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How Making the Cut will be different from Project Runway. Plus: meet its designers

Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn, and Making the Cut co-creator/producer Sara Rea talked in-depth about the Amazon Prime Video show at the Television Critics Association winter press tour today, detailing how it’s different from Project Runway—and not just because it has a $1 million prize and filmed in New York, Paris, and Tokyo.

The TCA press conference also revealed the show’s contestants (below) and three regular judges: Naomi Campbell, Nicole Richie, and designer Joseph Altuzarra.

Challenges on the new series will require the designers to create two looks: one fashion-forward runway look, and one more accessible, wearable look, so that some of the winning looks will be immediately available for sale on Amazon. Tim Gunn said the clothes will be fashion-forward: “I don’t want anyone to think that we were thinking about a relationship with Amazon and thinking, Oh we have to dumb these clothes down. These designs are too outré.

I asked Amazon Studios executives if the sales for Making the Cut’s clothes will be used as a metric for determining if the show is a success. Co-head of television Albert Cheng said no: “We don’t use that as a measure of success.  None of the retail side plays into how we evaluate our programming.”

The show premieres March 27, with two episodes dropping every Friday, so the entire show will be done after five weeks, with the finale streaming April 24.

Longtime Project Runway producer Sara Rea is producing Making the Cut, and Rea, Tim Gunn, and Heidi Klum spent time at TCA talking about how their new show will be different than their old show.

Tim Gunn said, “to be perfectly honest about it, perfectly blunt, Making the Cut wouldn’t have happened without Project Runway.” But the show will move away from that formula—which constrained its producers and stars, they said.

“To be honest, for many, many years, because Sara and Tim and I, we’ve been working for many, many years together, and our hands were tied for many, many years, because our imagination is bigger than what we were allowed to do or couldn’t do,” Heidi Klum said. “Because there is a certain look to a show that you also sometimes maybe don’t wanna change, and they didn’t wanna change.”

It seemed to me that they were referring to the network, which was afraid of changing anything about the show.

Making the Cut is so different that the designers all get to work with seamstresses—sewing ability is not being tested—and even more surprisingly, don’t have set hours in which they have to work. They can work all night or wander the city for inspiration, and the show will follow them.

A+E Networks/Lifetime cancelled the show in the wake of reporting about Harvey Weinstein, which has resulted in him being charged with sexual assault in New York and Los Angeles. The show’s format was owned by The Weinstein Company.

Heidi said that “when everything kind of fell apart and the show was going to a different owner again … I was like, Okay, either we’re gonna just go back there and it’s gonna be same old, same old, or now is this opportunity to jump ship. And I called Tim and I said, I’m jumping this ship, and do you wanna jump with me? I don’t know where it’s gonna go, but I’m really eager to see what we can do.

Tim said, “We jumped together.” 

Heidi added that “it was scary and we called Sara, because we love Sara,” and then they “shopped it around and thought that Amazon was the best place for—not only for the show but really also for the designers. Because you can design as much as you want. It becomes real when you see people wearing your clothes.”

I asked them for details on what they couldn’t do with Project Runway at Lifetime that they wanted to do, and are doing now. Here’s what they said:

Tim Gunn:

“When we returned for season two [of Project Runway], we were in a lockstep in a way, with a formula that had been determined in season one. And then you perpetuate it further into season three, and then eventually into seasons 10 through 16.  And we couldn’t break out of it because there was a fear — not among us, we’re the ones who were thinking creatively and innovatively about what we wanted to do—but from the viewpoint of where the show sat, there was a fear about leaving that formula.”

Heidi Klum:

“We always were a show that never had the biggest budget. When you have a bigger budget—thank you Amazon—you get to go to Paris, and you get to go to Tokyo. And you get to show these designers different things, where that injects so much creativity into them and you see it in the clothes. 

Like when we were in Tokyo—not that we told them, make Japanese-inspired clothes, no—but it just naturally happens. They see things and it’s just amazing. And you’re part of that journey and it just [makes] for such a better show. 

Real designers, that’s what they do.  They travel the world and they go to amazing places and they see things and then they come back. They honed all that in and then it changes in what they create and spit out.”

Sara Rea:

“We wanted everything here to feel real world as much as possible. Like we didn’t tell them what time they had to be there. We didn’t tell them what time they had to leave. You got a fashion show in two days, pull it together, go do what you do. If you want to come and go as you please, we don’t care. 

You’re professionals, we just want to see what you can do at the fashion show at the end of this—which is really hard to do, by the way. You’ve got cameras all over Paris and like, I don’t know where the hell anybody is!  But it was important for us to really give them the freedom because that’s the real world and part of testing how they navigate what they’re doing.

…It made it hard, but it was worth it because that’s—hopefully, you feel it. We feel it in the show that it’s very authentic to what their process is.  And we hope that it’s also more character revealing for who these people are and how they would work in the real world, as we test them to see if they deserve to take $1 million from this.”

Making the Cut season 1’s designers

Making the Cut's designers in New York City
Making the Cut’s designers in New York City (Photo by Amazon)

At TCA, Tim Gunn said that the level of talent is elevated. “In my role as a teacher for most of my life, I would say that Project Runway is the undergraduate program and Making the Cut is the graduate and Ph.D. program. In Project Runway we talk about how a sleeve is set into a bodice.  You don’t hear a conversation like that happening on Making the Cut,” Tim said.

Instead, their designers and Tim think broadly: “It’s more about how does this mini-collection you’ve designed for this particular episode’s assignment, how does this fit into your larger view of your brand? And it really is about finding the next global brand. And we do,” he said.

As to the models they work with, Rea said there are “models of all sizes” and Heidi said the clothes sold on Amazon will range “from triple-X small to triple-X large, and some actually extra-large.”

Here are the contestants who are competing for the $1 million prize on Making the Cut season 1:

Sander Bos, 24, Hasselt, Belgium: Featuring avant-garde inspired looks, Bos is a young designer who runs his namesake line. Raised in a small town in Belgium, he is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and is eager to make his mark on a global scale.

Rinat Brodach, 35, New York City: Brodach was a fan of fashion from an early age while growing up in in Israel and later came to the US to study design. Her eponymous line features a minimalist chic, gender-free aesthetic, reflecting her own straightforward personality. She recently dressed Billy Porter for the Critics’ Choice Awards and her designs have also been worn by Laverne Cox and Adam Lambert.

Ji Won Choi, 26, New York City: The Parson graduate is a designer of elevated, active streetwear that she sells under her namesake brand and has collaborated with Adidas, with pieces worn by Beyoncé and Kendall Jenner. Born in Seoul, South Korea, raised in Oklahoma, and educated in New York City and Paris, her work is a reflection of how Choi sees herself in the world.

Jasmine Chong, 31, New York City: Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Chong is the owner of her self-titled feminine ready-to-wear line, has previously shown at NYFW and her line has been featured in a number of fashion magazines. Inspired by her seamstress grandmother and her fashion designer mother, she is focused on creating beautiful clothing that appeals to all body types.

Jonny Cota, 35, Los Angeles, CA: The self-taught owner of the elevated streetwear brand Skingraft, Cota produces two men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections yearly and has shown five times at New York Fashion Week. In addition, he has dressed celebrities including Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé.

Martha Gottwald, 28, Richmond, VA: The Louisiana native and mother of two is owner of the womenswear brand Neubyrne and has been featured in British Vogue and shown at NYFW. Like Gottwald herself, Neubyrne embraces color and whimsicality. The survivor of a near fatal car accident that taught her about strength and endurance, she is a relatively new designer who was inspired by artisans she met in Singapore.

Troy Hul Arnold, 34, New York City: An adjunct professor at Parsons, Hul Arnold was born in Trinidad and Tobago before coming to the US as a child. His brand, Hul Arnold, features minimalist, avant-garde menswear inspired looks for women; one of his designs was worn by Sarah Jessica Parker on Glee. Hul Arnold takes an artisanal approach to his fashion, and he refers to his pieces as functional sculptures.

Joshua Hupper, 38, Shanghai, China: Founder of BABYGHOST, a wildly successful e-commerce fashion brand based in China, Hupper’s designs have been featured in Vogue and on runways around the world. His line features youthful, feminine ready-to-wear fashions for the “mischievous girl.” Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Hupper’s talents were shaped by his artistic upbringing and internships with Diane Von Furstenburg and Thakoon.

Esther Perbandt, 43, Berlin, Germany: Founder and namesake Esther Perbandt was born and bred in Berlin, toughened up in Moscow and polished in Paris. Owner of her eponymous line, which features edgy, menswear-inspired separates, Perbandt has created more than 30 collections over the brand’s 15 year history and has been running her highly successful boutique in Berlin for ten years. As an artist, she has also collaborated on countless music, film and theatre projects.

Will Riddle, 31, New York City: Riddle’s design skills, featuring a modern take on old glamour, have led to a series of impressive jobs, including Atelier Director at Oscar de la Renta, 3.1 Philip Lim, and now men’s designer at Kith – a far journey from growing up in a trailer park in Ohio. With an impressive resume under his belt, Riddle is ready to start his own label. 

Sabato Russo, 64, Milan, Italy: A seasoned designer with a 25-year career in the industry, Russo is owner of the brand Satorial Monk, which focuses on high end simplicity. A former model who is able to speak four languages, Russo has a global point of view that is reflected in his sophisticated, timeless looks. Russo is currently working on his “Made in Italy” line entitled Sabato Russo.

Megan Smith, 38, Los Angeles, CA: Born and raised in Kansas City, KS, Smith first discovered her love of fashion design while creating clothes for her Barbie dolls. After designing private label for several major bands and retailers, Smith branched out and launched her own line “Megan Renee.” The response to her first runway show during Los Angeles Fashion Week was so overwhelming, she launched her online boutique to sell her collections to customers worldwide. Her line features feminine, 70’s inspired cocktail attire. 

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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