"That's not awful, that's practical," Tim Gunn assures in his trademark logical-meets-comforting tone, one that has made him America's fashionable mentor for more than 15 years.
While it would be fitting to assume Gunn's words of encouragement were directed at a contestant on Making the Cut, the new Amazon Prime reality show he hosts, he was in fact consoling his Cut cohost, Heidi Klum, about her latest Amazon purchase: toilet paper.
On any given day, Gunn and Klum—who cemented their partnership on Bravo's Project Runway—might be on set, perhaps in Paris or Tokyo, wearing high-fashion emblematic of supermodels and television personalities.
But today, during this phone chat, the duo are in their respective homes, following stay-at-home orders issued due to the coronavirus pandemic. Their new show, which follows designers competing to create the next major fashion brand, debuted March 27 during a truly unique time in history: when a majority of the population are being their least fashionable selves while working from home. And that extends to Klum, who reveals that her current ensemble consists of a black Adidas tracksuit. Gunn, meanwhile, is in a turtleneck and—gasp!—jeans. It's an outfit that's both startlingly casual compared to his typical uniform of impeccably-tailored windowpane suits and much more put-together than the athleisure 'fits most other Americans have adopted.
"You're wearing your jeans?" Klum questions, audibly astonished. "I've only ever seen you in jeans when we were shopping for my husband. I don't think I've ever seen you otherwise [in jeans]."
Gunn, though, promises that he also often works from home in pajamas and his robe.
"I've talked to people who say if they get dressed as though they're going to work it instills in them a stronger sense of normalcy, but I disagree," Gunn says. "It would make it feel stranger if I'm dressed for work but I'm not going to work. But people have different points of view."
While his Project Runway catchphrase was "make it work," he, and Klum, have adopted a different motto for WFH fashion, and life, at the moment: "whatever it takes."
"On Sunday, I stayed in pajamas all day," Klum adds. "I'm definitely not a fashionista in my house right now. It's more How can I tackle everything? and that's what I'm wearing... I feel like there is no right or wrong, right now."
But don't expect to see this laidback, anything-goes Klum on Making the Cut—episode three sees the host calling out contestants for a "matchy-matchy" collection, among other critiques. Her and the show's aim is for the 12 established designers to prove they can be the next global brand, worthy of a $1 million prize. If the show sounds like Project Runway, that's because it basically is, buoyed by Amazon's wallet. (Look no further than the show jet-setting around fashion capitals of the world, employing seamstresses for contestants, or staging high-tech, beautiful runway shows at iconic tourist destinations as proof of the streaming service's deep pockets.) Gunn and Klum brought on Project Runway's longtime executive producer, Sara Rea, to helm this iteration.
But there are some major differences. Their goal this time around was to make a show about fashion that was "relevant and real," Klum explains. To that end, each episode's winning outfit becomes immediately shoppable on Amazon.
"It's not a sewing competition anymore," Klum adds. "Ultimately, we want to find a great brand at the end of the day. We want to have an audience who, for the first time, if they want to, can buy the winning look. And for the designer to make money while they create clothes. The circle is finally full, and we've never had that before. That really was important for us."
Gunn says the motivation to focus on business savvy came from noticing how "volatile" the fashion industry currently is. "How many brands did you write about [last year] that are even around? It's a frightening time."
Of course, Gunn's words are doubly meaningful at a moment when many fashion houses are seeing plummeting sales, shuttering stores, and have pivoted to producing medical masks instead of haute couture. But that kind of business sensibility is exactly what Gunn and Klum, plus the show's other judges—Naomi Campbell, Nicole Richie, Carine Roitfeld, Jason Altruzza, and Chiara Ferragni—are hoping to find in the show's champion.
"Yes, they're fashion designers. Yes, they make clothes. But [we're] looking for the next, big, global brand and that requires so much more than sewing skills. That's why we take up branding as being the serious core for the show," Gunn says.
And while a TV show about fashion and travel and seems increasingly irrelevant at the moment, Klum's optimism and Gunn's honesty throughout make it just bingeable enough to make you briefly forget about the state of the world. And, of course, it will remind you to support your favorite brands by online shopping.
"This last week [I've ordered] everything from microwave popcorn to a cashmere sweater," Gunn admits.
Hey, whatever it takes.
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