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‘Next in Fashion’ Marks Netflix’s Cheery Entry to the Fashion Design Wars

Glossy, chirpy and colorful, Netflix’s “Next in Fashion” — debuting Jan. 29 — is one of two new entrants to the televised fashion design competition arena this year. The 10-episode series, hosted by “Queer Eye’s” Tan France and presenter and designer Alexa Chung, also marks Netflix’s first venture into a category that for years has been dominated by “Project Runway.”

“Fashion is something that is really appealing and relatable, and so it made sense for us to get into that space considering our viewers around the world,” Netflix vice president of unscripted originals and comedy specials Brandon Riegg told Variety. “It is also an opportunity to gauge the fashion enthusiasm of fans and showcase some amazing talent and stories [from designers], the struggles and the victories, and help them elevate their own brand to the next level through the show.”

It just so happens that France, known for being the Fab Five’s fashion guru, has long wanted to do a fashion competition show. And it just so happens that he found himself RSVPing “yes” to one of Victoria Beckham’s parties in London nearly a year ago, upon discovering that Chung would be there.

“I was obsessed with Alexa for a very, very long time,” he said. “She was on a lot of TV in the U.K. when I was like 19, 20… But we never met.”

She screamed when she saw him, recognizing him from “Queer Eye.” He talked to her about a new fashion competition show he had signed up to host. She, “a little tipsy,” said France, would not quite remember the entirety of their conversation there, but would in the ensuing days agree to co-host and judge “Next in Fashion” with him. Though they only met up once more, for lunch, before embarking on the series together, France and Chung have the on-screen chemistry of a pair of old friends.

“Next in Fashion” features 18 seasoned designers who mostly come from pedigreed fashion schools and self-made businesses. Initially tasked with working in teams of two, the group is soon whittled down and the designers ultimately compete solo. It is an international bunch, from the Italy-based Angelo Cruciani to the U.K.-based Claire Davis to the Pakistani-American designer Isaac Saqib.

“One of the core tenets of our approach to programming is having diversity, and diversity comes in lots of different forms; obviously we are a global platform,” said Riegg. “But really it came to finding great characters with great story, and who are credible in the fashion space. And that was a big driver in terms of the casting. It just happened that we looked everywhere in looking for those qualities in the contestants and it allowed us to have more of a global group of contestants for this series in particular.”

“Project Runway,” now in its 18th season and back on its birth network at Bravo, has long featured less experienced designers and let the interpersonal drama fly.

France, while making clear that he is a fan of “Project Runway,” says “Next in Fashion” is a very different show. The series showcases mid-career designers like China-based Angel Chen, no stranger to mainstream success, whose apparel is sold in Selfridges, Lane Crawford and other stores. Its judges include big name designers such as Tommy Hilfiger, Phillip Lim and Public School’s Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow.

“That’s a major point of difference, and I think that shows in our runway [shows],” said France. “Our runway, is in my opinion, the best you’ll see in a fashion competition show.”

“Next in Fashion” is also a much cheerier reality series, foregoing cattiness for can-do positivity.

“I made it very clear, before I signed, that I would never get involved with a mean show,” he said. “That’s not my vibe at all. That would go completely against what I do on ‘Queer Eye’ and what we work so hard for on ‘Queer Eye.’ You can have great entertainment without taking the very easy route of knocking people down and just being mean. So at every turn, Alexa and I [stayed positive]. You can critique a look without being nasty.”

Like its forthcoming peer “Making the Cut” — which hails from streaming rival Amazon — Netflix’s fashion design reality series offers contestants a chance to find commercial success beyond the show, through a partnership with a popular e-commerce site. In Amazon’s case that site is, of course, Amazon. Netflix, meanwhile, has dangled Net-a-Porter in front of its designers, offering them a chance to sell a collection on the site.

“I’m a former designer and retailer, and getting into a retail store or major online retailer was a massive opportunity,” France told Variety. “It took me three and a half years to get to that point, and a lot of struggling to make that happen. And so for them to get that from the show is wonderful. Also, with the global streaming service that we’re on – they are going to have, hopefully, a lot of eyes on them.”

There’s also $250,000 in prize money, key funding for any independent designer trying to make it in a market flooded by fast fashion and cutthroat competition.

“If you don’t have major financial backing from these major fashion houses on a site like Net-a-Porter, you’re not going to get on, you’re not going to get seen,” said France.

Netflix’s Riegg, on the other hand, sees the exposure offered by the show and the streamer itself to be the “real win.”

“The Net-a-Porter [partnership] and money at the end is a nice touch to add and recognize the winner of the competition,” he said, “but being in the competition itself in the show on our platform is such a huge coup for them as they try to grow their own business and expand their brand.”

While he wouldn’t comment on the prospect of a Season 2, Riegg elaborated on his ethos in unscripted, adding that he first arrived at Netlix to a “blank slate,” and is really only two years into the rollout of his overall strategy.

“These competition shows — they’re bigger, larger undertakings, so what we’re seeing now is that they’re finally rolling out on the service, even though it was always an angle from the start,” said Riegg. “Some of the doc series are quicker turnarounds and we’ve been able to get those up a little bit faster. But this was always part of the plan.”

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