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In the time since Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum filmed the first season of their reality design competition Making the Cut, which aired last spring, the world has changed an almost unfathomable amount — and with it, the state of the fashion industry.

"I remember being so apprehensive, having the show drop during quarantine," Gunn tells EW of season 1. But in the end, "I did an about-face about it. I looked upon it very positive and thought, well, people need an escape, they need some relief from all this, and Making the Cut certainly provides that."

Its debut rolled out as the world shut down, and now the show's second season will air as life starts up again. Launching July 16 on Amazon Prime Video, season 2 of the high-style contest filmed in the fall, strictly adhering to COVID protocols — "we were suitably and respectfully paranoid," Gunn says — and limiting production to a fabulous, sprawling ranch in Malibu rather than globe-trotting between international fashion capitals, as they did in the first season. But while the logistics of filming a reality show amid a pandemic were a pressing issue for the producers, the very content of Making the Cut had to evolve with the unprecedented state of the world as well.

Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn on 'Making the Cut'
| Credit: Ali Goldstein/Amazon Prime Video

"As you know, fashion is a barometric gauge of society and culture," Gunn said in EW's tease of season 2. "We couldn't turn our back on COVID; we would have looked tone-deaf."

Some of the season's design assignments respond to the changing industry and the new, increasingly virtual ways that modern consumers engage with fashion. Making the Cut is a search for the next great global brand; its artists compete not just on the basis of individual garments, but of their vision for a label with international appeal and real-world potential to "break through the noise," as mentor Gunn often advises the contestants.

The show's winner will receive $1 million, a mentorship with Amazon Fashion, and the chance to create an exclusive line for Amazon. The winner of each assignment, too, sees their "accessible" winning look (and not the more high-fashion "runway" look) produced and sold on Amazon's Making the Cut store immediately after the episode airs; they regularly sell out quickly.

Tim Gunn on 'Making the Cut'
| Credit: Ali Goldstein/Amazon Prime Video

Making the Cut's shopability is one of its hallmarks — and part of how the show positions itself to truly launch a small brand to the next level, even after a year in which independent labels and famous retailers alike were forced to shut down. "For young, entrepreneurial-thinking designers, unless you're aligned with some big enterprise, how can you possibly make it? Unless you're independently wealthy. You can't do it," Gunn says of the hard-hit post-COVID fashion industry. "You can't sustain a brand unless you have big reach. That's what I love about what Making the Cut is doing — it's giving these designers that kind of global exposure, and for the winner, it's truly global. And it's the only way you can really build a business."

This year's group of contenders, hailing once again from all over the world and representing a wide variety of perspectives and aesthetics, brought a level of commitment to the competition that "makes me feel that the future looks very bright," says Gunn. And in more good news for fashion: "People always need clothes!"

Making the Cut premieres July 16 on Amazon Prime Video.

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