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'What not to wear' — U.S. version

HOLLYWOOD — If you've ever wanted to tell your friends "What Not to Wear," TLC has a show for you.

The cable channel will air an Americanization of the British series — also titled "What Not to Wear" — Saturdays at 9 p.m.

It can, at times, be brutal. Fashion stylists Stacy London and Wayne Scot Lukas confront an unsuspecting woman and tell her what she's doing wrong when she gets dressed in the morning.

"It's a fashion intervention," Lukas said. "It's the Betty Ford Center on the East Coast for clothes."

Not that they're doing it just to be mean. Or entertaining. Even though they are entertaining.

"I think that Wayne and Stacy are the cruel-to-be-kind, tough-love things that your friends and family may actually think about you but don't have the courage to say," said Jillian Hamilton, who hosts the show.

"We're actually saying what a lot of people think that (they) don't say out loud," Lukas said.

"I would say we're blunt. . . . We do say what other people are thinking," London said.

"If someone's pants don't fit well, the pants don't fit well," Lukas said.

Not that it's easy to hear. Morna O'Keefe, a young woman who was on the receiving end of a fashion intervention, told TV critics at the Television Critics Association press tour that the experience is "pretty trying."

"I mean, these two are obviously a handful, and I wasn't quite aware of what I was getting myself into once I signed those papers," she said. "But about halfway through the first day, I learned about this tough love that I was going to be so privileged to experience for a whole week. But the process went on further and further, we had tons of fun and I learned a lot."

Which is the premise of "What Not to Wear."

"The point of this show really is that we show you how to work with what you have," Lukas said. "We want to show you how to make the outside be as good as we believe the inside is. And that's the game for us. And we have fun with it. If you want to wear sweat pants one day, make sure the sweat pants fit. If you want to wear a sloppy top, it can't be that sloppy. There's a new way to dress, and there's a new vision."

And participants receive $5,000 to spend on a new wardrobe, which cushions the blow a bit.

"The day that they actually receive their fashion ambush, Wayne and Stacy run in and say, 'You're nominated to be on TLC's "What Not to Wear." Here's a check for $5,000. We're going to give you a set of rules on how to transform the way you dress,' " Hamilton said. "And they hand over that check (and) the participants have several days to spend $5,000."

"It's a whole wardrobe they're getting," said Roger Marmet, TLC's vice president of programming. "It's not 'Queen for a Day' where they're getting one outfit."

Still, "It was challenging — standing there and being criticized and having to take it and listen to this and not be able to run out of the room," O'Keefe said. "These two will tell you that I put up a fight the entire way," O'Keefe said. "I did not want to listen to a word they had to say. I mean, I think I know everything. But, clearly, after I did open my mind and listen to what they said, they did have some great points and fashion tips and everything."

It's the sort of professional fashion advice average people don't normally get.

"Wayne and I actually really do put a lot of effort into looking at the person — their lifestyle, their environment, who nominated them, where they socialize, what kind of work they do," London said. "And then we try and develop a set of rules for them to follow based on that. And those rules aren't just about saying, great, well, they want to go to a cocktail party and they need a terrific dress. We're really giving them rules so that they learn to shop for themselves, because we're not there every day."

"It's like wardrobe life lessons," Lukas said. "Between me and Stacy, we've dressed everybody from Janet Jackson to Roseanne Barr, so we really know the gamut of people's bodies. . . . From who we've dressed and what we've learned together, we can really work with everybody and we really do believe in the participants."

It is a kinder, gentler "What Not to Wear" on this side of the Atlantic, however. Lukas and London are blunt and tough but not as vicious as their British counterparts.

"The American version is made for the American viewing audience," Hamilton said. "It's got American sensibilities, American verbiage . . . ."

"American stores," Lukas interjected.

"American stylists," London said.

And there are other differences. Hamilton and Lukas are professional fashion stylists; the British show features fashion journalists. Unlike the British show, the American version includes hair and makeup makeovers as well as fashion makeovers. And a host who's not one of the stylists.

Still . . . "Wayne and Stacy can really give it to you," Hamilton said.

"We can't believe it sometimes," Lukas said. "When the camera stops, we're shocked that we got away with it."


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com