Tim Gunn: Interview

After that question, Gunn spends quality time with everyone who came to the event, signing their books, posing for pictures, even writing his signature on someone's arm for the first time. I brought a novel with me, so I just hung out reading a few chapters of that, while this was going on (lest anyone think I was just staring the line down the whole time. Nope. I come prepared). Finally, we finished up our interview while he signed more stock for the bookstore.

One thing we haven't talked about is the new show. So, what is Tim Gunn's Guide to Style going to be about?

It is a makeover show, but it is a new flavor of makeover in that I'm not taking someone into a dressing room and throwing clothes at them, and saying 'Wear this and you'll be fixed.' It's really about 'who are you? With whom do you interact? What do you do? And how do you want to be perceived?' We're going to have an analysis of that individual's closet with each show, where we look at what are the things she wears all the time? What are the things that still have tags on them? What are the things that are worn infrequently and why? To try to understand where she's coming from and where her proclivities are in terms of dressing.

So, it's all female-based?

It's all female, at least for this season. It was hard enough just doing that. Because there's a message in all that. I keep saying I don't want to change anyone, I just want to make them better. So it's a matter of, if you resonate to these silhouettes, then let's look at the proportions, let's look at where they hit you in various places on your body. Like, 'This jacket idea is great, but you need a different size. You need to consider different styles.' So, we'll build depth with that character and it's not just about the clothes she's wearing, it's about the whole package. As I was saying about Cate Blanchett... the carriage, the posture, the hair, the makeup...

Did you ever find someone who just went off on some wrong direction entirely? Or does everyone pointed in the right direction usually?

Well, I think there are some people who, for instance, it can happen to people who wear a lot of vintage, that they're in a costume rut and what they're wearing isn't very believable in this time and place. Because I do believe that clothes have a context. And I love vintage! But when you're wearing head to toe vintage, including hates and gloves and little anklets? It can look ridiculous.

So, with the new show, the obvious comparison will be to Queer Eye?

I think to Queer Eye and to What Not To Wear, the two of them.

How would you do the differentiation?

Well, when I think of What Not To Wear, and I like the show. I have the greatest respect for it. It's much more of a fashion prescription. I mean, Stacy and Clinton throw clothes at the individual and say, 'Wear these.' They burn the wardrobe and all that goes away. And, to a degree, Queer Eye is the same way. It's a prescription. It says, 'Do this.'

You're going for more of a holistic approach?

I really want the individual to have an epiphany about who they are, and have it be a Eureka! moment, and their fashion path is clear to them and they can follow it. And, also, for the viewer, I want there to be an educational element to this. If we're saying you're better off in a six score skirt instead of a pencil skirt... why? Why? What's the difference? And what's implied in all that.

Are you happy with the way it's turning out?

We haven't taped anything. We start next week.

So, we can't say too much about what it's going to be like.

Exactly. The idea is tape two episodes before we tape Runway. And then, during the month that Runway is being taped, the producers will take those two episodes and the tons and tons of tape for it and figure out the exact structure of the show. That's the idea, anyway, and I think it's a good idea.

One thing I noticed when I was in the coffee shop here, people were waiting for you to arrive and people were debating, like, 'I think he's going to be wearing a black Huge Boss...'

I wish I owned Hugo Boss. I can't afford it.

But there was this whole anticipation that you'd be wearing something dignified and exquisite, and will he be buttoned up? Will there be a tie?

I was wearing a tie last night, but I figure it's daytime, so I'll go with an open shirt.

But do you feel you have this image to uphold, or is this just how you dress?

This is how I would dress... well, it's how I would be now. But you know, I run out on Sunday mornings to get the paper, a cup of coffee and a bagel wearing shorts and flip-flips. I mean, it's just around the corner.

When I read the interview you did a while ago in Out Magazine, you seemed resigned... I don't know if that's the right word... to being single.

It's absolutely the right word.

And that's still the case?

Well, you know, relationships take time and I don't have any. If I had to give something up to have one, I don't want to do that. I mean, it sounds terribly selfish in a way, but I really just...

Well, you can go the other way, that it's completely unselfish.

Thank you! That's a nice way to look at it.

Usually, you would put yourself first and say, 'I'm sorry, I can't do that because...' But you're putting everything before you in a way.

I am, because I'm having the best time of my life. That's why whenever I complain about something, it's like, 'Stop! Like, what am I complaining about really? Who wouldn't be lucky to have all these things happen?'

And what was your own coming out like?

I operated with a huge amount of denial for a long time. In fact, even in my own little sphere of friends and colleagues, I just declared myself as being asexual. And to be blunt with you, it wasn't until my early twenties that I really came to terms with it.

Yeah, I did 23, so...

You understand.

Which is really haunting now, running a youth site, where it's like 'I'm twelve and I can't find a boyfriend.'

But I have to say... I won't say I'm ambivalent about it, but I find it fascinating that individuals have come to terms with this so early, because I didn't have a clue. I really didn't.

Yeah, and we have 14 year olds who have told their parents, go to their GSA, they're out, but they can't find a boyfriend. And from my perspective it's like, you are so ahead of the curve already.

Yeah, that's true.

Do you have any advice for gay youth?

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.


You need to know that if you're on book tour.

Yeah, I guess so.

Edmund White's second book was about all the sex he had on his first book tour.

I forgot about that.

That's not your second book?

(laughs) No! Believe me. It'd be a really thin book. Hmm... I wish I could say something to your readers that was more positive than practice safe sex... Follow your voice. Follow your soul and be proud of who you are.

I saw you signed your first arm today.

I did.

Some authors won't do that anymore. I know Chuck Palahniuk did that and, on his book tour the following year, people would come up to him and show him that they went to a tattoo parlor and had his signature made into a tattoo.

What?! That's cuckoo.

Yeah, he won't sign body parts anymore.


So, what is the genesis of the 'Make It Work' and 'Carry On'?

'Make It Work' was born in one of my classes. We had a very tight deadline on a project, and I had a student who was floundering. He said, 'I'm going to go out and get some more fabric.' And I said, 'No, you're not. You're going to take these components you have. You're going to rework the pattern. You're going to use the fabric that you already cut. And you're going to make it work.' And he said, 'But, I want to do X, Y, Z.' And I said, 'No, you'll learn something by seeing through this struggle and making it a success. If you just get more material and start over, then if it works out, fine. But you won't even know why.' And he thanked me afterwards, of course, because he learned a lot. So, I use 'Make it work' all the time.

Are you surprised that it became your catchphrase?

Yeah, because interacting with the designers on the show, I talk to them and work with them in so much the same way that I do with my own students. So, when I leave the room for a few moments, it's always 'Everybody carry on, I'll be back.' And, with the designers, 'make it work,' I can't help myself.


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!"