Whatever happened to the fashion television show? To the plummy talking heads of The Clothes Show, the prodding and probing of Trinny and Susannah, or the sassy sewing machine antics of Gok Wan? Nothing has filled the small screen-shaped hole in my life since they disappeared off the air. Project Runway? Too much drama. The Great British Sewing Bee? Cosy, but not exactly cool. The BBC’s You Are What You Wear? Never made it past episode one. Then along came Netflix’s Next In Fashion.
The world of fashion is famously impenetrable, and the characters that occupy it notoriously hard to impress, yet when Alexa Chung and Tan France skipped onto our screens in 2020, 18 designers in tow, all competing for the chance to win $250,000 and debut a collection on Net-a-Porter, fashion editors couldn’t help but glance up from their smartphones.
The judging line-up was industry-savvy – think Instagram’s Eva Chen, celebrity stylist Elizabeth Stewart and British designer Christopher Kane – and Alexa’s wardrobe undeniably lust-worthy: Simone Rocha and Richard Quinn and Miu Miu, oh my! As for the winners? Season one’s champion, Minju Kim, has had a number of successful collections land on Net-a-Porter (plus a collaboration with & Other Stories), while runner-up, Daniel Fletcher, became a permanent fixture on the fashion circuit. Could it be true, I wondered? A fashion-focused reality TV competition where the winners aren’t destined for three months of fame before it’s all teeth whitening ads and guest appearances at Tiger Tiger? Miracles can happen, people.
Historically, TV talent contests have capitalised on conflict. Cooking shows become a gladiatorial fight to the death – all screaming showdowns and palette knives in the back – the food a mere backdrop to the unfolding drama. Producers felt it was the only way to keep audiences glued to their screens. In the words of Maximus Decimus Meridius: “Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?”
Yet Next In Fashion never resorted to this cut-throat showmanship, and instead drew from The Great British Bake Off school of thought, where collaboration is encouraged and contestants are – whisper it – nice to each other. Of course, there was the odd moment of melodrama – Kerby Jean-Raymond walking out mid-judging or Marco getting clobbered by a rogue clothes rail – but, ultimately, the creative process was front and centre. As Tan France told The Guardian back in 2020: “There’s enough drama in the world, and we’ve created a show that provides an escape from that.”
Cynicism begone. Happiness is watching a designer nerd out over a competitor’s choice of spandex or cooing over a well-executed blanket stitch. It’s this fangirling over the creative process itself (something that we should all learn more about in a fast-fashion era) paired with realism around the commercial demands of the contemporary fashion landscape that set the show apart. It’s not selling an X Factor pipe dream, where participants expect to go from modest supermarket job to multi-platinum success story overnight – after all, what makes a fashion designer a star is an unfathomable mystery. Season one’s cast were all designers who had been working in the industry for years, and were well aware of the rigour, resourcefulness and business savvy required to make a brand work. Alexa Chung herself, even, is a cautionary tale in this regard.
Indeed, the absence of Chung – who is being replaced by Gigi Hadid – is certainly palpable in the trailers for the new season, out today, and there’s a risk that, without her gawky charm and off-beat, dry humour, the show will stray too far into shiny happy Netflix territory – and not in a good way. But, with previews showing us glimpses of guest judges such as Donatella Versace, Olivier Rousteing and Vogue’s very own Gabriella Karefa Johnson, something tells us that Next In Fashion is going to deliver yet again. Watch this space.
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