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All on the Line

June 1, 2011

Given the well documented excesses of the fashion industry it’s not surprising that it has become a favorite backdrop for reality television. Shows like Project Runway and The Fashion Show document the “talent” (we’re using that word loosely) needed to break into the industry, while The Rachel Zoe Project would have viewers believe that life’s just one long Chanel sponsored cocktail party. But for the most part, no show has really addressed what happens in between, when you’re no longer an upstart, but not yet on par with Lagerfeld, and struggling with the much less seductive task of building a successful fashion brand.

Which is why I’m obsessed with Sundance’s All on the Line, and spent the long weekend catching up on the entire  first season. Each week Joe Zee tries to resurrect the career of a struggling designer. Granted, I’m a huge fashion and business nerd and absolutely enamored with Joe Zee — but personal biases aside it really is a great how-to for anyone looking to become a successful designer, and in classic reality tv style, there’s some good, some bad, and some things that are strictly for the cameras.

You can watch all the episodes here, and the show has just been picked up for a second season. My fashion business dork is giddy with anticipation.

Julia Alarcon

The Good: Though I’m typically not a fan of excessive waterworks, it is nice to see Julia’s passion…even if she did cry a lot.
The Bad: Julia is delusional about her market. Yes, some women have no problem dropping $1,100 on a dress, but these women are typically buying from established brands like Chanel and Gucci, not scrappy upstarts.
Strictly for the Cameras: The whole re-naming bit was kind of ridiculous, and ultimately anti-climatic. I actually thought Zee’s initial reaction was sarcasm, and had to re-watch the clip several times before I realized he was being sincere. Overall it seemed like a last-minute effort to stretch out the footage.

Leila Shams:

The Good: “But you have heard of a designer named Herve Leger, who already does bandage dressing …in a much more elevated level.” Amazingly Zee’s critiques are snarky and constructive without actually being mean.
The Bad: “Taste is not something that I’ve worked a lot with, and not something that I necessarily have.”  Word.    Though to be fair, I really liked many of the final pieces Leila presented to Intermix.
Strictly for the Cameras: CEO’s don’t go to buying appointments, usually because they’re too busy — you know — actually running the company, and it’s surprising to see Intermix’s CEO at the Leila Shams appointment. My understanding is that Intermix struggled during the recession, so I guess any opportunity to remind consumers that you’re still a viable brand warrants a visit from the CEO.

Jedda Kahn

Where oh where to begin with this one…
The Good: Loved the Fashionista Focus Group.
The Bad: Where oh where to begin with this one… A recurring theme on the show (and in the fashion industry in general) is the creative/commercial conflict, and many designers feel that they have to compromise their artistic vision to achieve commercial success. While it’s a very legitimate concern, even artistry requires a certain level of taste. This is artistry and Kahn’s just not there yet.
Strictly for the Cameras: This was a toss-up. My first instinct was to go with Georgina Chapman’s (1/2 of Marchesa) appearance, but Jedda Kahn’s meltdown was so epic and self sabotaging that it makes me wonder if it was staged.


The Good: Dana-Maxx’s designs are cute, but definitely not $600 cute.
The Bad: The math is scary…$100K goes out, but only $30K comes back in. The company loses $70K a year, and it’s not due to overhead. So basically producing clothes domestically (arguably the “better” option) really expensive, but consumers (like myself) aren’t really willing to pay a premium for domestically produced goods. It’s an interesting conundrum that I wish was explored further.
Strictly for the Cameras: I adore Bergdorf’s, but as an architectural icon I doubt it’s on the level of the Chrysler or IAC buildings.

Gemma Kahng

The Good: This was a really interesting look at how a designer can go from industry darling to completely irrelevant in a matter of years. Also Gemma is adorable and has great personal style.
The Bad: I know b-school style case studies aren’t going to happen on this show, but it would have been nice to learn more about Norma Kamali’s career trajectory (Kamali was the special guest on this episode). Kamali has consistently taken an innovative to both design and business, and it would have been cool to get a least of highlights reel of some of the more interesting things she’s done over the course of her career.
Strictly for the Cameras: Honestly everything in this episode made sense from a storyline point of view, even the guest appearance by Norma Kamali.

Between the Sheets

The Good: This was hard, because personally, I found the designer, Layla, really unlikable. But I will applaud the show for airing an episode that didn’t necessarily have a happy ending, and Joe Zee for calling Leila’s boyfriend a “doormat.”
The Bad: Layla’s concerns are valid, but ultimately why ask for advice if you have no intention of following it. Even with terrific selling, the price points are way too low to generate enough money to dig them out of their financial hole. Crazier still is the fact that Leila’s strongest verge on day wear anyway.
Strictly for the Cameras: The Michael C. Fina interlude was obvious product placement, and a deliberate attempt to push a specific narrative i.e. Josh asking Layla to marry him. If Sundance wanted a proposal they should have sprung for a ring, though I do wonder how things would’ve turned out had Layla not been so exasperating.

Kara Janx:

The Good: The one-liners are killing me. I can’t decide if I loved “GMC” (generic mall clothing) or “Great… if you’re going to the prom with Justin Beiber” more. Either way Kara’s design look like what would happen if Forever 21 and Charlotte Russe had a baby, except I’m sure they cost 20 times more.
The Bad: Size-ism is such a touchy issue in fashion, and it’s hard to properly address it in two sentences. I was so annoyed by Kara Janx’s attitude, specifically her “Who the fuck wants to do that” with respect to the size 8 model. If she calls herself a designer she should be able to design for all women. Interestingly Janx trained as an architect. What architect would say, “Sorry I only design one family houses, I’m not going to design an apartment building.” It’s just so utterly insane. Theoretically I’d boycott Janx’s designs, but since I find her whole aesthetic kind of meh, it’s a moot point.
Strictly for the Cameras: Viktor & Rolf make a guest appearance. There’s really no universe in which Kara Janx and Viktor & Rolf co-exist.


The Good:
Liquica and Andrei are a really cute couple. And the back story is adorable — for her birthday Andrei gave Liquica seed money to launch her dream, in theory it should be an easy sell from a PR and branding perspective.
The Bad: Liquicia is completely unable to talk about her line and her designs. Seriously if you can’t talk about who you are designing for, then why are you designing?
Strictly for the Cameras: A press event with a room full of editors and influential fashion taste-makers is a young designer’s dream especially when it’s attended by the Fashion Director and Vice President of Barney’s CO-OP and Annabel Tollman. It’s also the type of event that really only happens when Joe Zee and a camera crew are around.

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