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‘Making the Cut’ Review: Amazon’s Pricey ‘Project Runway’ Knockoff Doesn’t Push Fashion Forward

Hosts Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn jumped ship from their trademark series to splash out an Amazon-backed series that gives "accessible" fashion a bad name.

Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn

“Making the Cut”

Amazon Studios

It’s not until the sixth episode of Amazon’s new fashion competition series “Making the Cut” that one of its competitors snaps, yelling to no one in particular about one of his inchoate designs, “I don’t want to make it wearable!” Too bad, because the new series, a “Project Runway” knockoff that attempts to hide its obvious inspiration while also trading on the star power of hosts — and former “Project” faces — Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, isn’t just about making it wearable, it’s about making it wearable for everyone. 

It’s a fine enough idea, even a powerful one, but one that doesn’t make much sense in practice: the show gathers a dozen talented designers together, then tells them to make clothes ready to sell on Amazon, so that they may win the ultimate prize, which is to sell an entire line on the behemoth online shopping platform. Mass consumption doesn’t make for the most eye-catching fashion, and it doesn’t even make for particularly engaging reality television.

Not that “Making the Cut” isn’t enjoyable enough, if only because its rules and paces are readily digestible to an audience that’s long familiar with the formulas that drive the genre. It’s easy to watch. Yes, there are some differences between “Making the Cut” and “Project Runway,” and the show is all to happy to remind viewers of them early and often. Some of them are technical, like that each episode doesn’t necessarily end with just one person going home or that the contenders can actually try to convince the judges they should still get to stay after an initial heave-ho.

Also of note: all of the show’s contestants have established brands (next to the word “accessible,” there’s no term bandied about on the series as much as “brand”), and while they might not be name brands, these people have been working it for a long time (all of them have their own lines, most of them have shown at various fashion weeks, some of them have even dressed stars like Nicki Minaj and Billy Porter).

Fans of “Project Runway” will also spark to another technical twist: each contestant gets their own dedicated seamstress (not that we ever meet them), which allows them to focus on their designs over their craftsmanship. It’s an aces idea, one that seems to level the playing field while adding in all sorts of other potential dramas, like “what the hell will my garments look like when they come back from the seamstress?” and “does it actually matter that I can’t sew?” Surely “Making the Cut” had to layer on the rule changes to differentiate it from other shows of its ilk, but while the seamstress rule is perhaps the smallest, it’s also the one that offers real bang.

“Making the Cut”

Amazon Studios

And then there’s that Amazon synergy. The winner of “Making the Cut” will be lavished with prizes, including not just bragging rights, but also a cool million dollars, plus an all-new collection launching exclusively on Amazon. That’s not all, however, because each individual competition’s winning look will also instantly be available for sale on the online shopping portal. That’s right, once that winner is announced at the end of each new ep, interested shoppers can fire up their browsers and smartphones and apps and head on over to the “Making the Cut” store to pick up whatever just won top honors.

It’s all part of the real aim of “Making the Cut”: to not necessarily find the next great fashion designer or line, but the next great “global brand.” That spirit of global inclusion has powerful reach within smaller pockets of the show, which doesn’t make a big deal about its wide range of models (all sizes, all genders, all colors, though they remain predominantly young) or its even wider selection of contestants (again, all sizes, all genders, all colors, even a few older folks to really jazz it up). That’s a new kind of accessibility, a welcome kind, but not one that inspires similarly forward-thinking fashion.

In short, most of the looks are bad, or at least not inventive or thrilling in the way fashion is expected to be. The bent towards being “wearable” stifles the designers’ creativity with startling regularity, and siloing it off from more high fashion looks does nothing to help the concept that fashions should be (and can be) for all. Most episodes hinge on competitions in which the contestants are encouraged to craft two looks, one “accessible” and “consumer-friendly,” the other more fit for the runway, and that division does little to bring out the best in the show’s creators.

“Making the Cut”

Amazon Studios

Initially capped at a cool dozen, the show takes far too long to offer deep insights into its various competitors. Even in the fifth episode of the show (the first six were made available to critics for review), contenders were still being introduced via filmed interviews. Still, there is amusement in watching stars emerge in seemingly organic ways (like wunderkind Sander, who backs up his big personality with even bigger talent, or heavy-hitting Esther, who starts strong and begins to falter), while increasingly wacky challenges push them into more emotional spaces.

Still, the seams in the interpersonal drama are visible. It’s a given that reality programming will twist, well, reality to serve narrative and emotional ends, but much of that feels manufactured in the “Making the Cut” world. A contestant who seemed talented and well-adjusted suddenly starts crying during innocuous confessionals — only to exit the show of his own volition, leaving everyone (and maybe even the producers) stunned. Another contestant has a freak-out that warrants a cheap and cheesy flash-forward to all the impending drama, only for the contender to rein themselves back in and hustle onward through an episode initially set up to follow a personal implosion that never comes.

Even less successful are a series of jaunts — styled, somewhat awkwardly, as dates — that Klum and Gunn undertake throughout the series. Perhaps intended to shine a light on the show’s starry settings, as they often include cute cultural touches (a cabaret in Paris! a robotic restaurant in Tokyo!), the conceit still can’t help but fall flat, diluting any momentum the competitions have and padding out episodes that push into the one-hour mark without any commercial breaks.

“Making the Cut”

Amazon Studios

At least some of the judges are able to pick up the dramatic slack, particularly Naomi Campbell, whose trademark forthright nature is often the blunt force the contenders need. (Gunn, while not on deck to judge, also seems more free and easy about delivering tough talk to working designers than he was on “Runway.”) Despite setting up a stacked panel in its first episode, including Klum, Campbell, Nicole Richie, Joseph Altuzarra, and Carine Roitfeld, the show later cycles between them, adding in influencer Chiara Ferragni and, at one point, a popular animated Japanese character (the winner will have their design posted on her social media feeds, naturally).

That kind of strange messiness actually suits the show, which spends more than half of its first season adhering to worn-out tropes before starting to break out of old patterns. It starts with that yelled decree about wearability, and it begins to show itself in amped-up competitions that benefit from designers throwing out rigid concepts about what to make. Wearable? Maybe. Accessible? What’s more accessible than the idea that being exactly who you are is actually the winning answer? Put that on a tee-shirt.

Grade: C+

“Making the Cut” premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, March 27. New episodes will be available for streaming on Fridays.

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