After Making the Cut’s first two episodes, two designers had been cut from the competition, and two with looks now being sold on Amazon. I talked to all four designers, including Martha Gottwald, whose struggles consumed a lot of the first and second episode’s focus, to learn more about their time on the show.
Both of the designers whose wearable looks were chosen to be sold on Amazon—Esther and Ji—have now sold out. And in a statement via a publicist, Amazon said that “all profits for winning looks are going directly back to the designers.”
Martha Gottwald: “Oh crap. We have to sew”
Martha Gottwald received a lot of Making the Cut’s attention and focus during the first two episodes before she was cut by the judges, having pinned together a dress at the last minute.
If she seemed out of place in the competition, it’s because she felt that herself—and even warned producers she would not be right for a competition involving sewing.
“I really had no idea what to expect,” she told me. Before the competition began, but after they were cast, the designers didn’t even know “how they were going to make us compete against one another,” she said, and she expected something different: “PR competitions where we have to brand ourselves and do a full runway show and do the music.”
“And then it was like, Oh, oh crap. We have to sew.”
Martha said she repeatedly told producers during the casting process—she was contacted and asked to apply—that she couldn’t do that. “I went into casting and every phone call that a producer would call me, I was very upfront about what I do for Neubyrne and my capabilities. I’ve taken a bunch of sewing classes growing up, but I really—I hate it. I don’t get it. It’s not a strong suit of mine.”
Before the competition began, Martha said she rented a sewing machine and practiced, but it wasn’t enough. And then as the competition began, she told me, “I just I kept thinking, like, surely they’re not going to make me do this.“
But they did. While the designers had seamstresses, they didn’t have much time to even prepare work for their seamstresses. They had to conceptualize a design, shop for fabric, make patterns, cut it, and assemble a tech kit for the seamstress—and the designers had to have their work ready for the seamstresses around 8 p.m.
“You’re only working with like, a couple hours at that point,” Martha said. “And keep in mind, I’ve never done any of these things. So like it’s a full learning curve. … I don’t even know if I have the technical language to communicate what them to do. Because usually I would just talk to my pattern maker and be like, All right, big, puffy sleeve—no, bigger, even larger.”
Martha acknowledges that she could have eventually done all that work, but “I just got really in my head, and all the time was gone at that point.”
After the first challenge, the judges talked to Martha—and it turns out the designers were just as confused as we were about that process, which didn’t identify top and bottom designers.
The judges had complimentary things to say about Martha’s style and brand, but she didn’t hear any of that. “I don’t remember. I thought that I was in the bottom,” she told me. “I thought that I was being eliminated, 1,000 percent for sure. And then when they kept me, I didn’t even really hear the good things. I just kept anticipating the worst.”
“It was just a downhill spiral from there,” she said. During the second episode’s challenge, Martha walked away from the workroom, and seemed like she was done with the competition entirely.
The episode included a brief montage of her walking around, but didn’t show everything. “I was done. I was, I just can’t do what they want me to do and like I shouldn’t waste anyone’s time. And so I went and I had a coffee at a cafe, and had a lovely cup of coffee with a stranger and just talked about just random stuff.”
After that, she returned and talked with mentor Tim Gunn. “He did have this calming effect on me, but his confidence in me didn’t help my lack of confidence in my ability of like what they wanted me to do,” Martha said. “Even watching it back, I’m like, Shoot, like, I should have really heard him.”
The coffee with a stranger and discussion with Tim “did invigorate me a little bit, and just getting out of that room made me feel a little bit better,” she said. “But I still, at that point, it was the second day. So there was no time and I couldn’t send anything to the seamstress because I hadn’t done enough.”
Martha said that, while her time in the competition was brief, “there were some really just fun moments I will never forget. Before the Eiffel Tower before that runway show, we had like all of our models lined up. We were getting them in order before they walked, and we could see Heidi and Tim doing their little interview right in front of the Eiffel Tower. And I had this moment where Heidi was looking over, and I started dancing. And then she started dancing. And she was like, Whoa, they’re excited.”
“I think the world of all these designers and I am not mad that I was eliminated,” she added. “I’m so humbled that I was even there for another episode. When I walked in the door and I saw everyone doing what they do, I was like, Okay, this is this is insane. These people are so talented. Just to be in the room with all of them was really, really, really cool for me.”
Jasmine Chong: “newness can be pretty terrifying”
Jasmine Chong echoed what Martha said about the competition: she knew nothing going into it. But that didn’t stop her from saying yes when she was approached about applying.
“It was this opportunity that I had to take, even though there were lots of unknowns. I was super nervous,” Jasmine told me.
I asked what specifically she was nervous about, and she said it was going into something that was a giant question mark. “I have had my label for four and a half years, almost five. That’s my comfort zone. I just didn’t know what the logistics are, like, the format of the competition,” she said. But she did it anyway: “I’m going to jump and see how it goes.”
“My personal design process, I don’t really have tightly-defined windows of time. I’m used to being in my studio and having certain freedoms,” Jasmine said. “Being a part of the competition just adds this level of adrenaline, and that was something that was pretty challenging for me.”
Also unexpected: the connection with found other Making the Cut competitors.
“We helped each other a lot. There was really a camaraderie there. When you sign up for a reality television [show], you don’t know what to expect. And that was something that I was just so pleasantly surprised by,” Jasmine said.
That continues to this day, nine months after filming: Jasmine said that, on Friday when we spoke, “We’re still in the Making the Cut group chat. And it’s going off right now.”
Among the topics of conversation in the designers’ group text thread was their #StrutForTheCut posts, which the show created last week to bring awareness to the World Health Organization’s efforts. (Amazon said the show “will be donating more than $600K to the World Health Organization, and to local charities in New York, Paris, and Tokyo, where the series was filmed.”)
During the competition, Jasmine said her talk with Tim Gunn “was incredibly validating. I love that he understood what I was trying to do. He got what I was saying about trying to put people into different body shapes—and everyone just has different body shapes, like it doesn’t have to be an apple or a pear or whatever. It’s just bodies. So it was really cool and really validating to get that feedback, especially, you know, growing up watching Tim Gunn. He’s this icon.”
The talk with the judges was different. Jasmine was the first designer called before them, and none of them knew how the process would work.
“I did feel a little blindsided. I was standing there in my rose gold sneakers in front of Naomi Campbell and Carine, and if I had known that I would be called up, I probably would have put on a pair of heels, more makeup, did my hair,” Jasmine told me. “It just happened really fast. And, you know, especially being the first one out, I didn’t know what that conversation looked like. So it was all new. And newness can be pretty terrifying.”
Jasmine’s wearable outfit, “the blue dress was actually a version of a dress that currently is one of my best sellers,” she told me, though she called it “a different iteration.”
And while Naomi Campbell said that her sheer green dress was in “poor taste,” and Nicole Richie said it was hard to sell outfits made of sheer fabric, Jasmine said that’s also worked at her label, Jasmine Chong. “In my brand, sheer pieces have been bestsellers. So I was going off what has worked, especially for a runaway high-fashion look.”
“I may have underestimated how bright the lights would be and how windy it would be on that stage,” she laughed. “But in the end, it was really special and emotional to show on that stage under the Eiffel Tower. And I’m really glad I did it. … When I got back from Paris, I had all these photos and inspirations and I started shaping and put together a collection.”
Ji Won Choi: “I wish I could have him in my pocket at all times”
Ji Won Choi did not win Making the Cut’s first challenge or second challenge—though she was so close, and her work was so good, that a representative from Amazon chose her mini dress from the second challenge to be sold on Amazon.
Ji has watched the episodes, and said, “Watching back some of the most like crazy and important moments of your life through a screen is really insane, because the way it happened, you’re in such a different mindset. Everything that happened, we didn’t get to see most of because we’re so focused like on our own stuff.”
When Ji was called in front of the judges during the second episode, she said she expected the same thing as the first challenge: That “it was gonna be a situation where you almost win, but you don’t,” she said. “But it’s super great to have my look on a platform that can be reached by so many people around the world.”
Her wearable look from the first episode wasn’t picked, and Ji told me, “Of course I was super disappointed. I’m just a very competitive person by nature. But I also see why it didn’t win; it definitely wasn’t accessible enough … to be sold to people around the world.”
Before her mini-dress was produced to be sold, Ji said, she worked with the team at Amazon to refine it. While “there was not that much to change about the overall design,” she said, it was tweaked before it was sold. “We didn’t really make a lot of changes except we lengthened it a little—it was too short in the show—and then just tweaking the fit a little bit and of course, choosing the fabric.” (It’s in neoprene.)
Ji was recruited by casting producers, but when she got the first e-mail message, “I deleted it immediately,” she said. “I was like, Okay, this is a spam. I didn’t even think about it. And they kept reaching out and I was like, Oh, it’s for real. And they flew me out to LA immediately. And of course, it was a yes from me if they wanted me.”
The actual challenges and the speed at which the designers had to create wasn’t an issue. “I’m always used to working under such time pressure. But I think it was the pressure overall: the fact that Naomi and Corinne and the whole world were going to see these looks that we’ve created. We don’t want something we’re not proud of to represent our brand.”
Having Project Runway stars Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn involved was a big draw for Ji. “I grew up watching him and Heidi on TV. So I was super excited to be part of a show where I’ll be on TV with them together rather than what I’m used to,” she told me. “And of course it was exposure, the chance of reaching so much more of an audience than I’m used to reaching. And I’m just always about like new experiences.”
Tim Gunn, she said, “always got my vision like right away” and “really brought me back to earth and was making sure that I wasn’t freaking out over all the little things, that I was getting the bigger picture. Honestly, he’s the most calming presence. I wish I could have him in my pocket at all times to settle me down.”
Esther Perbandt: “I felt like being sent back to the playground”
Like Ji, Esther received an e-mail from casting—and had a similar response to Ji.
“When I received an email, with a request to apply for that show, my first reaction was no, this is nothing for me. I don’t work like that. I’m so connected to art and I have my small niche. I’m not commercial in any way,” she said. “But then I just slept two nights. And then pretty quickly, I felt like Okay, what do I have to lose? This is maybe a great chance to finally be able to show my work to the world. And really to learn because the market is changing so quickly.”
“I thought, what a fantastic opportunity to go out there on this expedition trip and discover how a big brand is doing things, and what can I observe and take home from that experience and [bring] change into my work and business,” she added.
“I didn’t expect that,” Esther said of those first two wins. “But that was, of course, a really great start for me. And it gave me the power—the will to continue.” The two wins also created some expectation, and “maybe it did cause a little bit of pressure because I knew it cannot continue like that,” she said.
She pulled together a dress at the last moment because what she got back from her seamstress was not workable. I asked what, specifically, her seamstress didn’t do.
“I think it was not enough time, the second night, for the seamstress,” Esther said. “And it was also very complicated. I wanted to have a very complicated encrusted collar on that dress, which is like a signature thing on some of my garments. It was not enough time, and maybe also she didn’t understand all the pattern pieces, because it’s like in bits and pieces—small pattern pieces.”
Esther said creating something last-minute was actually a “fantastic thing. … Sometimes people ask me, Are you not afraid that you will not have any ideas anymore? I cannot imagine this. Being open to things—this is what makes a great designer, to be able to always to work with the flow.”
The second challenge, Esther told me, “was personal and was my biggest moment for me—I don’t know in my life, but let’s say in my career. Doing this haute couture dress, this was a milestone for me. I don’t have an investor, so it’s always from hand to mouth. And I always had to do things considering if it’s sellable, if it’s wearable. Being able to do an haute couture dress that was 20 meters of tulle and sequins, that I felt like being sent back to the playground, and that made me so happy.”