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Reason The show premieres a few hours after publish time; we got a screener.


Should You Start Up With Project Runway: Fashion Startup?

Can you put lipstick (and earrings, and a kicky blouse) on a Shark? Should you?

What Is This Thing?

Ever watch Shark Tank and think, "This show should be more fashiony"? When you watched The Fashion Fund, was your favorite part the bit when the designers nervously explained their line to the judges? Then Lifetime has the show for you!

When Is It On?

Thursdays at 10:30 PM ET on Lifetime.

Why Was It Made Now?

Though this season of Project Runway has tackled the sagging create-and-compete formula with renewed vigor, the formula is still stale as all get out -- and its challenge-based spinoffs (the number of which threatens to rival the multitudinous Law & Order franchise) have never really caught fire the way one might have hoped. But the slow-burn primetime success of Shark Tank -- which premiered in 2009, and for years was dumped on Saturday afternoons! -- has spawned successful cousins like The Profit and (arguably) Cleveland Hustles.

There is an appetite, show creators seems to realize, for inside-baseball stories of consumer-level business success and failure (see also Bar Rescue, Restaurant Startup, and the like). After all, we all go to bars, buy stuff, and wear stuff. We can all judge these folks' businesses along with the experts. Even when a show is dumb and stagey (I must again mention Bar Rescue and Restaurant Startup), viewers can come away from it feeling both like experts and like they learned something. It's fun!

What's Its Pedigree?

The primary on the case is The Weinstein Company, which is behind Original Gangster Project Runway and all that is has begat, as well as scripted TV galore. The secondary producers are three-year-old Matador, the biggest success of which appears to be Spike's Lip Sync Battle and Hellevator, a show Netflix keeps insisting I want to watch but I am not so sure about that.

The show's judges (the "sharks," if you will) are recognizable if you follow fashion industry business: beauty brand Birchbox co-founder Katia Beauchamp; founder of "plus-size" women's apparel brand CHONK! Gwynnie Bee Christine Hunsicker; designer Rebecca Minkoff; and hardcore fashion business guy Gary Wassner (who you may remember from the aforementioned Fashion Fund).


As a person who loves all those business shows (except Shark Tank; more on that in a minute), someone who loves fashion and the fashion business, and someone who is actually opening a retail line as I type this (literally, I am sitting in my under-construction brick-and-mortar at this very moment), this show hits all my sweet spots. Fresh-faced fashion entrepreneurs of varying levels of annoyingness lay out business plans for us to judge: check. Judges give them hell and we get to enjoy their squirming: check. Entrepreneurs get offered deals, mentoring, or are sent on their way: check. All this is fine.

I also like the single way the show deviates from Shark Tank: in the premiere episode, one designer is told to "road test" her goods, tasked with holding a Cleveland Hustles-style pop-up during which this occurs:



It's a smart move to get the designers out of the stagey set and into the real world. It breaks up the presentation/judging monotony, and gives us a chance to see the product in a slightly less contrived setting.


The pop-up, at least in the episode I screened, just "happened," with no lead-up or footage on preparation and planning. I've watched enough of these shows to know that the real juice can be found in watching these entrepreneurs deal with the stress of assembling the events, so why were we deprived that insight? It seems like a real missed opportunity. I would have happily traded one of the pitches (there were three in the one I saw) for more time and footage of the designers rolling their products out in a real-world setting.

Speaking of real-world, the judging most definitely is not. One of the things that drove me out of the Shark Tank are all the contrived little fights between the investors -- "Mark's offer will RUIN YOUR LIFE, take mine!" -- and this show falls into that same trap. Look, PR:FS, there is plenty of drama to be had when you take a creative entrepreneur and force her to beg for money. We don't need stupid catfights between the people with the cash. It's insulting.

Speaking of staged elements, who on earth designed this set? A random bucket of thread? IS THAT A FISH BOWL?



I'd also like to see more, dare I say it, Fashion in my Startup. All three of the lines presented in the first episode are decidedly gimmicky (which, to their credit, the judges acknowledge): there's a tank top that can be a tote bag, the accessory line you see the photos for here, and a jacket you can fold your arms into which is as dumb as it sounds and will make you mentally scream "BUSHCRAFT" for days afterwards. I'd love to see some real fashion for evaluation by the judges, à la the Fashion Fund. I think an examination of the intersection of the art and business of fashion could be fascinating, but so far we're basically seeing vacation gift shop trinketry.


But judging -- and mocking, perhaps with a loved one -- vacation gift shop trinketry is also very fun! So though this show has as much to do with the real day-to-day of the prohibitively competitive and expensive fashion industry as a Restaurant Startup joint has with Chez Panisse, I was still engaged throughout. So it's going to keep a spot on my DVR for now, with the warning that if it falls too far into Bar Rescue's alleged falsity, I'm out.

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