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What is Gigi Hadid doing on Netflix reality TV?
On March 3, Netflix released season two of “Next in Fashion,” its reality competition show following 12 fashion designers battling to win the competition. In several days or even hours, designers race to construct fashionable looks according to a theme, which are presented on the runway before the judges decide who to crown and who to eliminate. While not the showstopper in Netflix’s expanding reality TV collection, “Next in Fashion” is an upbeat, diverse, and decidedly less infuriating production from the streaming service’s now-polished reality show mold.
Slightly different from season one, this season’s prizes include $200,000 and a collection launch on Rent the Runway, a luxury clothing rental service. Also different from season one: Gigi Hadid’s replacement of fellow model Alexa Chung as host. She’s not the only celebrity appearance: Guest judges include Donatella Versace, Emma Chamberlain, and Hailey Bieber.
At times, “Next in Fashion”’s neon aesthetic and nonstop hip-hop and pop backing tracks teeter on tiring. Yet the designers’ much more sophisticated creations are anything but. It’s pure fun to form one’s opinions during the runway shows, with the vicarious eye of an haute couture stylist. The hosts’ outfits are also fun, especially when Hadid shows up in her 2022 Met Gala look for the “Met Gala” themed episode — the viewer is bound to fangirl as much as the designers.
As surreal as Gigi Hadid’s presence is, she and co-host Tan France — of “Queer Eye” fame — are warmly human. Holding hands, making up nicknames (“Tanny?”), and visiting workstations, Hadid and France emulate the “Great British Bake Off”’s beloved hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. Both sets of hosts even start each episode with a theme-appropriate skit. Though sweet and bubbly, the “Next in Fashion'' duo aren’t quite engaging enough to match the show’s strongest element: the fashion.
Hadid and France’s genuine care for the contestants — evidenced by their tears over some eliminations — is undermined by want for the quirky, unscripted conversations that render all of the contestants’ personalities more accessible to the viewer. Backstories containing the typical tearjerkers consume the rest of their speaking time, coming off as part of the reality formula, as genuine as they are. As the cast communicates with a plethora of LGBTQ slang (“big slay,” “it’s giving,” and even the fearsome critique “crafty” of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”), they share a common trendy language but invent nothing iconic or memorable. This season’s contestants are generally more forgettable than last season, with its whimsical and endearing winner Minju Kim.
Still, the contestants and their camaraderie are hard not to like. After a paired challenge in which Nigel Xavier teaches Deontré Hancock some patchwork techniques, Hancock incorporates patchwork into his own design in a gratifying moment of creative osmosis. The respect between designers and models allows the viewer to appreciate pure creative talent, unmarred by fabricated drama. One model accidentally rips Bao Tranchi’s dress, but Tranchi — one of the more businesslike, serious contestants — fixes it and hugs her. The decency of the cast speaks for itself. Any competitiveness is utterly peaceful in comparison to the mayhem of other reality competitions.
While fairly unexceptional in format, the highlight of “Next in Fashion” is its diversity. In the “Childhood” challenge, transgender designer James Ford reimagines a childhood pre-transition outfit as menswear. Qaysean Williams, who has Erb’s palsy, dubs himself the “one hand sewing man.” Vietnamese refugee Tranchi recounts her mother’s job in a sweatshop. This visibility of the fashion industry’s failings is critical. The finalists’ disadvantages in their field imbue the prize with real magnitude, creating hope for an underrepresented designer to claim a space in high fashion with needed financial support.
The seamless diversity of the runway models is also a promising divergence from the exaggerated applause and controversy that often surrounds bodily representation in media. In one challenge, models sport the designers’ reimaginations of their birth decades, ranging from the ’50s to the ’90s. The show’s diversity and the hosts’ empathetic ear for the designers’ stories exhibit its honesty among shows studded with tokenism.
Perhaps the most questionable moment of the season is Danny Godoy’s elimination after Episode Five, “Collaboration.” After Godoy makes seven pieces to his partner Ford’s one, the judges criticize their designs as lacking “elevation”. However, nothing justifies their loss to Hancock and O’Cain, whose designs are aesthetically and thematically messy. The abrupt cutoff of Godoy’s potential is dispiriting after his frustration with the inexperienced Ford, but it ultimately seems like an understandable mistake within a series of reasonable eliminations.
The show seesaws between artistic legitimacy and reality show skepticism. Versace and Chamberlain, both highly recognizable guests, represent wildly different aspects of the fashion world. Themes like “Thrift Wear” and “Met Gala” cater to viral style, while “Royalty” and “Everything Old is New” encourage more reliance on costume than innovation. Netflix also sacrifices experience for celebrity status, for example, with guest judges “Emily in Paris” actress Ashley Park, influencer Emma Chamberlain, and a disproportionate number of supermodels. While the “Transformation” challenge alludes to current fashion breakthroughs — like Coperni’s viral spray-on dress — is it also, by now, already done? It’s dubious at best that the show has actually paved the way for what’s next in fashion as an art form. The judging process seems much more valid when rewarding wearability, adept construction, and a strong visual identity. Perhaps a less sophisticated angle would allow better immersion into the show’s mission. Ultimately, the disconnect between mainstream Netflix elements and avant-garde emphasis is just distracting.
Although “Next in Fashion” won’t transform the fashion industry like its tagline claims, the undeniably skillful design it showcases and its personable, diverse cast make it an enjoyable watch. If not exceptional, it is earnest — and earnest is rare and refreshing in reality TV.
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