Madison Valley designer competes on NBC reality show

Madison Valley designer competes on  NBC reality show

Madison Valley designer competes on NBC reality show

For five years, in the face of the economic downturn, fashion designer Lisa Vian Hunter has run her shop Vian Hunter House of Fashion in Madison Valley, selling her vintage-inspired designs. Now, Hunter has taken on a new challenge: competing on a reality-TV show.

Hunter competed on NBC’s new reality series “Fashion Star,” set to premiere March 13. 

The premise of the show has 14 contestants vying for a multimillion-dollar prize to launch their collections in three of the nation’s largest retailers: Macy’s, H & M and Sak’s Fifth Avenue. The judges on the show represent each retailer. 

Each week centers around a fashion show and a weekly challenge designed to further develop and expand the contestant’s skills as a fashion designer. The judges then go into a bidding war, starting at $50,000. Contestants who do not sell any of their items are up for elimination.

Hunter heard about the opportunity through an e-mail from a casting agent for the show. “I thought it sounded really interesting because it talked about the business of fashion and creating a brand out of your line,” she said. 

Contestants can either build from a clothing line they already have or something completely new. 


The fashion business

Filming took place in Los Angeles last summer. Due to NBC’s confidentiality requirements, Hunter wasn’t able to disclose her participation until the names were publicly announced. Also, since the department-store representatives on the show were buying designs from the show, six months was required for the manufacturing of the clothing. 

Hunter spent one month down in L.A. for filming. In her absence, her husband, Scott, (who works in the fur business), her interns and one part-time employee ran the store. Maryanne Nelson, Hunter’s longtime business manager and mentor with whom she has worked since early 2010, was especially proud of Hunter’s participation.

“I couldn’t be more excited for Lisa!” exclaimed Nelson. “She is an amazing designer, and having this type of publicity will give many more people access to her beautiful clothes.” 

When Nelson learned of Hunter’s participation on the show, “my first reaction was one of excitement; my second was, ‘We need to get busy,’” she said, referring to the opportunities that may stem from exposure from “Fashion Star.”

As for the show, Hunter saw it as less of a reality-TV show. In a genre where the audience sees the characters brushing their teeth or getting into screaming matches or fistfights, “Fashion Star” show focuses more on the business of fashion. 

When the cameras were off, Hunter said that the contestants got along pretty well and had fun. If there were any tears shed, it would be the designer struggling with personal issues, she explained. 

Hunter said she felt as if she was competing more with herself to grow her brand than with the other contestants: “It was just about us working on our designs, working with our mentors and then working on fitting the models and getting ready to present to the buyers.”

Surprisingly, Hunter found she was competing with another Puget Sound-area designer on the show: Lizzie Parker, who, like Hunter, has an existing clothing line and sells out of her own boutique in Issaquah. 

Hunter said she found competing against Parker funny because Hunter had followed her on Twitter a few months prior to filming and had no idea that Parker was a contestant. 

“The Seattle thing is bloody amazing,” she said. “Two designers from Seattle, and people think there is no fashion in Seattle. [This shows] there is fashion in Seattle, and NBC just proved it.”


A rare opportunity

Hunter and the other 13 contestants were mentored by designer John Varvatos, of Polo Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, and two reality-TV show veterans who have found success in the fashion world: Nicole Richie and Jessica Simpson. 

Hunter said she saw working with them as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “For us designers to work one-on-one with these people does not happen in real life,” she said. 

Lisa said she most related to Richie, who, like herself, is a vintage-inspired designer. Richie’s clothing and jewelry line is inspired by 1970s fashions, while Hunter‘s style is rooted in the 1950s and early ‘60s. 

To Hunter, the era represents a feminine time for fashion, and those same fashions can be taken now, modernized and reinterpreted, she explained. 

Another inspiration for Hunter is her love for the glamour and glitz of old Hollywood, particularly Audrey Hepburn. A staple in Hunter’s shop is the “little, black dress,” influenced by Hepburn’s film “Breakfast At Tiffany’s.” 

“What woman doesn’t want to have a little bit of Audrey? She was just so glamorous and so chic and so elegant and never overdone,” Hunter said. “I think every woman should at least have one little, black dress in her closet.” 

With TV shows like “Mad Men” and “Pan-Am” all set in the early 1960s, Hunter has seen a boost in her business, she said. She has supplied clothes for “Mad Men”-themed parties. 


Future plans

Will viewers see any of her designs on the show or on the shelves of local Macy’s or H & M stores? 

“You will find out!” she said, with a smile.

As for her future plans, she hopes to expand and open more Vian Hunter stores and possibly go into the wholesale side of the clothing business. She is working with Nelson to find investors. 

No matter what, she said, she intends to keep all of her clothing manufacturing in the United States, using factories along the West Coast. 

“I could never fathom doing anything other than being made in the USA,” she said. ”There are factories along the West Coast and in New York that are struggling. But a lot of designers are supporting them, and I will never stop that. I will fight to keep them alive.”

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