The Frocky Horror show: The dress pins are out for Liz Hurley's TV fashion show

Ouch! Liz 'knows nothing about fashion'. Double ouch! Co-star Sadie Frost 'has as much class as my second lavatory'. Perhaps it's as well that 'Project Catwalk' is attracting only 1 per cent of its target audience. By Andrew Johnson
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The Independent Online

In the air-kissed world of fashion, everything from the line of a dress to the button on a shirt is paraded and judged without mercy. But nothing in Liz Hurley's lip-glossed, looking-glassed, primped-up, premiere-going, much-photographed life can have prepared her for the harsh reception of her latest venture: television presenting.

The programme is Project Catwalk, a "reality" show for designers, which includes Sadie Frost and Julien Macdonald as judges. The station is Sky One, and the marketing budget is a minimum of no less than £1m. So far, so good. But then the programme launched - and not nearly enough viewers came to the party.

For all the publicity hoo-ha, a mere 164,000 people tuned in when the show first aired on 12 January. That is 1 per cent of the available audience - or, in television executive terms, punters' eyeballs bought in at the rate of £6 a pair. Episode two saw a slight improvement, to 250,000, but that is still only 1.5 per cent of the viewing nation.

Crucially, the missing 98.5 per cent include most leading figures in the world of fashion, put off by the idea of Hurley - an actress and model still mostly famous for wearing a revealing Versace dress - as presenter.

"We're all Liz Hurleyed out," said Marcelle D'Argy Smith, the former editor of the women's magazine Cosmopolitan. "I'd expect somebody from the Royal College of Fashion to present it.

"Liz Hurley has no fashion experience whatsoever. She wore a dress and has appeared at premieres. Sadie Frost has as much class as my second lavatory. Every time I read about her she's in bed with somebody. They are witheringly boring, which is why nobody is watching it."

Paula Reed, style editor of the women's magazine Grazia, added: "It is not really a glimpse into the fashion industry; it is more of a scavenger hunt at a mad house party."

Louise Wilson, head of the masters programme in fashion at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, said: "I think this is part of fashion's problem - everybody thinks they know about fashion. Fashion is a craft but it can also be an art form, and you almost never see a show reflect that, that shows what hard work it is, and the sheer slog that people go through."

Project Catwalk - the British version of the hit US show Project Runway - was, according to US entertainment tabloids, originally supposed to be presented by the supermodel Elle Macpherson. The idea behind the programme is to apply the formula behind the successful X Factor show to fashion.

Each week the 12 designers produce a garment that is paraded by a would-be model before a panel of judges. One model and designer are then voted off. The winners will see their collection shown at London Fashion Week and have a spread in the fashion magazine Elle.

It has been reported that Hurley beat Macpherson to the presenter's job with a lobbying exercise worthy of a Washington insider. She bombarded producers with phone calls, claimed that her celebrity contacts would bring glamour to the show, and sent in a brilliant video presentation of her work. But the gossips have branded Hurley's performances as "wooden" and say she turns up only for the "good bits" of the show.

Nor have the critics been kind. The Sunday Mirror wrote: "Move over Trinny Woodall ... there's a new terrible TV presenter in town. And she's even worse than you!" It described Hurley as "the not-nice-but-dim host who puts the wood into 'wouldn't Project Catwalk be a whole lot better with someone else at the helm'".

The Guardian's TV critic was equally scathing: "As if her aspirational Basingstoke-gone-jetset accent and dead fish stare as she commands another of the incredulous contestants to 'please leave the catwalk' isn't enough, the judges include Sadie Frost."

Sky last night defended the programme, saying it is broadcast across three of its other channels, gaining an aggregate audience of 661,000, which is healthy for satellite television. A spokesman said: "Ratings are not our only measure."

Unlikely as it sounds, the contestants may indeed see their fashion careers launched - despite being asked in the first show to make a wearable garment from items bought at a DIY store for £100. The winning jacket from episode three is to be included in the new Barbour range and the Savoy hotel is replacing its old chambermaid outfit with a contestant's redesign.

And Hurley also has her supporters. Dylan Jones, the editor of the men's lifestyle magazine GQ, said:"Elizabeth Hurley is great casting. She is a fashion icon and immersed in the fashion world as a celebrity."