Picture Making the Cut meets Hip-Hop Evolution, and you’ve got something close to The Hype, a new competition reality show premiering on HBO Max on August 12. Following the now-ubiquitous format that Project Runway popularized almost two decades ago, the show features a posse of budding streetwear designers, all decked out in their own creations, competing in timed challenges in which they create original looks. The main difference between this show and its predecessors is that you’ll see Wiz Khalifa smoking multiple joints on camera, a white girl from Kentucky arguing with judges about why it’s OK to mix blue and red gang colors on a street jacket (“I bring people together with my work”), and the cast driving up in low-rider cars to deliver their finished outfits. And that’s just one episode. In other words, it’s good TV.
But it’s not just the novelty of The Hype that makes it a fascinating watch. Streetwear, an ever-evolving fashion phenomenon born of skating, surfing, and hip-hop scenes in the ’80s, has become a massive influence on the mainstream industry. Each episode offers a glimpse into the history and culture of streetwear, which values self-expression, functionality, and comfort above the crazy constructions and unrealistic silhouettes of high-fashion and couture.
The Hype’s contestants are judged by a panel of three streetwear experts: creative director Bephie Birkett, stylist Marni Senofonte, and Offset, rapper, mogul, and on-again, off-again husband to Cardi B. Joining them throughout the season are a stream of famous creatives like Khalifa, A$AP Ferg, and Cardi herself, to whom the designers must appeal with each challenge. With only ten contestants, the intensity of the competition is palpable, and the judges, who must “co-sign” each designer’s look or send them home, can be brutal. Hand-holding/hosting duties fall to the empathetic Speedy Morman, an anchor with Complex media.
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A handful of the contestants hail from Los Angeles, each representing a different aspect of the city. Formidable opponent Kai has been releasing collections inspired by motorcycles and anime for over six years. Camila, a 26-year-old DACA dreamer who immigrated to the United States from Colombia when she was eight years old, started her first fashion line after attending Burning Man in 2020. “My street is festivals, music, being able to express myself freely at these events that everyone is showing off their insane creations,” she says. She and her friend Marina started their line, Deadblud, with only their savings and sketches as launching pads.
“It was very unsafe in Colombia,” she says. “I don’t even know how my life would’ve been if I stayed. I know the path that I’m on is the right one for me.” Now she’s a business owner on a reality show—about as American Dream-y as it comes these days.
Jolleson, another L.A. contender, faces the panel of judges telling him in a first-impression challenge that his elaborate and impeccable looks are too runway for the streetwear world. A stylist and tailor who has worked on butterfly wings for Kylie Jenner, corsets for Cardi B, and gowns for Jennifer Hudson, Jolleson took the critique and ran with it.
“I see myself merging the two [streetwear and couture]. I think the reason I went on this show is to learn that it’s OK to make a T-shirt, a pair of sweatpants,” he says with a laugh, “and also bring my artistic and creative side as well.”
He studied millinery (hat-making) after graduating from art school in San Francisco, then started working as a stylist for music videos and TV shows, and eventually released two clothing lines. But tailoring became his bread and butter, forcing him to put his own designs on the back burner. Once his name got around, “it turned into a whole whirlwind of tailoring and customs,” he says. “It kept growing, the journey kept spinning, and now I’m back into making my own collection because tailoring and customs is a lot of labor, and I need to make sales!”
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The contestants have a mixed bag of skills. Jolleson, who spent every day from 2018 through 2019 sewing back-to-back for Normani, Paula Abdul, and Cardi B, is a pro at construction, whereas newbie Camila squeals with delight in one episode as she finishes sewing her first-ever “sample.” One contestant, an artist who spends his time creating characters with his pen, gets berated for “just drawing on another jacket,” while another gets guff for failing to showcase a specific point-of-view time after time.
Money and fame are at stake, so these competitors take their jobs seriously, but the resulting show is unique and refreshing, with ample drama and ego to keep viewers hooked.
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