CW: Anti-Blackness, fetishization, body shaming, economic privilege
Competitive reality TV truly benefits from the weekly release format of cable and channel television. You have a week to ruminate on the show after watching an hour of action and drama that falls upon your favorite contestant. The week-long break in between each airing gives the viewer a chance to debrief, discuss and process the episode before repeating the cycle with the next week’s episode. However, while watching Netflix’s new competitive reality TV programs you may wonder if the streaming platform’s binge-worthy episodes provide a better alternative to the standard
Netflix’s “Next in Fashion” is the streaming giant’s latest foray into the realm of fashion and competitive reality TV. Similar to “Project Runway,” “Next in Fashion” tries to find a fresh and talented designer who will be awarded a $250,000 investment toward their own brand, as well as an opportunity to sell their designs through online retailer Net-a-Porter. All designers, unlike competitors from shows such as “Master Chef,” are professionals within the fashion design trade; most have their own brands, while some have even ghost-designed under celebrity brands. “Next in Fashion” pits the contestants, initially paired in teams of two, to create stunning looks that will be judged on a catwalk. Contestants that do not meet the judges’ approval are sent home.
Tan France and Alexa Chung, the hosts of “Next in Fashion,” provide tongue-in-cheek humor that provides levity to the otherwise tense and often chaotic environment within each episode. Assisting France and Chung are industry heavyweights who judge each contestant’s submission. While entertaining, “Next in Fashion” reveals a fair number of problematic behavior mostly through the critiques from guest judges and the hosts.
The show’s attempts to find the most forward-thinking designers come across as elitist and economically privileged. In an episode on suits, France and guest judge Jason Bolden disregarded outfits that looked “cheap” and “not expensive.” These criticisms ironically came after Tan France’s “Fashion Tip” segment in which he advised contestants to opt for a cheap, yet tailored suit compared to an expensive one.
“Next in Fashion” rears its most problematic side during the critiquing segments of its two Black contestants, Kianga ‘KiKi’ Milele and Farai Simoyi-Agdebe. In the aforementioned suit challenge, the judges criticized Kiki and Farai’s practical interpretation of a women’s power suit. In the subsequent episode, despite Kiki’s prodigious expertise within streetwear, the hosts and judges — save for guest judge Kerby Jean-Raymond — heavily criticized the “unfinished” look of their outfit, an intentional design decision by Kiki. It is only Kerby’s stalwart refusal to disqualify Kiki and Farai that saves the duo from being disqualified. For a moment, you hold out hoping that “Next in Fashion” breaks the appropriation and commodification of Black culture and design by established, predominantly white, clothing labels and designers. And for that moment, it does pass; Kiki and Farai are not disqualified from the round.
Yet, Kiki and Farai are disqualified in the next round, which involves lingerie. Tan France and Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima’s criticisms of Kiki and Farai’s design revolve around a supposed lack of breast support and a lack of “perky breasts.” Though Kiki and Farai’s lingerie design revolved around women’s comfort and also showed detailed construction of a breast support system, Kiki and Farai are disqualified nonetheless. Those who do not prescribe to the white heteronormative standards of beauty, including Kiki and Farai, are sent out of the competition.
Equally puzzling are the host and guest judges’ fascination with the two East Asian contestants: Angel Chen and Minju Kim. While the two contestants receive praise from Tan France and Alexa Chung, you wonder if it stems from an extant fetishization of East Asian culture from a Western perspective rather than a genuine applause towards the design process of both Angel and Minju. When France, Chung and the guest judges understand Angel and Minju’s work, the two contestants are celebrated. When their design is explained to the hosts and judges, their work is also celebrated. Yet Angel and Minju are criticized when their concepts fail to encapsulate a Westernized concept. With such a coincidence, you can’t help but reconsider the role of East Asian fetishization within Westernized fashion.
You may have to turn off your brain to fully immerse yourself in “Next in Fashion” considering the show’s problematic content that appears throughout the first season.