Tim Gunn, even after an incredibly long day, is the essence of a dapper gentleman.
The mentor of Lifetime’s “Project Runway” surveys the contestants’ new lounge at Parsons School of Design, admires the huge photos of scenes from past seasons and settles in for a long talk with Zap2it.
The Thursday show shoots at the Manhattan college where Gunn taught for 29 years. Among his missions as a teacher was that students learn the history of fashion and how it relates to whatever is going on in the world. He has an upcoming book on the history of fashion, and his philosophy as a teacher was quite similar to his as a mentor. It boils down to the three words that have become the show’s motto: “Make it work.”
Q: Did you think “Project Runway” would last 10 seasons?
A: I never expected it would go for two seasons — not to disparage the show. This is really surreal.
Q: So many unscripted shows fail. Why do you think this lasted?
A: Same reason for why as a teacher for 29 years, I was thoroughly engaged every year for 29 years. There was a new crop of students every year. What’s so compelling is I don’t know what they will produce. I don’t know what they will do.
Q: What surprises you?
A: Where they were at 7 o’clock and where they are now (several hours later). I look at their work. It is the embodiment of “make it work.” They are able to go from risk to pulling out great work.
Q: Sometimes the clothes are just out there; at some point does it seem like all risk?
A: The more avant-garde clothes, it’s who they are. Fashion is nothing if not subjective.
Q: What designs do you know will not make it, and what drives you crazy?
A: An inadequate presentation or sloppy work will not make it.
Q: With all the challenges over the years, what has been the craziest?
A: Those that involve nontraditional materials: the pet store, the hardware store.
Q: When designers create outfits that are wacky — say the polka-dotted hot-pants jumpsuit with patent leather buckles in the season premiere fashion show in Times Square — it seems as if they have no interest in designing for women in their real lives. How do you advise them?
A: I say to students, “Who is your client? And how content are you to have the very small market?”
Q: Can you usually pick the winner?
A: This is underscored by my teaching experience: I would make certain assumptions that were proven false. By challenge four, I have a pretty good idea.
Q: How much time and advice do you give the designers?
A: I have to give them space and distance, otherwise I would become this relentless nag. I like to be with them at fittings, before the runway shows.
Q: Where did your mantra “make it work” come from?
A: I’ve been saying “make it work” forever.
Q: You seem to get along with all of the contestants, but has there been one who was the problem child? And what behavior in contestants bothers you?
A: Kenley Collins of Season 5. She was belligerent. And when they are full of themselves and sassy, when I feel, “What is this person doing here?” and it is all about attitude.
Q: One of the reasons “Project Runway” is successful is that it crosses so many demographics. Why do you think this show appeals across gender, age and cultural groups?
A: Generally speaking it is captivating and compelling to watch people who do something, who do what they do.