What makes one the next in fashion? Separated by 10 or so hours and a considerable few thousand miles, we caught up with Tan France and find out why this drama-free show should be on our watch list.
Hardly operating on a ground-breaking premise, one might easily relegate yet another fashion reality show-cum-competition to the thank-you-next pile. There is hardly anyone to blame, really, especially in the golden age of streaming where even the slightest hint of disinterest is enough to merit a pause button—or worse, the dreaded exit tab. This fleeting and flighty attention span is precisely the currency that entertainment stacks up to, compelling creators of content to the step things up, and in a language we all understand: introduce us to what the new, the now, the next.
In so little words, it has to answer to one rigor: Is it binge-worthy?
If we were to judge solely based on the surface, as fashion is typically wont to do, then Next In Fashion, the high-stakes reality competition that converges the world to a singular runway over the course of 10-episodes, then it probably wouldn’t be any different from its “one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out” predecessors. And after so many cycles on the style and television calendar, let’s admit it: It has reached it saturation point. Make no mistake about it, this has nothing to with talent or skill in design, which quite clearly, is a mind-blowing experience season after season. Where it teeters on the fulcrum of exhaustion is the fact that the aforementioned ingenuity has been constantly marred by drama, drama, and even more drama. There is much of it that it has raised so many eyebrows, with viewers suspecting the veracity of reality television. This isn’t completely unfounded, because let’s admit it: Is it really about fashion anymore or the spectacle of it all?
“Next In Fashion was that it was going to be, in my opinion, the anti-fashion reality show, because it’s not about the drama, it’s not about producing dramatic scenes, it’s about the craft,” begins Tan France of Queer Eye fame, who now becomes one-half of the hosting tandem with perma-It girl, Alexa Chung. “We liken it to the Great British Bake Off, but for fashion, because we’re not trying to be a reality of putting people down. That’s not something I will ever be involved with. I am on a show called Queer Eye, which is about positivity and inclusivity and kindness. And so I look at Next In Fashion as an extension of that. So yes, it’s a fashion competition show, but I think that’s where the similarities end. But I would like to believe that people watch it and have an incredibly positive experience as opposed to feeling like, “Wow, our society is in trouble.’”
And guess what, it completely delivers on that sworn promise.
Bringing in together some of the most brilliant, mind-boggling, and quite honestly, astonishing designers from all over the world, Next In Fashion is eagle-eyed on what it intends to be: A platform to give these quiet forces in fashion a space to show what their made of and thrive, sans an altercation with a fellow designer, a tiff with a model, or a very palpable tension with a judge or host. In a little over 40-minutes, you are taken into this orbit of design competition and are rooted in its pull of gravity—and yet it doesn’t feel a bit dragging or dried out of a personality. In fact, with 18 contestants of different races, points-of-view, and even politics of different circumstances, Next In Fashion becomes a veritable breeding ground for fashion discourse, as well as a space for conversations on life of all fronts, all of which thoroughly enriches an already rich tapestry of humanity. “I am a person of color myself, and I want to make sure that I am surrounded with as many people as possible, and that it’s a true representation of our society. But to what I will say is that one of the other reasons we have such a diverse group of contestants is because Netflix is a global platform,” explains Tan France. “So, we wanted to offer a show that would really cater to our audience. And quite honestly, I think it makes for a very interesting competition show when it’s not just domestic designers engaging in the show. I love that it’s a show that encompasses the entire world.” In a sense, the typically stereotyped world of fashion becomes more informed as each episode progresses, where a red carpet look becomes personal statement, a lingerie look exposes the bare bones of a tabooed sexual liberation, and a collection stands to be a statement on sustainability and climate change.
“One of the things is that I was very impressed that they were all considering sustainability. At some point of the competition, pretty much every designer had mentioned that they want to really push to create more sustainable brands, and I do love that that’s the way fashion is moving forward and one of our designers, Tommy Hilfiger, who was a guest judge on the show, said something along the lines of, if sustainability isn’t at the forefront of your design, you are not the future of fashion and I thought that that was really poignant for me,” he shares of what it was like to stand on the other side of the creative pond, this time as not just a host, but also that of a mentor. This also meant that being this sort of guiding light and figure to the contestants, being emotional was inevitable. And trust us, the feelings get pretty real in this show. “I cried almost every episode, because I couldn’t keep it in,” he discloses. “I’m actually not a very emotional person in general. However, this is real close to my heart, because I’m a designer; I know how hard it is to achieve success. I struggled for so many years to get success my industry. So, every time I have to give them the bad news of letting them go or struggling with the decision, I would break down and cry, because it was so difficult to dash somebody’s hopes and dreams, because it took me right back to those feelings that I had when I was in a similar situation. So, that’s why it was so emotional to me, and quite honestly, I didn’t shy away from sharing my emotions. I wanted them to know that I cared; I wanted them to know that these people mattered to me, and that their experience matters to me. I wasn’t trying to be a regular host of a competition show that is often quite emotionally removed. I wanted them to know that I’m in the trenches with you, I get it.”
Don’t think that Next In Fashion is all kumbaya. While there is little to no animosity and unnecessary antagonizing of characters, the show still maintains fashion’s grasp of the personal, cutting especially deep since the stakes are pretty high for the designers. Despite having worked for several major brands (G Star Raw, Fubu, Fiorucci), working tirelessly on their own labels, or dressing A-list celebrities (Ariana Grande! Rihanna! Jennifer Lawrence! Lizzo! Harry Styles! Mark Ronson! Bella Hadid! Kim Kardashian! Britney Spears! Beyoncé!), they are still primarily under-the-radar names who need any leg up on the industry necessary. With the grand prize of $250,000, as well as an opportunity to debut their line with luxury fashion retailer, Net-a-Porter, this is definitely one for the books. The judges are high-caliber too, including Filipino, Monique Lhuillier. “Don’t get me wrong, there’s competition, it’s a competition show, and people want to desperately win. They were all successful designers, so we wanted to make sure that their brands are achieving the next level of success, so there was definitely competition, but it never got nasty,” affirms Tan France. “I would like to believe that we helped cultivate that that atmosphere, that tone of the show. Alexa and I were very kind and loving with our contestants, and we didn’t play into any drama. And I love that the producers are from old-school TV, so if there was any further drama with our contestants, they wouldn’t edit it into the show or highlight it, because there’s no reason to.”
A risk in itself, what with the world expecting a lion’s den of cut-throat competition with scissors and pins out, Next In Fashion demystifies fashion by a whole lot, making it very clear that there lies a positive side to it, one that can be realized in creativity, camaraderie, and collaboration among many other things. “I think anybody in reality, unscripted TV sees the success of Queer Eye. It is globally recognized as a successful format, because of the positivity, and so I love that. I love that that willing to work that into one of the shows at this point, happy to find their versions of a Queer Eye code, because I would like to believe that the tides are turning,” he says. “That’s what makes it easier for our show to have a kinder tone, because we don’t have to output major drama, because people are often willing to binge a show within a few days as opposed to a few weeks or months… I can’t imagine I will ever be on a show going forward, that’s catty or mean or negative or tearing people down. I’ve had two incredibly positive experiences and I don’t plan on going back.”
Depending on where you stand on the streaming meter, whether you are about to start or are near completion, Next In Fashion has already named its winner. Nope, no spoilers here. But with fashion being highly subjective, we wonder, what does it mean to be the next in fashion for Tan France? “It depends on what your personal preferences are. My idea of what is ‘next in fashion’ might be different from Alexa’s. Thankfully, we agreed—all agreed—on who should win our show and who we thought was a representative of what is next. But, for me personally, I wanted to see something that was fresh, that was original, that inspired me in a way that current brands aren’t inspiring me. And that’s why we came to the conclusion we came to for our winner of next in fashion. It was based on: ‘What have we not seen before? Who [is] doing something that isn’t on every runway already?’ That’s what we asked for our show,” he reveals. And this is something he wishes the world we either populate or observe from the outside looking in would exercise, a cognizant choice that is at the very least aims to thread through the hems of the society, closing the loops and frayed edges. “I would like to believe that anyone who works in the fashion industry, whether it’s a designer or stylist as I’ve worked in both areas, should be able to set that personal preference to the side to focus on what is appropriate for that client. If we knew it was a red carpet or streetwear challenge, I would focus on that as opposed to: ‘Would I wear this myself?’ Maybe not, but can I see the hottest start on the planet wearing it? Yes, and so I would just think of who that design was for, what it was appropriate for, and if it did meet the requirements of the challenge,” he says.
With Next In Fashion making the rounds online, popping up as an impassioned Facebook status, a spirited series of Instagram Stories, or a burst of babbling thoughts on Twitter, it is clear that the world is hooked on the actual reality of fashion. Tireless and tenacious, as it is inspirational and invigorating, it becomes crystal: This isn’t your average, run-off-the-mill show. High-octane, well-paced, intelligently-produced, Next In Fashion asserts itself as the necessary ecosystem for the future of fashion to thrive. No, they aren’t making them. Instead, they are helping build them.
Now, that’s what it means to be the next in fashion.
Hosted by Tan France and Alexa Chung, Next In Fashion is streaming now on Netflix.