Heidi Klum Talks Debuting 'Making the Cut' in a "Very Scary, Fast and New" Era

Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic
Heidi Klum

The supermodel and TV personality opens up about jumping ship from 'Project Runway' to take on a new global fashion franchise, which — in a strange turn of events — premieres on Amazon at a time in which a self-isolating world seeks more at-home entertainment options amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It was less than two weeks ago that Heidi Klum expressed concern via Instagram about a possible coronavirus diagnosis. "These are strange times," the supermodel and TV personality wrote in an emotional post. "But in these moments, you remember what's really important — the people you love and keeping them safe."

Klum immediately quarantined herself as the novel coronavirus rapidly spread across the globe — which has seen more than 86,000 cases in the U.S., with at least 1,270 deaths to date — but later revealed this week that she, fortunately, tested negative for COVID-19.

Now, as borders close and traveling fears continue to mount amid the pandemic, a self-isolating world is looking for more at-home entertainment options than ever before. Incidentally, Klum has something to offer: Making the Cut, her new fashion competition series with Amazon Prime Video that is out now and, in an ironic twist, leans heavily into its international components.

Filmed last year in New York, Paris and Tokyo — unlike Klum's first sartorial hit series, Project Runway, which primarily remained sedentary in the Big Apple during her tenure — Making the Cut allows contestants to explore its span of picturesque shooting locations, where they are encouraged to soak up inspiration for their designs.

"It's important for the designers to get some fresh air and experience these cities. You can see it in their clothes because these are creative people and you suck inspiration from your surroundings," Klum tells The Hollywood Reporter. "And when you're always stuck in a studio, it can become stale."

According to Klum, the show feels decidedly fresh after she and Tim Gunn departed Project Runway in 2018 after 16 seasons together. "It's something totally different," she notes. "I'm really trying to straddle the artistry of fashion and the commerce part of it."

Making the Cut — executive produced by Klum, Gunn, Sara Rea, Page Feldman and Jennifer Love for SKR Productions — brings together 12 entrepreneurs and designers from around the world who are competing to take their fledging brands to the next level in becoming a fashion phenomenon. Looks from Making the Cut will be shoppable on Amazon, and the winner of the series will receive $1 million to invest in their brand. 

Exciting as the concept may be, though, Klum seems to understand that challenges could come with launching both a new TV franchise and fashion brand as the economy struggles in the face of a universal health crisis. "As everyone knows, the world is changing in very scary, fast and new ways," she says. "And we're all learning as the world evolves. But having someone like Amazon behind us, it couldn't be any better."

(In response to the coronavirus outbreak, it was announced today that Making the Cut is helping those in need by donating more than $600,000 to the World Health Organization, and to local charities in New York, Paris and Tokyo.)

Below, Klum talks more with THR about saying auf wiedersehen to Project Runway, the "freedom" she felt while filming Making the Cut and her hopes for its future. 

Now that it's finally available to stream, how do you feel about season one of Making the Cut?

Obviously, hearing how much people are loving it makes Tim and I really excited. When Tim and I jumped ship, we didn't know we were going to end up with this. We knew we were going to do something — but until you have the final product in your hand, there's always this limbo dancing, where you're unsure of what the outcome will be. But we are super happy with it. We poured our hearts, soul and passion and all of our ideas into this. We love it and we are thankful for Amazon being so behind us, letting us be creative. We had a lot of freedom. They encouraged us to think big and just let us go. And that is so nice. We had the creativity that we always wanted to have and never really could have.

Tell me about the type of freedom you had with this show that you didn't have while working on Project Runway?

We were able to have designers from all around the world — young, old, in-between. Also, we were able to find people who had very different types of skill sets as designers. And we showcased that, and we were also able to dive deeper into what it is like becoming a designer. We show people the entire picture on Making the Cut: where the people are from, what their brand identity is. They finally have the chance to express themselves more. It's not on a challenge-by-challenge basis where you don't necessarily see their brand identity within each look or their philosophy. As you watch throughout the season, you see how their brands evolve. It's a really nice journey and I feel like we found an amazing winner.

Anything from Project Runway that you wanted to leave in the past?

Some of the catchphrases from Project Runway have really made an impact, to the point where people still ask me to record in on their phones. I always have to say, "auf wiedersehen," and Tim always has to say, "Make it work." We were debating, are we going to continue saying this? Because, really, that's who we are — otherwise we would have never started saying these things to begin with. These catchphrases have kind of become iconic. People will see me and immediately go, "Oh, hello! Auf wiedersehen!" I'm proud of that, but we wanted to people to look at this as a fresh new show. We wanted the focus to be on the designers and that's why we ended up leaving our catchphrases in the past. It didn't come naturally. We wanted to be honest, new and different.

What was it like taking this show around the world instead of just staying put in New York?

We tried to go into these fashion capitals of the world because it's important for the designers to get some fresh air and experience these cities. You can see it in their clothes because these are creative people and you suck inspiration from your surroundings. And when you're always stuck in a studio, it can become stale. You need to be out and about, you need to run around. You need to feel these different places and it reflects in what you produce and what you create.

And, because Making the Cut is on Amazon, it will reach more than 200 countries. How would you describe the show's global impact?

It's amazing because it becomes more real all of a sudden. When you're in over 200 countries and people in those countries can immediately buy the garments from the winning designers each week, it's so fulfilling. It's not just something you see on your TV or your iPhone screen. The piece comes to life because you can buy it immediately and it's available in so many parts of the world. That kind of reach is incredible. You order it on Amazon and you have it in two days!

The winning prize is $1 million for a designer to invest in their brand. As an executive producer, how did you and Amazon come up with that number? It's such a big sum, so you must really trust in the talent of your contestants.

Let's face it, you need this kind of money in order to start a new brand. You need substantial backing. And you also need a legit company behind you. In this case, that's Amazon. They are a super partner. They're so helpful to the winner in making sure their brand will be seen. We don't know if their brand will succeed because that is ultimately up to the people shopping. But they have a much better chance now with Amazon and with $1 million. It's hard to do a one-man show.

Another part of the winning prize is a mentorship with Amazon Fashion head Christine Beauchamp. Does that include some type of financial guidance since the winning prize money is so much?

Amazon said that they would be more than happy to help in any way they can. I don't know about managing the $1 million. I don't want to give too much away because the designers actually had to pitch what they would do, so they also had to have a business plan in place. It gets really real. It's not just like, "Oh, yeah, that's cute." This is real money. This is a real opportunity.

This show gives viewers a deeper understanding of the designers on a personal level. As an executive producer, why was that important?

It's always interesting to see where these people come from. One is a young mom with two kids and it's very hard for her to be away from her kids. If you don't know the backstory, it's hard for you to understand not only the person, but what they're about and what their brand is about. It's just so much more interesting if you know these people better. Otherwise, they're just robots making clothes. You want to know more about these people because, ultimately, you're buying into what their brand is and what their philosophy is.

Tell me about the mix of judges: you, Nicole Richie, Naomi Campbell, Joseph Altuzarra, Carine Roitfeld and Chiara Ferragni. How would you describe the chemistry between the five of you and how were you able to assemble such a powerhouse group?

We're all different. They were each handpicked because everyone on the judges' panel is powerful within the industry and everyone has a strong point of view. A lot of people are shy to criticize others and say what they like or don't like. These people are all very strong and unafraid of speaking what they believe would help these designers to move forward or get better. We want to mentor them and help them figure out who they are as designers.

You give contestants a chance to convince you and the rest of the judges why they shouldn't go home during eliminations. Why give them that opportunity?

You can always change someone's mind. Maybe the garment didn't turn out the way you intended because you ran out of time, but if you can explain to us what you were trying to do and you're able to convince us of your vision, then maybe we'll say, "Hmm, maybe you shouldn't go home this week. Let’s see what else you can do." Or maybe it is time to go because we just couldn't understand the garment. We're on a journey together. At the end of the day, we want each of their brands to thrive. But I know firsthand that you absolutely can convince people. There's always an opportunity there and I wanted to give them that last chance to possibly save their booty and stay.

After getting to know the contestants, does it make the judging process more of a challenge? How do you remain objective?

I actually try not to get too deep with the contestants. And it's not because I don't want to. It's because I don't want my feelings to impact the way I judge their work. Tim, who is their official mentor, actually gets to the point where he fully cries because he is emotional. He is closer to them. I purposely don't let myself cross that line because I have to look into these people's eyes at a certain point and tell them, "You're not making the cut."

How did your judging experience on Making the Cut compare to your work on other competition series like Project Runway, Germany's Next Top Model or America's Got Talent?

I've had to do this for many years, where I've had to crush people's dreams, so it's similar. But on Making the Cut, I make sure to say to the contestants, "Just because I'm crushing your dream right here right now does not mean you should stop dreaming." I also tell them to not take it personal and remind them that they are in a very different setting right now. Sometimes you're on top and sometimes you're not. And if you're not, it doesn't mean you don't have talent. Maybe you just picked the wrong fabric, or your mind-set was off that day. They need to walk away feeling good about themselves. We did believe and still believe in every contestant we had on season one.

Tell me about your approach to casting models on the show. By showcasing people of all sizes, skin tones and gender identities, was it a conscious effort to champion inclusivity in fashion?

It was a conscious decision to be inclusive with our casting because this is where we are in the world now, period. And there shouldn't be any return to how it was before. When I started, I did not fit in most of the time and I had to be more creative. On the show you see older women walking down the runway, a transgender woman walking down the runway, a curvy model walking down the runway. You see all different kinds of ethnicities. We're not really making a point out of it because it should just be a given. And all the designers always love it. And so should the rest of the world. Get with it, people!

What are your hopes for Making the Cut beyond season one?

I hope that it will have longevity. I hope that these people really are going to make it. We're trying with everything in our power for that to happen. We hope that people around the world will love what they create. It's different because we're straight-to-consumer. It's different than watching a designer at Paris Fashion Week. Here, you have the whole world watching on their devices. It's a different angle to look at fashion. But, nonetheless, this is fashion. I hope it's embraced by the industry, but most important, I hope people from around the world are responding not only to the show, but to what these designers are creating. We just want them to love and buy the clothes.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Making the Cut is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.