The fashion industry is notoriously superficial and intriguingly exclusive, so it’s a sublime fit for reality television. From X Factor-esque design competitions, to those cringeworthy styling shows, there have been infinite tacky attempts at fashion TV throughout the last two decades, with most shows only managing a couple of months airtime before they are swiftly ushered into the dark abyss of kitsch QVC styling advice and offensively shallow presenters. Nobody has finessed it quite like Project Runway, currently in its 18th season.
Cue: Netflix’s new series titled Next in Fashion that airs on Wednesday 29th January. The streaming service is tackling the tricky world of fashion TV headfirst via its new ten-episode design-competition series. Hosted by Alexa Chung and Queer Eye’s Tan France, the show features 18 (professional) fashion designers who are competing to win $250,000 in cash and to be stocked by Net-A-Porter. Chances are you’ll recognise more than a few of the competitors including Daniel Fletcher, artistic director at Fiorucci, and Claire Yurika Davis, founder of latex label HANGER. The trailer is giving us Project Runway vibes, but cooler, with elevated levels of expertise – some contestants have already dressed A‑listers in their designs.
Netflix isn’t the only one trying to occupy this space, spring 2020 will also welcome a new fashion TV show to Amazon Prime. Making The Cut will be hosted by Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn and seems to follow a similar structure: fashion designers and entrepreneurs will compete to win a cash prize of $1 million and the opportunity to create an exclusive line for Amazon Fashion.
Will these shows spotlight the next Virgil Abloh or Phoebe Philo? Only time will tell. Is this a new chapter of tasteful fashion TV? Ask us next week. For now, let’s reminisce on some classic – and cringe-worthy – moments in fashion TV.
Emmy-winning series Project Runway sees fashion designers compete in weekly challenges to win $250,000, a feature in ELLE, the chance to feature in a series on digital streaming service Bluprint, a further $50,000 from the show’s sponsor Pilot and a mentorship with the CFDA. Phew.
The show has been running for 15 years – with spin-offs in Australia, the Philippines, Canada, Israel, Malaysia and Korea – and is currently midway through a juicy 18th season. But in true TV talent contest fashion, despite the high budget prize, Project Runway’s success isn’t from making world-famous designers (bar one anomaly: season four winner and consequent-CFDA member Christian Vincent Siriano) – it’s about the impeccable talent, star-studded guest list and brutal competition. Oh, and the viral moments… See: Episode four, Season 18 that aired 2nd January which exposed judge Karlie Kloss’ relation to the Kushners. Priceless.
House of Style
MTV’s House of Style is a time capsule of ’90s gold. Having launched at the height of the supermodel era in 1989, it was the first ever behind-the-scenes fashion programme hosted by none other than Cindy Crawford. In the show, Crawford visited Will Smith on the set of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, taught the world how to walk like a supermodel, talked zit cream with Naomi Campbell and she deep dived into everything fashion-related, from modelling to eating disorders. The show ended up lasting 11 years and now provides some of the best content on YouTube.
The Clothes Show
The Clothes Show was another wholesome classic. The show aired on BBC from 1986 to 2000, presented by Jeff Banks and Selina Scott. In 2006 it was – weakly – resurrected by UKTV Style, and hosts Louise Redknapp and Brendan Courtney. The show demystified the world of fashion throughout the ’80s and ’90s, providing its audience with styling tips, fashion news, designer interviews and – now amazingly nostalgic – street style from the streets of Britain. Back in its hey-day – when people actually watched the tele – The Clothes Show drew in nine million viewers every Sunday.
In 1995, the late Joan Rivers became fashion’s very own Wendy Williams with the launch of Fashion Police: a series that critiqued every red carpet ceremony. The show’s sharp-tongued fairy godmother said witty things like “Perfect. She looks like she’s got the cure for cancer in her purse,” and “What happened to this woman? Is there such a thing as deep-fried vodka?”. The show was an instant hit. Who doesn’t love sitting on the sofa in their pyjamas eating popcorn while slating glamorous, immaculate celebrities? It’s a favourite pastime worldwide (apparently). The panel grew to include Kelly Osbourne and when Rivers sadly passed in 2014, Kathy Griffin took over but nothing was the same and she quit after seven episodes.
The Fashion Show
Now for the shows which make fashion look shudderingly non-stylish. 2008 birthed The Fashion Show hosted by Britain’s Next Top Model ’06 finalist Abbey Clancy. It promised to be “bursting at the seams with style, glamour, celebrities and gossip”, but in reality it did not deliver.
In fact, it’s so forgettable that there’s no evidence online apart from a cringey Pussycat Doll makeover episode in which Clancy awkwardly “booty pumps”. Whether it was the cheap budget or the Scouse sweetheart’s vanilla presenting skills, everyone’s acting like it never even happened. Did it?
There are cheesy fashion programmes and there are offensively superficial fashion shows, like Fashion Hunters. Bravo got it all wrong in 2011. Cameras followed the sales assistants of NYC’s Second Time Around store – Tara Muscarella, Karina Lepiner, Ambria Miscia and Wilson Payamps – searching for expensive clothes to resell. And that’s literally it.
It might sound almost interesting but the programme became sickening thanks to its OTT consumerism with girls gawking at expensive wardrobes, fuelling the mundane stereotype that fashion is tediously materialistic. After just three months, the show was axed.
How Do I Look
We couldn’t end without a makeover show. Premiering in 2004, How Do I Look sought out “fashion victims” – as nominated by their coworkers, friends and family – who, after agreeing that their appearance was socially unacceptable, were given a style makeover. Hosted by Finola Hughes and later by Jeannie Mai, the show put monumental pressure not just on appearance, but the way you were supposed to flaunt your assets. Many middle-aged women were told that they could “do a lot more for [their] figure with the right bra”.
The mesmerising shallowness powered it through eight years, with spin-offs in Asia and South Africa, before everyone realised it was objectifying, humiliating and highkey offensive. Today it’s merely a source of novelty nostalgia – something to watch on YouTube when you need assurance that the world now knows better. Right?