One can only hope that the title of The Cut proves prophetic and it is cut soon. In this dull derivative of The Apprentice, Tommy Hilfiger has invited a group of 16 wannabe designers to New York City to compete for a job. The winner will have the opportunity to create a “lifestyle” line under the Hilfiger brand and earn a $250,000 salary for one year. Hilfiger says the winner will “change the way America looks.” But while the title evokes “making the cut” and being on “cut,” this show has no style.
Selected from around the U.S., the contestants are divided into two teams, Team Broadway and Team 50th Street; they live in a trendy loft, pass or fail tests, face elimination. The first “test” duplicated one Donald Trump used this past season, the design of a New York City billboard. Apparently, as Hilfiger recounts his rags-to-riches story, his own “overnight” success resulted from a billboard he designed 20 years ago.
This is about as much detail as we get about Hilfiger’s personal life, though the show spends many minutes piecing together a tight, superficial, narrative about the boy who wanted to be a designer, the boy everyone laughed at, the clever boy who built the largest fashion empire in the world to become the biggest brand name in the industry. He describes himself as a brand, “a global lifestyle brand.”
Budding brands themselves, the contestants are indistinguishable from one another as the series starts. As Hilfiger says, there’s nothing to set them apart except first impressions. The players include a housewife from the Midwest dressed in a shocking pink, Jackie O wool coat; an attractive African American man dressed head-to-toe in Hilfiger; a graphic artist from the ghetto, who has a Master’s degree in design; a fashion designer from Chicago who calls himself the “all-American boy with a twist” (what the twist is remains to be seen); and a San Diego surfer in torn T-shirt and baggy shorts who says fashion is “making a living and partying it up while you do it.” One woman says, ‘All I want to do is wear suits and boss people around.” They clink wine glasses, snipe behind each other’s backs, vow to do whatever it takes to win.
Hilfiger once felt the same way. “Like you,” he tells his players, “I once had a dream.” But his route to achieving that dream probably wasn’t quite like those conjured here. The contestants pretend to labor like real workers, teetering on scaffolding in Manhattan in the middle of the night, in orange hard hats, or huddled on the sidewalk around a steaming manhole cover. Such images contrast with the impeccably dressed Hilfiger as he arrives on scene during one of his limo drive-bys (another “homage” to Trump. Somewhere along the way, the poor boy who built his global lifestyle empire “for the people” has disappeared. Hilfiger has become a caricature, a logo.
Despite his adult suits, Hilfiger celebrates the notion of “the boy.” “Tommy” appeals to the boy in the man, the playful kid, the clothes and furnishings geared for fun. At the same time, as the show demonstrates, Hilfiger is a little unpleasant, even mean. Does his current possession of the “largest global lifestyle brand in the world” set him apart from “boys”? Repeatedly, Hilfiger conveys contempt for others, as if his idealistic boy self has been lost. All that remains is surface. And duplication.
The final scene in The Cut‘s first episode occurs in the “Fashion Forum,” Hilfiger’s version of the Trump boardroom. Structured like a Greek forum, it features marble walls, elaborate friezes on the ceiling, and pillars. Wasn’t the forum where the Greeks met for discourse on weighty intellectual and political topics? For philosophical dialogue? Surely nothing could be farther from the point in a “lifestyle” design house. Hilfiger enters to sit on a simple white leather chair atop a marble dais, much like a judge in a Greek play. Two contestants are called to “the pit,” recalling the tribal council in Survivor. Team members report on who contributed the least. In the end, Hilfiger eliminates a woman with the words, “Amy, you’re out of style; you’ll have to walk the runway.” It’s a bizarre mix of Greek forum, tribal pit, and walking the gangplank. We see Amy walk the “walk of shame” out the front door, fulfilling Hilfiger’s promise at the beginning of the show that nearly all of the thousands of designers who go to NYC to make their mark “will go home.”
In his first encounter with the contestants, Hilfiger inspects them like a drill sergeant in dress blues, asking those who “made an effort to dress appropriately” to step forward. To the surfer, he curls his lip, recoils, and says, “You don’t look like you made any effort at all… It’s all about first impressions.” It’s a fair summary of the fashion industry. And to Hilfiger, I say, “Your show doesn’t look like you made any effort at all. You need to work on first impressions.”