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The Interview

Tim Gunn

by Jerry Nunn
Tim Gunn’s Golden Rules hits the shelves this month and contains “Life’s Little Lessons for Making It Work.” He speaks candidly in the book and proves there is more to life than just the runway.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, Tim. I just spoke to you recently for Windy City Times about Project Runway.

TG: (Tim Gunn) Hello, Jerry. I remember. It is an honor to talk to you again.

JN: Aw, you are too kind. I have been watching Project Runway of course and have interviewed at least ten contestants over the years.

TG: You have? Oh, good! Don’t you love Peach from Chicago?

JN: I do. I interviewed A.J. Thouvenot and Michael Drummond from this season.

TG: They are dolls. I love those two. We have had so many wonderful people on the show and I am so fond of so many of them.

JN: I want you to know that you are the most polite person that I have ever talked to. I have been raving about you ever since the interview.

TG: Thank you, Jerry. I am very flattered.

JN: This translates perfectly into your book.

TG: I will tell you that I so wanted to do another book. I was thinking about it from so many points of departure. At one point I was thinking memoir but I thought, “Oh God, Tim, who do you think you are?” Then I thought of etiquette but thought, “What will I talk about? Fish forks?” I thought if I can bring the two together somehow then I want to do that.

JN: Well, it worked.

TG: I am so moved and touch when people come to me with very personal stories wanting advice or feedback. What moves me is the fact that people trust me so much. People have said to me in the last few years that they don’t know a lot about me. After they read this book then they will know a lot about me…

JN: That is for sure.

TG: I wanted to share things about me and give back. I know so many young people that are struggling with issues such as sexual identity and being different. I wanted to say that you can really be who you are. You can get through this and be on the top of the heap. Just persist and don’t give up.

JN: Well, you are very honest in the book. I was surprised that you talked about suicide and your past relationship. I am sure that was not easy to do but can help countless people.

TG: I will very honest with you and confess that I am nervous about the book coming out on September 7th. It is a new threshold for me. I am putting myself out there. I would feel too much like a voyeur if I continued to listen to other people’s stories and not give anything back myself.

JN: How did it feel to write it down?

TG: It was a very purging and cathartic experience. It was very emotional for me. I don’t just treat these things like it is just a story. I talk about things that I have never written about. I have a very ill mother and I keep saying that if she is still alive on September 7th then she might not be on September 8th! She may not know about things in the book.

JN: My mother said if I wrote a book that she would never read it.

TG: I wish my mother would say that! My mother can’t wait to get her hands on it. I am sitting with a half dozen copies and the clock is ticking.

JN: You will have a lot of support when you visit the Borders in Chicago.

TG: I can’t wait. That is the first stop on my book tour.

JN: I watched Project Runway last night. People still don’t follow your advice sometimes.

TG: I know. Am I that hard to understand? That Casanova is a character.

JN: Is your Guide to Style coming back ever?

TG: That is a Bravo show so now that Project Runway has moved to Lifetime I would never come back there. I will tell you that I am in serious discussion with Lifetime about more things. I loved Guide to Style because I loved helping those women. When anyone self declares then I am there in a heartbeat because that is the first step. That is why I don’t do interventions. I can’t help people succeed more that they want to. If you want to look this way then fine but accept responsibility. I don’t believe in making people into a dress up doll.

JN: I am going to be nervous on what to wear when I see you at Borders.

TG: Don’t be even remotely nervous. I am not judgemental. Unless asked then I am not. I am always saying, “Don’t make fun of the person on the street who is looking like a circus clown. He may be.” (both laugh) It is all about context. Crew members while we are shooting are worried that I will critique their clothing. They are hoisting a 40-pound camera and need to wear clothes that give them agility. If they wore a suit they would look ridiculous and not be able to execute their duties.

JN: I get what you say in the book about not wearing jeans to the theatre.

TG: It is just about being respectful to the people on the stage. I wrote in my first book about seeing a show and a couple walked by in matching sweat suits. I thought, “This is New York City and an 8 o’ clock evening performance. This should not be allowed!” This is a sign that things have gotten to a low point. There should not be a need for dress codes.

JN: One thing that was mentioned in the book briefly was how you came to be on Project Runway. Can you elaborate more?

TG: I was chairman of the fashion program at Parsons and received a call on January 2004. Two producers from Project Greenlight wanted to make a fashion reality show. At our meeting one question that was a turning point, “What if the designers had to make a wedding dress in two days?” I shrugged and said, “Then they will have to make a wedding dress in two days.” They looked at each other and I explained that you will not get a Vera Wang but it can be done. When I went on tour with them for auditions with the show, they asked me to be a mentor to the designers. I was worried that they wanted me to live with them!

JN: Now that would be a different kind of show. I am thinking Mrs. Garrett and the Facts of Design!

TG: I think they were afraid that Heidi would deliver the challenge and then they would present their work at the challenge. There would be no talking. By sending me in to look at their work it opened some dialogue. I will tell you this. I never dreamed that I would be on the show. I knew they were taping me but I never thought it would make it on the show or it would be more than one season. I just thought this would be great cocktail party talk but that is how it all happened.

JN: Wow and look at it now.

TG: It was very organic back then. We were never going to tape the show at Parsons. They were originally going to have a workroom in the same building where the designers lived. There was no budget so I offered Parson because it was taped in August and Parsons was empty.

JN: That is really behind the scenes.

TG: Another point of contention was limiting the amount of time the designers had in the workroom and if the designers should even make the clothes. There was originally going to be a pattern room with seamstresses and tailors. I wanted the audience to see the designers getting real and having metaphorical blood on their hands. Furthermore, who would Heidi send home, the pattern drafter? Because you know it would never be the designer’s fault. I said they have to make the clothes.

JN: I didn’t realize how much that you developed the show.

TG: It was fun to do.

JN: So many reality shows have a mentoring segment now such as RuPaul’s Drag Race. How do you feel about that?

TG: I find it flattering. I don’t think they are copying me. I just feel very lucky to have the role that I have on the show. I am so proud of it and what it has done for fashion.

JN: I liked your diva part in the book about the fashion world.

TG: I want people to accept responsibility for their behaviour. If you are going to behave like a diva around me, be careful. I am truth teller and I don’t wear rose-colored glasses.

Leave your diva attitude at home and visit Tim Gunn signing copies of his book at Borders, 830 North Michigan Avenue, September 13th at 7:00 pm.

Written by Jerry Nunn for
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