The Fashion Industry and Reality TV: What’s Real, What’s Sort Of Real, and What’s Totally Fake

Spencer Cain
The Fashion Industry and Reality TV: What’s Real, What’s Sort Of Real, and What’s Totally Fake
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Thanks to the trailblazing efforts of programs like MTV’s “The Real World” and CBS’s “Survivor,” reality shows are an integral part of today’s television landscape. They’re as widely watched as standard network programming, and as much a part of the pop culture conversation, with channels like Bravo climbing up the ratings ladder and nabbing millions of viewers each week with successful reality franchises such as “The Real Housewives” and “Top Chef,” and their subsequent spinoffs.

As harmless and fun as reality TV can be, it also has its detractors—those who feel it brings fast (and, typically, fleeting) fame and fortune to the opportunistic and undeserving. Often, these detractors are miffed by the ease that reality stars are able to break into industries that typically require years of hard work and dedication. One particular example: The impenetrable fashion industry.

There’s no denying that during the past decade or so, fashion has become a major force on reality TV. Not the slew of fashion lines designed by Z-list reality stars—although we’re still waiting with bated breath for She by Shereè—but the representation of the industry as a whole. Case in point: Bravo’s new “Fashion Night,” which debuts tomorrow and features three programs back-to-back: “The Rachel Zoe Project,” “It’s a Brad, Brad World,” and “Dukes of Melrose,” which explores the world of high-end vintage.

Clearly, people are curious about the inner-workings of the industry, and they have been for awhile. From Lauren Conrad‘s Teen Vogue internship on “The Hills,” to Tyra Banks’ shrieking at aspiring catwalk queens on “America’s Next Top Model,” reality TV has helped blow the lid off of the exclusive world of fashion. But the big question is: How accurate and realistic are these portrayals?

In the slideshow above, we’ve provided a look at the fashion industry as seen through the eyes of reality TV, and also chimed in on whether or not the shows really had shades of reality—or were totally fake.

Click through and let us know your favorite fashion reality shows! 

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Click through the gallery for a look at the fashion industry through the eyes of reality TV!

"The Hills," MTV, 2006-2010

Premise: Focused on a group of young rich girls living in L.A., "The Hills" may be remembered more for the bad boyfriends (hello, Justin Bobby) and booze-fueled fights than the fashion world, but it was one of the show's driving forces.

Where Fashion Fits In: Star Lauren Conrad met close friend Whitney Port during their internship at Teen Vogue, where they worked for West Coast editor Lisa Love. They helped plan events, answered phones, and gossiped about their love lives. Later, Port went to work for fashion PR firm People's Revolution founder Kelly Cutrone, and Conrad joined her part-time.

Reality Factor: The show is notoriously partially scripted, and although Love stated that Conrad did really interview for her internship position, all the workplace drama was drummed up for TV purposes (case in point: "You'll always be known as the girl who didn't go to Paris").

Photo: /MTV

"The City," MTV, 2008-2010

Premise: "The Hills" star Whitney Port moves to New York for a PR job at Diane von Furstenberg. She meets an array of "fashion" folks, such as socialite and co-worker Olivia Palermo.

Where Fashion Fits In: "The City" fully aimed its focus at the fashion world: Port had a "job" at DvF, had a group of friends made up of models and model hanger-ons, and eventually rejoined Kelly Cutrone at People's Revolution. Meanwhile, Palermo jumps ship for a gig at Elle, and the magazine was figured into the show pretty prominently. 

Reality Factor: Getting a PR gig at a label like DvF requires experience, and if Whitney was a real person who put in time at Teen Vogue and People's Revolution, it might be feasible. However, her role on the show was a total farce. Also, the fashion-girl "snob" factor was highly exaggerated, but the hatred Palermo received from her coworkers was probably real. 

Photo: /MTV

"The Rachel Zoe Project," Bravo, 2008-Present

Premise: Famed celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe takes viewers into her fashionable world. Costars include her hubby Rodger Berman, makeup artist Joey Malouf, and decorator Jeremiah Brent. Past costars include styling associates Taylor Jacobson (she was fired) and Brad Goreski (he quit).

Where Fashion Fits In: The show gives an inside look at Zoe styling (and freaking out about) high-profile clients like Anne Hathaway and Demi Moore. Everything from major magazine shoots to backstage at top-notch fashion shows is depicted. Zoe's industry pals like Karl Lagerfeld and Oscar de la Renta all make appearances.

Reality Factor: Zoe seems to be a dramatic personality by nature, so we're betting the conflicts with ex-employees Jacobson and Goreski weren't fully fabricated. Given Zoe's A-list status in the fashion world, she has access to everything—and everyone. Despite how silly it may seem, our guess is that this may be one of the more realistic reality shows on the air.

Photo: /Bravo

"It's a Brad, Brad World," Bravo, 2012-Present

Premise: The show follows Brad Goreski after he leaves his position with Rachel Zoe and establishes a solo styling career with stars like Shay Mitchell and Keri Hilson. His partner, TV writer Gary Janetti, is featured prominently.

Where Fashion Fits In: Unlike Zoe, Goreski wasn't at the top of the fashion totem pole, and the show portrays his journey as he gains credibility. Viewers see everything from Goreski trying to sell a photo spread to Details, to styling small shoots—a far cry from Zoe working with couture, giraffes, and Demi Moore on a Harper's Bazaar shoot.

Reality Factor: While people appreciated seeing the lower-end of the fashion food chain, Goreski's styling career was relatively uneventful on season 1, so the network felt the need to hike up the drama with awkward family situations that seemed totally fake.

Photo: Heidi Gutman/Bravo/Heidi Gutman/Bravo

"America's Next Top Model," UPN, 2003-2006, The CW, 2006-Present

Premise: Hosted by Tyra Banks, models live in a house together and compete for career-changing prizes, like a $100,000 contract with CoverGirl, a contract with Elite Model Management, and a spread in Seventeen. Now approaching its 20th cycle, it's had a slew of judges like Twiggy, Janice Dickinson, Nigel Barker, and Andre Leon Talley.

Where Fashion Fits In: Photo shoot director Jay Manuel would appear in every episode, coaching the girls as they posed for a series of photos each week. The aspiring models also got a crash course in the fashion industry, meeting with high-profile editors, designers, and influencers.  

Reality Factor: Tyra Banks can be notoriously erratic, so we don't think her infamously epic freak-out was staged, but the show is packed with just-for-ratings plot lines. Also, viewers should take into consideration that it's a competition show—aspiring models don't get discovered posing on elephants for a group of famous judges. 

Photo: /The CW

"Kell on Earth," Bravo, 2010

Premise: Hot off the success of her cameo appearances on "The Hills" and "The City," People's Revolution founder Kelly Cutrone opened up her New York offices for the cameras. Joined by her assistants Stefanie Skinner and Andrew Mukamal, as well as cofounders Robyn Berkley and Emily Bungert, Cutrone's crew tackled the fast-paced fashion PR world.

Where Fashion Fits In: People's Revolution dealt with real brands like Chado Ralph Rucci, Jeremy Scott, and Genetic Denim, and the show didn't shy away from portraying the un-glossy side of the fashion world—the staff was frequently overworked, overtired, and just over it.

Reality Factor: Producers clearly staged silly story lines, like the Hermes-wearing Mukamal stressing over throwing a dinner party in his Fifth Avenue apartment (he was 24 years old.) Cutrone's infamous wrath wasn't exaggerated—the employee fired for tweeting about the company would probably attest to that.

Photo: /Bravo

"The Face," Oxygen, 2013-Present

Premise: Somewhat of an "ANTM" reboot, but with three of the modeling world's power players: Naomi Campbell, Coco Rocha, and Karolina Kurkova. "The Face" takes a cue from "The Voice," as each model has a team of hopefuls that they coach, and each week another is sent home.

Where Fashion Fits In: The fashion world is legitimately represented. For their first challenge, the aspiring models were shot for a W spread with editor Stefano Tonchi on set. The mere presence of Campbell, Rocha, and Kurkova make this show a fashion force to be reckoned with.

Reality Factor: Producers have definitely forced tension between the model judges, as Campbell is seen throwing a fake fit in the first episode. Unlike "ANTM," however, we think that the contestants on this show have a real chance of finding success in the industry given their mentors and the high-profile contacts they'll make.

Photo: /Oxygen

"Running in Heels," Style Network, 2009

Premise: "Running in Heels" was a short-lived inside look at the inner-workings of Marie Claire, starring editor in chief Joanna Coles, fashion director Nina Garcia, and three interns trying to get jobs at the glossy.

Where Fashion Fits In: It was interesting to see Coles actually appoint Garcia as fashion director, and it showed the hustle and bustle of the magazine world from the front lines.

Reality Factor: While some facets seemed real, others were totally not. For example, interns were portrayed accurately at work, picking up dry cleaning and steaming clothes. However, the fact that they all happened to live together? Ridiculous.

Photo: /The Style Network

"Fashion Star," NBC, 2012-Present

Premise: Aspiring fashion designers compete to have their designs purchased by buyers from three stores: Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Express (which replaces H&M this season.) Contestants are mentored by Jessica Simpson, John Varvatos, and Nicole Richie. Originally hosted by Elle Macpherson, the second season will be hosted by Brit Louise Roe.

Where Fashion Fits In: The designers on the show had to hone their skills in a tight time frame, and it was fascinating to hear feedback from actual stores as to what will sell and what won't.

Reality Factor: The "buyers" on the show aren't actually buyers. Macy's Caprice Willard is the store's vice president and regional planning manager for women's apparel, Terron Schaefer from Saks is their executive vice president and chief creative office, and H&M's Nicole Christie is the North American communications manager. However, the transactions were ultimately real, as the chosen designs were produced and sold in-store.

Photo: Tyler Golden/NBC/Tyler Golden/NBC

"The Cut," CBS, 2005

Premise: Billionaire designer Tommy Hilfiger hosted "The Cut," which began with 16 aspiring designers split into teams each week to complete a series of tasks. Every time someone was eliminated, Hilfiger stated, "You're out of style," which became the catchphrase of the short-lived show.

Where Fashion Fits In: Hilfiger may not be the most cutting-edge designer around, but it's always interesting to watch such a powerful fixture in the industry. Christopher Cortez, the winner of the show, went on to a fairly successful career—and is apparently still working for Hilfiger as a men's footwear designer.

Reality Factor: The show was infamously cheesy (perhaps that's why it lasted for one season, and had multiple time slots throughout). Still, Cortez is a working designer, so the show can be credited with putting someone on the map.

Photo: CBS/CBS

"The Fashionista Diaries," SoapNet, 2007

Premise: The show followed the lives of six fashion assistants: Two worked for Seventh House PR, two for Flirt! cosmetics, and two for Jane magazine, which folded during the production of the show. Each week, they would be evaluated by their superiors.

Where Fashion Fits InIt was said that Jane, prior to its folding, hoped to gain a circulation boost from being on the show, similar to the one "The Hills" had given Teen Vogue, but we never really got to see the inner-workings because the show had such a short life. While it was on, it was a welcome look at people trying to get ahead in the fashion industry. 

Reality FactorThis was a little-seen gem that rarely succumbed to forced drama. Each assistant's duties were realistic, and the show didn't stoop to making their bosses monsters. 

Photo: SoapNet/SoapNet

"Launch My Line," Bravo, 2009

Premise: Hosted by Dean and Dan Caten, founders of Dsquared, the show featured 10 professionals in unrelated fields hoping to transition into the fashion design world.

Where Fashion Fits In: Despite working in various industries, every contestant was an aspiring designer, and we got to see how skilled they really were. Plus, Dsquared is a pretty major label whose presence was constant.

Reality Factor: This show was as boring as it gets, and critics and viewers agreed. Perhaps some scripted drama would have livened it up. The winner (jewelry designer Kathy Rose), never received a boost from her television exposure, and neither did any other contestant.

Photo: Bravo TV/Bravo

"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," Bravo, 2003-2007

Premise: The original show that put Bravo on the reality map, "Queer Eye" also broke ground for portrayals of homosexuals in the media. In each episode, a team of gay men called "The Fab Five" helped to give someone a makeover, which included styling, home redecorating, and grooming.

Where Fashion Fits In: The show's resident "Fashion Savant" was Carson Kressley, a stylist who tried to infuse some much-needed flair into the wardrobes of stereotypically heterosexual men whose girlfriends were fed up with their schlumpy fashion sense. Also, this show is partially responsible for the term "metrosexual" being brought to the forefront of pop culture.

Reality Factor: Although we never got to see if the style updates stuck, it's safe to say that the Fab Five actually did make an impact on some lives. At the very least, they helped to change society's perception of homosexuality, and that's no small feat.

Photo: /Bravo

"What Not to Wear," TLC, 2003-Present

Premise: Another original fashion reality show that's now pretty dated, average folks are nominated by acquaintances who feel a total makeover is needed. In come "experts" like hosts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, who pinpoint people's fashion flaws, and oversee each makeover.

Where Fashion Fits In: The show explores trends suitable to average women, and allows viewers to be let in on what garments flatter their figures, so ultimately it's a service-oriented program.

Reality Factor: People do tend to get upset or frustrated during the makeover process, which helped show that, ultimately, people just want to be themselves. Whether or not the makeovers have a lasting effect is unclear, but we're willing to bet not.

Photo: TLC/TLC

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