Naomi Campbell doesn’t hold back on ‘Making the Cut’ — for good and bad

Heidi Klum and Naomi Campbell in a scene from 'Making The Cut' in New York
Heidi Klum, left, and Naomi Campbell in a scene from ‘Making The Cut’ in New York
(David Scott Holloway/David Scott Holloway/Amazon Studios)

In an early episode of Amazon Prime’s “Making the Cut,” clothing designer Jonny Cota is, well, to be frank, torn down by judge Naomi Campbell. For the longtime Los Angeles resident, it was arguably his lowest point on the show. A journey that saw him eventually winning the inaugural season of the fashion competition series.

At the time, Campbell referred to his kimono design as something she’d wear going to the hairdresser and his leather jacket as “too street” and not “inspiring.” And for a challenge centered on couture, she gave perhaps the harshest critique possible, bluntly inferring that he had not “respected” the term.

“Hey, I got my ass handed to me by Naomi Campbell,” Cota said with a smile on the series. “She’s seen it all. She’s done it all. She’s worn it all.”

“Making the Cut” is the second act for the Emmy-winning partnership of Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn following 16 seasons toplining “Project Runway.” Campbell is one of five judges on the series, with fashion designer Joseph Altuzarra, clothing entrepreneur Nicole Richie, Italian influencer Chiara Ferragni and French fashion editor Carine Roitfeld.

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Only Campbell and Altuzarra appeared on every episode, and to say that the model’s presence helped the show pop is something of an understatement. Generating drama for drama’s sake is a staple on competition television, but as the aforementioned example reveals, Campbell wasn’t intentionally creating entertaining television. She cares about the business and art that have fueled her life for more than three decades.

“Jonny said even though I was hard on him that it helped him,” Campbell says. “Because I’m not being hard just to be hard. I just want them to get the best out of me. And if I can see where I can steer them, then I would say it. Whether the camera is there or not.”

None of the critiques was personal, Campbell says. Her job was to push the contestants as she’d been pushed in her own career. She notes, “You could see that each week [Jonny] came back, he listened, he learned and he progressed. And that’s important.”


The official trailer for Amazon Prime’s “Making the Cut”

The world knows Campbell first and foremost as one of the fiercest supermodels in history, but Klum knew another side of her. They’d spent years walking the same runways, and Campbell guest hosted on Klum’s other regular gig, “Germany’s Next Topmodel.” So Klum knew how invested Campbell would be in the project.

“There’s no one like Naomi,” Klum says. “I always felt that we all in the industry know her very well and we know how amazing she is. But I felt like globally, people have not seen her necessarily as much. Of course, walking down the runway, in magazines and on billboards and all of these things, for sure. But you never really get to see her wit and the source of information that she has. She’s someone who has seen it all.

“I remember walking my first runway show with Naomi. I think it was ’97 and I was walking with a legend. I was like, ‘Woohoo. This is so cool.’ And then so many years later, she got to be on the show that I dreamed up and is now here.”

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Campbell, a London native, has also dabbled in acting, most recently in arcs on “Empire” and “Star.” She also produced and hosted the modeling series “The Face,” which ran in the U.S. for two seasons beginning in 2013 and has spawned international offspring in numerous markets.

Aimed at finding the next major fashion brand, a clear distinction from its competitors, “Making the Cut” needed its mentors and judges to focus not only on the contestants’ design skills, but also on how their brand would fit in a consumer marketplace.

“I think you still want to keep your creative spin,” Campbell says of the contestants, but adds that more important, “We’re looking at it from the practical point of view. What the consumers want out there. What’s going to sell millions of this one jacket or this one shirt or this one dress. It was very important that they understood that this is not just for a conceptual shop. And that’s what I wanted them to keep remembering: It’s mass, it’s mass, it’s mass.”

But then we’re back to Cota and the other contestants who came under her spotlight. She was often tougher than her peers on-screen, but she also fought passionately for a number of contestants to stay. Campbell may be fierce, but she has a heart.

Klum recalls, “I mean, I don’t know if you saw, but she cried, right? She cried because that is Naomi.”

Campbell adds, “When cameras aren’t rolling, I’ve always got a bag of candy next to me, and I’ll always be sharing it with every contestant from the get-go. When they were with me, I asked them how they’re doing and did they like Japan. But I’m never going to lie when it comes to the work. There’s no sense in lying. I’m not going to tell them they’re great, or it’s great when it’s not great. That’s not me.”