Project Runway�s Big Gunn: Part Two

2.26.2006

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 Two of Two
(To read part one, click here )

Out: Zulema had a big chip on her shoulder.
Tim: She had a huge chip on her shoulder. And she had this thing about me, and I didn't understand where it was coming from. She just didn't want to interact with me. Most of the interaction I had with the designers is in our big workroom. And it's camera friendly in that it's easy for the cameramen to get around. But Zulema's tactic was to do almost all her work in the Sewing Room. It's not only not camera friendly, it's not audio friendly because of the roar of the machines. So I would go in and ask her if she would come in and speak to me, and she would simply say 'No.' So we didn't have a lot of interaction. I found her presence to be grating. And I didn't realize until after she was gone that the designers had all been terrified by her in a way and how mean and horrible she was to them. The other thing that was funny was that we supply the designers with muslin to do prototyping. In season one, I think we bought two 50-yard bolts the entire season. Season two we were buying a bolt of muslin every other challenge. After Zulema was gone, the designers asked for another bolt of muslin, and I said, 'We just got you a bolt of muslin. What are you guys doing?' It turns out Zulema was using it all. She was doing tons of prototyping, then she would take the bolt and stick it under her table and tell people they couldn't touch it. I said, 'Why didn't you tell me? I would have done something about it.' 'We were afraid.' I looked at Santino and said, 'You were afraid?' And he said, 'Actually, I didn't need the muslin so I didn't care.' Anyway, she was a trip. Wait until you see her in the reunion show.

Any difficulties presented by Heidi's pregnancy?
There were no difficulties. And she's incredible. Talk about an amazing individual. And doesn't she look great pregnant?

It doesn't hurt that she has the most fabulous maternity couture that money can buy.
[Laughs] True. And she really knows how to work it, doesn't she? I remember saying to Heidi with frequency, 'Don't you want to sit down?' These hours are so long. She carried herself and used the same hours that we did in season one. In a way it was as if she wasn't pregnant at all. She just kept go-go-going. But the designers kept waiting every time we announced a new challenge, they kept expecting it would be a pregnancy challenge.

I was wondering about that too!
We talked about it and thought, It's too expected. So we dropped it.

Did you have a favorite challenge?
Without a doubt, the Garden Party challenge. I loved seeing how the designers were innovative. That was the challenge I was the most worried for all of them. Before we were finished I kept thinking, Nothing's going to be finished, and it's all going to look like a pile of crap! And then when it was done, I really thought any of them could have won.

What surprised me'and you even acknowledged this'the lack of flowers, and Michael and Nina being so harsh on them. I thought, You were there last year! You saw what happened to Austin's cornhusk dress! They didn't think back.
Exactly. I was surprised about that too. Also, if anyone has any inclination that I have influence over the judges before what they see on the runway, put it to rest because they didn't know how limited the budget was and how constrained the designers were when we were shopping. Flowers were just not going to be a part of the equation.

Do you have a designer you love to wear?
I really am a Banana Republic addict'and I was one before Project Runway. I had been associate dean for years and I wore Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers. I wore suits every day and that's just the way it was. I came to the department of Fashion Design. I had been here for about a year and a half and I thought I was an old stick in the mud. I needed to slightly edge it up. So I thought, I need a black leather blazer. So I went to Saks Fifth Avenue and I found one. It was Hugo Boss. It was gorgeous, and it was $800. I gasped and I bought it, and I thought, There's my clothing budget for the whole year. So I walked across the street into Rockefeller Center where the Banana Republic flagship store is. I hadn't been in Banana Republic for years. There was a black leather blazer for $400, and the two of them were indiscernible from each other. So I bought it and took the other one back. I went back to Banana and I fell in love with everything they were doing. So when Deborah Lloyd, the design director at Banana, oversaw our first Banana Republic challenge, I had the opportunity to meet her, and I told her the story. She looked at me and her eyes sort of bugged out and she said, 'That was my first collection for Banana Republic.' It goes to show you how important a designer is to the brand. She turned me around completely.

Now the big question: Are you single?
I'm very single.

How can you be single?
This is going to sound ridiculous to you. I'm so resigned to it. I went to a psychic about 25-26 years ago. Ostensibly the real thing; she was a consultant to the NASA space flights, and she was a consultant to the FBI. And it was a horrible session. She punched holes in every myth I'd created about myself. I'd spent a lot of my life blaming things on prior lives. And she said to me, 'I don't believe in talking to people about prior lives.' I thought, That's disappointing, it's one of the reasons I wanted to see you. Then she said, 'In your case, I have to make an exception. I have never met a new soul. Until now.' I say that because it helped explain a lot. I have never, ever been more hurt than from a relationship that goes back to Washington, D.C.'before New York. I'm welling up thinking about how horrible it all was. After many years, it was the advent of AIDS and knowing that this guy who I loved more than myself had been sleeping around' it was awful. More awful was his out and out rejection of me, saying, 'I don't have the patience for you. I'm tired of you. Get lost.' And I haven't been in a relationship since. And I've run from a couple of opportunities. I keep revisiting this 'new soul' thing and I think, It's not gonna happen in this lifetime. It's not meant to be.

Well, if that's how you feel, then I say' you're crazy! I could think of 20 great guys for you off the top of my head who'd want to be your life partner!
That's nice to hear. I have very good friends, and I think that's the way it's probably going to stay. God knows I live in a gay Mecca. I live in the West Village and work in the middle of the fashion industry. It's hard to find a heterosexual male within half a mile.

Do gay men approach you?
I was at the Human Rights Campaign dinner recently. I was at the Bravo table and I thought, I don't think I have ever been in a room with so many extraordinary-looking gay men. And people came up to me. People are really nice. With the exception of one person who punched me when I was at the end of last season. You know what's weird? No one ever asks, 'Are you that guy from that show?' They just come right up to me and start talking. It's weird to me.

Maybe you're really destined to be with Andr'e.
[Much laughter] Maybe I've been waiting for Andra'

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