By  on July 6, 2005

NEW YORK — Industry insiders already know all the drama that goes on in fashion, and now the rest of the world is finding out.

Designers are looking to boost their celebrity by venturing more and more into the world of reality TV — or the fashion planet, at any rate.

Kimora Lee Simmons has been a judge on "America's Next Top Model," which certainly helped build awareness of her Baby Phat line. Sean "P. Diddy" Combs appears on MTV's "Making Da Band," where he's always decked out in Sean John, and Russell Simmons' "Def Poetry Jam" on HBO brings Phat Farm to the forefront.

Even Michael Kors was a regular judge on Bravo's "Project Runway," the first season of which wrapped last February. The second season will air in the fall, and while Heidi Klum will return as the host, the fashion designer on the panel of judges has yet to be named. Kors timed his TV debut well — showing up on the small screen while launching new categories such as bags and footwear to support his better sportswear line, Michael Michael Kors. It's all part of a grand scheme for the designer to build a $1 billion brand — so some regular TV appearances could only help his name recognition.

Then there's Tommy Hilfiger. His company is going through its fair share of troubles — Tommy Hilfiger Corp. just reported a 45.9 percent drop in its preliminary net income for fiscal 2005 and is in discussions with state and local tax authorities in New York and state authorities in New Jersey to settle an income tax issue for its subsidiary, Tommy Hilfiger Licensing Inc. Then there's the ongoing investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office into Hilfiger's buying office commissions, which has resulted in 11 purported shareholder class-action lawsuits against the company as well as current and former officers and directors of the firm.

But that was all before Hilfiger became a reality TV star. As host of CBS's "The Cut," Hilfiger executives are confident the program can only improve his overall business.

"To have that brand exposure on a national basis for the next 12 weeks is pretty good for the brand," said David Dyer, president and chief executive officer of Hilfiger, when the show made its debut.And maybe it will. Early signs indicate the program is doing well. According to CBS, Nielsen Ratings showed that the debut episode, which aired on June 9, won its time period in households and viewers, with 6.6 million people tuning in. "The Cut" even beat out ABC's coverage of the NBA finals that evening. It won the hour in the second week, and lost out to the NBA finals in the third week. If "The Cut" continues to do well, sources said it could start shooting a new round of episodes in October.

Based on its success, networks are sure to be looking into digging deeper into the fashion industry, possibly asking other designers to host their reality shows. But whether or not reality TV can help fashion companies improve their performance remains to be seen.

While stores continue to be upbeat about Michael Michael Kors (Macy's East recently expanded the brand into all of its stores), there have been some signs of trouble since its introduction. When Kors announced the launch of the collection in September, 2003, the company hired a team of executives to run it, only to let 25 people go a year later. The company also had problems shipping to stores on time, and retailers were initially complaining about an inconsistent fit, problems the company said it has solved — all issues that "Project Runway" couldn't fix.

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