“You are free to go on to the streets of Paris as you please,” says Tim Gunn, the former Project Runway host who joins his fellow defector Heidi Klum to front the new fashion competition Making the Cut. Ah. Well. About that …
Making the Cut is up against it on a number of fronts, not just because it is a reality show with obscenely deep pockets that is dedicated to luxury and consumption and has arrived in the middle of a global firestorm that makes all of that look less palatable than it might have four months ago. There is also the matter of the competition to the competition. Netflix’s Next in Fashion, which arrived earlier this year, had a more suitable warm-and-winning approach to its trade, and it makes this look brutish by comparison.
Making the Cut is keen to differentiate itself from any competitors from the off, however. As with Next in Fashion, the designers are experienced professionals looking for a launchpad to the next stages of their careers, but there is no doubt that Amazon is going all out here. The extravagance of proceedings would have been jaw-dropping at the best of times. The prize for the overall winner is $1m (£825,000). The first challenge takes them to Paris, to put on a catwalk show in front of an international icon. But enough about Naomi Campbell – the show takes place in front of the Eiffel Tower.
One innovation is that the winning design of each episode will be available to buy through – you guessed it – Amazon, right after that episode goes live. The enormous emphasis on the no-expense-spared indulgence of the show has a curious effect: it places every decision and judgment through a commercial lens rather than a creative one. Is it the best garment or will it make Amazon the most money on its site? The two are very rarely going to overlap, although there is a small concession to this – each of the 12 designers has to design two looks: one for the catwalk and one that is more “accessible”.
It is tough to conjure up much enthusiasm for any of it, partly because it all feels so familiar. There are a couple of twists on the format, but mostly it is (big) business as usual. Early on, only one or two characters get picked out as a focus for our attention. There are 12 contestants, so that makes sense, but it also dampens the sense of competition, because it is hard to care about the people we are yet to meet. The contestants are each assigned a seamstress to free them up to design, not sew. The seamstress works off-screen, so there is little to show in the way of creation, only conceptualising, which is hard to lift, as a spectacle, for the screen.
And there is a brutality to the judging, which I wasn’t expecting, perhaps because I had been lulled into a false sense of security by the supportiveness of Next in Fashion. Maybe that is down to the money, too. Dismissing one contestant, who looks crushed, Klum continues to tell that person what went wrong. They are already going home, Heidi! Don’t kick the sad designer when they are down. “You guys are so nice!” she says, incredulous when the other designers cheer for the first winner. But nice, as the guest judge Carine Roitfeld points out, is the new normal in fashion, and it is what everyone is aspiring to be. Making the Cut just hasn’t got there yet.
The presence of Roitfeld is too brief, given that she is one of the show’s saving graces; having Roitfeld, Joseph Altuzarra, Nicole Richie and Naomi Campbell as guest judges for the first challenge does up the ante somewhat. Klum is amusingly waffly and over-the-top, particularly when she learns a new word: “titillating”. (“Sounds naughty!”) And some of the designers really do seem like talents who just needed to step into the spotlight. But given those ingredients, it should emerge as something far more lively than the flat, lethargic show it manages to muster.
It doesn’t quite hold together as a gripping competition, then, but there should have been plenty of potential for mind-numbing escapism. Most of those taking part are American, but there is an international flavour, too, and it brings out the comedy in an otherwise largely humourless affair.
I enjoyed the Berliner, Esther, asking how to translate the German for an instruction to her seamstress. It turns out that, in the US, “in the shadow of the seam” becomes “stitch in the ditch”. Isn’t language beautiful? She is an early favourite, along with Martha, from Richmond, Virginia, a Paris Hilton lookalike with an eye for designs that are “bright and funky and pretty loud”. Her resistance to advice and the done thing is delightful. If only the show had taken a similar approach, then it might have made the cut.