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NEW YORK — By locking up Tuesday night’s finale of “Fashion Star,” Kara Laricks woke up Wednesday with something most designers never realize — exclusive signature collections in H&M, Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Not bad for a woman from Kansas who taught fourth grade for 10 years before plunging into fashion. Less than 12 hours after host Elle Macpherson singled out Laricks as the winner, she was still grinning ear-to-ear standing amid her designs in H&M’s Fifth Avenue flagship here. And why not? The season finale attracted 4.9 million viewers.
Standing beneath an image of her arm-in-arm with model Joan Smalls with “As seen on NBC” in fine print, Laricks unwittingly hinted at the synergistic marketing underfoot. Her first stop of the day was a “Today” show chat with Natalie Morales, who wore one of her designs.
As someone who used to lug boxes of her $125 signature ties up and down three flights of stairs each weekend to haul them to a SoHo flea market, Laricks was bowled over by her $6 million windfall. “I don’t think it will really sink in until tonight when my girlfriend and I get home. We will probably order in a pizza and go through all the e-mails. I can’t wait to see all the messages on Facebook and Twitter.”
During her 10-year stretch as a teacher, Laricks did have an a-ha moment before deciding to enroll at the Art Institute of California. “I was sitting in a meeting and I noticed myself wondering about some fabulous pants I had seen in a store. I thought, ‘This isn’t OK for anyone, especially my students,’” said Laricks, before noting how teaching “without a doubt” gave her the people skills that have been invaluable in getting things done in fashion.
Having taped the final episode of “Fashion Star” last summer, Laricks said she is relieved more than anything to no longer have to keep the secret. She is hopeful that more collaborations and endorsement deals will follow. In the meantime, H&M, Macy’s and Saks are optimistic — although they were involved in the program from the start.
H&M’s Nicole Christie said Laricks’ 10-piece capsule collection should be a best-selling collection this spring and is available online and in 101 of the chain’s 238 stores in the U.S. “We really think it will fly,” she said, noting the order is comparable to the number of units typically planned for a collection. Macy’s also has high hopes for its assortment from Laricks, with a $79 sheath dress with a high-low hem being an early favorite, according to Caprice Willard, who, like Christie, appeared on the show. Macy’s is carrying the label in more than 100 of its stores and initial online sales are ahead of plan, she said. Saks is also “very pleased” with early sell-throughs, according to director of public relations and special events Eleanor Banco.
The Yohji Yamamoto-adoring newcomer said she was most in synch with John Varvatos, who served as a judge along with Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie. As for whether image trumps talent in fashion, Laricks said, “That is something I was really worried about before auditioning for ‘Fashion Star.’ My goal is not to be a celebrity. Being on television, people really feel as though they connect with you and they probably buy something to have a small piece of you. But to be a designer, the talent needs to be there to back the image up. I know many celebrities will agree to put their name on a label. I wanted to be a designer.”
Laricks said the best perk that has come from her newfound fame was not the all-expense-paid trip she took to Stockholm for an H&M photo shoot, but the reactions from her former students. “Most of them say, ‘Wow, Miss Laricks — wow!’ That makes up for all the times they told me I had crazy hair in class,” she said with a laugh before turning serious. “More than anything, I am glad they see with real hard work, you can really achieve what you want to do. I have always believed in doing your best with whatever you do. But you’ve got to feel that you have so much to give.”