N.B. Contains potential spoilers if you haven’t watched the season 1 finale of Amazon’s Making the Cut.
25 year-old Belgian fashion designer Sander Bos may not have made the final cut of season 1 of Amazon’s addictive new series Making the Cut, but he did show the world that he is endlessly creative and made the most of the global showcase, racking up tens of thousands of new followers on Instagram. With each challenge he continually wowed us, and the show’s judges, including fashion icon Naomi Campbell, with his runway looks. The series, produced and fronted by Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, pitted twelve designers from around the world against one another, flying them to Paris, Tokyo and New York, to put new creations on the catwalk each episode in a bid to win one million dollars and help them on their way to creating an international brand. Every assignment resulted in a winning “accessible” look which was immediately made available, and quickly sold out, on Amazon’s Making the Cut store.
Following the season 1 finale of Making the Cut, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann spoke exclusively with Sander Bos about the standout moments for him of competing on the series, showing Naomi Campbell and Heidi Klum around his pop-up store in New York, what inspires his creativity, his take on gender free fashion, his reaction to Billy Porter wearing his designs, why deciding to work in a hamburger restaurant was the best decision he’s ever made, what he loves about Freddie Mercury and much more.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: I found it thrilling seeing you at work on Making the Cut and I excited to see what you were going to come up with each assignment, your endlessly creativity. I was wowed every time.
Sander Bos: “Thank you! I tried to be as creatively new as possible every time.”
Well, you definitely did that and made a big impact each time. So you’re currently at home in Belgium, are if you finding ways to be creative during this period of lockdown?
“Thank God I live somewhere where I have the opportunity to work. I don’t have to leave the house because I have a studio right here and so I can work all day and all night on my new collections and on the orders that are coming in. So I am very happy and blessed that it’s all in one building. Of course it’s an awful time, but in trying to make the best of the situation, there are no distractions, no partying, so it’s just work work, work, work, work, work. So I’ve kept the creative juices flowing and the passion going for my craft.”
Briefly, tell me a bit about your training and experience as a designer before going on to Making the Cut?
“At high school I studied regular arts there and at the end of that I felt discontented with the paintings and sculpture I’d created because I wanted them to come to life. I wanted them to be able to walk out of the room and the only medium that I found for that was fashion. So for my higher education I went to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. In four years I did my Masters and when I graduated I knew immediately that I wanted to start my own business, so I started it. Then a few years later I got picked up by Miss Amazon herself, Miss Making the Cut!”
We have to mention the hamburger place you were working at because it got mentioned so often on Making the Cut! Were you working in the burger place directly before doing the series?
“Yeah, I quit my job there and then I jumped on the plane to go to Making the Cut. It was literally the same night! I started working there because I wanted to explore my creativity more after I left school. If you see the collections that I did in school you’d think that everything that I made on Making the Cut is wearable! My work was even more extreme back then and I wanted to allow myself a certain financial creativity. Maybe that’s a weird combination, but because I was financially supporting myself and the business by working at the hamburger place, it allowed me to really grow on a creative level. So I didn’t have to think ‘OK, I’m a business now, I have to have ten white shirts and ten beige pants’, because that’s what has a bigger selling point. So that was actually one of the best choices that I’ve ever made in my life. So I will forever be thankful to the hamburger place!”
And if you have that kind of job you can financially support yourself like you say but also saving your creative energy for your own work.
“Exactly, and you don’t want to know how many collections were designed in the small kitchen there! We had to put paper placemats on the plastic tables, so during the night shifts where it was pretty calm, I’d take some of those and be drawing in the kitchen. When the boss came in, he’d be like ‘what’s that?’ and I’d be like, ‘it’s nothing, it was just laying around here, I’ll clean it up for you’. And he was like, ‘thank you, you’re such a good employee!’ And I was like ‘yes, I know!’”
Give us an insight into your experience on Making the Cut?
“For me, Making the Cut was a great experience. I had so much fun. I think I had the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I was always laughing. There was a great camaraderie among the designers. It wasn’t super vindictively competitive! Of course it was a competition, but everyone had the same approach: that they wanted to win on their own talent and enjoy this unique experience. I wanted to make wearable clothes, or “accessible” as they like to describe it; something you can wear on the subway! And I achieved that on the show, so once I got to that point, something in me said ‘thank God, I did it!’ So I was very happy with it.”
So making more wearable items was part of the draw of doing the series?
“Absolutely, before Making the Cut I could feel like there was something missing in my designs. They were always very cool and creative and extreme, but sometimes I would sit on the bus…‘cause, yes she takes the bus a lot! Confirmed. That’s where you can find me after corona!…and, anyway, sitting there I wished that I could see someone wearing one of my creations on the bus. I felt like there was a huge disconnect between what I do and what was happening on the street, there was this block, something inside of me that never really got that. In my head I would think ‘of course you can wear it!’ And then it’d be like a five metre long dress, and I’d think, ‘oh, maybe not!’ So I went on the show thinking to myself if I have to learn this, better learn it on videotape and be all dramatic and to have fun with it. Where better to learn than under the eyes of Miss Naomi Campbell her goddamn self?!”
She was the best wasn’t she! I loved watching her reactions and feedback on the show; her input was amazing.
“Isn’t she always! The first day in Paris, we still didn’t know who the judges were and the runway was about to begin. All the designers were waiting and we thought they were just going to appear on a screen. Then somebody tapped me on my shoulder and I turned around and it was her, and she was like ‘hello!’ Everybody in the cast was dead silent. You could hear a pin drop. Then all the other judges came out and we were all shaken to the bone!”
Talking about some of your designs being too big for the bus, it made me think you could design some social distancing creations with a radius of six feet or two metres.
“Right! Yes, a corona dress would be perfect.”
You said it wasn’t that competitive, what was it like working alongside the other designers? There were a lot of you at the start of the series all packed in together weren’t there.
“Yeah, we were really on top of each other to begin with and I think they tried to make it competitive because there were initially twelve designers and I think there were only nine sewing machines! But it didn’t really work because a lot of the contestants helped each other. I helped Sabato, Jonny and other people helped me too. It was kind of this universal feeling of wanting to win on our designs and our best work. I felt like we should help one another, just as human beings. I think the humanity over wins the competitive.”
I think the producers of the show got the drama from the designers’ individual journeys and their challenges with each assignment rather than from people fighting with each other didn’t they?
“There’s nothing beautiful or rewarding about seeing people fighting or being hateful towards each other. Let’s face it, we were all adults. I was the youngest, but even I had been an adult for six to seven years! So it would’ve been weird to have me fighting with someone who is like 66 years-old.”
Yes and that was one of the things that I enjoyed about watching it. I don’t watch many reality shows, but I liked the way that they didn’t pit you guys against each other too much. What made your work distinctive among the other designers on the show would you say?
“What’s always been central to the way I work is that I do a lot of it myself. It doesn’t mean that I have to stitch or make it all myself, but I am very skilful in the way that I never copy patterns, I always create my own patterns and I kind of shape them; which you saw a little of on the show, but not too much. I pin my designs in paper, so you have a complete paper made dummy of the clothes. It’s kind of the way I always work, and it pushes the envelope more too, so that I can really develop my ideas to the fullest instead of for instance having to use a ready made blazer pattern and then adding a bow or something on the back. For me that’s at the core of what I do; it’s patterning, it’s cutting, it’s trying to do something different with clothing. I think it’s that essence always sets my work apart, because it’s always cut in a unique way; something that has never been seen before, because I did it myself or I instructed my team to do it like that.”
You mentioned that one of the reasons that you wanted to do the show was to make more wearable clothing, but the way that show portrayed you, particularly in one episode, was as being quite resistant to making more accessible items. I think of the assignment where you made the t-shirt skirt, which you went on to win. Was it just the kind of “accessible” that they wanted you to do for the show you weren’t keen on?
“I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do t-shirts’, you know what I mean! But the thing that bothered me in that particular moment the most was the way that they said it to me, because I felt at the street wear challenge, if it wasn’t good enough they should have called me up, they should have read my ass to filth, and they should have sent me home, you know what I mean, or given me valid critiques. They were like ‘it’s fine, we love it, blah, blah, blah’ and then to bring it up at the beginning of the next episode ‘oh, by the way you can’t Sander out of this challenge, you can’t do this…’ I felt like, ‘oh, just say it to my face you know, just say it to me as constructive criticism’, instead of this backhand slap. So I was like, ‘OK, well, now I’m angry and I’m gonna show you! If you want a t-shirt, I’m gonna give you a t-shirt!’ And then she won.”
They got you fired up!
“Yeah, sometimes you can light a fire under my ass and you can be damn sure that something is coming down that runway, honey!
What was the most challenging week or assignment on the show for you?
“The one that I personally struggled on the most was the second episode when I did the doughnut dress, because I have a very different way of looking at couture. I understood when Carine Roitfeld about her coming from French couture, and it being all about how you make it and technique, that’s true for me also. But when I think of couture I think John Galliano for Dior or Martin Margiela. For me, couture is pushing the envelope more than anything. Also it needs to be well constructed, and I know that I can construct whatever I want at the end of the day, but for me that was the part of couture that I chose. But if there’s one look that I don’t really like from the whole season it would be the accessible look that went with the doughnut dress, because now I feel that I should’ve just kept it short goddamnit! But that’s the only one where I feel that way. I got into my head too much, but then from the third episode on for me it was basically ‘OK, I know what I want and I know what I’m doing, lets go!’”
The doughnut dress was fabulous. I can’t picture your accessible look from that episode. I’ll have to look that up.
“No, don’t look her up, it’s fine! Leave her in the dust where she belongs!”
What was the most satisfying moment of the entire experience?
“I know exactly which one it is, it was when I went home! Which maybe is the oddest thing to say, but when I stood there in the pop-up store, I felt like it was finished and I’d done what I had to do. It felt gratifying and this weight was lifted off my shoulders, knowing that I could make more accessible clothes without losing myself. Standing there in my own pop-up I was like ‘OK, cool I’m ready to go forward with my brand in a different way.’ I’d found my new beat, I’d found my new line, Miss Bos, which is now in full effect after the show. Winning or not, it’s doing really well and I’ve seen people wearing it. And I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, there it is!’ Somebody on the bus wore it, you know. One year later, somebody wore it on the damn bus! So I can die a happy camper! 25 and ready for the grave!”
The digital campaign challenge in Tokyo, where you did that great Marina Abramovic inspired shoot with the models screaming at each other was really striking. And you took Tim’s suggestion of your models switching jackets on the runway. What are your thoughts on gender free or gender neutral fashion. Is it something you have in mind when designing?
“When I think about my designs I always see it on a woman, that’s just what comes to me in my head; a female shape and all the other things that fall under that. In that challenge I wanted to push myself. When you see my drawings it looks more like an alien than anything else. Tim gave me the suggestion because I was switching them up all the time on the dummies and he said ‘why don’t you switch it on the runway?’ And, I was also thinking about my friend Rinat who had left the day before. Her brand is all about gender free and gender neutral clothing, and I’ve learned a lot from her though that because it wasn’t something that I was as consciously aware of before. But I have had a lot of men buy my women’s wear, and they’ve been like ‘I love it, but can you do the sizing to measure?’ and I’ve been like ‘of course.’ Because I think clothing is something that should be free – clothing is a language that we all speak – I could not know you at all, I could be from Tokyo and you could be from London, and we may not speak the same language, and I could see you and completely understand your look and what you’re saying with it, and your expression also in gender and also in sexuality. So it was a little bit a nod to Rinat, a goodbye to her, as well as asserting my strength to the other designers. To let them know, if she has to, she will!”
I loved that moment of the male and female models switching jackets. And it is a fashion show after all, so it’s nice to have something memorable like that happen to get people talking.
“Exactly. I think my fashion is always very layered and it has a lot of things to say about society. It’s good to portray those things on the runway and have the boy and the girl switch clothing, and make people think about it. ‘Oh, wow, wait a minute, they can both wear it?!’ It brings it into the realm of gender neutral. I wouldn’t design a dress and write gender free on it. I would rather put it in a more philosophical way, so that people really start thinking about it. I think that triggers thought more than me offering what I feel. I’d rather that people find their own answer, because I don’t believe that there is a single answer, or that my answer is the correct one.”
I loved the moment in episode 9 where you were in your pop-up shop and Naomi and Heidi were in there looking at your collection and you took a moment to really take that in! That you were 24, in New York with these women. What was that moment like?
“That was really insane. You know, throughout the whole season in the interviews they’d say to me ‘you’re 24! Do you know you’re 24? Oh my God you’re only 24!’ And I was like, ‘yes I know, stop saying it to me!’ And also, ‘you work in a hamburger place’. That’s true it was my life story, but for the first time at that moment I felt ‘OK, I’m not just a 24 year-old that works in a hamburger place.’ That was the moment that it switched for me, and I was like ‘goddamn bitch, I’m a fashion designer in New York with Naomi Campbell in my showroom’ and that was the most real moment, when it went from this idea of what was happening to ‘oh shit, this is really happening!”
Obviously you were top three in the end, and I know a million dollars would have been nice…
Though I think with reality shows, it’s often better to have taken part but to not actually win.
But looking back is there anything you’d do differently that you think might’ve got you a spot in the final two or made you win the show?
“I knew that from day one what I needed to bring to them if I wanted to win, but my soul, or my aesthetic, is not worth a million dollars. I would rather stick to what I believe in and run with that. I’m very big on freedom, that’s why I’m an independent brand. If I wanted to listen to people I would’ve gone to work for somebody else. I try to adapt within myself as much as I can, but there wasn’t much more I had left to do on the show after episode nine. I wouldn’t change a thing about that final collection. I still stand by it. So for me, I was very content about the decision and I wouldn’t change it. I know how I could’ve won, but it wasn’t worth it for me.”
What specifically would it have meant you doing?
“Well, I could have used more basic colours, made a few nice white shirts, three beige pants, and made it a little bit cooler, maybe let’s throw a zipper on it. Something a little bit more towards really mainstream fashion and I almost would’ve had to disconnect from what I see fashion as, and that was too much for me. I see it as tailoring, I see it as couture; something that needs to be constructed, and that can be accessible, but I’m not with the fast fashion idea. So for me I had to disconnect those two when I was making the Miss Bos collection and say ‘OK, Sander you’re going to stand for what you stand for, if you fall because of that, you fall, but you have to be who you are.’ Maybe as a queer person we learn from a young age onwards, that at some point you’re going to have to say ‘I am what I am, I accept it and I’m going to love myself for that’ and just stand by that.”
When the judges walked into the pop-up store they commented on the fact that you hadn’t done any accessories. If you had made some what would you have done?
“Well, I had these teeny, tiny t-shirt bags, I could’ve done them. They are very tiny bags in the shape of t-shirts. And I could’ve done masks maybe. Now, I could’ve used them like they were corona virus masks. Or maybe done some sunglasses or shoes. But at that point the concept of Miss Bos was really about the tailoring. That was the whole idea, so I didn’t really feel like making the accessories, it didn’t feel right for me at that moment.”
And I think it was a really good idea having the tailors there in the pop-up store, because when something is made for you, or tailored to fit you, it’s a completely different experience to picking something off the rack and just dealing with however it fits.
“Exactly and that would be nice for many people. There are a few people who are blessed with those standard bodies types that we use, but let’s be honest 95% of the population is not. Everybody is different and there are the quirks and bumps and lumps and humps, and I think it would be great to cater to that. I think that’s something that is maybe the most unifying thing, as a store or as brand, to say ‘we will help you with that, we just want to make the clothes look good on you personally.’ I think it would elevate it from something that is fast fashion, and I think it would be something that people would want to keep in their closet and treasure more because it fits and it’s made for them and it has that special feeling to it.”
On Making the Cut there was a lot of talk from the presenters and judges about “becoming a brand”. Do you think becoming a global brand necessarily means having to water down and become bland, or do you think there’s a way of being a major brand while remaining unique, avant-garde and surprising?
“Of course, absolutely. I really don’t think that there is set way to do it, apart from your own way. I think it’s really up to you how you want to create your brand and you can grow it as big as you want to grow it. You don’t have do make those God awful white t-shirts, you know what I mean! Although, I am actually wearing a white t-shirt right now, look at me, the hypocrite! Actually, somebody messaged me saying ‘you talk a lot of shit about t-shirts, but you also wear a lot of t-shirts on the show !’ And I was like ‘oh shit they’re right!’ But, in terms of being a brand, I think you can really go about it your own way. I mean look at the bigger houses, look at Givenchy, or Dior or Mugler; they don’t do run-of-the-mill things. Then you have other huge brands like H&M, which you will never see couture in, but they are also successful in their own way. So it’s up to you to decide which lane of fashion you want to grow in, or to create your own niche.”
I’m sure it varies a lot, but if was to say what inspires your work, what would you say to that?
“What inspires me the most is just my normal life. I love going out, I love talking to my friends and getting drunk. And most of the time something will occur to me when I’m talking to my friends and hearing about their experiences, or something will happen at work that triggers my thought process. Or it’ll be something that’s happening in the world or something that I want to address with fashion. I don’t think I give answers with my fashion, I think it poses questions and that’s always been something that’s very inspiring to me. Generally it’s just inspired by life and that’s something that makes it very human and very understandable to people. Because you might see this crazy, huge dress but if there’s a story behind it that you can relate to it might not be as scary and big and as difficult to understand. A lot of people have been messaging me now after Making the Cut and there was a football coach in America and he was like ‘you made me understand fashion’. I think that was one of the nicest compliments that I’ve received. He could see that I might’ve made this crazy doughnut dress, but there is an intent behind it, there is a vision behind it, and something that maybe you can relate to. That’s the most important thing you know, that you feel understood.”
Billy Porter has worn some of your clothes. At London Pride last year and at a music awards show he wore the painted skirt. His husband has also worn your painted trench coat hasn’t he. Billy is a style icon, what was it like having him wearing your work?
“That was amazing and I really didn’t know that it was going to happen! I was in Paris and we were filming Making the Cut at the tim. I was with Rinat and she knows Billy, she has dressed him so many times, and we were walking around together on a free day during the shoot and she was so excited about it for me too. We were screaming through the streets of Paris together when we saw the photo! Then in Berlin at a music awards show he wore the painted skirt, and I was ‘like “OK, Billy, I see you!’ And for his husband to wear it afterwards too was amazing. He actually messaged me afterwards and said ‘I love this coat’, he was such a fan of it. It was really nice. You know, when fashion icons like that compliment you and praise you and also wear it it’s amazing.”
Is there someone else in the public eye who you’d love to wear your work or to deign for?
“I find that very hard to answer because I feel like anyone who wants to wear it should. But I was watching this series recently Chewing Gum, and the same actress also did a show called Black Earth Rising, which was this very deep programme, very interesting. Her name is Michaela Coel, she is stunning, every time I see her I’m like ‘wow, she’s so beautiful!’”
Well, hopefully she’ll read this and then it’ll happen!
“Yes, please let her know!”
Who are the designers, living or dead, whose work you admire and find inspiring?
“It’s always been between three: Giovanni Versace and Donatella Versace, so the house of Versace; Martin Margiela; and Alexander McQueen. Those three have always done it for me, they’ve never disappointed me. They are very different brands and they are very different designers, but to me they represent this perfect balance between art and accessibility. I want to wear it but I still see it as art, they’ve found that perfect balance and I think that’s something that I’m still looking for and maybe will be for the rest of my life, who knows! But I love that about all three of them.”
Where can we see more of your work and purchase your clothes?
Which LGBTQ+ film, TV series, book, play, music, or artwork has resonated with you the most over the years and why? Or is there something current you’ve enjoyed?
“Wow, there are so many things going through my head when you ask that. Freddie Mercury, he was part of that older generation always pushing forward that idea of freedom. I think he’s beautiful first of all, and I admire the passion that goes into his craft and it transcending above his sexuality. I love his passion, the way he sang, living for his art, his complete dedication to that. I think that was something that was very beautiful about him, I think it was a great representation of LGBTQ people.”
Yes and there were certain limitations at that time. Like the video for I want to Break Free being banned by MTV.
“I mean, that’s the best way to do it, that is art, you should be banned by MTV goddamnit! If you’re not being banned by MTV, you’re not doing it right! That’s the part that I love about him a lot, that he was breaking boundaries at that time. My generation is more privileged, we grew up in a much freer age and we are going to keep expanding that to even more freedom. But he created something that was great for me to see as a young person and helped me personally be able to accept myself a lot easier.”
“Also, more recently, I really loved Tales of the City on Netflix. It showed more in-depth stories about our lives. I liked that there were the big party scenes, and also LGBTQ+ struggles, but it wasn’t portrayed in a really sad way, but in more of a realistic way, a human way, not something that was too distant for people who aren’t part of the LGBTQ+ community to identify with. I think a lot of people could relate to it on a human level, and I like that because at the end of the day we’re all human. Whatever we do in the bedroom and all of those things, yes it is part of us, but I’ve never seen it as the sole definition of me. It’s part of the definition. I don’t want to be seen as just gay, because I’m also a great human being.”
The complete season 1 of Making the Cut is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.