Exclusive Interview: Making the Cut season 2 fashion designer Gary Graham “what’s happening now is so incredible in terms of the freedom in how people are dressing”

As the final two episodes of the second season of Making The Cut land of Amazon Prime Video today, The Queer Review shares the passion of one of the show’s judges, Moschino’s creative director Jeremy Scott, for designer Gary Graham. He worked through the stress and pressure of the competition and consistently wowed us with his narrative-driven creative process and stunned with his runway looks throughout the season, and his final collection was no exception.

Making The Cut season 2 finalist Gary Graham. Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

This week, his winning look from the series’ first challenge was worn on Good Morning America by host Robin Roberts, while his innovative Upside-Downable Levi’s trucker jacket quickly sold out on the Making The Cut store. The GaryGraham422 Marianne collection for Amazon Fashion, announced during the final episode, is on sale now.

Making The Cut season two finalist Gary Graham spoke exclusively with The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann about how he now reflects on his experience on the series, what he wanted to show with his final collection, which famous name he’d like to wear his designs, and his queer culture influences.

GaryGraham422 by Gary Graham. Collection available on Amazon Fashion. Courtesy of Amazon Studios.
Exclusive Interview: fashion designer Gary Graham on Amazon’s Making the Cut season 2

James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: before we get on to Making The Cut, can I take you back to when the desire to become a designer first manifested and why you decided it was something that you wanted to pursue?

Gary Graham: “I was in art school at the Art Institute in Chicago and I was kind of all over the place with what I was studying. It was 1988, so there was a lot going on in performance art and painting and video and the fashion world. It was an incredible time. I remember all the designers from that time, it was exploding. There was this moment where I really needed to focus and there was a fashion department at school and I was like, wow, they work really hard and get to have this fashion show, maybe this could contain all of my ideas and concepts. So that’s when it happened and from then I started working for different designers and I actually worked in costume for a little bit too. Then I started making my own collections.”

Gary Graham on Making The Cut with Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn. Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Cutting forward to when the opportunity to be in Making The Cut season two came along, what were some of the things that made you say yes and what was there anything in particular that you wanted to challenge yourself with by being on the show?

“One thing specifically was that I’ve been talking about this narrative-driven shopping historical experience and I thought, well, I’m going to have to start getting in front of the camera, or I’m going to have to cross some threshold. I told myself, if I can create these videos of me talking about my work then I might have a chance of getting on the show. That really was the main thing and I sat down with my camera and started making videos. It forced me to really start articulating myself about my work. That was the biggest component.”

Gary Graham takes to the runway on Making The Cut. Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

There was a brilliant moment where you were standing in front of the judges, which looks very intimidating, and you spoke very passionately about your ideas and how it all came together. Were you proud of yourself at that moment?

“Yeah, I was proud of myself. I had actually written it all down and memorized it. I think I kind of regressed from that point on, but that was a good moment. People communicate differently. I’m good when I’m prepared and I’m not so good at winging it.”

One of my favorite moments in the whole season was the video that you made on the rail tracks and you got your model to come up with some poetry. It sent shivers down my spine. It was a really powerful video and a great week with those hand-painted garments. How pleased were you with how it all came together?

“I was really pleased. I’m really happy that they showed the whole video on the show. It was just a great day. There’s so much you don’t get to see because it’s not my show, so there’s not going to be an hour about me making the video. We had 90 minutes to film it and that’s not a lot of time, especially with the stop-motion. I had a list of all the shots and it was so much fun to do. Because of the time pressure I had to let go of a lot of conceits and let go of a lot of control. There was one point where I was yelling at Sharaun, ‘Please, you’ve got to do this!’ You don’t see it, but while we were filming Lauren, she was actually off doing percussion sounds for the track. It was a wonderful day.”

Gary Graham’s winning Levi’s Upside-Downable Trucker jacket. Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

I loved the avant-garde denim week, and your Levi’s jacket has been a hit and sold out almost immediately. How did you come up with your concept for that week’s challenge?

“I knew that I wanted to do something with the carnival theme. When I went to the location before everything was set up it was so exciting, like when you see the carnival come to town. I was a big fan of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and H. G. Wells. Also, I knew the Macbeth quote because the summer before I did costumes for a teenage version of Macbeth.”

“In terms of the shape, Heidi and Tim aren’t explicit but if you listen they do give you clues as to what they want, and I knew volume was one thing. I’ve done a lot of fabric manipulation, but I knew I couldn’t bleach or paint because I just didn’t have the time. I wanted to create a quilted textile so there’s actually nylon window screening in there and the shape was something that I was playing around with. I was like, okay, if I can get the pockets to work both ways I think this could be upside-downable! Then you could have two lengths and two different silhouettes. I actually sewed that myself. There was a moment when I realized it wasn’t on my list and I was like, I have I have to start sewing the denim jacket! I cut and sewed it in two hours.”

Designer Gary Graham celebrates making the cut!

You were under a lot of stress and we could see the pressure getting to you at times, but you worked through it, which was impressive and inspiring to see. You also had moments of great joy. I loved seeing you dance on the table!

“I haven’t seen it yet, so it’s like a dream or something.”

It was quite a rollercoaster of emotions for you, how do you reflect back on the whole experience?

“That’s a good question. Overall, it was just a thrilling experience. I’m so happy that I did it and I guess I’m proud. The OCD, neurotic side of me means that I redo things in my head. I run those conversations over again and that’s the kind of neuroses that I suffer from, but then I take that rewrite and I hopefully have it for the future. So that’s kind of what I’m doing now.”

One of Gary Graham’s finale runway looks on Making The Cut season 2. Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

When it came to the final runway show, what did you want to say about yourself and your work with that? Also, there’s menswear in that collection and you typically don’t do menswear do you?

“No, I don’t. I’m going to be really honest, I really felt like I was regressing a little, but I was like, okay, I’m going to approach designing this the way I would approach a collection. I’m going to have knitwear, I’m going to have prints, I’m going to have a suit, and I’m going to have a pant. Then there were the two menswear looks. So it was a lot! I was trying to connect Little House on the Prairie and television. I used to write to actresses on TV and they would send me their autograph. I was just thinking about all that. There was a lot I was trying to pack in there. I know that after two days I felt like I had a chance, but the first two days they were hard. Plus, with Andrea P and Andrea, I’d look over and there would be these armies of mannequins, these glamazons staring me down. But I worked through it, it was all good!”

One of Gary Graham’s finale runway looks on Making The Cut season 2. Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

It was spectacular, I loved your final show. Is there anyone in the public eye who you’d like to either wear your clothes or to specifically design for?

“Actually, I have a lot of amazing women who wear my clothes that I’m just so proud of, but I always dream that Patti Smith will buy one of my shirts. I haven’t really made anything lately that I think she would like, but she’s always someone that I think about.”

GaryGraham422 by Gary Graham. Collection available on Amazon Fashion. Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

When it comes to gender-free or gender-neutral clothing, is that something that you consider as you go about designing?

“I would say yes, and no. I think what’s happening now is so incredible in terms of the freedom of how people are dressing, and when I say people I mostly mean younger people. When I was little I wore skirts in private, I was definitely that queer kid who brought my baby doll to show and tell and couldn’t understand why I was getting the reaction I was getting. It’s always carried through in my work. Also, my idols growing up were all of the queer icons, from the Wicked Witch to Joan Crawford and Siouxsie Sioux.”

“It just evolves, that’s what’s been incredible about seeing how people are wearing the clothes and who’s wearing them. There’s been some great interpretations of the poem and the outfit on social media. I love it. I guess I’m just too old to think, oh, I’m going to make this dress and think of it as non-gender-specific, but I guess I do and I don’t do that. I think that’s a really good question, but it’s definitely a question that makes me question my mindset as I go into things.”

Making The Cut season 2 judges Heidi Klum, Jeremy Scott, and Winnie Harlow. Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

I was on the edge of my seat during the judges’ discussions on Making The Cut and I loved hearing Jeremy Scott talking about your work, especially during the final episode. What did it mean to you to have him speak so passionately about you?

“It meant a lot. I really believe it was sincere and it meant the world to me. Looking back on that day and that night, I have a lot of feelings about it, but I remember walking away being disappointed, but I also felt really joyful and of course there was a relief that it was over. I think everything he said was valid and for me to be in front of another designer that’s had a whole different kind of experience in the world and to be able to be at ease with my ego and for him to be so generous was a really life-affirming experience.”

Michael Clark Leigh Bowery Hail the New Puritan 7. Photograph by Richard Haughton.

Final question for you, what’s your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ culture or a person who identifies as LGBTQ+, someone or something that’s had an impact on you and resonated with you over the years?

“One writer that doesn’t get a lot of attention is Denton Welch. He wrote three books and they’re incredible. I’m thinking about British people now because you’re British! Everything Michael Clark did with Leigh Bowery.”

Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Jane Fonda in 9 to 5. Courtesy of 20th Century Pictures.

“Growing up, it was mostly female icons that were a big influence. The movie 9 to 5 had a big influence on me. Now I can look back and really understand why. When you think about Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton, these three amazing women, and what it was like for a kid to see them not knowing fully what was going on. That really changed my life.”

Watch our exclusive conversation with Gary Graham below:

Exclusive Interview: fashion designer Gary Graham on Amazon’s Making the Cut season 2

By James Kleinmann

Season 2 of Making the Cut is streaming worldwide on Amazon Prime Video now.

Follow Gary Graham on Instagram @GaryGraham422 and visit his official website GaryGraham422.com.

Making the Cut | Season 2 Official Trailer | Prime Video

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