Famous Last Words

This week on The Apprentice: sequins for Stella, sparkly frocks for Liz and a dressing down for Alex.

Ever wondered what happens to all those failed and fired Apprentice candidates? Yes, I know that Kate Walsh has taken her unfeasibly large teeth over to Channel Five, but what about all the other preening, power-suited and, frankly, deluded individuals we’ve followed over the past five years?

After watching this week’s instalment, I’ve realised that the true destiny of the unwanted candidates lies in upcycling. According to Wikipedia (and it’s never wrong), “Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or a higher environmental value.” So by the end of this series we could probably create a business tyro who combined Stella’s common sense and Liz’s selling power with the straight-talking of Brand Baggs, Melissa’s linguistic flair, Sandeesh’s scary eyes and Joy’s flowing pre-Raphaelite locks.

But I digress. This week Lord Sugar challenged the candidates to pick clothes from two up-and-coming designers and sell them to the mass market at Manchester’s Trafford Centre. In the interests of fairness he despatched Liz to lead the Synergy team with Joanna, Jamie, Christopher and Stella. Apollo, which would be led by Paloma, drew the short straw and got Stuart. Now does that sound like a fair exchange to you?

For once, Paloma was sounding less like Princess Pushy and more like the kind of no-nonsense PM who was going to whip this ragtag bunch into shape. She hoped to find some fashionistas in her team but instead stumbled upon a genuine “marketing guru” in the form of the enthusiastic Mancunian Alex Epstein. Claiming to have inside knowledge of the Trafford Centre, Alex decided that the best place to have the team’s promo area was the heavily trafficked Central Peel Square.

No sense of direction

Clang. For fans of whodunnits, this was this week’s first “clue” about how the task might unravel for Apollo. It turned out that the promo area was nowhere near the retail unit, so the punters they spoke to would then require a map and compass to find the clothes. Not so clever, Alex. The second heavy hint was provided by Stuart, who warned Alex that Paloma would probably use this mistake against him later in the day.

Stuart’s not as stupid as he looks. Admittedly, last week his blunt approach didn’t go down well with the inventor of the Babyglow, but I’m warming to his shrewd observations. When he cheerfully declared “fashion is the most boring thing in the whole world” it must have struck a chord with men up and down the country. It was also hard to disagree with his assessment that selling “a piece of £2 cotton for £100 is like selling magic beans”. On the other hand, flogging a dress made of recycled ties for £300 — as Chris did later — is sheer genius.

As the teams sized up the merchandise available, Paloma’s team secured a budget range thanks to a winning combination of schmooze from Stuart, bragging from Laura and boasts from Alex about that all-important “footfall”. Paloma did avoid the pratfall that was Cassette Playa and their “future primitive” brand of garments for those with oodles of dosh and no taste. However you dress it up — “cartoon couture” or “luxury streetwear” — £1,000 for one of these items was a joke.

The Babyglow was the “must have” product of Week 5 and the failure to secure it proved disastrous for Synergy. This time it was Apollo who screwed up by failing to display the right level of girly enthusiasm for Liquorish’s sparkly dresses. Joanna and Liz threw themselves on these fab but modestly priced party frocks like a couple of teenagers, who’d drunk too much Red Bull. Faced with the same racks, Paloma, Sandeesh and Chris looked as though they’d just trodden in something nasty. When you end a meeting, as Paloma did, with “We’ll be in dialogue today and wait to hear back from you.” it doesn’t exactly shout enthusiasm.

Inexplicably, Apollo decided that the next best alternative to spangly party attire was the recycling label Junkie — “We’re the absolute opposite to fast, disposable fashion”. Stitching together pieces from old business attire to make new dresses, jackets and waistcoats, struck me as a classic case of the emperor’s new clothes. Well, it certainly fooled Apollo, with Chris pronouncing his vest “cool” and “awesome” and Paloma “I feel really stylish” lying through her (perfect) teeth. Would you wear a dress that looks like a bunch of old sleeves stuck together?

Jamie “my wife buys all my clothes” Lester had already condemned Manchester as being a couple of years behind London, because they make you wear shoes when you go to a club. But when the teams finally arrived at the Trafford Centre, it wasn’t the Mancunians who were left looking stupid.

Synergy were 45 minutes late opening “The Collection”, because Liz was dithering around trying on dresses. Apollo were more together — their unit was called “One” — until it dawned on everyone that Alex’s promo unit was so far away that it might as well have been in back in London. When he tried to apply his retail expertise to the shortcomings in the shop layout, Paloma lost her cool and accused him of trying to “intellectualise” things. Alex did redeem himself by securing a 2-minute video advert for the store on the Centre’s Jumbotron video screen. But the impression remained that he was a bit of a prat.

Stella flashes her assets

It was a great week for the long-suffering Nick Hewer, whose face can usually be relied upon to tell a story. The previous day he’d been seen puffing out his cheeks at the sight of a pencil-thin model wearing a “ribbon dress”. In Manchester he had some harsh words to say about Synergy’s marketing ploy of having Stella lounging in the window, showing off a green sequin dress. In Nick’s opinion this approach said Amsterdam’s red light district, not fashion retailing.

By the end of the day it was difficult to get a sense of who’d come out on top. Synergy had been pretty amateurish in their approach, while Apollo struggled to find any mass-market appeal with their recycled pieces, which would have looked more at home in the Saatchi Gallery. In the end, the margin of victory for Apollo £500 — less than the price of two “tie” dresses.

We knew the stage was set for a showdown between Alex and Paloma, because she attributed the loss solely to his error with the promo spot, rather than her failure to grab hold of those sparkly dresses. Lord Sugar wasn’t convinced. Like Melissa, Paloma obviously has difficulty comprehending just how badly her superior manner comes across with those who don’t breathe the same rarified air.

Still, she could have hung on for another week if she hadn’t made the huge mistake of bringing Sandeesh back into the boardroom. In a bizarre display of flip-flopping, she went from praising her team-mate’s contribution to the task, to deciding that her overall performance in the series made her a weak candidate who should be held to account. As Lord Sugar succinctly put it, “So basically you’re saying she don’t do much.” Sandeesh’s face was a picture.

Alex wisely confessed to his error about the promo area. How refreshing to hear someone on this show actually admit to an error. What really saved him, though, was that the boss saw right through Paloma’s attempt to make him the scapegoat. I think Sandeesh was already half way out of the door before Paloma uttered the fateful words “Lord Sugar, can I say one last thing.” She then proceeded to contrast her own stellar career in business with the lacklustre record of the other two. Cue outrage from Sandeesh and Alex, who pointed out (correctly) that she had no idea what they had or had not done outside this show.

“I’m being honest. I’m shooting from the hip”. No Paloma, you’ve just shot yourself in the foot — or perhaps in the head. After witnessing her ill-considered combination of petulance and arrogance, Lord Sugar once again decided to go with his gut and fired her, leaving Sandeesh and Alex to fight another day.

At least Paloma was a gracious loser. There was no wild, Melissa-style ranting about karmic retribution as she speeded away into the night. Over on “You’re Fired” she did look genuinely embarrassed about the boardroom backchat, and was duly rewarded with some comforting words from 2009’s motormouth, Debra Barr.

Coming soon to a TV near you: Paloma the presenter. Well, you wouldn’t bet against it, would you?

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