The rise of fashion reality TV – breaking down walls or cheapening the industry?

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Tyra Banks host and creater of America's Next Top Model. Photo coutesy of www.thesatesmen.com

Tyra Banks host and creater of America's Next Top Model. Photo coutesy of www.thesatesmen.com


These days, it’s hard to escape the phenomenon of reality TV. Some compare this entertainment to a modern day roman colosseum, watching others fail and be destroyed, “torn apart” by critics and judges. After a tooth and nail fight only one survives and triumphs. Others are lured to watch the shows by the simple fact that it’s all about “real people”, relatable people, who are taken out of their humdrum lives and put into an intense situation with the promise of wealth and prizes.

Dress made entirely of plastic cups, Project Runway season 5 photo property or www.bravotv.com

Dress made entirely of plastic cups, Project Runway season 5 photo property or www.bravotv.com

TV producers world wide have discovered that reality shows are something of a cash cow. Milking it for all it’s worth. They have created shows spanning a whole spectrum of interests. You have talent based shows for dancers, singers, chefs, editors, and of course models! Each week contestants complete tests and assignments and are then judged either by a panel or by the public. One by one all contestants are eliminated except one…

Somewhat surprisingly fashion and reality TV shows turned out to be a winning combination. Taking an industry which has a somewhat elitist public persona and letting the average person watch the whole process unfold. Shows such as “America’s next top model” and “Project runway” have become international success and have spawned a global franchise with each country creating their own version.

Model Yaya, finalist on America's Next Top Model Cycle 3

Model Yaya, finalist on America

I remember very clearly watching “America’s next top model” cycle one. I watched a professional photo shoot, which at the time was totally foreign to me. I was totally in awe of the work that went into the shoots, the incredibly complex make-up, hair and wardrobe, the concepts that were behind the pictures and how at the end of the day there is a huge difference between a pretty girl in pretty clothes and a top model. I watched the first few seasons religiously, subjecting my whole family to an hour of Tyra Banks’, cat fights, photo shoots and nerve wracking judging. Despite the usual complaining I would eventually hear that my parents secretly enjoyed watching it. They would criticise each girl and they learned very quickly what the judges were looking for. I began to understand that through watching these shows they were learning how the industry worked. Suddenly the world of modelling became so accessible to us and to millions of others. We saw the struggle for plus sized models to compete on an even ground to none plus sized (resulting in one plus size win), we saw that race is still an issue within the industry, we saw girls being criticised for being unhealthily thin, yet others being chastised for putting on weight. All the things models put up with over their careers, concentrated and synopsised into one hour segments.

plus-size

Whitney Port, first plus size winner of America

“Project Runway” has also become hugely popular but perhaps for different reasons. This show sees the battle of fashion designers to create entire outfits in a matter of hours and present them for judging. It’s not easy of course, the contestants are given unimaginable restrictions such as having to buy their materials in a supermarket or make them from car parts. “Project runway” usually takes talented or accomplished designers but puts then into high pressure situations. The results are often incredible. These designers are usually given around 8 hours to pull together the entire look! I have found that once again a wide range of people seem to really enjoy this show. Even those who may have no particular interest in fashion are interested to see what will be created. It has certainly given me a new found respect for an industry I already had respect for! Watching these people buy plastic cups or be given a pile of seat belts and yet create a dress so beautiful I would buy it in a second is definitely inspiring.

Contestants' designs are modeled in the Project Runway Season 6 Finale show during Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week courtesy of www.telegraph.co.uk

Contestants

It’s not just the contestants who get 15 minutes of fame from the shows. The judges and other professionals that take part have been changed from respected designers and editors to celebrity status! Tyra Banks is no longer just a model but a talk show host, a spokeswoman, and a red carpet staple. Heidi Klum has also made the transition from super model to super celebrity. Michael Kors due to his position on the judging panel on “Project Runway” has gone from designer to house hold name.

Project Runway season 5 winner Leanne Marshalls collection at New York Fashion Week. Photo courtesy of www.celebstyle.com

Project Runway season 5 winner Leanne Marshalls collection at New York Fashion Week. Photo courtesy of www.celebstyle.com

As far as ratings and popularity goes, the stations will keep churning out new concepts and fashion on reality TV and it seems like it’s here to stay. BUT has reality TV helped the fashion industry by bringing it into our homes, or cheapened it by turning it into a competition based on high stress situations and not real talent?

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