The fashion business has never been portrayed on TV with any particular insight. And "NBC Reports -- American Fashion . . . Rags and Riches," which will be shown tomorrow (10 p.m. Channel 4), doesn't change that. It is a feast (with leftovers) for those who believe the fashion business is all hype and irrelevancy.
It starts with a flashing glimpse of Seventh Avenue, the street, and zeroes in on Seventh Avenue, the stars: Calvin Klein, Bill Blass, Halston, Perry Ellis and newcomer Michaele Vollbracht.
And though narrator Robin Young proclaims throughout that there is more to this $77 billion business than glitz and glamour, the show never bothers to document it. It sticks almost entirely to showmanship, the egos, the pizazz. Not a trite-ism about the business is missed. Nor a cliche. Describing the lethal qualities of the business, Robin Young says: Deals are "cut faster than fabric," and "fortunes are made overnight" and lost "faster than the shirt off your back."
Those who believe price tags are puffed up by inflated egos of designers will have a picnic. See Halston call "Assistants!" to clear off a lacquer table for a model to stand on. See Calvin Klein's lunch served on a tray by a uniformed black maid. Watch Michaele Vollbract direct his fashion show of beautiful beaded dresses, clowns and a man in a Nixon face mask. And when knock-off manufacturer (one who copies the designs of others at cheaper prices) Shelly Friedman talks about his wares, where's the camera? On his diamond pinky ring, of course.
The ultimate insult is that even the clothes aren't shown well. You get fleeting glimpses but never a serious look at what this business is all about: Providing attractive clothes for women to buy. While the designers provide them, the show neglects to show them off.
You do get to see what a couple of designers look like and how they dress for work, including Halston in his white coat, Klein in his T-shirt, Blass in suit and tie -- though usually his tie and shirt are loosened.
The program, at least in its preview stage, never bothers to identify many other people --inlcuding designers Geoffrey Beene and Oscar de la Renta checking models in their showrooms; top models Esme and Iman in the shows; Ellin Saltzman of Saks Fifth Avenue commenting on today's clothes; and Neiman-Marcus president Phil Miller, in the front row of one of the shows.
"This is not a serious hard news documentary," according to producer Adrienne Cowles, who said the show has been in production for 11 weeks. "Our purpose was to take a tiny corner of this huge industry and take a look at it. It is something women are interested in and would like to look at and see."
Women who care about fashion won't learn much. Those who don't know much about it should watch with friends who know something about the fashion business.