NEW YORK — NBC’s “Fashion Star,” a reality TV show that debuts on Tuesday, March 13, is similar to Lifetime Television’s “Project Runway” except that the wannabe designers won’t have to wait until they make it big to get their creations into stores. Some of the fashions will be on sale at Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and H&M the day after each pre-recorded episode airs. The winner will get a total of $6 million in orders for their designs from all three retailers.

“This is not just a competition where you win and you don’t know what to do next,” said Nicole Christie, spokeswoman for H&M’s North American division and one of three judges on the one-hour show. “Every week we’re creating brands.”

“Fashion Star,” which is hosted by lingerie designer and former model Elle Macpherson, comes at a time when it’s particularly difficult for unknown designers to get their clothes into stores. In the weak economy, aspiring designers have found it more difficult to get loans to start their collections. And retailers have been relying more on big-name designers with deep pockets that can split marketing and other costs associated with carrying their clothes in stores.

The 14 contestants on “Fashion Star,” who were chosen after a nationwide search, have a range of experience. Among them, there’s a former teacher. There’s also an Australian born former model whose clothes already are sold at Barney’s. And then there’s Lizzie Parker, a former Microsoft software engineer and sells her women’s knitwear designs at a store she owns.

“The attention of the big stores is something that every designer wants,” Parker, 42, said.

Each week, “Fashion Star” contestants make a different article of clothing, like a gown or sport jacket, in three variations using different fabrics, patterns or design techniques. During the first episode, for instance, the designers’ task is to make something that defines them. The designs include a men’s sports jacket in a pea coat style and another with a stand up collar.
The contestants get advice from a panel of mentors that include singer Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie, and men’s wear designer John Varvatos. The panel offer advice on the designers’ work by pushing them to be more original, for instance, and steering them away from using certain fabrics. TAS