They dress up their shows with brash personality
Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 23, 2006 at 9:48 p.m.
Why do TV's so-called experts on fashion often wind up looking so . . . abnormal?
Most of them have untamed hair, untamed wardrobes, or untamed personalities. Or they're too eerily perfect to offer real hope. It's enough to make you think you should ignore what they say and dress the way you want.
But that's hardly the ethos of fashion TV, which purports to offer oodles of practical advice - about wardrobe choices, design trends, and interpersonal relations. And which, thanks to niche cable and reality shows, has evolved from gawkfest to full-on sport. There are competitions, from Bravo's cult hit "Project Runway'' to UPN's "America's Top Model,'' which recently wrapped its fifth cycle. Next week, the women's network WE unveils a dress-up competition called "Style Me With Rachel Hunter.''
An increasing number of wardrobe makeover shows, meanwhile, mimic the manic energy of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.'' And ubiquitous designer Isaac Mizrahi - who just turned the Golden Globe red carpet into his own fizzy showcase - launched his own talk show last month on the Style Network.
Each show is helmed by a different sort of fashionista, so in the end, it's a matter of whom you trust. Do you want to take advice from your dishy best friend, or emulate a haughty supermodel? Here, in no particular order, are some of the style mavens on television today.
Martha Stewart, eat your heart out. As a lifestyle guru, Mizrahi matches up; he can straddle Target and couture and loves all things beautiful. But unlike the queen of ice, he's a natural on TV, in large part because he knows how to gush. ("You have gorgeous eyelashes,'' he told one male guest recently.) He's also moderately helpful in his "Sketches and Answers'' feature, in which he proves his agility with a pen and helps you figure out what to wear with those new orange tights.
Still, his show tends to value product placement over practical advice, and Mizrahi seems comfortable with that. "How do you pick a good melon?'' he asked Sarah Ferguson recently, as they strolled through a Whole Foods market. "I don't know,'' she said coolly. Case closed.
Fergie, alas, was atypical; many guests seem so caught up in Mizrahi's hyperactivity that they feel compelled to act that way, too. The mutual chirpiness can get exhausting. Suggestion: Serve decaffeinated coffee on the set.
How he has time for his day job, as creative director of Barneys New York, is a mystery: Doonan shows up all over the dial these days, from episodes of ''Top Model'' to guest appearances on ''Isaac.'' He's also the king of snide pronouncements on WE's fashion history show "I Can't Believe I Wore That!'' In the '80s episode, he had this to say, in his clipped British accent, about women in shoulder pads: "They looked like men who'd had sex changes that didn't quite work. . . . It was like some horrible mutant version of men's business attire.''
Not that Doonan is the height of modern fashion himself; he freely admits he's a throwback in his skinny ties and fitted jackets. "I'm basically stuck in Carnaby Street 1965,'' he said on "Isaac'' recently. "I'm mod. I'm neat.'' And if he ran into Austin Powers on the street, you know he'd have something deliciously nasty to say about the scarf.
"I'm Rachel Hunter, and it's my job to look great, period,'' the New Zealander says at the start of her new show, "Style Me With Rachel Hunter,'' which debuts Monday on WE. Yes, the model/actress, of recent ballroom dancing and "Fountains of Wayne'' video fame, looks striking - and Amazonian, breathing thinner air than the would-be Hollywood stylists who surround her. Their job is to look up and fawn; the winner gets a one-year contract with a talent agency and will style Hunter for what WE calls a "glamorous red carpet event.''
In the meantime, it's all about Rachel, who makes sure the contestants don't forget her for a second; in the premiere episode, they have to tote Hunter-size mannequins around a flea market. In the end, she and two advisers critique their wardrobe suggestions and seem especially off-put by anything that looks too old for a teenager to wear. Two words for you, Rachel: "Stacy's Mom.'' It wouldn't be so horrible to act your age.
She's what Rachel Hunter aspires to be: a woman who makes you understand why models can be muses. Hunter's would-be stylists have to heap her with praise, but the designers on "Project Runway'' don't have to say a word. Their wide-eyed smiles speak volumes, as Klum steps onto the runway each week in a dashing maternity outfit. (The baby-doll dresses are a marvel.)
How does she do it? It's something about the clipped German accent and Barbie-doll face that makes for an astonishing mix of icy cool and sweet. And the way she articulates her cheek-kisses ("muh. muh.'') after she bids the loser "Auf Wiedersehen.'' Her taste isn't bad, either; as a judge, she's almost as useful as hypercritical designer Michael Kors. She just needs to come up with a line as good as what Kors spit out a few weeks ago, when he described a look as "barefoot Appalachian Li'l Abner Barbie.''
The world's first supermodel was fired from "America's Next Top Model,'' presumably because she's also the world's nastiest supermodel. Now, she's about to launch her own show on Oxygen, tentatively titled "The Janice Dickinson Project.'' In this case, the cameras will follow her as she launches a modeling agency.
In preview footage, the 50-something star comes across a bit like Gilda Radner doing Janice Dickinson. Wearing low-cut shirts and frightening lipstick, she lords over the wannabes and dispatches useful advice: "You don't drink the night before you do a photo shoot, 'cause you bloat out and you look three months pregnant,'' she snarls at one male contestant. Tears are likely. Catfights are a given. If nothing else, it promises to be entertaining.
At the start of the Style Network's "How Do I Look,'' the former soap star does a game job of vamping for the cameras. Anything has to be more fun than her last reality gig, hosting Fox's odious "Who's Your Daddy?''
Still, Hughes always looks a little awkward, perhaps because her show has such a stilted premise: It takes people with a distinct sense of style (the Goth, the girl who dresses like Olive Oyl) and shoehorns them into a look that's vaguely trendy but comparatively bland. Not everyone, it turns out, likes the results. At the end of one episode, Hughes had to answer to the fiance of the "fashion victim,'' who was angry that his future wife's old clothes had been shredded. "We weren't making fun of her,'' Hughes insisted. "We were just trying to help her move forward.'' A pretty good answer; too bad it wasn't true.
The cohost of Style's "Fashion Police'' proves that there's a fine line between fashionista and nerd; he's prone to sunglasses pushed onto his forehead and clothes that are, to put it kindly, loud. In one recent episode, he sported a candy-red jacket, then a bright pink shirt, then a matching striped sweater and scarf.
Even without the duds and the height, the former host of the Discovery Channel's "Style by Design'' would tower over cohost Bobbie Thomas, through sheer force of personality. Verdi can dish at celebrities with impunity, but when he comes across real people on the street, he's charmingly sweet. "You're not supposed to wear white after Labor Day, but I'm not mad at you,'' he told one woman in Manhattan. "I'm mad at you for being pretty.'' If his outfit didn't hurt so much to look at, you'd almost want to be accosted by him.
His nickname, "Cojo,'' sounds a little bit like "Cujo,'' but the "Entertainment Tonight'' fashion maven is more like a Pomeranian, from his reddish sideswiped hairdo to his tendency to yip. ("Hi, I have a twin sister, and I dropped out of college, and I'm worth $500 million. And I'm a Martian,'' he said recently, in an awful impression of one of the Olsen twins.) It doesn't hurt that "ET'' seems to like to dress him in absurd costumes; last week, he showed up, inexplicably, in farmer's overalls.
The former "Today Show'' gabber (whose name is pronounced co-jo-CARE-oo) doesn't have a lot of time or space to work with. Still, he's an oddly commanding presence, and if he tells you not to wear oversize sunglasses anymore, you probably should listen. Otherwise he might bite.
'What Not to Wear' team
TLC's fashion makeover team of Stacy London and Clinton Kelly is a double knockoff - their show is a remake of a BBC original and takes obvious cues from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.'' To wit, London and Kelly do lots of mugging for the camera as they sneak up on their victims. If London's eyebrows could rise any higher, they'd be in orbit.
Still, of all of the TV fashion gurus, this pair probably dispenses the most practical advice about wardrobe do's and don'ts, no matter the body type. It's all fairly helpful, to a point; giving someone $5,000 to shop at Giorgio Armani doesn't do much for the rest of us.
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