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Making the Cut Season 1, Episode 2: “Haute Couture”

Judges Naomi Campbell and Nicole Richie examine designer Megan Smith's couture-inspired dress. Photo courtesy of Amazon Corporate.

Two words that make fashion lovers’ hearts sing: haute couture. For a high-level sewer, haute couture may be attainable within the workroom, but for midlevel-to-beginner sewers, haute couture is like magic. Haute couture is all about crisp details, beautiful finishes, and flawless embellishments—all created from high-quality fabrics and notions.

The challenge

In this episode of Making the Cut, designers were challenged to make a runway haute couture design and a companion piece that is easily sellable. The winner of each challenge would have the winning accessible design produced and sold on Amazon’s Making the Cut marketplace. In addition to that perk, the winner would receive a feature in Carine Roitfeld’s fashion publication, CR Fashion Book. This episode’s fashion show was at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, part of the Louvre Palace.

Again, the designers dispersed throughout the City of Light to seek inspiration. Some visited the Musée Yves Saint Laurent (keep an eye out for a feature article by couture expert Claire B. Shaeffer about this museum in Threads #209), which contains many garments, sketches, and glimpses into the designer’s creative life. Others went to the Musée du Louvre and admired I.M. Pei’s glass pyramids, and architecture in the surrounding square.

As various designers threw around the term “haute couture,” I wondered how many of them really knew what it means. They seemed to think that couture is synonymous with avant-garde style, including feathers and big, flashy embellishments. My interpretation of couture has nothing to do with the loudness of a design. Rather, it’s the impeccable quality in the construction and finishing of the garment. We’ll see how many of the designers achieved this in the episode.

The judging

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs proved to be a breathtaking venue for a fashion show. Live classical piano music accompanied the parade of garments and suited the dignified beauty of the space. The click-clack of models’ shoes was audible over the background music. Once they finished on the catwalk, the models sat at various sets along the runway, beds and benches and tables arranged to look like a snapshot into a rich Parisian lifestyle.

Back in the workroom, the judges called up four designers, two critiqued at the top and two at the bottom, to discuss their looks. The designers had a chance to explain their process and advocate for themselves to solidify or save their position in the competition.

First up was Sander Bos, whose avant-garde couture piece was popular with the judges. His accessible piece, however, was not as well-liked. Judges criticized him for not reining in his imagination enough for a sell-able look. He was safe after the judges deliberated.

Next, Martha Gottwald was called up. She struggled again in this challenge and ended up simply pinning her garments on the model. One of the looks didn’t have a single stitch in it; it wasn’t hemmed or finished, and the only so-called seam was where it was pinned. The fabrics were gorgeous, but she failed to recognize anything close to her original sketches. The judges took note. I admired her guts in owning the result of her work and her composure in the face of such an intimidating panel, but I didn’t understand how someone with such a strong point of view and years of design experience hasn’t picked up even a small amount of sewing knowledge. She simply had no place on a design show like this. She did not make the cut.

Jonny Cota, self-proclaimed lover of leather, was next to defend his mini collection. His leather jacket with a silk satin draped back was gorgeous, in my opinion, but the judges were of a different view. They said he didn’t push himself enough and that both his garments were too pedestrian. “Couture” has certain standards and the judges didn’t believe he met them. However, he did enough to stay in the competition.

Esther Perbandt was the last designer to be brought before the judges to talk about her looks. She designed a short black dress worn over narrow pants and a longer black dress with a full skirt. Both pieces had interesting bodice details. Her garments coordinated beautifully and the judges loved the drama of her couture gown. The judges said they felt her execution and vision were strong and reached a new level of couture standards. She won for the second week in a row.

Esther Perbandt’s winning look is revealed on the runway at the Musee des Arts Decoratif at the Louve Palace. Photo courtesy of Amazon Corporate.

But wait, there’s more. Ji Won Choi, a standout in the previous episode and a strong contender on the runway this episode, impressed the right people. A member from Amazon Fashion was at the show and loved her accessible look so much that Amazon decided to also put it into production to be sold in the Making the Cut store.

Ji Won Choi’s accessible look was selected to be manufactured and sold on Amazon.com. Photo courtesy of Amazon Corporate.

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: Do you have experience working with haute couture? What do you like/dislike about it?

Esther Perbandt: No, I do not have experience with haute couture, but I was always dreaming about having the possibility to do really extravagant dresses without having to think of the accessible aspect of it. Doing these looks made me feel like being sent back to the playground. I enjoyed it heavily.

TH: How was it to find inspiration in Paris?

EP: Just looking at people in the streets and speaking French is inspiring for me. The chicness of the city polishes my Berlin rock-and-roll roots and turns it into a perfect mix.

TH: What is it like to work with a seamstress, and coming in to find your looks (hopefully) sewn?

EP: Usually, if a seamstress doesn’t understand what you want her to do, she calls you and you can discuss. In the show it was always a surprise in the morning if your garment is done or not. That made it even more stressful.

TH: How important do you think sewing ability is in a design competition?

EP: I think it is necessary to know at least a bit. Otherwise, it is not fair for the person. Someone could have amazing ideas and not be able to translate them into a real garment. Every designer works so differently, and this doesn’t say anything about the quality of the design skills. In the end, it is great that people can exactly see that. At least I hope they are smart enough to do so.

TH: Did you enjoy showing at the Louvre Palace? How did it feel to see your designs walk the runway there?

EP: This moment seeing the two beautiful models wearing the outfits walking so elegantly and like queens in the Musée des Art Décoratifs was a milestone for me. I could have gone home afterward, and I still would be more than happy and grateful.

TH: How is your confidence level after winning twice in a row?

EP: Well, the pressure is not getting smaller let’s say. And to be honest, this cannot continue like that. It would be boring.


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