Tim Gunn: Interview

*I think the mentorship you give to the designers is great, I wonder if you had advice to give to people starting out?

Be true to your own voice and your own vision, and don't waver from that. It certainly can be informed by things around you, and how your customer responds, and myriad issues that can present themselves, but just remember who you are. And, also, think long term about your role in the industry. I meet so many people, including my own students when they're new at least, who think it's just about getting that work out, putting it on models and having a show, and now, phew, I can relax. No! that puts you in a very precarious position, because if you can't deliver on the buyer's orders, and you can't think about the next season... I mean, the industry is so eager to embrace new designers today, and it has been in the last five to seven years, but it's just as eager to topple them. It's hugely competitive out there, and the fewer people you have competing out there with you, the more likely your own success is, in theory. I don't really believe that in actuality, it's not a matter of the last man or woman standing. But just be prepared for the hard knocks, and if you have the love and the passion, it will sustain you.

*How has this changed you, and are you enjoying your newfound fame?

My newfound fame, I can't even say that with a straight face. Sorry, it's just that when this happens to you after you turn 50, you have a deep reverence for it, and you realize it's going to go away just as quickly as it arrived. So, I'm enjoying every single second of it. And I have to say, I love it. For me, the big demonstration of how many people are watching the show and are aware of my role in it, is through the people who just come up to me off the street. And they are so wonderful. They just want to tell you how much they love the show. The fact that they perceive me as being accessible and approachable is the greatest compliment in the world, because I am.

I have to add that the person you see on the show really is me, as opposed to me reading a script or playing a character. I can't imagine what that would be like, that would have to be really difficult, if people were responding well to you, and you know you're just a mean-spirited lout who lashes out. I don't know how I'd handle that, but fortunately, I don't need to.

But one of the outcomes I wasn't expecting, and that I'm really pleased about, and that I consider a huge responsibility and sometimes a daunting responsibility, is I admit that I'm a new voice for fashion. I'm a voice that takes the industry very seriously, sees it in a context that's historical and cultural and societal ... and economic and political to a degree, and I have a great respect for people and the decisions that they make. I know that my red carpet coverage is different from other people's because it's really about the total package of the celebrity on the carpet, and the clothes, and the jewelry, and the hair... it's all of it. It's not just about taking the dress and saying, 'Well, what would it look like on a hanger? Who else would wear it?' Because I've been very criticized by the media for my coverage, saying 'he doesn't know what he's talking about.' My response at first was, 'Maybe I don't, I need to go into hiding.' The biggest thing hurled at me was about Cate Blanchett at the Golden Globes. I thought she was magnificent in that black lace Alexander McQueen dress, and I said so, and the press went after me because they said the dress was so horrible. I stand by the fact that that dress on her, the whole package, had such radiance. It was so palpably strong and powerful. I mean, I was almost in a puddle in front of her. I am the first to say it would look ridiculous on Reese Witherspoon. Helen Mirren would have looked like a float in a parade, and I'm the first to say that. But it was about that package, not just isolating the dress.

* Do you still sculpt at all?

You know, I don't, but I have other outlets for my creativity. I stopped when I started teaching, which sounds incongruous, because you think you should be practicing what it is you teach. I just found the teaching experience was so purging and cathartic in a way that I didn't have any creative juices left. I was very apologetic about it for a couple of years. I ever fibbed about it. I said, 'Oh yeah, I'm still doing stuff.' Thinking in my mind that I was, but then I thought, 'Let it go. Just let it go.' The whole experience of teaching really changed my life.

* Was the CEO of Liz Claiborne correct? Was that the end of the fifth story walk-up?

Yes! He was correct! When we met, I was on the waiting list for an apartment building I had been coveting since I've lived in New York, a place called London Terrace, and I was terrified that my number would come up, because I couldn't afford it. And I kept thinking, well, maybe something will happen... maybe there'll be some new opportunity... because I knew if my number came up, I'd have to say no to them. And within a couple weeks of being in the new position, my number did come up, and suddenly I could afford the apartment. Again, I don't want anyone to think I'm rich. Boy am I not, but if you only knew how little I was making after 24 years at Parsons, leading the largest academic department not only at Parsons but in the whole university, living in this incredibly expensive city, and making a salary that just was... people thought I was making it up. It couldn't possibly be that low.


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!"