By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)
I recently had an unexpected experience- I was genuinely inspired by a reality TV show. I’m not a TV snob, in fact I love trashy dating shows, but I don’t exactly expect my creative fire to be stoked by The Bachelor.
But that is what happened when I watched Netflix’s offering Next In Fashion. I dismissed the show at first because the title reminded me of all the things I dislike about the fashion industry- the ruthless cycle of trends, the hive mentality, an emphasis on capitalising on the latest hot new thing instead of timeless style. I was also cynical about the hosts: Tan France, the resident fashion expert from Queer Eye, and Alexa Chung, ex-model and general fashion darling. As nice as they seemed, their presence made me think the show would be an overly shiny and commercial enterprise.
But after watching the designers work together and churn out impressive creations each episode, I was reminded of some of my favourite parts of the creative process, and the act of joining forces with someone to create something.
The real strength of the show was the casting. The contestants came from all corners of the globe and had experienced varying levels of commercial success. Some owned and managed their own labels, others sold clothes out of their home studio or had only worked under the umbrella of other designer’s brands.
One particularly telling example of this diversity was the inclusion of contestant Angelo Cruciani, a delightfully batty and charmingly upbeat Italian designer. Angelo’s sewing skills were the weakest of all the participants, as he had gained commercial success as the creative director of his brand in Italy, and had never been forced to do the bulk of the own sewing work. Angelo was paired with Canadian designer (and garment-creator extraordinaire) Charles Lu. Angelo’s affinity for styling and developing an overall vision for collections, wonderfully balanced out Charles’ more direct approach.
It was refreshing to be reminded that there is no one right way to be creative. In the rich ecosystem of artists, we come in all shapes and sizes.
Similar to Project Runway, each episode brought a new design challenge. Each challenge contained a basic brief for two outfits made over two days. Some weeks it was denim, red carpet, military inspired-looks, or streetwear. The simplicity of the prompts meant that it was genuinely interesting to see how they were interpreted by the two-person design teams.
An unforced element which stood out to me, was the camaraderie between the contestants. And not just between the designers who were on the same team. As the show progressed, the group of designers became more close-knit, sharing in the victories and challenges they experienced each week. Beyond a few minor creative disagreements between teammates, there was no sniping, bitching or sabotaging the efforts of the other teams.
This level of support and warmth only increased as the show approached its end. One moment which amazed me, occurred between the two designers who were competing against each other in the finale. One of them had come up against a logistical conundrum in incorporating a grand reveal into one of their pieces. Instead of letting them grapple with this on their own, the other designer quickly pointed out a way they could solve the problem. The incredible effect of this outfit on the catwalk arguably clinched the victory for the designer.
Lastly, as this show was a UK production, the backstories of the contestants were included but not exploited. As one could predict, many of the male designers on the show were part of the LGBTQI community and had their own unique coming-out stories; but these were incorporated as a part of their development as a designer, not juiced for all their sob-story potential. The same went for the equally diverse female designers. Imagine watching a skill-based competition where the skills and artistic viewpoints of the contestants are actually the main focus!
I found Next in Fashion an interesting mix of comforting and inspiring. It was a relief to be reminded that all artists struggle; the thing we love so passionately, often causes us stress and anxiety. I highly recommend it to all who are looking for a colourful and entertaining distraction in these troubling times.