When “Project Runway” premiered on Bravo in 2004, it entered a crowded reality competition landscape but still managed to be the first of its kind as a fashion design competition. Now, more than a decade and a half later, such fashion series are seeing a surge.
“Project Runway” alone has launched more than six spinoffs, seen franchise expansion in new countries and undergone a major revamp. But streamers Netflix and Amazon Prime Video also recently got in the game with “Next in Fashion” and “Making the Cut,” respectively.
“Everything in the world has changed,” says former “Project Runway” winner and now mentor Christian Siriano. “But what I think stays the same is that people are still really interested in the process of how fashion comes to life — how it’s created.”
“Project Runway’s” most recent (18th) season saw 16 designers competing in weekly design challenges, with the ultimate prize for the winner including a quarter of a million dollars and a mentorship with the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Similarly, “Next in Fashion” pit 18 up-and-coming designers against each other in challenges based on worldwide design trends and styles, with the winner getting a quarter of a million dollars and the opportunity to debut a collection with Net-a-Porter. “Making the Cut” combines fashion design and e-commerce upfront, making winning looks from each episode available to consumers on Amazon’s website. The dozen designers competing here had a chance at a $1 million prize at the end.
While all three of these shows share DNA, Siriano notes that he is “the only actual, functioning, working, fashion designer that is a mentor.” The others feature all-star line-ups in other ways, from former “Project Runway” hosts Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum moving on to “Making the Cut” alongside judges such as Naomi Campbell and Nicole Richie, to “Queer Eye’s” Tan France and
“It Girl” Alexa Chung on “Next in Fashion.”
“The shows are pulling their different people who have something to say, which I think is very important,” says Siriano.
But there are some notable other differences that allowed all of these shows to exist at the same time in the television landscape. For one, in the past, “Project Runway” has made a few select looks available via the Bravo website, but Amazon’s endeavor completely redefined the interactive experience. For another, their networks have different demographics.
“We have a much more international piece to it, especially in terms of the people competing, so we really needed a partner that had an international outlook,” says Robin Ashbrook, executive producer, “Next in Fashion.”
Prior to “Next in Fashion,” Ashbrook spent half a decade working on both “MasterChef” and “MasterChef Junior” for Fox and therefore has a strong understanding of the power of a format. He cites “the positivity” of watching a craft “from the base to the reveal” as something that continues to resonate with audiences across genres of competition shows.
But fashion continues to be of particular interest to viewers because of how the industry “has become really democratized,” says former “Project Runway” executive producer Sara Rea, who now works on “Making the Cut.”
“The consumer’s voice matters more. It’s not just a bunch of magazine editors purchasing and sending the thing, or choosing what’s going into stores. There’s this runway to consumer element that gives the consumer a voice in a bigger way. And that, to me, was what I thought was so fresh and important to reflect in the show,” she says.