion Show”?
I’ve always produced, I mean, from the early days. I left my modeling agency in the ‘80s and started my own business, Elle Macpherson, Inc. And most of what I’ve done has had production elements in it. I’ve produced my own calendars; I’ve produced the workout videos. I’ve produced the making of the calendars. In my lingerie business I’m creative director of my lingerie business which means I’m often producing photo shoots and producing the website material.
I’ve always been hands-on but simply because I love working in a team. And I love seeing projects that I start all the way through. I like the beginning, the middle and the end and the sell-through. And for example I was in Cannes last week selling the show and we’ve sold the show into 75 countries … It was just as exciting for me as speaking to Ben Silverman about the concept of the show. So I feel very invigorated by this whole process and particularly by this show.
Do you feel that you’re sort of picking up and learning certain things from the judges and the buyers that you might not have thought of, that you might even use for your fashion line?
That’s a really good question. I wish that I had had the mentoring from such powerhouses as Jessica, John and Nicole when I was starting out. And I certainly wish my lingerie, Elle Macpherson Intimates, was available at Macy’s, Saks and H&M, which it’s not. So these designers are getting certainly a springboard to a positioning that I have never had and still don’t have. So to some extent, I’m envious and excited for these young designers because it’s a truly phenomenal opportunity.
Have you ever wanted to pull the buyers aside and say, “Hey, while you’re here do you want to look at my stuff?”
Oh, I don’t think that hasn’t passed my mind.
How do you feel the differing backgrounds of the judges and yourself help to give the show a more diverse and entertaining feel?
I think the most important thing is that because everybody comes from different backgrounds they’re quite able to speak from experience about a journey in the sense that I’ve started doing one thing and I finished doing something else through, because I had a passion, I was committed, I was dedicated, I believed in myself, I had courage and tenacity and discipline. And so these judges or the mentors are in a fantastic position to be able to communicate that message to these young designers some of whom have started off working in offices and are now on the Fashion Star stage. So they can really speak from experience.
I also empathize with these young designers because I wasn’t a designer. I was a girl that wanted to go to law school. And then I became a model and then I started designing lingerie and now I’m producing a television show. So I have my own journey. And I can talk to these contestants backstage and say I understand how scary it is to try something new. But with courage and commitment, dedication and passion we can do it. And we’re all living examples of that.
You’ve also done some acting over the years. Would you like to get back into that side of the industry, or are you just sort of enjoying the hosting and the television and production and your fashion work?
I’m really excited by “Fashion Star.” I feel that it’s fun and a cool new entry into television programming and shopping. So it’s captured my attention for now. And I’m putting all my energies into this. And in the future hopefully we’ll see where this goes.
What is that “it” factor that you recognize or are looking for in some of these designers?
The mentors are looking to inspire these designers to create outside their comfort zones at times. And the retailers are looking at how well they execute the challenges that have been set for them each week and still create garments that America wants to wear. It’s quite a challenge for the designers, I have to say. You know, they’re not easy tasks.
And it really requires discipline, commitment, passion, love for what they’re doing, courage to try new things. And I love this show because it really shows the stories behind these people, the heartfelt stories behind these people and what it takes for them to realize their dreams.
Is there a fashion trend right now that kind of makes you cringe?
I love to see people express themselves through their clothes whatever that is. Anything worn with confidence works by me. It’s when people try to follow trends that don’t really work for them or that they don’t believe in or they don’t understand or they’re just doing it because that seems like the cool thing to do that’s when it doesn’t come off as well. But what I love about “Fashion Star” is it’s really about promoting individuality.
And when the viewers at home can really tune in each week and wear the winner of every episode and they choose those winners, to wear those winners and we know that they are choosing them because all the clothes are sold out because they love the stories behind the clothes. They love the trends, they love the fashions but they also love the stories behind the clothes. And I think that’s really important.
In 1994, you left Ford Modeling Agency and started Elle Macpherson, Inc. What piece of advice would you have for people who are considering leaving the safety of their present situation to launch out on their own?
I would say leap and watch the net appear. Take a leap of faith and watch the net appear. It always does.
Has your body done anything bizarre since you’ve turned 40 and what have you done about it?
Yes, I have this fantastic phenomenon that happened and it’s truly a gift from God is that my eyesight went about the same time as the elasticity in my skin. So I actually when I see myself I look quite good but I’m a bit on the blurry side. It’s when I put my glasses on that I get a bit of a wakeup call. So I just feel I’ve been totally blessed with having the two go at the same time because I don’t see it so much. Mother Nature was good to me.
Your oldest son is a teenager. Is he taking it easy on you? Are you experiencing any challenges sometimes associated with having a teenager?
My son is a healthy, feisty, opinionated, courageous, stubborn, rebellious, beautiful, smelly teenager and I love him for it all.
Have you considered celebrating with another photo shoot for Playboy?
That’s not high on my agenda, let me put it that way. Not sure it’s appropriate at this time.
You’ve mentioned that you weren’t interested in changing how you look so much as building the right environment to present yourself. What are the best ways for an everyday woman to translate that advice to her daily life if she doesn’t have the whole team?
Oh, that’s a really good question. I feel that finding styles that work for you and sticking to them is a really healthy way of looking your best at all times. And what’s wonderful about “Fashion Star” is if you look at these designers every week and you watch the girls walk down the runway you get a hint on how to wear the clothes; not only what to wear but how to wear them.
So what kind of hair and makeup are they teaming with that dress? What kind of shoe are they teaming with that dress? So by watching others and trying new things on yourself by trying new things we can get a total look. And when you get a total look that works you can kind of apply it to different outfits.
How far in advance do you have to film to make sure that all the fashions will be available and on the racks right away?
“Fashion Star” was shot in August , so that it was ready for the consumer to buy in March . It would probably take – it can take anywhere from four to six months for some of these clothes to be manufactured and fed in line. And it was incredibly important for us as a team the concept behind “Fashion Star” was this idea of immediate gratification, that the viewers at home could go online, could buy the clothes immediately. And it took some organization from these wonderful retailers, Macy’s, Saks and H&M to manufacture and to buy and to present them in-store in a way that we felt was appropriate for “Fashion Star.”
This program is so cool because every week you can tune in, you can wear the winner. And clearly it’s working because the clothes are sold out. And you guys at home are loving it. So thanks to everybody who’s supporting the show. Keep tuned, keep watching. It just gets better; the show gets better. And even if you missed the first couple of episodes you can still tune in and watch some great, fun bidding and buying and some great mentoring.
Did you always have courage to do things and take those leaps of faith? Where did you get that courage? Was it something you were born with or did your parents always encourage it?
It’s interesting. It has been said that why do small businesses do well and it’s because they don’t know any better. It’s like why do children ski really well? It’s because they don’t know what could happen to them if they fall. And I feel that a lot of the choices that have been made, I’ve made instinctively at the time. And had I known what they entailed perhaps I wouldn’t have done it. But just as well because they’ve been the biggest steps forward in my life.
Being Australian and having a warrior spirit, as Americans do, I feel has been a big help. And that’s something that we have in common this adventurous spirit. And one of the reasons why I love America so much. I love the people. I love the can-do adventure willingness to try new things and the enthusiasm that Americans have. I feel very close to the people in America.
Do you see “Fashion Star” going on for 10 seasons, 12 seasons?
I love “Fashion Star.’ And I just hope that people tune in and love it as much as I do. I know it’s a new concept; it’s a new way of doing things. It’s fresh. And sometimes that takes a little while for people to understand that it is such a great show. I’ve had a lot of fun making it. And I’m having a lot of fun watching it. And I believe people are loving the show because our ratings are very good. The clothes have sold out. And as far as I’m concerned it’s a success.
And it’s wonderful to see it being so well-received overseas. You know, as I said we’ve sold it in 75 countries and counting before we’re even finished the series. So it’s wonderful to see people enjoying this program and loving these fantastic designers, the stories behind them, the heartfelt stories behind them, the funny mentors, the powerful retailers, the great stage production and this innovative way of shopping immediately.
For more info: “Fashion Star” website
RELATED LINKS ON nextooze.com:
Interview with Elle Macpherson for “Fashion Star,” 2011
Interview with Jessica Simpson for “Fashion Star”
Interview with Nicole Richie for “Fashion Star”
Interview with John Varvatos for “Fashion Star”
“Fashion Star” news and reviews