Naomi Campbell, a judge on the new Amazon show Making the Cut, hopes the new reality television fashion competition awakens the inner designer in audiences everywhere. “I want people to watch it and say, ‘I can do that! I know how to design! I could be on this show,’” she tells me by phone from her social distancing headquarters in New York, where she is livestreaming workouts with Joe Holder and sharing her banana pudding recipe.
“Since people are at home,” she continues, “it would be fun to see what people could make with what they’ve got, and send it to us at Making the Cut. I think we would get some incredible things.”
Making the Cut seems to have brought out a populist entrepreneurial spirit in the supermodel who is the first name and last word in glamour—and that alone should make it worth watching. (A sort of victory garden for our closets, judged by Naomi Campbell? Genius!) But the show—which premiered on Amazon’s streaming service last week, and will continue to roll out two episodes each Friday for five weeks—has led its stars to start radically rethinking the industry. That includes veterans like Joseph Altuzarra, the New York womenswear designer who also serves as a judge. “When I started, there was really a roadmap,” says Altuzarra “When you started a brand, you had to go to the gatekeepers.” That’s obviously no longer the case.
And with coronavirus leading fashion insiders everywhere to think about how the industry does and doesn’t work, the show might become a valuable testing ground for new ideas about how fashion and its designers might be discovered, nurtured, and marketed over the next few months—or even the next decade.
Making the Cut, which is helmed by Project Runway alums Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, is in some ways familiar: unknown designers plucked from obscurity compete to be anointed the next big star designer. In that way, it may sound like its predecessor, or like Netflix’s Next In Fashion, which debuted earlier this year. Both of those shows were more concerned with making good TV than making good fashion, in the process failing to produce designers who could succeed in the industry. (A notable exception is the masked hero Christian Siriano.)
But Making the Cut departs from the form in a number of ways, because Klum and Gunn wanted “to portray a higher level of relevance,” Gunn says. “And that meant we couldn’t just be an American show. We needed to really be global, and we needed to talk about the larger picture of what makes a designer a success.” That means not simply design skills but “branding, visual merchandise, marketing and business plans—which is not to say that the designer has to be able to do everything, but they have to have a command of it.”
So designers are given a state-of-the-art atelier with seamstresses and several days to work on a “runway” look—but also a more accessible, sellable look, all the while receiving mentorship from Gunn and critiques from Campbell and Altuzarra and their fellow judges Klum and Nicole Richie. The winner of the competition gets a million dollars—a far more realistic amount of money when it comes to starting a fashion business than what other shows have offered. (It doubles what the industry-leading CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund gives out, for example). Perhaps most innovative—and potentially disruptive—is that the winning looks from each episode are sold on Amazon.
It seems less like a gimmick, and more like a new business model. Making the Cut, in other words, might be a reality television show that presents an alternative reality for fashion.
Amazon has struggled to break into high-end fashion since its first efforts in 2012. But it has disrupted bookstores, and it has disrupted groceries, and Making the Cut seems like a seed of the vine that may finally disrupt retail—a business that coronavirus has rendered more primed than ever for a radical rethinking. By design, the show builds in the narrative sweep that young designers need for their initial breakthrough, and provides both more background and more romance than a standard runway show might produce—all without the pesky overhead costs represented by marketing executives and publicists.
And the judges are obsessive about rewarding designers who make sellable, desirable clothes. “You’ve got a platform like Amazon that you’re getting an opportunity to work with,” says Campbell, who often serves as the most pragmatic, or retail-oriented, voice of the judging panel. “Think of their consumers and customers. You’ve got to think about that. You’ve got a reach that’s incredible. You’ve got to take that opportunity and grasp it in your hands and really go with it.”
This kind of selling with a story has been a long time coming. “This melding of entertainment and e-commerce is something that is becoming more and more prevalent,” says Altuzarra. “It’s clearly gaining traction, and that is a really new idea in how we both consume entertainment but also consume product.”
Seen from that angle, Making the Cut is a kind of narrative, longform version of livestream shopping, the newish trend in which retailers and shoppers stream themselves selling and buying clothing. Think of it as a Gen-Z update on the Home Shopping Network—it can make any old micro-influencer into a retail star. Livestream shopping has been a major boon to online shopping in China: the e-commerce site Taobao’s livestream platform generated more than $15 billion in gross merchandise volume in 2018. A number of entrepreneurs have begun to experiment with it in the United States, including Hero, which has worked with Nike, John Varvatos, and Harvey Nichols. Livestream shopping platforms, Hero founder Adam Levene told GQ earlier this year, allow for “the discovery of the product—how it looks, how it feels, how it fits.” It’s like FaceTiming your favorite sales associate with one- or two-click buying built in.
The shoppable element of Making the Cut “initially was in no one’s vocabulary,” Gunn says. “It evolved over the conversations with Amazon Prime Video when we saw, there’s an opportunity here.” And so far, it’s working: the winning looks from the first two episodes “are completely sold out,” Gunn adds. “They’re gone.”
The pandemic is accelerating technological changes across multiple industries, making ideas that seemed far-fetched—like remote work and constant video-conferencing—into today’s reality. It’s not hard to imagine that a business like Moda Operandi, which hosts trunk shows of runway collections that allows consumers to place orders for pieces before they are produced, might wind up live-streaming fashion shows that viewers can shop as they watch. Seeing the clothes as they’re made—and in more dimensions, rather than as the flat runway images we’ve become accustomed to—is potentially more compelling than runway theatrics, especially as the pandemic and the environmental crisis lead consumers to become more thoughtful about what they buy and why. In a way, this format may allow for a returned focus on the core skills that will always make a designer successful, no matter the era. “The most proper foundation of a designer, a true designer, is that they’re a tailor,” she says, adding that her favorite designers, like Azzedine Alaia, Thierry Mugler, and Alexander McQueen, all shared this talent. “The ones that are tailors are always going to survive. The ones that can really just cut.”
But even before that utopian infotainment-shopping future arrives, our new visual lifestyle is already changing the way we think about clothes. “As we make adjustments and invite new things into our lives such as video conferencing and even just FaceTiming,” Gunn says, “I think people will become more and more aware of the semiotics of clothes.”
Campbell, for example, says comfort—in clothes and everything else—is paramount for her right now, so she’s mostly wearing things like “an easy tracksuit.”
“And then I wear a caftan at night,” she adds. “I’m not dressing more than that.”
Originally Appeared on GQ