Arts & Entertainment
Fashion pundit discusses upcoming 'Project Runway' season and how getting locked up helped him finish his style guide
By Chris Azzopardi
Originally printed 5/24/2007 (Issue 1521 - Between The Lines News)
Some days, Tim Gunn just wants to say, "Screw it."
"I have days when I get fully dressed, I look at myself in the mirror and I think, 'I can't wear this,'" the fashion shrink tells Between The Lines from his New York City home, where he just braved some fierce, typhoon-like storms.
There are four pairs of shoes in his bathtub soaking on towels because each time he escaped outside, he'd return with his feet sloshing in water. Gunn, a genuine fashion guru whose career rocketed after becoming the main maven on Bravo's fashionista competition "Project Runway," is in a surprisingly chipper mood.
He's not letting the weather dampen publicity for his new book, "A Guide To Quality, Taste & Style." And who can blame him? The poor man overcame an eight-month mental hurricane as he scurried to meet the publisher's deadline: Labor Day. The manuscript made it to the publisher, Abrams Image, a little late - just after the new year.
"They ended up sequestering me in their offices for a week in January and would lock me in at 8 o' clock in the morning; wouldn't let me out until 8 o' clock at night. They'd shove food under the door," he jokes. "It's what I needed."
The 201-page self-help style guide offers Gunn's mentoring on a series of seemingly basic, but often misunderstood, topics: how to shop, how to improve posture and how to choose a primo seasonal scent. Gunn's initial book idea popped while chair of the Fashion Design Department at Parsons The New School For Design (a job he left to work for Liz Claiborne), but what he lacked was a fundamental idea. He's written magazine articles. He's written for work. He writes a regular blog during "Project Runway."
But it wasn't until the editor at Abrams approached him that he cooked the notion into reality. An ultra daunting reality. "There was something about sitting down and having this huge void before me that had to be filled with words," Gunn admits.
Luckily, Gunn's relentless labor yielded an A-plus project - at least according to his ardous critic and pal, Grace Mirabella, the former Vogue editor-in-chief. "Her words keep resonating in me: 'OK, Grace liked it, Grace liked it.' 'Cause she is one tough cookie when it comes to critiques," he says, admitting he's not sure how the public will react.
The style savvy guide is a prelude to a future Bravo show, starring Gunn as a fashion therapist counseling average Joes on dress and style: Think makeover show with a highbrow gay turning frumpy, sweater-wearing soccer moms into glammed gals. Already, folks have flooded Bravo's phone lines and e-mail inboxes with pick-me (!) pitches, Gunn notes. As he makes clear, "I'm not offering a prescription to anyone. I'm more of a fashion therapist: Who are you? With whom do you interact? How do you want to be perceived? And that's what we'll do with the show."
The fashionista recently wrapped round one of the selection process for "Project Runway"'s fourth season, set for a summer debut. Gunn and his fellow fashion comrades moved between 120 and 130 designers forward and he calls this group, who will compete for a runway debut at New York's Fashion Week, the strongest ever. They nixed contestants from four cities based strictly on design flair, and the remaining wannabe fashionistas will be narrowed down after Bravo producers view their autobiographical videotapes.
"At one point I said to the producers, 'Let's team people; get the great conceptual ones with the masterful technicians,'" he says. "I was joking. That won't work. But we were looking for the whole package."
Gunn is aware he's become a media whore lately. The million-dollar question has been looming over him and Bravo since "Project Runway" was renewed several months ago - but Gunn wasn't. He assures us: He. Was. Not. Being. A. Diva.
"I don't know why it was such a protracted process," Gunn ponders, referring to an up-in-the-air Weinstein Company contract that wasn't signed until the day before auditions. "They would've had to beat me away with clubs. I love the show. I've been associated with it when it was just a mere little kernel of an idea."
It happened serendipitously. Gunn wasn't supposed to be the "Runway" prodigy; he should've remained behind the scenes. "I was to get the designers to talk 'cause otherwise they would've just been totally immersed in their work and there wouldn't have been any conversation in that room. But by sending me in to probe and to query, we could elicit some dialogue," Gunn recalls, noting he never expected to become the first season pundit.
No one, or contract for that matter, can shoo Gunn from his fervent fashion passion - he's here to stay, and help heal those wannabe style aces that could use a dose, or three, of advice. And, as his book notes, sometimes we - and those crazy clothes fanatics on "Runway" - need to reevaluate ourselves and decide whether we're wearing the clothes, or vice versa.
"Sometimes this introspection can be rather painful," he says, "but I think it's that the pain comes from a kind of awareness, almost like an eternal epiphany: 'Oh, my God, now I really see myself.'"
Too bad Jennifer Hudson figured that out too late - as she uncomfortably strutted along the red carpet at this year's Oscars in her Martian-looking Andre Leon Talley dress. In the days after, she appeared on "The Today Show," where Gunn's a fashion correspondent, admitting the look was a disaster. "I felt like she was Andre Leon Talley's paper doll," he insists, spilling sympathy for the Oscar winner.
Though Gunn gets slack for his celebrity clothing criticism, he always offers the same response: It's not just about the dress; it's about owning the look. When he raved about actress Cate Blanchett's Golden Globes' gown, eyes rolled. "People were saying, 'Tim Gunn's head is up his ass,'" he recalls, arguing a dress on a hanger isn't the same when it's on a person.
Gunn wasn't always the misunderstood fashion go-to guy. Years ago, he was focused on architecture. He quips, "I think part of that is the consequence of growing up in Washington, which is about the least fashionable place on this planet."Chris Azzopardi is the entertainment editor for Between The Lines. To reach him, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org