I love the print, but the proportions seem wrong. I like the idea, but it feels a little joyless. There’s something very unresolved about the crotch on those pants, and they don’t feel elevated.
Did we all talk like this before “Project Runway”? Maybe. But I barely remember looking at the Chrysler Building and not thinking of Jay McCarroll’s dress from Season 1. I can’t hear the name “Andre” without also hearing Santino Rice imitating Tim Gunn sighing “What happened to Andre?” (He’s our little lamb, you guys.) I don’t think I say “fierce” anymore, but that’s only because I said it enough times post-Christian Siriano’s season that the well ran dry. I have owned multiple capes.
“Project Runway” was a cable darling and then a cable staple and then an “is that still on?” But now it has also spawned two direct descendants, Netflix’s “Next in Fashion,” which came out Jan. 29 and Amazon’s “Making the Cut,” which premiered Friday — and stars Heidi Klum and Gunn. And the original itself is still chugging along; it crowned its Season 18 winner earlier this month.
These are Darwin’s finches for reality contest shows, adapting to various conditions and also demonstrating what can be exploited within each environment. Or what can’t.
When “Project Runway” debuted in 2004, it was initially a flop, but viewership increased fivefold over its season, and before you knew it, it was the classy reality contest show; “American Idol” was the brightest star in the galaxy, but that was also the kind of show that chews with its mouth open. “Top Model” had better drama, but it was decidedly lower brow. Then “Runway” switched from Bravo to Lifetime — after a protracted lawsuit — and in the interim, “Top Chef” came along and set a still unmatched standard of surprise credibility and glorious bitchiness.
The tale of “Runway” is the tale of its spinoffs and cable’s propensity for bloat and self cannibalization: Episodes went up to 90 minutes, from 60. Then came the spinoff “Project Accessory” in 2011. Then “Project Runway: All Stars,” with judges Isaac Mizrahi and Georgina Chapman. (Chapman was at the time married to Harvey Weinstein; The Weinstein Co. produced “Runway” until 2017.) “Under the Gunn” aired in 2014. “Project Runway: Threads” begat “Project Runway: Junior,” a version with teen competitors — and easily the best spinoff in the franchise. The “Shark Tank”-esque “Project Runway: Fashion Startup” aired in 2016. There were also series specifically about the models.
Netflix’s reboot of “Queer Eye” — originally a Bravo show — is a hit, so one of its stars, Tan France, is one of the hosts and judges for “Next in Fashion.” But Netflix hasn’t otherwise been a big reality contender, other than “Nailed It!” and more recently “Love Is Blind.” (There are plenty of successful reality shows available on Netflix, but they are not Netflix originals.) “Next in Fashion” does not have the joyous, appropriately contextualized schadenfreude of “Nailed It!,” nor the bloodlust of the gonzo “Love Is Blind.”
France and Alexa Chung, co-host and fellow judge, are particularly fixated on the designers creating clothes that are “modern,” and so they say “modern” a lot. “Next in Fashion” rarely feels like a modern show, though. Its contestants are forced to work in pairs for the first several challenges, an ancient reality-show cheap trick, and while the designers absolutely produced better garments than the average contestant on “Project Runway,” that didn’t matter that much. It wasn’t better TV. So far it has not been renewed for a second season.
Which brings us to “Making the Cut.” It’s Amazon’s first reality show, and it does away with some of what makes “Project Runway” tick. For starters, the contestants don’t have to sew things and are instead assigned seamstresses to assemble garments. Everything is extremely luxe, and the designers rarely seem constrained by cost. The show travels from New York to Paris to Tokyo. Naomi Campbell is among its judges. It all feels very lavish.
“Making the Cut” has a slightly different purpose than its brethren. As the show says over and over — and over — it’s looking for a “brand,” a “global brand,” and the winning designs from each episode are available to buy on Amazon. While Bravo and Lifetime occasionally offered manufacturing as a prize, it was rare and also not the central purpose of the series. Here it is, and the show sometimes feels unsure about its own commitments. The best designer and the most lucrative designer are not necessarily the same person.
That hasn’t made “Making the Cut” less enjoyable. In fact, the show is a very successful recapitulation of the “Project Runway” theme. Each of these shows is capable of pleasing us, of entertaining us, of educating us — and as the judges and mentors on each show remind us, you have to think about your client. Who’s your girl? they ask. Where is she going? “Project Runway” was designed to sell ad time. “Next in Fashion” was designed to sell Netflix subscriptions. “Making the Cut” was designed to sell Amazon Prime memberships and clothing. Those are their girls. That’s where they’re going.