In the style of a Masterchef for designers, Netflix’s new series Next in Fashion is exciting, fun, inspiring and binge worthy. The formula is in line with every vote-off reality show. The rules are set and the contestants, 18 whittled down to one winner, have to prove their worth to the hosts and a rotating panel of judges.
The designers are all professionals who are looking for that next level big break. Far from being untried beginners, they bring a lot to the table. The show offers the winner $25,000 prize money and a coveted spot on Net-a-Porter, the premium online fashion seller.
But wait – haven’t we seen it all before with Bravo’s Project Runway? The Emmy winning American reality series is still netting audiences after 18 years, so why copycat with another one? Tan France (Queer Eye), who hosts Next in Fashion, alongside fashionista Alexa Chung told Pure Wow, “The show is so different from other fashion competition shows because, first and foremost, Alexa and I aren’t like other hosts. We’re bringing levity and a tone that’s comparable to a show like The Great British Bake Off.”
All reality shows create tension and drama with artificially imposed pressure to achieve goals. Many add humiliation and backbiting to hook audiences while others tend towards positive competition and cooperation, where contestants are supported and cheered on. Next in Fashion has opted for the latter, with the result that the designers’ skill is tested and showcased in an atmosphere of caring and fun. Though there are meltdowns and angry moments, all the nail biting goes into creating outstanding designs against the time pressure odds.
In Project Runway, contestants have a limited budget and time pressure to buy fabrics, whereas Next in Fashion provides a virtually unlimited supply, including print technology where they can produce original patterns. And while Project contestants had a Big Brother aspect, where the cameras were inside their New York penthouse, the action for the Next in Fashion crowd is focussed on the professional setting of the workroom and runway. The themes are broader too, allowing more room for creative vision rather than jumping through over-specific hoops.
France is the diminutive Pakistani Brit who looks after wardrobe makeover as one of Queer Eye’s Fab Five, another reality show that prefers support and feel good to shame and bitch. France and Chung play silly and bossy with British tongue in cheek humour and sympathetic touches where needed. Chung has been a model and fashion commentator. Stick thin and with BF chummy confidence she helps anchor the show, while France is the out there extrovert in outlandish outfits that express each week’s theme.
Guest judges include stylist Elizabeth Stewart and Instagram fashion guru Eva Chen plus designer experts for each week’s chosen theme.
This is Netflix’s first fashion show, produced by Robin Ashbrook, Yasmin Shackleton and Adam Cooper, who have helmed Masterchef and So You Think You Can Dance, among others.
If you prefer your reality shows with blood on the walls, Next in Fashion may not be for you, as the series is an exercise in fair play and good will under intense pressure. But make no mistake, the stakes and competition are high. The prize is $25,000, and selling of their brand on Net-a-Porter’s global online fashion sale room. Net-a-Porter is a show sponsor along with Samsung and Mac Cosmetics.
Hanging in through the competition rounds means the players get more exposure and opportunity to be talent spotted by potential sponsors and fashion houses. Under pressure, the designers reveal not only their creative skills and professional expertise but their personalities and capacity to cope, or otherwise. We are offered their back story, what they stand for, the obstacles they have overcome, and family backgrounds. There is a wide range of aesthetic, sexual orientation and racial background. The runway models reflect the same diversity.
This first season (there are sure to be more) includes Brits from St Martins, the exacting fashion school that counts Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney among its graduates. There’s an ex-military black American, a flamboyant Italian in leopard print and piercings, designers from Hollywood who reference street and bondage (“slutty but not illegal..”) and women from North Korea and China.
Perfectionism comes up a lot. It seems a necessary trait that can become a paralysing curse – like elite athletes under pressure, do they collapse in melt down or keep it together? Time pressure verges on the impossible. We vicariously take part in the build-up that precedes a runway show where the alchemy of vision, execution, model and performance all come together. High impact runway sets and eavesdropping judges’ comments make it fabulous and fascinating, and the range and craft remind us how reflective fashion is of wider culture, selected and filtered through individual designers’ narrative and aesthetic.
Put your feet up and enjoy being amazed at the skill and impossibly nail biting, ambitious hard work by a bunch of lovely professional people. Oh, and you’ll feel good after each episode too.
Next in Fashion screens from January 29, 2020 on Netflix