Making the Cut Season 1, Episode 1: “Heidi and Tim are Back”
The first episode of the new Amazon Original series Making the Cut found model Heidi Klum and fashion consultant Tim Gunn together again. The former hosts of the long-running Project Runway series celebrated their reunion in the rain in New York City.
The Big Apple setting for this fashion reality show soon changed, though. All 12 designer contestants left immediately for Paris. What an exciting beginning to the show with some of the highest stakes in history. Each episode’s winner has the designed garment immediately put into production by Amazon, available on its Making the Cut store, and the overall show winner receives a contract with Amazon to sell the winning collection, and a small sum of $1 million. No pressure, right?
This episode’s task was to “create two looks that represent your brand identity.” One of the two looks had to be “accessible.” Translated, the look needed to be easily and cost-effectively manufactured, as it will be sold on Amazon should the designer win. The other look had to push the boundaries of the designer’s aesthetic. The two looks are required to be cohesive as a mini collection. The designers had two days to do this. There’s some added pressure: The runway show was to be staged in front of the Eiffel Tower at night, with hundreds of spectators.
Making the Cut brands itself as a show about designing, not sewing. This means the designers put together “tech packs” with patterns and instructions for their seamstresses, who were to come in the night to finish their garments. I wish I had one of those!
A feature of this show was occasional Heidi and Tim interludes. In this case, it was a film-reel style montage of Heidi and Tim wandering Paris, praising themselves for picking the location. I could do without this interlude, as I’m much more interested in the designers’ progress than in seeing Heidi and Tim interact, but that may just be me. What do you think?
Martha Gottwald, a Virginia-based designer with a sparkly personality and a dearth of sewing knowledge, was overwhelmed by the prospect of cutting and potentially ruining her fabric. As the day stretched on, it became clear that Martha was in over her head. She had no knowledge of sewing or patternmaking. I wondered how she would do on a design show that requires at least basic sewing knowledge to succeed.
For German Designer Esther Perbandt, disaster struck when her seamstress constructed the dress incorrectly. Esther was left with next to nothing done for her second outfit on the morning of the runway. Her scramble to pull something together in three hours made my heart race.
The show began with the Eiffel Tower lit up in the background and each designer standing side-by-side with Tim Gunn as their garments walked the runway.
After the show, the designers and judges moved back to the workroom. One by one, four designers—two rated at the top, two at the bottom—were called forward to describe their garments and explain how they represent their brand and their design sensibilities. Unlike many design shows, this Q&A session has the possibility of changing the judges minds. As Heidi gleefully explained, the judges can cut more than one designer at any time during the competition, so even after an elimination, no one is safe.
First up was Jasmine Chong, whose shockingly sheer runway design was more suited for a beach cover-up. The model was totally exposed, wearing only nude-colored underwear and pasties. Jasmine’s second design was a simple A-line dress with a low cowl back and few design details. She did not make the cut.
Next was Martha, whose juvenile designs left the judges with a strong sense of who she was as a designer. The judges were not thrilled with her work but were convinced that she had a market out there, and she knew who her audience was. She was allowed to stay in the competition.
Ji Won Choi was praised for her Korean-inspired jeans-style jacket and pants, as well as her cinched runway dress. The judges agreed that she had a strong point of view and a good eye for design. Her designs were wearable and interesting.
Finally, Esther was called up. The judges were impressed with her sangfroid under pressure and her designs, which were cool, sophisticated, and chic. She was the winner of the challenge and her three-hour black dress is available on Amazon.
Interview with the winner
The publicity team for the show has given me access to the winning designer from each episode, for a short interview.
Threads: Who is your “customer?” Tell me a bit about your aesthetic.
Esther Perbandt: Doing an all-black (or mainly black with some swabs of white) collection was nothing I planned in advance. In the beginning, the collections were actually quite colorful, coming from the very colorful fashion house in France. But with the time, it didn’t feel right anymore. I experimented with myself. When I would feel really strong and protected. Because this is what I wanted to offer. A fashion which is more than fashion. A modern suit of armor, an urban shell, that makes people glow and sparkle and is empowering. A nonbinary silhouette is deconstructed and reframed with classical menswear details, however, maintaining timeless aspects of elegance and style.
I see my fashion as an act of (post)feminism irrespective of gender: personality, autonomy, and individuality are at the center of her avant-garde style. Black has an expressive power. Through the contrast, everything around seems so much lighter and I really love light and I love it bright. So working with black means working with the light. I love all the different shades of black. Every fabric has its own black caused by illumination. Black is no negation. It is the beginning; it comes before the light. It is my foundation from where I start, and it opens for me a huge stage for the cut and details in general.
TH: How do you typically design? How did this process change to fit the demands of Making the Cut?
EP: I usually do simple drawing which I then discuss with my patternmaker and give her as much information and measurements. The most important thing is the first fitting when you see if your idea works out or if you need to change it. But this is a wonderful creative process.
TH: How did you feel when you learned you would see your designs in front of the Eiffel Tower?
EP: Since I was 12 years old, I wanted to become a designer, and I always dreamed of Paris. I happened to do my master’s in Fashion and Textile Design in Paris and lived for two and a half years in France. So, I know the city quite well. But seeing my designs on a runway in front of the Eiffel Tower is a crazy big thing.
TH: What goes into making a tech pack for the seamstress?
EP: I have worked a lot with seamstresses already. But I like to talk and discuss with them because often they have the better ideas of how to make a piece even easier to produce or use less fabric or improve the fitting. It is teamwork. During the show, we couldn’t talk to the seamstress and everything needed to be explained on paper in a different language. That was quite a challenge.
TH: What is the mindset behind designing the “runway” versus “accessible” looks?
EP: This is something I really love doing. It is a great exercise for all designers. If you have a creative mind, you want to go wild and this is a joyful thing to do. But to pick out some details or try to translate a spirit into a more accessible look is a skill that can save your life.
TH: How did it feel to win after your scramble to complete the dress?
EP: The whole night before the show I really thought if I will not manage to find a solution in case the dress is not done, I will be out because I have only one outfit. I didn’t have time to look left and right, so finally at the fashion show I realized my competitors around me. It was overwhelming to win after all that struggle.
TH: Did this win affect your confidence level?
EP: Yes, it definitely did. But not in a way: Cool, I am safe now. It rather allowed me to be more daring and do things I would usually not do.
This new series is far more gritty and (in some ways) less enjoyable than watching hopefuls navigate each week's challenge on PR. Personally, I love watching the sewing, crafting and draping. There's little of that here. (Seamstresses construct the designs off-camera). Even the (Paris) workroom looks gloomy. All the happy veneer has been peeled away to reveal Amazon's agenda: We want simple stuff that sells millions! The challenges are straightforward: either your design can be easily replicated and sold online, or it's a respectable homage to your aesthetic, otherwise you're cut. It all feels grim. The judges are like a firing squad. Yeah, the fashion business is tough, but thankfully these contestants all have successful brands and loyal customers to return to if they don't make it to the end. I can only guess what the poor winner is in for post-finale... No wonder they put in that "date" with Heidi and Tim to lighten it up.