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Inspiration

Making the Cut Season 1, Episode 4: “Fight For Your Life”

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Designer Jonny Cota's striped dress with mismatched neckline wowed the judges on Making the Cut Episode 4. Photo courtesy of Amazon Corporate.

As a quick refresher (although both episodes were released on the same day), Episode 3 of Making the Cut ended on a cliffhanger. Troy Hul Arnold was on the brink of not making the cut, but the episode ended before the judges announced their decision. This episode picked up where the last one left off, with guest judge Naomi Campbell saying she changed her mind about whether to cut Troy. Nicole Richie also changed her mind, but Heidi Klum stood firm. Majority ruled as judges Joseph Altuzarra and Carine Roitfeld added their two cents. Troy officially made the cut. Whew. What a way to start Episode 4, “Fight For Your Life.”

The challenge

This competition has high stakes, including a $1 million prize. In this episode, host Tim Gunn and judge Heidi expressed that designers were getting complacent and needed to be shaken up. The new challenge was to create one look each from fabric remnants of past challenges. In other words, no fabric shopping was allowed. The designers had just seven hours to complete their looks, and there would be no seamstress help during the night. Cue panicked looks from designers with less sewing experience, including Esther Perbandt and Sabato Russo.

“Fight For Your Life” featured three interludes with Heidi and Tim. Tim apparently has a passion for fencing and attempted to teach Heidi the basics: the stance, how to advance, and how to retreat. I fenced in high school so I appreciated seeing the sport represented. However, I was not impressed by their fencing skills during their “bout.” Tim was clearly letting Heidi win, because Heidi wasn’t even wearing the proper gear to enable Tim to score a point. Notice that Tim was wearing a silver jacket. When fencing with a saber, as they did, the jacket needs to be conductive to signal when a point has been landed. Heidi was wearing a white jacket, which is not appropriate for saber fencing. That’s the end of the fencing saga, and I’m glad of it.

The judging

In the past three episodes, the runway show used a grand landmark as the backdrop. This time, the runway was in the designers’ workroom.

As with the previous episodes, the winner’s garment would be produced then sold in the Amazon Making the Cut store. There would be only one winner, but any number of designers could be cut at any time. The designers also would get a chance to speak to the judges and advocate for their looks to change the judges’ minds.

Who is safe?

First up was Rinat Brodach, who sewed a pencil skirt with a twist and a simple crop top. The judges said she could do more even though they liked her look. She made the cut.

Then came Megan Smith, who had made an asymmetrical color-blocked top and pants. They said they loved her look, and several of them said they would buy it. She also made the cut.

Jonny’s look was a long dress in black-and-white vertical stripes, with oversized bishop sleeves and a hem ruffle. He described it as Bride of Beetlejuice, and the judges approved. They appreciated the way the stripes did not match at then neckline, which broke up the body stripes and added visual interest. His dress’s silhouette is reminiscent of many dresses popular at runway shows and on red carpets for some time. I was surprised that none of the judges mentioned the fact that it was not a unique design. However, the judges were happy he followed their comments in earlier episodes and pushed himself. They made him the episode’s winner.

Who was cut?

Next, Troy was called up. The judges said his clothes looked unsure. His tailoring was not good, and the garments fit poorly. Naomi said his outfit would be her nightmare because of how the dress’s sleeves fitted (or didn’t) into the coat sleeves. He did not make the cut.

Finally, the judges heard from Will Riddle, who tried to show his versatility by making pants, something he had not yet done in the competition. His snazzy sequined cropped pants and blouse with trailing sash didn’t impress. The judges didn’t like the pants, which were made from a fabric they said they despised in the previous challenge. Heidi said he made disco clothes, and all the judges were concerned with his taste level. He became the fifth designer to be cut.

Designer pins flashy gold fabric to dress form to create a dress as Making the Cut show host Tim Gunn observes
Will Riddle’s taste level has been in doubt since the first episode, during which he made a dress with a high slit out of flashy gold fabric. Photo courtesy of Amazon Corporate.

Interview with the Making the Cut episode winner

The publicity team for the show has given me access to the winning designer from each episode, for a short interview.

What a challenge the designers had in “Fight For Your Life.” I was curious about how Jonny chose the striped fabric leftover from his collaboration with Megan in the previous episode.

“I knew I couldn’t do leather, and there were some fabrics that the judges had already said they hated, so I was going to stay away from those,” he said. “You know, I really loved the stripes I did with Megan and I knew what I would design would look totally different, so that didn’t scare me. So I jumped straight for the stripes. I was ready to fight for it. Luckily, everyone was like, just take it.”

When Tim came by for a critique, he said the fabric had “Megan written all over it.” I asked Jonny about Tim’s comment.

“Tim talks are an interesting thing,” he said. “They’re there to guide you. Sometimes that means listen to his advice and, sometimes that means, as he’s giving a critique, does it throw you off your center or does it make you feel even stronger about your choice? In that moment, I knew right away I felt super strong in my decision and I was unwavering.

“I think that Tim says what you need to hear, he’s like the Oracle in The Matrix. So maybe what you need to hear is a new idea, and maybe what you need to hear is a critique that you immediately deflect and feel even stronger in your decision.” Note: The Oracle from the Matrix movies is a character who possesses the power of foresight and has a deep understanding of the human psyche, which she uses to give guidance.

It’s true that the striped fabric was gorgeous. “It was silk twill, the fabric was very delicate,” Jonny said. “It was very fragile, not easy for me to sew. I’m used to leather, denim, really sturdy materials that I can just [imitating sewing machine sounds] shoot through a sewing machine with a lot of power. This was was like inching along, like every single needle point.”

I asked him about the process of cutting and matching the striped fabric.

“I rarely work with patterns, and stripes are notoriously tricky, so I was really struggling to match them up,” he said. “For the body, I think I did a strong job. Then for the neckline, it was a disaster. I showed it to a few designers and they were like, ‘Cota, this does not look good.’ So my last 30 minutes, I cut a new neck and I knew it wouldn’t match up so I just wanted to drastically not match up. It needed to look like a choice, not an accident.”

This comment brought me to the judging. What does it feel like to go before a panel of celebrities without knowing where you stand?

“In Episode 2, I got a real beating by the judges, so I was very timid and I was very nervous,” he said. “Also you know, like mega-celebrities, which is an interesting thing to be standing in front of and you know, ten cameras. But after I got praise with myself and Megan in Episode 3, I was feeling much more comfortable in front of them and kinda closer to them, you know? Sometimes, tough love makes you feel fonder. By Episode 4, even though I didn’t know I was about to win, I was like [claps] awesome, let’s do this! Give me an opportunity to either smile or defend myself or show you more of my personality. Because every opportunity for you to be in front of the judges, good and bad, is always good.”

One of the comments from the notoriously critical Naomi Campbell was that she was proud of him. When asked about that, he said, “It felt the best. I mean, I heard everyone compliment but, really, the only one that sunk in was Naomi saying, ‘Good job, you did it.’ Like after episode 2, oof. I needed that.”

I made a joke about how it must be especially good coming from Naomi since she’s so blunt, and he defended her.

“But it’s just like some tough love, you know. It might be hard hearing it the first time, but then you feel closer to them. You feel like they believe in you or that they care. So really, [Naomi] quickly turned into one of my favorite judges.

“[Criticism] is a sign of being a professional designer. You will always get critiques whether from the press or sales or unhappy customers or happy customers and if you can’t take it professionally, and use it to do better, then you don’t have a place in this business.”

Jonny had a strong, recognizable aesthetic since the first episode. I asked him if he thought that worked in his favor, or if the judges expected more from him because of it.

“I think the judges were telling me what I already knew to be true,” he said. “That I had an aesthetic, even if it was a strong aesthetic, it was one flavor, and I’ve been doing it for 10 years. I’ve been trying to evolve past that and grow as a designer and it’s always a challenge. I’ll tell you how to grow as a designer: having Naomi Campbell embarrass you in front of the rest of the world.” He laughed. “It really lights a fire under your butt to self-reflect on how, as a designer, can I push myself past the things I’ve already been doing?”

Jonny is a self-taught sewer and designer. As a mostly self-taught sewer myself, I wondered whether he thought it gave him an advantage or disadvantage over the other designers?

“I’m proud that I’ve come so far being self-taught, but there’s no ego around that. I don’t think it’s better,” he said. “It’s way better to be trained and go to school and understand how exactly garments are professionally constructed and patterned. I didn’t have that opportunity, but I figured it out. I’d buy jackets from Goodwill, open them up, open up the lining, see how things were put together. Maybe copy patterns off an old blazer, learn to do that. I learned a lot from YouTube, how do I do this, how do I make a Victorian puff sleeve? You know, even my winning dress, before I went on the show, I was watching YouTube tutorials about making a puff sleeve. I feel excited that I was able to teach  myself, and for anyone that wants to teach themselves, do it, but if you really love fashion and you want to be trained, be trained! It’s a faster, more efficient way to learn.”

YouTube and ThreadsMagazine.com are great places for people to start off; in fact, it’s where I started. He had more to say on the topic of new designers.

“I feel like a lot of young designers are like, ‘Where do I start? I have an idea, I want to do this,’ and they ask me,” he said. “And I say, just start. Just start. Let your first two collections be crap, who cares? Watch tutorials online, just start, learn from your mistakes, that’s how you become good. Don’t worry about getting an investment and stop worrying about the logo of this brand that hasn’t even been sewn yet. Just start at step 1.”

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