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“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 who lives in Sammammish, Wash., and sells her women’s knitwear designs at a nearby store she owns.

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 contestants get advice from a panel of mentors that include singer Jessica Simpson, whose eponymous fashion business generates $1 billion in annual sales; Nicole Richie, whose fashion business includes a new clothing line bearing her name for QVC; and menswear designer John Varvatos. The panel members offer advice on the designers’ work by pushing them to be more original, for instance, and steering them away from using certain fabrics.

Retail executives from each of the three retailers bid to purchase and exclusively carry the work of one or more of the designers. At the end of each episode, one designer whose creations weren’t picked is eliminated from the show.

During the first episode, more than half of the designers didn’t get offers from the stores. And the store executives offer sharp-tongued criticism for some of them.

The show was taped six months ago, so shoppers will be able to buy the winning designs online immediately following each episode. The designs, which will be sold under the “Fashion Star” brand, will be in stores the next day. Saks will carry them in all of its stores, H&M in 100 of its 236 U.S. stores and Macy’s in its flagship location in Manhattan.

Welsh opera star has high hopes for ‘Dancing’

Welsh opera star Katherine Jenkins may have a leg up on some of her “Dancing With the Stars” competitors: She’s already used to high heels.

The mezzo-soprano has been practicing for the show in London with professional partner Mark Ballas.

He said her preference for stilettos is an advantage because she is used to running around in shoes that are higher than ballroom shoes.

According to the Associated Press, the two were to fly to the U.S. Monday to join the other competitors, who include “Family Matters” actor Jaleel White, singer Gladys Knight and National Football League player Donald Driver.

Miss Jenkins and Mr. Ballas deny rumors they are romantically linked off the dance floor.

Miss Jenkins said: “We knew each other for just 12 hours, and in the press it is we are now dating.”

The new season of “Dancing With The Stars” starts Monday on ABC.

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