Tim Gunn: Interview

At this point, the bookstore manager says they are ready for him, and we agree to finish up afterward. Here's what he said at his public appearance:

I love San Francisco to begin with. I love bookstores. And I love fans of the show, so this is a really great honor.

I can't believe I'm here with you, because I have this book out. In many ways it's really surreal for me. I don't know if any of you have written a book. If you have, hearty sincere congratulations. And, if you haven't, I have one bit of advice: Don't do it. I had never been presented with anything as daunting as this and, when I look at it, as my mother says, looking at the number of pages, 'It's barely a book.' Gee, thanks Mom.

It was just difficult. It was arduous. I love writing. It's been a large part of my life, though I've never tackled anything this ambitious. And I was just concerned with quality. Quality, taste, and style. Let me tell you an anecdote about the title, though, because not many people know it and I tell the story infrequently.

There was a new dean at Parsons in the mid-90s, and I was associate dean at that time. He came from graphic design, but also a different academic culture and a different part of the country. He came from neither coast, I'll put it that way. And he had a very particular view of design. And I'm very, very, very exceedingly proud about what Parsons has done in terms of contributions to design in America, because Parsons really created lifestyle design back in 1906, ten years after the school was founded. Because we were the first programs in interior design, and in fashion design, and in product design, so, that's lifestyle.

If you tell the story of the evolution of lifestyle design in America, you can't tell it without telling the story of Parsons. So, as I'm telling the new dean this, he look at me and says, 'Never use that word in front of me again.' What word? 'Lifestyle.' Why? He said, 'It's trivializing.' Trivializing? 'Yes,' he said, 'Design is big. It's grand. It's architecture. It's scale. It's not these ephemeral things.' And, you can tell how I'm speaking about it now, the reaction that I had, that I had to sit on my mouth.

So, then I was talking further about it, and I mentioned something about good design having quality, taste, and style. And he just said, 'You did it again! Don't mention those words ever, to anyone!' What words?

He said, 'Quality and style are elitist and exclusionary.' And I said, but what is good design if it's not elitist and exclusionary? Let's look at fashion. Let's look at apparel. People need clothes. People don't need fashion. They want fashion, and we want to give them fashion, but they don't need it. And then he mentioned the word taste, which he said wasn't politically correct. And, I thought, 'My God, I'm working for a philistine!' And I was!

So, it's when I received the assignment in fashion, and when I received it that dean was still in place and I think I was in a way banished. I think he wanted me away from him, and I was happy to go. But I received that assignment, and I walked around the fashion design department saying, 'We're nothing without quality, taste, and style. Quality, taste and style!' So, I thought it would be appropriate as the title of the book, because it does resonate in me.

At this point, Gunn opened the event up to questions from the audience...

*Why did you leave Parsons?

I never dreamed I'd leave Parsons. I thought I'd retire there. I love my work there. I'd been there for 24 years. I met this incredibly dynamic visionary who... seduced me away, to be perfectly honest. Bill McComb, who is the fairly new CEO of Liz Claiborne, Inc., was appointed in November. He called me in mid-December, and he said, 'We have to get together. We have to talk.' And I made an assumption that was incorrect. I thought he wanted to talk about the scholarship program that we have with Liz Claiborne, the Parsons internships there, and about an accessory design program for which we really needed some major underwriting, and we were talking with them about being a partner.

Bill and I got together, and there was just some chitchat. I loved him the minute I saw him, and loved him more when he started talking, because he was the antithesis of what most of these industry leaders are. They're very guarded, and they're very stuffy. Sometimes they're garmentos, which is a whole other flavor that makes you want to go home and take a bath. But he was this regular guy with a passion about this company. And he did not come from fashion, he came from Johnson & Johnson, where he had led that company.

I asked him 'Where do you live?' and he said, 'Bucks County with my wife and my kids.' 'Do you commute?' 'No, I have an apartment, but boy was that a difficult task getting an apartment.' I said, 'I feel your pain. It's horrible,' because I was then in the process of finding an apartment, and I said, 'I can't stomach the idea of spending much more money than I should be only to live like a student.' You know, a fifth floor walk-up, and no sink in the bathroom, brushing my teeth in the kitchen, and all of that. And he looked at me and said, 'Oh, those days are over.'

And I thought, 'Well, alright, but what does he mean?' Then he repeated it a few minutes later, because again I was talking about how expensive, and I was going to end up commuting from Topeka, and he said, 'Those days are over.' And I was getting annoyed. I thought, 'Does he think I'm getting rich off of Project Runway like everybody else does? Because nothing could be further from the truth.' And then he dropped this job in my lap. He said, 'I created this for you, and I want you to think about it. I don't want you to say either yes or no.' This was right before the Christmas holidays. 'We'll talk after the holidays, and if you say no, which I don't want you to, I want you to tell me who I should appoint in this position.' And I thought about it, and I called my... well, I'd best call her my sage advisor... she's my... well, I won't put an adjective on it... my advisor. My mother. I told her the whole thing and she said to me, 'Are you crazy? Take the job.'

It would have been so easy to stay at Parsons. Very easy. And I've achieved a lot there with the students and the faculty. It's been a hugely wonderful collaboration and probably the work I've been proudest of in my whole life. And I thought, 'You know something, Tim? Leave on a high note.' This is a huge opportunity for me to expand my own career and my own experiences. And, for the first time in 29 years, I'm in the real world, so to speak. And it's fascinating. It's an incredible learning experience and it will continue to be. I've just barely put one toe in the water. There's a lot more to do. I'm thrilled about it, though.


ejgarfunkel's picture


Ah, Tim Gunn. He's pretty much the sole reason I watch "Project Runway", really, since I honestly couldn't care less about fashion. I hope I'm not the only one who watches this show as neither a straight girl nor a gay man... Anyway, I'm amazed at how personable and down-to-earth he is. So I guess all I really have to say is, "Yay. Tim Gunn".

rainbowboi's picture



Uncertain's picture

Hmm, looks interesting...

Hmm, looks interesting... but meh I never seen this guy before.

dykehalo's picture

"My biggest piece of advice

"My biggest piece of advice is practice safe sex. You know? Don't get carried away with the moment. I'll remind them that AIDS is still with us.

(someone in the room) I just read that syphilis is on the rise.


That was by far my favourite part... i shall always remember safe sex...


Army_your_green's picture

I heart Tim Gunn and I

I heart Tim Gunn and I abso-fucking-lutly love project runway (I am just slightly addicted heh). I hadn't realized how wonderfully down to earth Tim Gunn is. I am excited to see what his own make-over show will be like.

He always leaves with some wise parting words like "you can't miss the bear!"