Seven years after her breakout appearance on cycle 21 of America’s Next Top Model Winnie Harlow is sitting in the judge’s chair. The model, designer, spokesperson, and budding actress spoke to HelloBeautiful about artistry, accessibility, and how she feels about joining the judging panel of Making The Cut.
“Following in the footsteps of Naomi Campbell who was on the first season and being able to be on the second season is an honor,” declared Harlow. “There’s no better word.”
She shared the impact Campbell, and other models have had on her career. “I love watching icons. I love learning. I love putting on a reel of Naomi Campbell’s walks and seeing her strut down like a gazelle and just being like, ooh, okay, let me pull this from her and let me, you know, educate myself on how to be the best by the best,” she said.
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Campbell isn’t the only runway legend associated with the design competition series. Harlow’s fellow Victoria’s Secret veteran turned superproducer Heidi Klum and style guru Tim Gunn are co-creators, and executive producers of the series and serve on the judging panel with Harlow. She previously worked on a number of Klum’s other productions including Germany’s Next Top Model.
“Working with people that I love and I trust and I admire was honestly not a hard decision for me,” she added.
The age of style slowly trickling down from the runway to the sales rack has passed. Where Campbell and her cohort represented the untouchable cool Harlow and her counterparts represent a slightly more approachable climate. For them earnest is the new black. “I’ve grown as a model, I’ve really been appreciative for my experiences. And I love what I do, it’s such an incredible job,” she said.
Making The Cut reflects the shifts in the fashion industry towards a consumer centered marketing strategy. The show’s synergy with Amazon Fashion makes items available to the audience quicker allowing its design contestants to build a sales track record. Consumers an even buy the sewing machines the aspiring designers on the show use at their local craft store.
“I think it’s important because that’s the world that we live in, you know? Things being at our fingertips,” said Harlow.
“This is the first of its kind and it’s so incredible. There’s been countless times where I’ve seen shows like this and I’m like, ‘Oh, I wish I could have that. Where could I get that?’ It’s right there at your fingertips. You can get it in the blink of an eye.”
Other industry shifts have included the mainstream adopting elements of the body positivity movement.
Harlow was one of the first models to experience success in high fashion with the skin condition vitiligo. “I never initially wanted to be a model,” she admitted. “And that’s not because I looked down on it, it was because I didn’t necessarily think I could be. “I didn’t see myself in billboards and I didn’t see myself represented in magazines, it just wasn’t something that I ever thought of.”
Her presence adds to a handful of prominent models that have allowed some to see themselves but she thinks more can be done beyond symbolism. “I think it has room to grow always,” she said. “It’s always a fine line between being inclusive and supporting a trend or utilizing a trend.” She believes in “making sure that designers and brands are really making strides for a difference and not just trying to say, ‘oh, look at us, we made a change for a season.”
“What are you doing for the future, should be the question,” she added. She celebrates those she thinks are accomplishing something substantial.
“I’m so inspired by the smaller businesses that are coming up in this time,” Harlow continued. “I think a lot of new designers today and small businesses are really hitting the mark.”
Some of her “favorite Black designers to shop,” include “Melissa Simone Swim,”, “Sleepover by Chanel Dijon,” and of course “anything that Jackie Aina makes.”
She values personality and passion in designers and saw promise in the way designers on the show expressed those traits. “I loved when a model would walk down the runway and maybe we didn’t know at the time whose collection it was. And I could be like, ah, that’s so-and-so’s or that’s so-and-so’s because that really shows that they were putting themselves, their passion, their soul into what they created.”
In her short career the model has managed to walk for many of the top designers and appear in a number of the top fashion publications. But even after walking the runway for Jean Paul Gauthier, Marc Jacobs, House of Holland, and Moschino Harlow isn’t jaded. She still finds magic in the way threads can come together to make a statement about their creator.“ Creating something from nothing ,that is insane to me,” she said. “A spark in your mind becomes an idea, you put it to paper and then you execute it.”
She was impressed with the heightened circumstances the contestants created during filming of Making The Cut. “Obviously there’s a time crunch. They are challenges. It was always amazing to me to know that, like, this was once just an idea in someone’s head. And now it’s here walking down a runway.”
Harlow has designed two collections with Steve Madden. “While I do love high-fashion I don’t always spend money on fashion, you know? I love smaller brands as well, and I love doing things that are affordable for the people who follow me and who support me. I want them to feel like there’s things that I’m doing that are attainable to them,” she said.
As she grows as a creative she’s still studying. “I love watching Jordan Dunn’s career, who is a good friend of mine,” she said. She is impressed by “all the things that she did as a Black model from London,” she said.
She’s also been in acting classes for several years. With 8.7 million Instagram followers she could book glorified cameos that would keep her in kombucha and couture for the rest of her career but she is willing to admit she wants more.
“If I want to dive into anything that is new to me,” she added. “I want to do it well.”
Season 2 of Making The Cut premieres on Amazon Prime Video on July 16.