Looking for some fashion distraction? Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn are ready to help — and maybe change the business along the way.
The former “Project Runway” hosts and mentors lead the cast of “Making the Cut,” premiering Friday on Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service. The show is revolutionary in that it will let viewers in more than 100 countries shop winning designs after every episode from the same online platform. And with the coronavirus keeping millions at home worldwide, the timing could prove fortuitous.
“I hope that people are able to take a break from focusing on the situation to enjoy the show,” said Klum, who had her own health scare recently, but is recovering after testing negative for COVID-19. “We had the best time creating and putting this together.”
With Naomi Campbell, Carine Roitfeld, Joseph Altuzarra and Nicole Richie as judges, the program follows 12 entrepreneurs and designers from places such as Berlin, Milan, Los Angeles and more competing for a $1 million prize and the chance to turn their fledgling businesses into global brands with a year of mentorship at Amazon Fashion.
In addition to selling winning looks from individual challenges along the way, Amazon has exclusive rights to sell a full collection from the series winner (which they will develop during their mentorship) outside of his or her own store. After seeing the devastation COVID-19 is wreaking on small businesses, Amazon pledged this week to donate 100 percent of the proceeds from all winning looks back to the designers.
“Fashion is such an incredibly hard business and this is a big hit, especially to young designers,” said Sara Rea, producer of the original “Runway” and the new Amazon series. “As far as the ‘Making the Cut’ designers go, they are now receiving all of the profits for their items sold. I shared this good news with the designers and the responses have been so incredibly ecstatic and grateful that it brought me to tears. I am so happy for them and it is my hope that this will get them through this very hard time.”
“At this moment, who knows what the COVID-19 impact will be?” added Gunn. “We can trust that online shopping has a robust future!”
That’s for sure.
WATCH: Behind the Seams of ‘Making the Cut’
The show is the newest marriage of content and commerce for the Seattle-based online behemoth, which has been improving on its early QVC-like shopping segments with more slickly produced fashion entertainment programming. In July 2019, Amazon exclusively launched Lady Gaga’s Haus Laboratories beauty line with Amazon Live previews and tutorials, and in September, it produced Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty runway show, bringing her lingerie collection to Prime Video members to watch and shop.
“Shopping, entertainment and content are increasingly intertwined, and customers simultaneously need and want immediate wear-now access,” Amazon Fashion president Christine Beauchamp told WWD. Two episodes will be released each week, with winning styles for purchase immediately, at $100 or less, in sizes XXS to XXL.
Could it be the beginning of a new way for consumers to see and buy fashion, especially in the absence of so much else?
Several entertainment players are working to make content immediately shoppable, including NBC Universal’s ShoppableTV, launched last year and expanding to all its networks. Most recently, Netflix’s new “Next in Fashion” series, starring Tan France and Alexa Chung, partnered with Net-a-porter to launch winner Minju Kim’s collection at a luxury price point. (Four of the 12 styles are currently sold out on the site.)
While Netflix reportedly has 165 million subscribers to Amazon Prime’s 150 million (who all get video with their subscription), Amazon, of course, has an unparalleled e-commerce platform and global logistics system. In the U.S., Prime subscribers will be able to click “up” on their remotes to shop the winning look directly through their Fire TV devices, making the process virtually seamless. (COVID-19 demand could affect shipping times, however, the retailer warns.) WWD broke the news in January that Amazon is readying its own digital storefront for luxury fashion, which could open up a host of other opportunities for content and commerce, though Beauchamp would not comment on the topic.
In the meantime, while the Amazon show’s reality competition format will be familiar to viewers of “Project Runway,” now hosted by Karlie Kloss and struggling in the ratings department on Bravo, “Making the Cut” feels less DIY and more business-focused. Designers are tasked with making two looks for each challenge, one commercial and one conceptual, and there is more two-way communication between the judges and judged. (In several instances, designers are asked to defend their work, which can actually sway a decision.)
To watch, the show is glossy and gorgeous. It also functions as a luxe travelogue. Challenges take the cast to glittering sites in Paris (the first runway show competition is staged at the base of the Eiffel Tower), and later to Tokyo and New York.
Another big difference is that designers are given the help of seamstresses. “We didn’t want it to be a sewing competition,” said Klum, noting that former “Project Runway” judge Michael Kors “is not sewing things” at this point in his career. The group of contestants includes more well-established designers, some with their own stores, including Jonny Cota, founder of Los Angeles’ Skingraft streetwear brand; Joshua Hupper, founder of e-commerce brand Babyghost, and Will Riddle, a veteran of Oscar de la Renta and Kith.
“‘Project Runway’ is the undergraduate and ‘Making the Cut’ the graduate program,” said Gunn. The former Parsons School of Design teacher, Klum and Rea sat down with WWD in January to sound off on how the show reflects fashion’s new reality.
WWD: When conceiving the show, were you looking to address how difficult it is for designers, even Zac Posen, who was a “Project Runway” judge, to stay in business today?
Heidi Klum: That gutted my heart because he is such an artist and lived and breathed this.
Tim Gunn: When “Project Runway” began in 2004, it was at a seminal moment. The American fashion industry had been about educating young designers to be an assistant designer at a big house like Bill Blass or Donna Karan or Michael Kors or Calvin Klein. Then in the mid-Nineties, the industry went through this crisis of identity.…When it came out, it was in a very different place that was willing to nurture young entrepreneurial-thinking designers. That’s what “Project Runway” was doing, nurturing those designers. But when you fast-forward 14 to 15 years later, the industry is in a very different place. “Project Runway” was still where it was. With “Making the Cut,” we have this incredible opportunity to present the industry in a new light and a more informed light, and a more realistic light. We feel this is where it is now. The fact that “Making the Cut” isn’t particularly formulaic, other than having an assignment and having a judge, is another thing…
H.K.: You don’t already know what it’s going to be…
T.G.: We have the freedom and latitude to change how it’s done from episode to episode.
Sara Rea: I’m sort of fashion adjacent, I have been watching the industry through the lens of those on the show and it’s hard. I thought TV was tough, but this is a hard business. I felt it was important for us to reflect that to the world, how hard it is to survive.
WWD: What was the thinking behind starting the show in Paris?
H.K.: A dream come true, haute couture, it all comes from there.
T.G.: It’s the cradle of fashion, not of clothing, but of fashion.
H.K.: Being in front of the Eiffel Tower, we pinched ourselves. But nowadays you don’t just see fashion shows in tents anymore, you see them in many different venues, on the street, in the supermarket, anywhere.
S.R.: We wanted to fuel the designers with inspiration and creativity, with the feeling of being able to go out and see anything they wanted to see in Paris…and later in Tokyo.
H.K.: And we have designers from all over the world. Not all of them have traveled, so for them to be in Paris, they are soaking it all up and you see that in the clothes.
WWD: Having seamstresses to help…Tim, I’m interested in what you think of that coming from an academic background? Is the reality today that designers don’t need to know how to sew?
T.G.: Fashion designers need to know how to sew just as architects need to know how to build, so that they know how things are actually put together and what the possibilities are. Do they need to actually do it? No. In fact, getting their hands off meant they could do more work, or should be doing more work, hopefully at the highest possible level.
WWD: But if you look at some of the most buzzy designers in recent years, like Virgil Abloh or Kanye West, they are people who aren’t even from the fashion world, right?
T.G.: But they also have a team of designers. Someone asked me a while ago when I was at Parsons [School of Design], how do you feel about celebrity brands? I said, bring them on because the celebrities aren’t designing them.
H.K.: That’s not true, I designed all of mine!
T.G.: You are an exception.
H.K.: My first venture was with Birkenstock, and the sole I couldn’t touch because it’s an orthopedic shoe. But the toppings, I went and bought leather and studs, I glued them, I did it all because how else do you explain to the team what you want them to do?
T.G.: You are a control freak and we love you for that. But I always say, my graduates are going to go on and work for these brands.
WWD: Tell me about casting Naomi, Joseph and Nicole, and what they each represent.
H.K.: I was really pushing for Naomi.…She walked all the shows, she’s seen it all and lived it all, more than me because I never got to do all the fashion shows she did. And she is also not shy of speaking her mind. Being on “Project Runway” before, we had a lot of guest judges who did not speak the truth. And then we’d yell cut, and they’d go, “That was awful!” I never understood why they couldn’t say what they don’t like, otherwise, what’s the point of them sitting here? You’re a judge, you have to judge. I knew she would speak her mind, and we’d head-butt later on and get a little furious with each other. But I thought it was important. Chiara Ferragni is another judge later on. She is one of the most influential influencers now; she represents a different aspect of fashion, it’s fast and everyone sees it and she is a different, younger audience. Everyone has a little different purpose. Carine, even though she has never done anything like this, it was an honor to have her there, especially when we were in Paris. Everyone had a great voice and things to say. Nicole Richie had great things to say, and she has been there.
T.G.: I was insisting we have a man, someone who was not going to be putting the clothes on in their head, so Joseph is there.
WWD: I really like how they make observations during the runway shows, not just at the end. I think it’s fun to watch and it makes you realize how subjective fashion really is. Since you were on “Runway,” the cultural discourse has changed a lot, for better and worse. Did you feel like you had to be nicer to the designers?
H.K.: I think you cried the most.
T.G.: That’s the soft touch in me. I get very emotional.
S.R.: The judges were hard on ‘em because they care. It’s not catty or just for the sake of getting a one-liner, it comes with intention. You can do better because you are capable of it.
T.G.: The most profound thing I can say about the judging process, since I’m not a judge, is that there was rarely a moment on “Project Runway” when I agreed with the judges; on “Making the Cut,” there hasn’t been a single moment when I don’t agree. I think it has to do with the level of dialogue, the depth of inquiry with the judges and designer, what are you doing, tell me more, there was a lot of information with which to make the decision.
H.K.: On “Runway,” the designs were always a bit more for shock value, they were a bit more out there. It’s more real what we’re doing now.
T.G.: And they are beautiful clothes!
WWD: How has the inclusivity revolution been incorporated?
S.R.: Heidi has always been one of the nicest people in fashion and from our first conversation, one of the most important things was how do we make our audience feel they are a part of this? The clothes are part of it, but the show is also inclusive.
WWD: The models seem to be, and the fact that larger sizes are included but not necessarily because it’s a particular challenge.
T.G.: That’s right, and designers making the choice to put a women’s wear look on a male model, for example.
WWD: Very few of the winners on “Project Runway” were able to stay in business. What are you doing to help the winner of “Making the Cut” succeed?
H.K.: For [Amazon] to want to help that person is everything; They are believing in what we’re doing and our designers. One time, we had one winning look and they said, we’d actually love both of those. It’s nice. They are loving what they are doing.
T.G.: Near the end of the season, Christine Beauchamp comes in to meet with the finalists individually and they present to her a business plan. And they have a dialogue about it. She met with us and the judges and told us what they were like and it was important to the outcome.
S.R.: Part of the show is testing them on that ability. [The judges] are choosing the person they think is right, [Amazon] is giving them the resources, and then let’s go.
WWD: How did the logistics of the clothing production work?
S.R.: Amazon Fashion did it all. But it’s not like, here’s your look and we’re going to make it without your say so; the designers got to see the prototypes and give notes.
WWD: Looking into your crystal ball, how do you see the future of these two mediums, fashion and streaming, aligning?
H.K.: I have been dreaming about this for years. The magazines print pictures all the time, when I would go to the supermarket to buy my milk and eggs, and they shoot what I was wearing. I have always thought there should be a dot to buy it. Now it’s happening.
WWD: How did you cast the designers?
S.R.: Every which way, but a lot of it was Instagram and deep-dives into their worlds. Everyone is promoting themselves so that gives us a great tool to figure out who is out there, who is at what fashion weeks and scour the world from our office in West L.A.
T.G.: We want a self-promoter, not a shrinking violet.
WWD: Do you imagine if there are future seasons you will have casting calls?
H.K.: For the first time around, everything was hush-hush, so we could come out with a bigger bang. The designers didn’t even know what they were getting into. That moment on the show when I told them they were competing for a million dollars, that’s when they found out. So imagine — I loved yelling that out! They couldn’t process it. So the second time around, I imagine we will now have a lot of interest.
WWD: Maybe I’ll enter!
H.K.: C’mon people, let’s get sewing!