Mercyhurst alum takes fashion savvy to NBC's 'Fashion Star' March 8


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Erie native and Mercyhurst University alumna Erika Ballman De Salvatore ’00 takes her strong suit – a critical eye – to the set of NBC’s Fashion Star where, as the program’s featured buyer for Express, she makes decisions that stand to propel an aspiring designer’s career into retail rapture or stop it dead in its tracks.

A Mercyhurst fashion merchandising and Fashion Institute of Technology graduate, De Salvatore is director of visual merchandising for Express and lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she has been a member of the Express corporate team since 2003. Her mother, Debbie Ballman, and brother, Matthew Ballman, live in Erie.

De Salvatore, who is also a Mercyhurst Prep grad, got her career start in the late 1990s at the Millcreek Mall Express store, where she eventually became manager. Today, much of her time is spent on the road, traveling among the 600+ Express stores, refining brand presentation and gaining inspiration for what is next.

The busy wife of Danny De Salvatore and mother of 4-year-old Massimo, she never aspired to be a TV personality. To the extent that Fashion Star speaks to her passion, though, she jumped at the chance. The show’s second season debuts Friday, March 8, at 8 p.m. EST and is hosted by Louise Roe, Glamour magazine’s fashion editor-at-large. Each week, contestants are given a challenge to design a certain type of clothing and are guided by celebrity mentors Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie and John Varvatos.

Yes, De Salvatore has bantered with them all, and felt very much at home, a state of confidence she said Mercyhurst helped engender.

“The minute I met Marilyn Smith (then chair of fashion merchandising), I felt a connection; something magical happened and I knew fashion was where I should be,” De Salvatore recalled. “Marilyn also told me I had the power of public speaking and she drove that home every time I presented. She would say, ‘When you speak, you command an entire room.’”

De Salvatore took that charisma to Fashion Star, where she and Caprice Willard of Macy’s and Terron E. Schaefer of Saks Fifth Avenue are charged with evaluating contestants’ designs and bidding on those they wanted to carry in their stores.

“The premise of this particular reality show is very different,” De Salvatore said. “The designs the buyers purchase become available immediately to the public. Fashion Star definitely meets the instant gratification demands of today’s younger generation.”

As a specialty retailer, De Salvatore had to seriously sharpen her edit point during filming. “Unlike big department stores like Macy’s and Saks, I don’t have missy, juniors and high-end departments, so I had to make sure the designs were right for our brand,” she said. “I either gave the designers total validation or … well, I’m known for being direct. But I always tried to give honest, constructive feedback and I think I aided quite a few of them in making really good decisions.”

Like all its fans, De Salvatore eagerly awaits the season premiere ofFashion Star but with the heightened intensity of watching herself in action.

“I lived in California for the couple months we were filming,” she said. “I got to see a whole different industry in television and film and I milked every second I was there learning all about it. The whole experience was simply amazing.”

For more on De Salvatore and Fashion Star, visit NBC.com's official program website.
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