He may have become famous for appearing on a show whose full name was originally Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, but on Netflix’s Next In Fashion, Tan France and his team are acting as if heterosexual male consumers barely exist.
Having been lured into the Queer Eye reboot by my wife (and having enjoyed it), I was totally game to watch a new show featuring France, a “fashion expert” whose style credentials have never been entirely clear or to me. Like all members of the so-called Fab Five, he’s friendly, compassionate and encouraging as he tries to give various sad sacks a makeover.
On Next In Fashion, however, we meet an entirely new kind of Tan — one who dresses ridiculously in suitjacket/shorts combos and bejeweled sneakers, and who (along with an equally hammy Alexa Chung, who I’d never heard of) fails at the most obviously overwritten banter as the show’s concept is explained: a competition to see who can prove themselves as the next hot designer. The prize? A somewhat underwhelming $250,000 (which any major apparel marketing budget would eat up instantly) and a chance to have your products featured on Net-A-Porter.
It should be noted that those competing are not fashion industry novices. Many, if not most, either have their own labels already or who have an established track record working under other designers. Many come across as the style equivalent of Paula Abdul, when she was still a cheerleader moonlighting as a choreographer until she got sick of being unrecognized for her role in helping the likes of Janet Jackson.
In the first episode, the 18 competitors are paired up and given their first challenge: to create a red carpet look in only two eight-hour days. At the end, they are assigned models to wear their work and special guest judges (including an Instagram exec whose involvement smacks suspiciously as pay-for-play) critique them as they walk down the catwalk.
There is no prize for winning the red carpet look challenge, but there is a definite penalty for losing: France not only singles out those who scored the worst, but publicly shames them with details about why their work was so bad and asking them, essentially, how it could have turned out so bad. (Yes, one of the losers cries.)
I had seen enough by the credits to know I wouldn’t be able to see this competition through, but I wondered if there might be any glimpses of future fashions that I might wear. I ran through the episode list and fast-forwarded.
The short answer is, not much. There was the attempt to reinvent the suit, which lead to a David Bowie-Goes-To-Heaven moment (Note: despite the hair and headband I’m pretty sure this is, in fact, a guy, and Tan said he’d wear this):
As well as the Prince-Goes-To-Work-On-Bay-Street-In-Pleated-Pants:
Another episode that asked contestants to do their best with prints helped me finally answer the question of what a sloppy Adidas track suit would look like if it was made out of curtains:
The “Rock” episode, meanwhile, should probably have been titled “Fetish Night” . . .
. . . unless you’d prefer to wear shiny garbage bags.
Then there was the jacket that might actually ruin the trend towards burgundy and plum shades we’ve seen everywhere for the last two years:
At least someone finally gave a makeover to Waldo of “Where’s Waldo” fame, complete with Michael Jackson-style armband:
The finale (SPOILER ALERT), didn’t seem entirely fair. The first designer, Daniel Fletcher, created a collection that mostly consisted of menswear that few men would actually wear (like a pair of pants with a star spread across the bum area). He added a dress at the end to be the “showstopper.”
In contrast, the ultimate winner, Minju Kim, created an all-womenswear collection that dazzled with its elegant femininity. Men’s fashion is often about subtle details: the cut of a jacket, the buttons or the texture of the fabric. Fletcher’s collection wasn’t bad but it couldn’t compare with the kinds of women’s apparel that’s intended to turn heads.
It’s also not really fair to make fun of these clothes, though, given they were designed under creative constraints that would almost never be considered in real life.
Most designers don’t create items in less than a week. They don’t have to draft, cut and sew with their rivals at a nearby table. Most importantly, I don’t think many of them think specifically in terms of creating “red carpet looks” or working in genres as basic as “denim” or “military.”
In fact, watching Next In Fashion made me think of several other movies and shows that have appeared (both in theatres and on services like Netflix), profiling the origin stories of great designers like Yves St. Laurent, Alexander McQueen and, most recently, Ralph Lauren.
Most of these designers either came up through the ranks as apprentices or forged their own way as stubborn independents. I wonder how competing on a TV show like this one would have affected their confidence, their sense of vision or ambition. I can’t imagine any of them taking such a route to become the legends they are.
It’s not that fierce competition among designers doesn’t exist. But ultimately I think the people who truly become what’s “next” in fashion are less interested in pleasing a panel of judges than the people who feel like winners in their clothes.