When Neflix announced that it was set to launch a new fashion competition show to find the next best designer, co-hosted by Tan France and Alexa Chung, it didn’t come as much of a surprise. The linking up of Queer Eye‘s resident fashion expert and the OG it-girl (which is pretty much what an influencer was before they were called “influencers”) is kind of a match made in fashion heaven (otherwise known as the show’s seriously epic fashion closet). But what was super surprising was just how diverse the show—aptly titled Next in Fashion—was from the first few moments of the first episode. From featuring global designers who incorporate aspects of their heritage into their designs to using models of all shapes and sizes to host Chung’s cheeky British phrases for hurrying (FYI, her fave is “bum-rushed”), the show highlighted just how great it can be when people from different backgrounds with different skill levels and experiences work together. Also, it seriously made fashion fun again.
The duo talked with FLARE about signing on for the show, how effortless inclusion is (and should be) and why they’re not shocked that the designers were actually nice to each other.
The decision to do the show was a super-easy one
For both Chung and France, when it came to deciding whether or not to sign on the dotted line, there wasn’t *too* much back and forth in the process. First, because of Netflix’s reputation and, second, because they’re seriously fan girls—of each other.
“I’m now in my mid-30s, and I don’t say yes to anything that I don’t think is fun anymore,” Chung reveals. Because of her work with her fashion line, ALEXACHUNG, “everything else beyond that really has to be something that I’m very passionate about for me to say I’ll get on board.” And in this case, that passion came in the form of fan fave France. “This project arose shortly after I’d met Tan at a party, and I loved him,” she says. (Honestly, who doesn’t?) Plus, “It’s Netflix of ‘Netflix and Chill’ fame,” she jokes. “A fashion competition show by a production company that I knew would have a great kind of quality attached to it. So it was an easy ‘ya’ for me.”
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For France, who already has a mega hit show on Netflix with Queer Eye, the big draw for him was the promise that NiF would be similarly positive and uplifting—an extension of his brand. “And then, finally, Alexa Chung was going to be involved and I’ve been a fan for years, so—easy!” he says (with a wink!).
And the diversity on-screen was a big part of this
For as much as fashion shows—and the fashion world—like to throw around the word “diversity,” it’s very rare that you actually see it in action in an authentic way. Which is part of what made NiF so freakin’ great to watch. The show featured designers from around the world, from places like Italy, India, China and Costa Rica, who all worked together and brought in aspects of their home countries to their designs, something that not only elevated the show as a whole but also introduced viewers to aspects of cultures they may not have been aware of.
“It makes it a much more inclusive show,” France says of having diverse cast members and models. While France and Chung acknowledge that a lot of casting decisions were made by Netflix before they came on board, “Netflix does a really good job with as many of the formats as physically possible to make it inclusive for a much wider audience than just the U.S. direct global platform,” says France. “I love that we worked with a company who is aware of that.”
And with all of the diverse designer pairings, such as iconic collaborators Angel Chen and Minju Kim (who, together, are also known as “Dragon Princess”), “I really hope that the kindness comes through and the idea that when you’re collaborating in whatever job you happen to be doing, trying to find commonality and the best in your partner or coworker will give you a way better result than if you have resistance or infighting,” says Chung. “I think that’s really why [the show] had that tone of being uplifting—because it was actually joyful to see the best of humanity.”
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These team names are ᴇᴠᴇʀʏᴛʜɪɴɢ.
Plus, the fashion industry at large can take note
While Next in Fashion did a great job when it came to making sure every aspect was as diverse and inclusive as it could be—and effortlessly so—it’s no secret that the world of fashion outside of the show’s workroom is still struggling to catch up. (When Gucci is still sending models down the runway in Blackface sweaters and celebs are still wearing Dolce & Gabbana on the red carpet, we have a problem.)
“I think fashion by its nature is always one of the industries at the forefront of change because fashion inherently is a forward-looking creative field,” says Chung. “And so they’ve already made some of the first steps to be as inclusive and diverse as they can be; and that goes from the adverts you see on the street to the type of fashion shows that are made.”
“But,” she continues, “there’s obviously a long way to go in terms of making sure that everyone and every kind of human is represented.” Which, to be fair, is something the show itself had to grapple with during its streetwear episode, when guest judge Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss walked out during the elimination, uneasy with sending home streetwear designers Kiki Kitty and Farai Simoyi. In a post-show interview with Jezebel, Kitty and Simoyi talked about feeling like certain judges—like Chung and guest judge Elizabeth Stewart—didn’t try to “get” their style.
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So while Chung admits that the show and the hosts are unable to advise on *all* the ways the industry can be inclusive, “it’s shows like this that hopefully open up conversations that are important for people to have,” she says.
And they aren’t surprised by the camaraderie shown on-screen
And not only is the 10-episode series opening up conversations about diversity, it’s also debunking stereotypes about the cattiness of the fashion industry itself, because the designers were so freakin’ nice to each other. Forget America’s Next Top Model‘s infamous cat fights and sabotage and the über-harsh criticism on Project Runway. NiF‘s contestants legitimately seemed like BFFs who would cheer each other on and check in when the going got tough.
This collaborative nature was prevalent throughout the season but was most poignant during the finale of the show, when British designer Daniel Fletcher helped his co-finalist, South Korea’s Minju Kim, fix a design issue with her showstopping piece: a Frida Kahlo-inspired wedding dress. They talked out her issue, Fletcher made a suggestion and Kim went on to win with her seriously amazing collection. That’s not to say that Kim won the competition because of Fletcher’s help—she won it on her own talent and merit and the entire collection was INCREDIBLE. But seeing two competitors helping each other because they wanted the other to do well was seriously tear-inducing. They were artisans over competitors. But while viewers may have bawled over the moment at home, France wasn’t as surprised to see this touching moment—or any of the camaraderie during the season—go down. “I know that obviously there’s a stereotype for a reason—it can be a tough industry—but from my personal experience [this does happen in the fashion industry],” he says. Specifically, he has worked in and cultivated environments that thrive on kindness instead of competition.
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“I owned my own brands; I was a designer and I cultivated a very friendly work environment,” he explains. “And for our show, Alexa and I, we were incredibly kind to each other, we were kind to the contestants, and I think that set the tone from the top.”
“People are only ever mean if they’re insecure,” Chung chimes in. “And if they’re encouraged to be, but we would never encourage them,” adds France.
Which is probably why the show and its designers are so beloved. Given a space in which they can be themselves and proudly represent their backgrounds not only allows them to be great, it allows the show and industry to be great as well. Where else would we have seen a non-appropriative Frida Kahlo-inspired collection by a South Korean designer?
“I’m so proud of Minju,” Chung says of the winner. “I think she had an amazing journey on the show and seeing all the models standing on the stairs in her designs [at Netflix’s February 5 cocktail party for NiF]. It wasn’t even like, ‘Oh, wow, look at that.’ It was more like ‘As it should be.’ She deserves exactly this kind of situation.”
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