Tonight The Fashion Show's second season premieres on Bravo with Iman replacing Kelly Rowland as a new host alongside Isaac Mizrahi. Harper's Bazaar's Laura Brown is the new judge, replacing Fern Mallis. The show's inaugural season was the network's attempt at replacing Project Runway when it moved to Lifetime, leaving a glaring void in the channel's fashion category. However, The Fashion Show was a feeble attempt: No one knew what gave Kelly Rowland the credibility to judge a fashion competition, Mizrahi came off as oddly cruel in his criticisms instead of constructive and mentorlike, and Fern Mallis failed to become a great American television persona, as Nina Garcia has managed to do with Runway. However, we watched The Fashion Show's second season premiere, after hearing from Mizrahi himself that the show would be much better, and we have to agree with him.
The show is structured a lot like Runway: Iman is, like Heidi Klum, the primary host and judge. Mizrahi's role is a cross between what Michael Kors and Tim Gunn do on Runway, serving as a mentor who (constructively, this time) critiques the designers' work before the final shows, which he then judges. Bazaar's Brown sits on the judging panel to offer criticism like Nina Garcia in a foreign accent (Australian!). However, where The Fashion Show differs from Runway is that designers must compete in two teams, each representing "fashion houses." Contestants create individual looks that become one of two collections. So the designers must work with their competitors to win as a group, but also against them, which only stands to make the backstabbing that much more intriguing. As Mizrahi points out on the show, working in teams is a more realistic representation of how fashion labels function in the real world. Granted, so many of the other conditions, like spending the weeks filming the show locked in rooms with no cell phone or access to media or seeing Iman every day in the flesh, have little bearing on the real world at all.
That the first season of The Fashion Show didn't work was kind of befuddling if you think about it. Mizrahi has the kind of personality that's made for television, and fashion-design contests seldom get old to the millions of people in this country who care about clothing and celebrities and girly drama. However, this time, the show has a clearer, more functional format, and perhaps most importantly Iman, who is a force of the small screen all her own. She's instantly terrifying, gorgeous, and awe-inspiring, telling the designers that since she's worked with John Galliano and every other legend in fashion, she won't stand for crappy clothes. For the first challenge, the group has to dress her, which is, to say the least, intimidating.
This season's contestants seem to fit the formula for a perfect reality competition show. You have the token crazy person who wears a watch on each wrist and thinks he's awesome when, oh wait, he's not; the token older, wiser character everyone gets along with; the token girl who pins tulle flowers in her hair; and the couple of straights who have to tell people all the time, no, they're not gay just because they're fashion designers who like yoga! So if you love reality television but think Project Runway has gotten a little tired, you might enjoy The Fashion Show. Bravo can't really afford to have it fail a second time, but just in case it doesn't quite take, it can be no accident that it premiered again after Runway's last season ended.