Fashion can be an ugly business, judging by The CW's latest reality competition show Stylista.
If a designer creates fashion, and a model shows it off, then it's the fashion magazine that selects, compiles, translates and conveys the elements of fashion to the hoi polloi for easy digestion.
On Stylista, 11 contestants vie for the position of junior editor at Elle magazine, proving their worth each episode through an editorial challenge -- laying out a mockup page for Elle on a particular subject -- and an assistant challenge, based on Elle's fashion director Anne Slowey's needs for the day.
But this is not The Devil Wears Prada. Slowey is certainly no Miranda Priestly or even Meryl Streep for that matter. Sure, Slowey can be nitpicky, deadpan a critique or offhandedly describe a candleholder as "Brancusi-esque," but she's not particularly menacing or unreasonable.
If anything, Slowey and Elle creative director Joe Zee are rather fair and spot-on with their opinions, actually providing helpful hints and insight into creating personal style and smart layouts. When 22-year-old contestant Kate, nicknamed "Boobs" by her less-than-loving castmates, arrives with her breasts practically leaping out of the top of her dress, Zee informs her the massive amounts of cleavage aren't appropriate for their office environment. Similarly, Slowey won't be winning any fuzzy bunny awards, but she's pretty clear and even-handed with her critiques and even tosses out a compliment or two.
But if Slowey isn't the person you love to hate, then who will fill the role of the requisite reality show villain? Contestant Megan, 22, gamely meets the challenge. Having run her own women's clothing shop, Megan believes that not only does she have the best sense of style, but that she has more fashion business savvy than all the others.
Of course, being cocky isn't enough for villainhood, so Megan cranks it up by being cruel -- immediately picking on Boobs, err, the ever-clueless Kate, first for her physical attributes, then for her whiny voice and then for her atrocious fashion sense. By the second episode Megan also alienates Ashlie, who declares that Megan is "evil," "the devil's spawn," "Rosemary's baby" and "Satan's hand- and foot-maiden." Aspiring poet Arnaldo merely observes Megan has "really negative energy."
As with most reality competition shows, it's difficult with so many contestants to have any favorites so early in the game. Although her personality has yet to come out, the person with perhaps the most intriguing background is Johanna, 28, who is a military analyst and Chinese translator. She actually has a decent sense of style too, so it'll be interesting to see if she can pull one over on the others who have varying amounts of fashion experience and know-how.
The challenges actually allow the contestants to display their skills to advantage or disadvantage as the case may be. Even the first assistant's task -- serving Slowey breakfast -- challenges the contestants to select and present the food in a pleasing manner. Although fashion sense and design aesthetic are more subjective, there are some things any aspiring fashion editor should know that the wannabes are rightfully tested on. In one challenge, it's downright shameful the way some of the competitors can't tell an empire waist from a high-waisted pant, a pleat from a dart or a pintuck from shearing. Even more embarrassing: many of the competitors neglect to consult the fashion dictionaries available on their desks.
Oddly, Stylista lacks a certain charm, even though it comes to us from the producers of America's Next Top Model. Compared to the shenanigans by the diva-licious Tyra Banks, J. Alexander or the remainder of the Top Model judging panel, Slowey and Zee are rather dour and humorless. Elle's photo director Brett Ramey and fashion bookings editor Malina Joseph pop up occasionally to announce the challenges with such an uninspiring delivery, I found myself praying for a Tyra Mail or other such similarly hokey gimmick.
In short, Stylista isn't fun ... yet. It has yet to embrace the cheesy, campy and themed elements that the other reality competition shows do so well. Even the elimination at the end is rather lackluster, with Slowey intoning, "You're not the right fit. Please pack up your desk and go." There's very little joy in the judges and Elle staff, who come off as nicely styled robots.
Therefore, the burden of responsibility to be entertaining rests on the shoulders of the contestants themselves and the challenges. No doubt the challenges will increase in difficulty, and perhaps a big name or two in the industry (or from Top Model) will drop by to lend some excitement. So far though, the contestants have only exhibited the familiar name-calling and bickering seen on any reality show that crams disparate personalities into one fabulous (albeit bunkbed-laden) household. Where's the backstabbing and full-blown sabotage? Even a medical scare in the second episode is oddly anticlimactic.
Stylista also brings out the worst in the viewer, who is tempted to say unkind things about each of the contestants' styles, whether it's Cologne's tarantula-mascara eyelashes, Jason's Michael Jackson glove or Arnaldo's lack of fashion personality (other than the awesome Sideshow Bob hair). I mean, the dude's a poet. He ought to know something about self-expression.
Overall, the show isn't entirely devoid of joy since it does take place in such a colorful, high-energy industry, and it naturally pairs well with Top Model. But like any fledgling fashionista, Stylista still has to discover and embrace its own personal style. Until then, it's just a knock-off.
Check out Zap2it's Stylista photos.
What did you think of the show? Will you continue to watch?