Q&A with Tim Gunn of “Project Runway”
Fashion Editor Jill Manoff dishes with style guru Tim Gunn about trends, “Sex and the City” and his advice for aspiring designers.
Recently at Plaza Frontenac for a meet-and-greet and Spring 2010 featuring Liz Claiborne Inc. (at which he is Chief Creative Officer) brands Kate Spade, Lucky Brand Jeans and Juicy Couture, I had the chance to sit down with “Project Runway” co-host and fan favorite Tim Gunn to discuss his many in-the-works projects. As of our early May meet-up, he had already been to Chicago, Seattle and NYC, auditioning emerging designers for Season 8 of the popular Lifetime series. In addition, he was anticipating opening day of “Sex and the City 2,” in which he makes a cameo, and the launch date (September 7) of his new book, Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making It Work. A highly enjoyable interviewee, Gunn didn’t hold back, even dishing on what celebrity could use his “golden rules.” Though I was admittedly more concerned with my outfit, at the end of our discussion, the constant mentor complimented my questions—and Tim Gunn doesn’t just throw around stamps of approval…
ALIVE: You have a huge crowd already! Have you been circling the country with these events?
Tim Gunn: We are—and, if people can come away from these events feeling more confident about their fashion, having more information about how to get their style right, I’m thrilled. We don’t take these items and push them down people’s throats; I mean, how many people can wear [short shorts]? We are very “real world” about all of this, and feel a responsibility to show people what’s on-trend, fashion wise. The items are all pulled from our Liz Claiborne brands, but there’s no one item here that I would say would benefit anyone and everyone to wear; it’s a matter of taste and appropriateness. The only thing I would say everyone should wear is underwear—but that’s really up to you.
ALIVE: Is there a “typical” customer of each of the three brands being represented on the runway today (Kate Spade, Lucky Brand Jeans and Juicy Couture)?
TG: You know, it’s interesting; one of the reasons I love being out here is that you meet the real customers and find out about them. Back in New York, we’re in this little bubble and, “We know who the Lucky customer is,” “We know who the Kate Spade customer is,” “We know who the Juicy customer is.” You get out in the real world, and you find you really have diversity. I mean, even within my own family—my niece, my sister, my mother—they all are fans of Kate Spade; it spans three generations. And the Kate Spade people would maybe say it’s too inappropriate for my niece, and that it’s very inappropriate for my mother, who’s 87; she’s not wearing the apparel, she’s wearing the accessories.
ALIVE: What are the trends we’ll be seeing today, and that you’re most excited about for spring?
TG: Well, there’s a lot of color, which, of course, is very on-trend for spring, as it should be. And fashion has really returned to classic silhouettes; the beautiful trench coat in the Kate Spade collection is a wonderful item. Kate Spade is one of my personal favorites because it is very specific and elegant. The blazer with the short sleeves is a great way of dressing up a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. These are both classic items that will have some staying power in your wardrobe.
ALIVE: Tell me about your book coming out. How is it different from the first book you wrote?
TG: I am thrilled about it. The first book was really about fashion, while this book is really about how to navigate the world with respect and responsibility for yourself and for your fellow human beings. I wrote it as though I were giving advice to students in my office. It’s about taking the high road; it’s an antidote to the protrusion of bad behavior that abounds. It was a cathartic act writing it, and I’m really happy with it; I mean, it’s going to stir up some controversy because I told a ton of personal anecdotes about real people. None of it is untrue, but it is putting some [controversial] things to print.
ALIVE: Tell me about “Project Runway”; would you say there are three top talents you are most proud to have worked with?
TG: You know, I really believe in the talents of all of them, to be honest. When they’re on the show, it’s a matter of, “How do they really handle stress? How do they handle the fatigue? How do they handle the creative drain on them?” But, I mean, I really believe in them. While it’s so natural to want to point to the winners of the seasons and say, “Well, they are the ones,” this past season, it could have been any one of them. I was delighted with who the winner was, although, I was frankly very disappointed with Emilio [Sosa]’s collection, but it could have been any one of them.
ALIVE: I’ve interviewed some of the contestants; are the weeks filming the show as grueling and exhausting for you as for them?
TG: Yes; for me, the crew, the producers, all of us. I mean, there are no breaks; we just go, go, go, go, go. I have a theory—well, its not necessarily a theory; no, I guess it’s more like a maxim—about Day 24 of the show. When we made the transition to a new network and new producers, I told them about it. I said, “Just wait. Day 24.” And there was this one-way judging day, and there was this huge blow-up that happened; it was not a pretty day. And I looked at my calendar, and I turned to the producer and said, “I called it.” And, by Day 25, we were fine. But there’s something about Day 24.
ALIVE: Who designs your specs?
TG: It is a Japanese designer; Suzuki.
ALIVE: How would you describe your own personal style?
TG: I’m a classicist, as opposed to a traditionalist. I mean, its menswear; how crazy can I be?
ALIVE: Tell me about your “Sex in the City” experience, and your role. Did you hang with the crew?
TG: Oh, I did. It was a 12-hour day, or night, I should say; we shot through the night and, yeah, I got to hang with Sarah Jessica [Parker] and Kim Cattrall. It was fantastic. I felt like the luckiest guy in the world; it was a huge amount of fun. It was also humiliating, though, because it’s a red carpet scene—Chris [Noth] and Sarah Jessica are coming along the carpet—and I come up behind them and say, “Oh, my God,” and comment on this thing, and we did it a few different times. Then the director says, “Let’s take you out of this.” So then I was standing on the sidelines and I thought, you know, “Thank God I have no ego.” I’m like, “This is fun that I can still be on the set watching everybody…” I wasn’t even telling anyone about it until they contacted me to say that they would need my permission to use my photograph for something; I figured I must not have been cut, if they need my photo.
ALIVE: Is there a celebrity that you think has impeccable taste?
TG: When it comes to what she wears day in and day out, as opposed to red carpet clothes, there are two people; one is Angelina Jolie, the other is Sarah Jessica Parker.
ALIVE: Is there someone you would want to help out, someone who could really use your expertise?
TG: I love and adore her. She’s stunning. She’s probably the smartest actress in all of Hollywood, and she’s very matter-of-fact about it; she shoos fashion. It’s Meryl Streep. I would love to sit down with her and have a discussion about clothes so I can say, “Meryl, the clothes you wear affect how the world perceives you, so accept responsibility for that and let’s see if we can do something.” I love her, though. And she wore Chris March from “Project Runway” to the Golden Globes and the Oscars.
ALIVE: So, you approved of her red carpet picks?
TG: I thought they were fantastic. He knows how to accentuate the length of her.
ALIVE: What advice would you give a young, aspiring designer?
TG: Know who you are, or discover who you are as a designer. When I’m at the auditions, I always ask, “Who are you as a designer?” And, when their jaws drop, I then ask, “Who’s your customer? Who are you designing for?” And then they’ll say, “Well, I can design for anybody.” But, you don’t want to do that; you don’t want to design for everybody or for anybody. So, it’s really about knowing who you are and never losing your voice. I have been telling people that that’s the only way you will succeed; you have to know who you are, and you have to be true to that person.
Tim Gunn address the crowd at Plaza Frontenac.
ALIVE Fashion Editor Jill Manoff chats one-on-one with the style guru.