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Making the Cut’s Winner Reveals the Epic Read From Naomi Campbell We Didn’t See

[Spoiler alert: this post reveals who won the first season of Making the Cut on Amazon Prime — read at your own risk!]

One of the familiar tropes of design-based reality competition shows is that “crisis of confidence” moment — that recognizable, panic-inducing portion of an episode when producers zoom in on a contestant who’s struggling or lost their way. We saw it several times in Amazon Prime’s Making the Cut this season: when Ji Won Choi got discouraged by her limits in the “Digital Marketing Campaign” episode, or when Sabato Russo crumbled under the own weight of his overthinking in the streetwear challenge. But not every contestant who gets disoriented gets knocked out of the game; sometimes emergencies inspire breakthroughs that lead to miracles.

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For Johnny Cota, that aha moment came in Episode 7 (“Digital Marketing Campaign”) when a last-minute decision to hand-dye a pretty bland patterned dress (after crying his eyes out) likely saved his spot in the game. And it was that particular blend of flexibility, confidence, and adaptability that ultimately led to Cota’s win. At the outset, the 35-year-old proprietor of the streetwear brand Skingraft seemed like a real talent who could possibly be hindered by a dependence on the same idea: variations on the tough, rock-star black leather look too reminiscent of Rick Owens‘ signature aesthetic. As Making the Cut progressed though, Cota kept showing a willingness to reshape his own thinking, and it paid off.

In the Season 1 finale — after conceptualizing a pop-up shop, creating a full collection, and acing a presentation with president of Amazon fashion Christine Beauchamp — Cota won the competition, and the million dollar prize. In a conversation with TV Guide, the entrepreneur shared how he was feeling, and what he planned to do with the windfall.

“I’m putting the majority of that into launching Jonny Cota,” he said, adding that the capital will help with brand-building investments like photographers and models for product shoots, supplies, and other essentials for the launch of his namesake label. Really? I ask. No splurges? No ridiculously expensive treat, like a Birkin bag, a car, or a post-quarantine hot air ballon ride over the Grand Canyon? Don’t count on it.

“As a small business, my focus was always the store, paying employees,” he said. “I’ve gone years and years with no pay, so I want to catch up financially,” and, he said, maybe go to Vegas with his husband, brother, and his brother’s wife to thank them for all the selfless work they’ve put in his brand.

Heidi Klum, Jonny Cota, Tim Gunn, Making the CutHeidi Klum, Jonny Cota, Tim Gunn, Making the Cut

By the time Making the Cut got down to the top three, it was hard to see another contestant who could make good on the show’s promise of launching a brand as well as him. Sander Bos delivered a cute pop-up shop, but it felt like a deviation from the persona he’d established, which threw his brand identity into doubt. Runner-up Esther Perbandt had a strong concept and persona, but showed an unwillingness to bend her taste to suit a potential mass market (all she had to do was add some color!) and seemed jittery around the lady writing the check.

But Cota managed to keep a vision in place, shed his own boundaries and push himself. That’s why Naomi Campbell felt Cota deserved the win (even if she did, for the record, vote for Esther.) “From the get-go he was honest, he worked hard but most of all he listened,” she told TV Guide in a phone interview. “I saw his progression. It was had for me — Esther is amazing. She will be a successful brand no doubt but Jonny battled himself. He pushed himself out of his comfort zone.”

Tough love from judges, Campbell especially, pushed him. He said there was a moment in Episode 2 we didn’t see, where Naomi Campbell handed him his own head on a platter as only Naomi Campbell can. “I got a beatdown,” he said. “It was long and excessive. She just went on and on about how uninspired it was, not exciting. I appreciate a strong critique but it was almost too much. The way it was edited was perfect — that was just a section of the beatdown. But they’re such legends. And a lot of what she was saying was true. It drove me to want to impress them more.”

It worked, and after about two months of grueling days (he said meditation and the occasional glass of wine at 2 a.m. helped) he’s already working on the next phase: his line for Amazon and his namesake brand. Plans are in place to convert the Skingraft store into a space that also houses the Jonny Cota brand as well as a workspace and studio. He’s spending days getting valuable mentorship from the pros at Amazon about how to describe an item online, shoot it so it’s more marketable, and provide accurate size charts. And there’s no hard feelings with Esther; they text all the time. “She was my favorite person,” he said. “I really respect her talent, and sticking to her voice. If she had won I’d have been happy. But, of course, I’m thrilled to get the million dollars.”

Making the Cut is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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