Making The Cut, Amazon’s first reality TV show, pits 10 entrepreneurial fashion designers from around the world against each other for a prize of one million dollars and a mentorship from Amazon to help them become the next global brand. Many of the designers have tasted success already in their careers. The standard of design therefore is elevated beyond that of the fashion reality show that originally united Making The Cut presenters, Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, Project Runway. In Making the Cut there are no challenges to make garments out of car parts or licorice or Venetian blinds; these are real clothes, not projects.
Each week one of the winning looks is sold on the Amazon website. Their formula of “Watch it. Wear it.” echoes the now-familiar fast fashion model, “See Now, Buy Now,” appealing to the impatience of the modern shopper who wants instant gratification. It might also funnel to the online retailer a more fashion-hungry consumer who has so far remained elusive to Amazon. But, as I discovered myself, after catching the first episode of Series 2 which is currently streaming, it also creates a conundrum for such a consumer.
My primary reason for tuning in was contestant Gary Graham. I have followed Graham’s career for years and coveted his clothes which are made in small batches and painstakingly finished in his Catskills studio, far away from the fashion bubble he had once occupied as a former Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund finalist. The first iteration of his namesake label folded in 2018. He shifted his operations north and began a more intimate reinvention, GaryGraham422. His homespun aesthetic using antique florals, repurposed bedspreads and handcrafted embroideries suits the spartan wainscoting, distressed doorframes, and rural outdoors setting that feature in his Instagram posts. His social media storytelling gently buoyed me during the dark days of the pandemic. I would stop scrolling to linger over a colorful herringbone being woven on the loom at an upstate mill. I could imagine how special the puff shouldered Victorian blouse of pieced microflorals would look, even with jeans. His garments when worn would be conversation starters and provoke curiosity. His brand identity was clear: it spoke to nostalgia and an appreciation of history, a belief in slow fashion, the importance of natural materials and a thoughtful point of view. It sat in direct opposition to the online retail behemoth accused of abusive work conditions and singlehandedly destroying mom and pop businesses nationwide.
Making The Cut is a one-hour long ad for Amazon peppered with the interpersonal intrigue we’ve come to expect from reality TV. While the alliance of Gary Graham and Jeff Bezos was a confusing one for me, a David and Goliath collab, the unanimous decision by the judges to declare Graham’s look, inspired by army blankets and a floral-patterned rug sourced from one of his favorite weavers, the winning one was not confusing at all. I couldn’t have been more in agreement. I experienced that thrill that reality TV viewers feel when they’ve backed the winner. I listened to guest judge, Moschino’s Jeremy Scott, extol the virtues of Graham’s design–“dynamic, new, modern, interesting, unique!” But I didn’t need to hear his endorsement. The garment was a handkerchief hemmed shirtdress, its bodice emblazoned with a marine blue and white floral motif overdyed in military olive, and featuring one of Graham’s signature sleeves. I checked the price they were asking for it on Amazon. Just under 80 dollars. Similar dresses on Graham’s website go for 10 times that figure. And yet while I moved the cursor towards the Add to Cart button I couldn’t click Buy Now.
Customer reluctance to buy from Amazon
Like most of us aspiring to be ethical consumers, I avoid Amazon where possible. Sometimes it’s difficult, especially when prices seem unmatchable and next day delivery so convenient. How could I consider wearing a head-to-toe look that was essentially the result of viewing an hour-long advertisement for Amazon? On impulse I reached out via direct message to the designer with the following question: Who pockets the 80 dollars, you or Jeff Bezos? Soon after, Graham responded: “The designers get a percentage of sales! It’s a great positive thing.” Then he thanked me for my interest in his dress.
It’s terrifyingly difficult to establish a brand today and I have watched as many of my favorite small designers have gone out of business over the years. The reality is that a wealth of celebrities being photographed in your creations, or you standing next to Anna Wintour at events, means nothing when you can’t afford next season’s samples because stores haven’t paid you for the last two seasons’ deliveries. Fashion professionals are particularly alert to to the damage Amazon has inflicted on their industry. Each of the ten designers must have weighed up the pros and cons before deciding on the if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em approach by appearing on the show.
I referred to Graham’s garments as conversation-starters. His winning look, named the Amanda dress, not only initiated a dialogue between the designer and myself, but also led me to write about my conflicted feelings about buying it from Amazon thereby amplifying the conversation. Graham’s clothes always tell a story, and Amanda’s, as he explained to the Making The Cut judges, was based on redemption and inspired by the gravestone of a woman who died in the 1800s. Redemption is also what he is hoping for professionally from his appearance on this season’s Making The Cut. I clicked Buy Now.
Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry