Thursday, 2 September 2021

TV review: Making the Cut, season 1 (2020)

This quirky Amazon Prime show has reality TV roots but is more serious than most of the genre because designers are being judged on their skills and creativity so it’s a bit more like ‘The Voice’ than ‘Survivor. Though I’m not a fashionista (I recently got 10 pairs of old outsized trousers taken in so they’d fit) I was able to identify with the creatives featured because they were trying to do something meaningful and because of the vulnerability the shooting reveals.

This is an aspirational drama and part of what makes it so watchable is the awfulness of the values of the people involved, especially the judges. When Josh gets cut in episode three it’s partly because of the weakness of the designs he and Troy made for the collaboration, but it’s also partly because, when asked why he thought he should still be in the competition, he said, “I don’t think I should be here.” Troy, on the other hand, gave a desperate speech when asked the same question, and it was Naomi Campbell’s change of heart that kept him in the game. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

What struck me most about the show after watching about half of the first season is how the introvert (creative, a loner) is mixed with the extrovert (the fashion world with its celebrations). I was also struck by how this show compares to the dozens of cooking shows that are currently available to view on commercial TVs around the world. While cooking is something that most everybody does every day, making clothes is a specialised practice that requires a rarer type of skillset. But the makers of ‘Making the Cut’ have managed to make the drama of tailoring accessible by mixing segments in the workroom with more routine segments where the garments are paraded on the catwalk, so you get a melange of high and low, rarefied and workaday. Meanwhile the magic of individual personality combines with a bit of voyeurism – Paris highlights like the Moulin Rouge conspiratorially get time on-screen – to create compelling TV.

The other thing good about the show is its global relevance. Everyone’s seen news segments where the evils of disposable fashion are visible – the acres of cast-off first-world clothing that gets shipped to some out-of-the-way corner of Africa to be sorted and recycled – but fashion has a wide appeal because everyone wears clothes. Furthermore, the use of fashion to cement the borders of identity make it something that we all can get involved in. Even just the selection of a range of types of individual for this show – Ji Won is Korean-American, Troy is black, Esther is German – signals how important the claims of identity are for both the show’s makers and for people in the community who’ll watch it.

While the former take a risk by making the show, the latter get to indulge their own fantasies while consuming it, and while the voyeuristic tendencies of reality television are a bit overwhelming sometimes (Naomi Campbell is almost certain, every time she opens her mouth, to say something cutting) I felt relieved by the lightness that it made me feel when it happened, as though, when a contestant had the burden of drama to shoulder, my own problems were, as a result, somehow less onerous. Because reality TV is so common these days – and so popular – I often felt that I was part of a scene, which enabled me to feel included, to feel with-it, to feel capable. I’d forgotten how reality TV can affect the viewer, making them feel good because the weight of circumstance is temporarily transferred, within the spirals of the thinking mind, to someone else. When Sabato was cut at the end of episode five he said, “But I’m leaving as a winner because I felt so much love from everybody,” masking his pain with a bit of positivity (temptingly bordering on passive aggressiveness). The head-to-head between Megan and Jonny at the end of episode seven – held to establish the day’s winner – was cheap, as though the show’s makers thought that it needed something to beef it up, but I understood how this kind of shallow posturing can make for a solid deliverable.

I’d only myself ever watched reality TV far back in my past, in fact when I was living in Tokyo and would see ‘Iron Chef’ in the evenings after work on some nights during the week. Watching ‘Making the Cut’ I was struck by how differently the contestants saw the city, compared to my experience, their observations about the fashion of Tokyoites giving a new dimension to my own awareness while a resident there. I was able, now, to see the city with new eyes, helped by people who spend all their time thinking about and doing fashion. Not only am I the least fashionable person you’re likely to meet, but when the garments of young people seen in Harajuku were labelled “anti-fashion” I was intrigued, as though my own tastes were being commented on. In fact my own fashion style is conformist: I blend in with what is entirely mundane and run-of-the-mill, with what is expected. The young Harajuku natives are making a comment on fashion, but because they are trying to be provocative at least they are engaging in the process. My own comments are almost that fashion doesn’t exist, and so in a sense I’m more “anti-fashion” even than the youth of Harajuku.

How clothes look on the human form, an outfit seen as a person you don’t know is walking down the street in front of you, is the central drama of this engrossing show. To add piquancy, its makers have conscripted the cachet of influencers, fashion industry leaders, and brand representatives. This is a very modern show that not only touches on the sublime – how that suit of clothes looks when you see it – but that asks us to question who we are. For what is it that I care about so deeply that I would humble myself in order to be acclaimed a leading exponent of the art? How committed am I to my ideals? What lengths would I go to in order to achieve fame and fortune? The lineaments of desire are held within your grasp as you watch ‘Making the Cut’.

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