Many Project Runway fans were devastated when longtime hosts Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn left after 16 seasons for a new then-unnamed Amazon show. Last week, the first three episodes of Making The Cut finally dropped, showcasing 12 new designers; a noticeably higher production value, with shoots in Paris and Tokyo; and an online Amazon store that immediately offers each week’s winning design in limited quantities (all Making The Cut’s fashions are currently sold out). But best of all, the series marks the return of Heidi and Tim, visiting Parisian nightclubs and Tokyo open-air markets in between acting as mentor to the contestants (Gunn) and as part of a judging lineup that includes Naomi Campbell, Nicole Richie, Joseph Altuzarra, Carine Roitfeld, and Chiara Ferragni (Klum).
A few days before the series premiered, Klum and Gunn talked with us about the differences between their new show and their previous one, those “cinematic” production values, and acceptable fashion in the time of the coronavirus.
The A.V. Club: What did you want to do differently in this show that you didn’t do on Project Runway?
Tim Gunn: We wanted to be more relevant to the industry, and that’s why the main topic of the show is branding. It’s much more than talking about a pretty dress; it’s talking about what is the vision, who is the customer, what’s your distinctive point of view? Heidi’s always talking to the designers about cutting through the noise. There’s so much product out there, how do you differentiate your work and yourself?
Heidi Klum: I think before we had a silly competition, and now we’re looking for a brand, something that can sustain, something that will hopefully be loved and enjoyed around the world. We had to test [the designers] on different criteria to see do they also have the business hat on or are they just creative? Can they delegate? Because we have seamstresses for them. As the season goes further and further toward the end, there are more things they have to do that real businesspeople have to do if you’re going to have a big global brand. So it’s very, very different, our questions are different. They have to know more who they are and most importantly, who they’re designing for.
AVC: It should be really interesting to find out how the winning pieces sell on Amazon.
TG: We’re eager to find out the same thing!
HK: We hope that we found the best people, that people love it, and this all goes toward our designers. They’re all artists, and so it’s very exciting for them. We see their faces light up when we’re able to tell them, “This will be available right now on our online store.” They’re like, “Oh, my gosh, this is live right now? People can actually buy this?” Because finally people get to wear their creations. That’s what they all want. It’s beautiful.
AVC: It’s mentioned on the show that you two hand-picked these 12 designers. What was your process for doing that?
TG: We met everybody. I’m not sure what the total number was on how many submissions there were, but we met with about 75 designers. And it was difficult.
HK: [But] it was fun times meeting with all these people, from various places all over the world. Some come with a rolling rack, some come with a suitcase full of stuff. I’m trying things on, and you’re trying to get into their heads quickly on who they are. We look at their clothes, and they need to speak for themselves. But we’re also obviously doing a TV show so we want to make sure, “Hey, who do we actually have here, who is behind these clothes, are they really making them themselves or what’s happening there?” Really trying to get a grip quickly on these people. And we feel like we’ve picked the best bunch.
AVC: They’re all so supportive of each other. There seems to be a lot less drama.
TG: They’re old souls. It was very gratifying to see them building a community and helping each other. It was very moving.
HK: And we’re not used to that; we’re used to catfights and people throwing others under the bus, and that really wasn’t the case here. They were really nice to each other and helpful.
AVC: What can the average unfashionable viewer like myself take from watching the high-end fashions being created on Making The Cut?
HK: I hope 1) that you take some joy from watching it, and 2) I think it explains to you and any people how fashion actually happens, the creativity, the process, plus the business side of it, how it actually comes about. And when you put something on, it gives you a little bit more of a sense of like, “Wow,” what all went behind making this jacket, for example. Someone had to pick the fabric, the cut, etc., etc., all these things. And what do you take into your closet? Hopefully some of the winning looks!
TG: I mean, we all need clothes. They’re part of our lives. And I really believe that Making The Cut will expand people’s vocabulary of how to talk about clothes.
AVC: What kind of brand are you guys ultimately looking for?
HK: Well, hopefully something that people can fall in love with. Because we are going to be seen in 400 territories by many different people in different countries. When we’re looking for a winning look, we’re trying to keep that in mind, like the world is watching. Before it was really like only people here were watching. Now it’s people from all over are watching. So we’re hoping that people are responding, especially to the winning look, and we hope that they buy and therefore support the designers. We hope that people agree with us and fall in love with that person and what they create.
TG: And that the winning designer has a broad appeal.
AVC: You can see that being an issue with some of the designers, like Esther with her primarily black palette, or Martha with her pastel bows and sequins.
TG: And that’s the challenge.
HK: You’ll have to keep watching, to see where this is going to go.
AVC: The production level on this series is so high. All the location shots are gorgeous. What was it like moving into a different arena on that level?
TG: To be honest—Heidi, I don’t know about you—I didn’t know that the show would have this production value. When I started to see cuts, I was just flabbergasted. I said to our director, “Forget about the Emmys. We’re going straight to the Oscars!”
HK: [Laughs.] Yeah, it’s beautifully shot. It’s super-cinematic. When you see the first episode, when we’re in front of the Eiffel Tower, it looks like it’s fake. It’s almost to the point of “Can we make this a little less good-looking? Because I think people will think we shot this on a green screen.”
But what we wanted to do is not just show people this beautiful world or for us the travel, but really for the designers, how it trickles down into their work. Being in these different places, having those different assignments, you can see it in the clothes. It inspires them to do things that they wouldn’t do if they were just shooting in the studio. Before they would be in the studio, and they would go to the fabric store, and every now and then there’s an outing. When you really leave leave the country, where everything is completely different, the culture, it makes such a difference in their work. It makes it more special.
TG: That’s all we changed, just the location, and then pow! You have a whole new generation of inspiration.
AVC: Did you two come up with the various weekly challenges, like “couture” and “collaboration”?
TG: It was part of a large dialogue. Sara Rea was with us for the last 11 seasons of Project Runway. She was our showrunner. And when Heidi and I had this great meeting with Amazon, we said, “We have a favor. Could you please meet with her?” And she’s our uber-executive producer, we have this synergy. Heidi and I have a synergy with Sara that’s just phenomenal and we can finish each other’s sentences. It was just a big collaboration.
HK: I think also after working with her for so long, we took so many mental notes over the years of things that didn’t work out, but also things that worked great. So we get to do all the things that we wanted to do but couldn’t really do, so it’s kind of a mish-mosh of new ideas and dreams we had, and here we are.
TG: And if we get to do it again, and we hope we do, we’ll make more changes.
HK: Because now the world is looking again different than when we created this show. So you always have to have your thinking cap on, and you always have to rethink, revisit, think some more. This is the world we’re living in right now, so I’m sure this will also have to be revisited again differently. It’s the same with fashion: Fashion changes, everything changes, you have to keep your eye out there and your finger on the pulse, to be relevant, to be now, and to be realistic.
AVC: To that end, can we get Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum’s official approval to stay in stretchy pants for the duration of the pandemic?
TG: Absolutely, Gwen. Whatever it takes. Tim Gunn himself has been in pajamas a lot.
HK: So have I.