The Making the Cut winner looks back on globe-trotting fashion journey
Someone made the cut!
Amazon dropped the final two episodes of Making the Cut’s first season on Friday, officially crowning the reality fashion competition’s first winner. Developed and presented by Project Runway alumni Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum, the series brought together 12 designers from all over the world to compete for a mentorship with Amazon Fashion, a chance to launch a collection on Amazon, and a whopping $1 million prize.
The contest swept across the globe, taking its competitors from Paris to Tokyo and finally to New York in the final two episodes. With an emphasis on a global perspective and a comprehensive vision for a full lifestyle brand — beyond just a series of garments — each week challenged designers to make one “runway” look and one more accessible one; the wearable look from each runway show became available for sale on Amazon (always quickly selling out) immediately when the episodes dropped.
It came down to Sander Bos, from Hasselt, Belgium; Jonny Cota, from L.A., and Esther Perbandt, from Berlin, but now just one of them has made the cut. EW caught up with the victorious designer to look back on the whirlwind journey — so stop reading now if you don’t want SPOILERS from the finale below!
Jonny Cota’s final runway show (and accompanying vision for his brand) won over judges Klum, Naomi Campbell, Nicole Richie, Joseph Altazurra, and Chiara Ferragni. Entitled “Metamorphosis,” the collection celebrated his own evolution as a designer over the course of Making the Cut, during which Cota embraced more softness and lightness in his work; he had previously tended much more toward the edgy leather jackets that typified his L.A.-based brand Skingraft. Now, however, for the very first time, his designs are available under his own name, with Friday’s launch of Jonny Cota Studio on Amazon.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We saw you have this sort of revelation about your own design aesthetic over the course of the show. What was a turning point on that journey?
JONNY COTA: Well, episode 4, when we had seven hours and made a look ourselves. I went in there with very little confidence about my sewing skills, and a very rigid sense of myself as a dark leather designer. And I had to confront all of those fears and all of those things holding me back, and I excelled, and I won. So the turning point for me was: ‘Jonny Cota, shut up, stop complaining about not knowing how to sew and just sew. Stop complaining about not knowing how to do patterns and just do it. And let go who you think you are and discover who you can be.’ And for the judges to celebrate that and to applaud that and then to give me the win for that? That hands-down changed my trajectory in the competition.
It also felt quite symbolic that you decided to put your own name on your clothes — what was the personal significance of that for you?
For years, I wanted to step into my namesake label, but it takes a lot of confidence and timing and it just never felt like the right opportunity. I was planning on Making the Cut serving as an opportunity for me to transition to my namesake. But having Naomi Campbell and Heidi Klum and all the judges rip apart Skingraft and encourage me to go by my own name because they believed in me, that gave me the extra push I needed.
What was a moment with the judges that really affected you?
Episode 2, couture — being dragged through the coals by Naomi Campbell. What you saw was 30 seconds of critique. What the reality was, was about a 20-minute beatdown. It was so brutal, and in all my years as a designer, I’ve never received such pointed words from someone I respect so much. And it really made me reconsider everything I knew, reconsider all my confidence, take in her critiques and see them as a blessing, see them as suggestions on how I can do better. I went there timid and scared, and that beatdown actually turned around my whole attitude. It reminded me, like, ‘Jonny Cota doesn’t go down like that!’
What was the best piece of advice Tim gave you?
It became kind of a mantra of the show, but it really is one of the strongest things that he would always push for is ‘break through the noise.’ There’s so much crap out there, there’s so much competition, there’s so many leather jackets, there’s so many wearable dresses. How can you break through it? How can you appeal to the judges, the customer, but still bring something new? And I think it’s excellent advice for all designers, and every time I was working on something I would step back and say, does it break through the noise?
What did you learn from working alongside Esther and Sander?
I loved watching how everybody’s process is different, and no process is wrong. Sander just grabs fabric and paper and he just starts cutting — just this whirlwind of Tasmanian devil design that I don’t even know what’s going on, but he comes up with an end product and it’s incredible. And Esther is super methodical, it’s almost like she’s sitting there writing poetry or something, like, she’s very thoughtful and she plans it out, and that works for her. And me, I’m like a chicken with my head cut off, running around in the circus, and that works for me. Everyone has their process, and they’re all unique, and they all work.
The global aspect was a major feature of the show. How were you inspired by being in Paris and Tokyo?
Everything from the architecture to the street style to even just being out of your comfort zone — you’re in a unique position to kind of create something totally new that you’ve never done before. Also, for 10 years I’ve produced my collection in Bali, I travel all over Asia, I’m constantly traveling for work. I’m always experiencing a language barrier and I have grown extremely comfortable in the uncomfortable. So I was almost happier being out of my comfort zone; it almost propelled me to think bigger than how I thought before.
You really thrived in the sort of branding-oriented challenges, where a lot of the other designers struggled. How did you approach those?
I was really looking forward to any challenge that incorporated something more than sewing dresses and sending them down the runway, because I know I’m a great designer, but my strength is not sewing. I was thrilled for the digital campaign challenge, because that’s what I love most about being a designer, is branding and creating these worlds in photos. Also, for the pop-up shop, to argue my way into the top three, I said very bluntly, ‘Hey, I’ve been challenged with sewing and doing all these things that I know are not my strength. But I guarantee you, if you give me an opportunity to make it to the top three, I will show you my strength.’ This is what I love, and I didn’t realize until the show that these are unique skills that not every designer has, and it made me realize that my years of experience were paying off.
Since you finished shooting last August, what has it been like to watch everything back and relive the entire journey all these months later?
It’s actually been incredible. I didn’t see a single episode before they aired. I think I’m driving my husband crazy, because I watch each episode maybe four or five times. I love the sound of Esther’s voice or the cackle of Sander’s laugh, or, you know, you can hear Naomi’s eye-rolls through the screen. It takes me back to one of the most challenging but most rewarding chapters of my life episodes.
How did you keep this secret for so long?!
It’s been the hardest secret to keep in my entire life. I feel like I’m living in this dream world, where my life has changed but nobody knows it and no one can know it. Until this weekend.
The entire first season of Making the Cut is now streaming on Amazon, and the first collection from Jonny Cota Studio is now available.