Television’s Power to Launch Fashion Brands Remains Unproven

NEW YORK, United States —  Since premiering in 2004, “Project Runway” has been the dominant fashion design reality competition show, which drew more than 4 million viewers in its early days on Lifetime. But even when it regularly drew three million viewers, it always had a huge problem. Aside from current “Project Runway” judge Christian Siriano, who went on to achieve an impressive level of commercial success, its designers have failed to “make it” in an industry always on the lookout for America’s next great fashion label.

But thanks to television’s streaming revolution, a slew of new fashion design competition shows aim to do exactly that by offering consumers the ability to buy the winning clothes. “Next in Fashion,” hosted by fashion insider Alexa Chung and “Queer Eye” star Tan France is now streaming on Netflix, offers the winner the chance to sell their clothes on Net-a-Porter. There’s also “Making the Cut” on Amazon Prime, hosted by Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, which premieres on March 27 and offers contestants the opportunity to sell their clothes on Amazon.

While these shows make for highly entertaining television, it’s hard to imagine they’ll mint a new generation of fashion week headliners. This has less to do with these specific productions than the existing obstacles that make becoming the next big thing in fashion so difficult. Talent and even exposure often aren’t enough. Zac Posen, a critical darling whose label had seemingly every necessary mark of support — endorsement from American Vogue, high-profile red carpet appearances, and publicity through his six-year judging gig on “Project Runway” — finally closed his label for good last year. Even Siriano, though known as one of the top red-carpet designers, regularly takes on collaborations with non-high fashion entities like HSN, Sam’s Club, and J. Jill (which, in addition to obvious financial appeal, have probably bolstered his brand’s image as one of inclusivity). Unfortunately, the flash-in-the-pan exposure these shows offer just isn’t enough to vault an aspiring designer to massive commercial success. And selling a winning designer’s merchandise online probably isn’t going to change that much.

Tim Gunn speaks with a contestant on Amazon Prime’s Making the Cut reality show and fashion design competition series | Source: Courtesy

Both shows aim to correct the flawed formula that has prevented “Project Runway” — which rebooted last year on cable television channel Bravo with a new judging panel including designer Brandon Maxwell and supermodel Karlie Kloss — from turning all but one of its 18 winning contestants into bona fide fashion stars. Judges scrutinise contestants’ abilities to become viable businesses as much as their talent as designers. Producers also made efforts to cast people with some initial success in the industry, be it designing their own labels or working in prominent roles for others, like Rocawear — experience that is essential if they’re going to become successful after the show ends. “Making the Cut” even provides contestants with professional seamstresses because, as Gunn says, this is a design contest, not a sewing competition.

Netflix created “Next in Fashion” as part of a broad slate of unscripted programming, seeing it as “an opportunity to gauge the fashion enthusiasm of fans,” said Brandon Riegg, who runs unscripted originals for Netflix. Fashion has the added benefit of appealing to a large international audience, so it’s useful for Netflix to know if it can become one of their tentpole subjects, opening the programming slate up to a whole new batch of cheap-to-produce shows. If Netflix can actually sell merchandise, that could present an additional (though in all likelihood, small) revenue stream. (Netflix and Net-a-Porter did not comment on the specifics of their business relationship.) Developing a reputation for launching designers’ careers would only make Netflix’s fashion programming more popular.

For Amazon, which wants Prime to rival Netflix in streaming video, the stakes are higher. The company has been trying for many years to become a destination for high-margin luxury purchases, and the star power and production values of “Making the Cut” would seem to aid in securing Amazon’s foothold in the industry that has long eluded it. Klum and Gunn remain adored by fans and have become something of an institution unto themselves. Their show’s designers get to travel to Paris, show in front of the Eiffel Tower, and work out of an atelier, but are free to wander the city for inspiration. And the impressive judging panel includes well-regarded industry insiders, including Editor Carine Roitfeld, Designer Joseph Altuzarra and Model Naomi Campbell. Reality television star Nicole Richie, drawing from her experience running House of Harlow, sits alongside them to offer valuable commentary on what sells to a young female customer.

reference Business of Fashion

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