Apparel retailing used to be about luring celebrities and celebrity designers to create clothing lines exclusively for your store: Jason Wu for Target, Jennifer Lopez for Kohl's, P. Diddy for Macy's.

Lately though, retailers seem to be inching away from flash and sizzle in favor of authenticity and fashion purity. Less Milan and more Main Street.

Last month, Target announced it would launch '"The Shops at Target," in which the retailer would twice a year feature exclusive merchandise from a rotating cast of five boutique shops across the country.

Target made it clear that it was not merely selling product but rather the shops and owners themselves, each of whom boast unique stories, personalities, and clientless. The retailer sent people to secretly scout out the shops for about a year before finally pitching the shop owners.

Now Macy's, H&M, and Saks Fifth Avenue are getting into the act--albeit in a less subtle way. The three retailers will participate in "Fashion Star," a reality-based competition set to debut on NBC in March.

Every week, the show's largely unknown contestants, including several boutique owners, design clothing lines, which are featured in a fashion show. Then the retailers' buyers--Caprice Willard from Macy's, Nicole Christie from H&M, and Terron Schaefer (cool name!) from Saks--decided whether they want to purchase the collections.

If they bite, the retailers will immediately start selling the clothing in stores after the episode.

This will be an interesting experiment. I thought Target selling stuff from five boutiques twice a year was tough. But the Fashion Star retailers' timelines are even more compressed. It can't be easy selling a different clothing line across the country every week based on a television show though we don't really know how much product retailers are ordering.

Target, though, does not have the luxury of a television to hype its boutiques. The retailer must find a way to sell local products on a national scale.

Just like iTunes selling American Idol performances after the show, Fashion Star retailers enjoy a built-in marketing machine within the television show.

I doubt the retailers will generate much sales though they could land an unexpected hit. But generating sales is not really the point.

Like Target, the Fashion Star retailers want to create excitement and buzz and give customers a reason to enter their stores at a time when it has become much easier to buy whatever you want over the Internet. Unlike The Shops at Target, which will be available online, fans apparently can only purchase Fashion Star clothing in stores.

Here's a sneak peek of the show:



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