Project Runway�s Big Gunn

2.20.2006

By Jeffrey Epstein

We are obsessed with Tim Gunn. There, we said it. And you know you are too. The 52-year-old-but-looks-way-younger chair of the Department of Fashion Design at the Parsons The New School for Design, is our favorite reason for watching Project Runway. His desert-dry sense of humor and razor wit are a breath of fresh air amidst the designing drama. The Washington, D.C., native has been at Parsons (and living in New York City) for over 22 years. He took some time out from his schedule to dish with us about details behind the show, who he was glad to see go, and why he is single (that last one is the most shocking to us).

Part One of Two

Out: I have to start by letting you know you are getting to be known as quite the silver fox in our offices. Right up there with Anderson Cooper!
Tim: Thank you! It's very flattering company to be in.

So what all of America wants to know, have you and Andra' hit Red Lobster yet? [EDITOR'S NOTE: In one episode designer Santino, while doing a spot-on imitation of Tim, concocted an elaborate tale of romance between Tim and designer Andra', culminating in a fight at Red Lobster.]
[Laughter] We were filming the 'turning over of the keys' to the Saturn Sky Roadster, our one little bit of sponsor stuff we have to do. Andra' arrived at Parsons'I don't even know why he arrived [he was already off the show]'we looked at each other (and at Santino) and said, 'We have to do a Red Lobster photo shoot!' Red Lobster is half a block from Parsons. We ran over to Red Lobster, and unfortunately it wasn't open yet because I really wanted them to get a photo of us sitting at a booth. We did a whole photo shoot in front. Bravo jokingly said it was going to be their Christmas card, so we'll have to wait and see.

When I lived in New York, there wasn't a Red Lobster in the city so I trekked out to Queens with a friend to go. It was a two-hour wait!
Seriously? Did you have fun?

It was hilarious.
I keep asking my coworkers here at Parsons to go. This has been going on for over a year. And no one will go. Well, Andra' will go with me.

We can only hope. So, between filming, blog entries, and podcasts, it seems like this show would take up a lot of your time. How are you able to balance your 'day job' with Runway?
The first 11 episodes were filmed at Parsons when we were out of session. We couldn't possibly film when we're in session because there's no space. Parsons was, actually, initially never going to be a part of this.

Really?
I was first brought on board as a consultant. The producers were talking to people all over town looking for someone to help them construct the challenges. I knew they had been talking to a lot of people because when we were having an exploratory conversation, they asked me how I would respond when told a wedding dress had to be designed in two days. I was nonplussed and said, 'Well, if a wedding dress needs to be designed in two days, it will be designed in two days.' The 'make it work' phrase I've been using at Parsons for years'they have to make it work. The producers said, 'Everyone else told us you need at least two weeks to do a wedding dress.' I said, 'Well, for a certain kind of wedding dress. The Project Runway dress isn't going to have arms, it isn't going to have a train, it isn't going to have a lot of things, but it will still be a wedding dress.' I guess that resonated with them because they called back a couple days later and said, 'We want it to be you!' That evolved into me going to the auditions, and from there they asked how I would feel about being the 'den father' in the studio. At that time we didn't even know what it meant!
But going back to Parsons, the producers were going to outfit a loft space in the Atlas apartment building to make it look like a fashion design studio. But on a very sobering day in mid July [2004] everyone realized the budget wouldn't allow it. I looked at them and said, 'Let's walk over to Parsons.'

There was no summer session?
We do, but it runs in July. And it was August. So it was a very organic process, and somewhat serendipitous.

This whole time between filming and Olympus Fashion Week the designers have just been'
They've been working like gangbusters to get these collections finished. That's what they've been doing all these months.

Was it annoying to wait all this time for the end results?
It hasn't been annoying at all. I won't say I'm on pins and needles as much as they are, but I'm certainly on pins and needles. Who knows who's gonna win? I will say that the quality of the work and the clarity of the point of view of each of them was so palpable it really is a matter of taste. It's a matter of the judges' taste. It's not as though one was poorly made or another reason. Of course the judges did pick on some little things, and I just wanted to say, 'Let it go. Just tell everyone they're a winner but you get the crown.' I felt the same way during the first season' except for Wendy Pepper. I mean really, what was she doing there? I didn't feel that this year at all.

Where have they been working all these months since Parsons is in session?
They've been set up in a studio at the Banana Republic design headquarters on 18th Street.

So, what were you doing before Parsons?
I was working at a small museum school in Washington, D.C., called the Corcoran School of Art, part of the Corcoran Gallery. I was teaching 3-dimensional design and doing admissions work for them.

Did you ever have design aspirations yourself?
I spent years wanting to be an architect. And I actually was a very serious sculptor for a number of years. So much of that experience helps me with fashion. Not to mention almost 23 years here at Parsons. Talk about a design education!

You mentioned in one of your blog entries that the judges do take past performance into consideration, like they did with Zulema. Santino has been in the bottom more than anyone else. It seems like he's kept more because of his outlandish personality rather than great talent.
We have got to reconcile that the personality has certainly played a role here. It certainly has. But Santino's the big risk-taker. From where I sit, they were all so dull/normal for the most part. There were some exceptions'Guadalupe and her float in the parade. They were all playing it so safe. At least Santino you could rely on for being out there. Maybe it was too far out there, but at least he was making a statement. When I think back about Daniel Vosovic, for instance, I find it hard to remember most of what he did for the first half of the show. The first time he really comes into the spotlight is with the lingerie challenge, and frankly, I thought that stuff was dull/normal. I don't even remember what Daniel did for the next several challenges. Whereas Santino, I remember every single thing he ever did. He is bigger than life, and I really do believe he's talented. The risk for Santino is being labeled a one-note because it's a regurgitation of deconstruction and raw, unraveling seams, the wretched excess'he needed to go to boot camp with Coco Chanel, he would have learned a few things. But you could rely on him for some stimulation whereas [you were] falling asleep with most of the others.

Who has been the hardest to say goodbye to?
Oh, that's a tough one. I can say who it was easy to say goodbye to!

That was actually my next question! So we can start there.
[Laughs] Oh, what am I getting myself into? I will say, I got so attached to them all emotionally. I want all of them to succeed' to a point. I have my limitations. But it was really hard and frequently very emotional, just to go back into that room and say, 'You have to go upstairs and clean up your stuff.' In fact, I hated that line, but I had to keep saying it. It sounded kind of cold and that's not how I am.

Not as cold as 'You're out.'
That's true. But I'll use Daniel Franco as an example. Lord, this past week I have found out I've developed an allergy to the guy. There was no way he was going to stay the course of season two. Absolutely no way. He doesn't understand a deadline. He is incredibly annoying to be around. He's the one person who never, ever forgot there was a camera around. So I was thrilled he left the way he left. Because he really did leave with dignity and with grace and with professionalism. And, boy, was I relieved he was gone. I just couldn't stomach going much further with all that stuff of his. The other person from season two who I was not only perfectly happy to see go, I would have arranged for a car service to get her out of there, was Zulema. Oh, my God.

To be continued'

The second part of our exclusive interview with Tim will post Monday, February 27, where he gives us the details on Zulema's exit, who was hording the muslin, and why he's single!

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