When I tell people who have never heard of the Fashion Fund that one of my jobs at Vogue is to work with the CFDA on a program that helps foster emerging American fashion talent, they sometimes think that I mean something along the lines of seeding knitting circles or helping youths drape fabric.
It's not always until I start listing the names of designers who came out of the Fashion Fund - Rag and Bone, Proenza Schouler, Alex Wang, to name just a few - that they begin to grasp just how influential the program has been in the landscape of American fashion, and that even the biggest names in fashion needed a little help along the way.
You may not have heard yet of the ten designers who participated in the program this past year, but I can guarantee you that you will. Yesterday, Amazon released the fifth episode in a season that follows the entire process - the designers, the judges, the competitions‹all the way through to the selection of the winner and the award of prize money and mentorship. Anyone who has ever wanted an inside look at the fashion industry - from how it is made, to how it is financed, to how it is critiqued - will love the show, and in fact if you identify as one of those people, I encourage you to go back and watch the first four episodes as well.
If you lived the process, however, watching the show is another story. I don't think any single person who appears on the series got into this business to be on TV (streaming or otherwise). For many of the contestants who apply to the Fashion Fund and the judges who determine the outcome, the camera time can be a bit of a hurdle to overcome (unlike with the usual cast of characters on Reality programming). The audience sees the designers at their most vulnerable‹in financial stress, insecure about their creations, desperate to meet too many pressing deadlines. You see the judges at their most honest‹driving home constructive criticism, making difficult comparisons, voicing their disappointments or their surprises.
But it's also downright hysterical. Becca, the designer of Chromat and a finalist in this season's Fashion Fund, shared a clip with me last week in which I am caught telling Anna Wintour of Chromat's caged and latex body suits "That is how girls dress now. For Instagram."
I can't tell you how true this comment felt when I said it. And how much value I thought I was adding to the conversation. But it is utterly ridiculous to hear myself say it, and Anna and Virginia Smith, the Vogue Market Director don't miss a beat in letting me hear it:
"Oh, yeah?" responds Anna.
"I want to see you, in that outfit, in the office, TOMORROW." challenges Virginia.
I laughed with Jonathan Simkhai about his camera-captured crash through the couch after he jumped for joy upon hearing that he had made it into the final ten, and teased Aurora James about her seemingly infinite waterworks throughout Episode two.
But in the end, even if it is occasionally cringe-worthy and maybe a bit too honest, everyone who participates in filming the show does so because we believe in the Fashion Fund program and how much good comes out of it. We know that as of now, pulling back the curtain on a process that puts so much effort into supporting just ten designers at a time is one of the best ways that we can share the fruits of that labor, and all of the hard-earned wisdom that comes out of it. Even if, sometimes, that wisdom is really just not to take yourself too seriously.
Watch The Fashion Fund on Amazon Video at amazon.com/fashionfund