Jessica Kraft Q&A with Tim Gunn
Q & A with TIM GUNN, Creative Director at Liz Claiborne, host of Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style, and everyone’s favorite personality on Project Runway talks about positive style.
Q: Project Runway has been enormously popular, even with viewers who would not consider themselves fashionistas. Why is that?
A: I was once approached in an airport by a woman who told me that she loves watching the show with her daughter. She said that while they love seeing the designers work on the clothes and seeing the fashions on the runway, she said, the reason I really love watching the show is because of the message it sends about the qualities of character. It teaches you that it’s good to play with others, that cheaters never prosper and that working hard pays off! It’s true and it’s reality--those qualities of character really do win out in the end. This world is crowded with so many things that distract us from our course, so as we navigate life, to operate with these qualities of character is just really critical and important.
Q: On Project Runway, your signature statement to designers who are struggling with their designs is “Make it work.” What’s the new line for your fall show, Tim Gunn’s Guide to Quality, Taste and Style?
A: My refrain is “I can’t want you to succeed more than you do.” I want to work with you to help you discover what the right solution is. On the show we’re not offering up what the solutions are, saying, if you do this you will be fixed… like if you only wear cashmere, then that is the solution for you. It’s “Who are you? With whom do you interact? and What do you want your clothes to say about you?” I don’t want to point out what’s wrong and then not offer some help. So it’s a dialogue, it’s my own Q & A with them about how to make it work!
Q: How do you keep people focused on the positive?
A: I don’t believe in talking to them about things that they can’t change. It’s just not useful. And I’m that way with my students and I’m that way with the Project Runway designers. Perhaps we need to acknowledge those limitations, but not dwell on them. Just accept them! Instead, let’s look at what we can do and let’s look together at where we can have the biggest impact. Let’s go there first so that we can really measure our progress. I’m not a fashion Svengali, but I am a fashion therapist.
Q: So who have you helped on the show?
A: One of our subjects was branded as a mother and wife. She had been voted best dressed in her high school class and prided herself on being a former fashionista, but she let all of it go. She said to the world, my children and my husband come first, I don’t think about myself. How she demonstrated that was by wearing the dullest clothes imaginable, saying “I am sacrificing myself to show that I care only for my husband and children.” But we had her ask herself, why am I not putting some time aside for myself? She realized that by caring about how she presented herself and not being quiet about it, she could actually be instructive for her family. She can tell the kids and her husband, hey, we are going to this event so we need to be occasion-appropriate and season-appropriate. This has educational value and it’s a matter of family pride about the quality of their presentation to the world.
Q: I read your book on an airplane and am embarrassed to say that I did not dress for the occasion. You make it clear that wearing sweats in public is a big no-no. But so many people are used to choosing comfort over style, especially when we just want to be comfortable. Is this really a choice we have to make?
A: I’m used to the airport looking like a gymnasium. But you have to realize that you’re sending a message about who you are. I have nothing at all against the word “casual” and its meaning. But it is not to be conflated with inappropriate attire, such as pajamas at work. How we dress is a personal form of language—it’s highly informed by our society and culture. So, as you face your wardrobe and prepare to dress for the day, project yourself onto a billboard. How will people respond to that image of you, and what assumptions will the make about who you are? The truth is, with a bit of investigative effort and imagination, you can find something just—or almost—as comfortable that will not tell the world that you may take a nap or hit the gym at any moment. A great fitting tee and some breezy linen pants will also do the trick. Or how about some slim black pants with a V-neck sweater? Ballet flats are perfect for travel. They are easy to get in and out of at airport security checks and comfy for the flight. You’ll arrive in style while your plane-mates—many of them in sweatsuits—look ready for bed or some jogging!
Q: For those of us who may have a limited fashion budget, do you have any tips for presenting yourself better regardless of what you’re wearing?
A: I had a man come up to me one day after we stepped off the subway and he said, “Tim, can you please tell me how I can find suits that fit me better?” So I looked at him and then I pushed my hand into the base of his spine and I pushed his shoulders up and back. And I said, “your suit fits perfectly fine now.” It’s a matter of posture, carriage and bearing. It makes a world of difference. You can be wearing the most basic thing and if you come into a room with the kind of presence—and that has everything to do with posture, carriage and bearing--you will command attention because of the confidence with which you enter the room.
Q: With the new position at Liz Claiborne, your two TV shows and numerous engagements, how do you hold it all together and move forward?
A: I have to constantly remind myself of what the task at hand is for the day. It would be so easy to become derailed to look at all of the moving parts simultaneously—there are just too many of them! So I focus on the here and now and I prioritize all of the things that are happening and are coming up. It may sound blunt and maybe selfish but I only deal with what I have to deal with. I’m confident that I will get to the want to do list eventually. I’m having the best time of my whole life, but I love going home and closing the door to my apartment! I think of it as my private healing time.