Fashion competitions have long been a popular format for binge-worthy television, with shows like Project Runway, The Face and America’s Next Top Model dominating our screens throughout the Noughties. Fast forward to 2020, Netflix released a design-focused show, Next in Fashion, where its debut season’s winner Minju Kim, as well as runner-up Daniel W Fletcher, have gone on to establish themselves as household names. Now, the show’s second season–with supermodel Gigi Hadid and Tan France hosting—has introduced us to a fresh cast of talented designers. The guest judges on the show are certainly noteworthy, too, with Donatella Versace, Isabel Marant, Olivier Rousteing and Bella Hadid all making appearances. As for the winner? Despite stiff competition, Nigel Xavier won the grand prize of $200,000, as well as the opportunity to launch a collection on Rent the Runway.
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“It’s crazy, my emails are non-stop and people are already noticing me on the streets—I didn’t expect it to blow up like this,” says the designer on what it’s been like since taking the top spot. “I’m so proud of everything I’ve done and so excited for what’s to come—I’m ready.” Born in California and now based in Atlanta, the 28-year-old creative hadn’t always planned on breaking into fashion. But after joining an after-school fashion programme during his latter high school years, his interest was piqued to an extreme that he couldn’t deny his calling. “I had football scholarship offers, but instead I told my family I wanted to learn how to properly make clothes, so I ended up going to study at SCAD [The Savannah College of Art and Design],” he says.
It was at SCAD that Xavier honed in on design skills and discovered his aesthetic—which focuses on upcycling pre-existing garments, with denim being a recurrent material. But how would the designer describe his own work? “I grew up with little money, so despite being inspired by names like Yves Saint Laurent and Rick Owens, I had to find smart ways of reworking clothes in my wardrobe to make the pieces I wanted to wear—even down to my shoes,” he says. “The struggle led me to find my vibe, though, which I would describe as raw and free-flowing, but with an embedded nostalgia—I want to bring together elements of the old and new to create my own world.”
Then came Next in Fashion, where Xavier joined a throng of designers to compete for the top prize by completing an array of tasks that included everything from designing ensembles using thrifted separates and fresh flowers, to creating looks of voluminous proportions fit for the Met Gala (with 2019’s theme, Camp: Notes on Fashion, in mind). Xavier had a lot to say when asked what his personal highlights were. “Gigi and Tan were super genuine and gave great feedback—you could tell they genuinely cared about us all,” he beams. “But when Donatella Versace told me that she was inspired by me—I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my career.”
Xavier consistently delivered outstanding pieces on the show, whether it was the eye-catching puffer and varsity jacket hybrids from the second episode, or the spliced fringe and denim styles from the collaboration project on episode six (a challenge that he and cast member Amari Carter won). “When we won the collaboration challenge, where Olivier Rousteing was judging, that was another unforgettable moment—this particular challenge was important to me because I truly see myself as a collaborative designer,” he says. As for his final collection? Looks featured an abundance of textured panels that merged streetwear silhouettes with luxurious fabrications. Even though it was tight between him and fellow finalists Bao Tranchi and Deontré Hancock, Xavier deserved to come out on top.
What did Xavier take away from the experience of being on the show? “I was initially sceptical about being on TV, but I’m so glad I’ve done it because I’ve learned so much about myself, as well as how to connect with others on a personal and creative level,” he says. As for what’s next? “I’m going to focus my attention on building a great team and producing collections, but also travel the world and see my family more often,” he says. Watch this space.
This story was originally published on British Vogue.