Making It Work


By Bill Keith

Let's be honest: You haven't exactly walked on the wild side since the leather blazer incident.
My mother even tells me I look too buttoned-up. Do you know she still buys clothes for me? She doesn't even know what size I am. Mother, I don't wear a large! I'm comfortable in a suit, and black is fail-proof. But on the weekends I wear jeans and a T-shirt.

I don't believe you.
Just the other day I got an e-mail from someone I don't know saying, 'I saw you on Ninth Avenue and 23rd Street wearing a pair of shorts.' I don't usually respond to things, but I wrote back and said, 'What did you think?'

So you didn't grow up fixated on fashion?
I was fixated on architecture and interiors, which of course had everybody worried. I had a really butch father'so butch I thought maybe he was a closet case. He was an FBI agent and a sports lover, and the only sport I could even participate in was swimming, because it was nice and clean and you didn't sweat.

You studied sculpture in art school. Was that easier?
In terms of understanding who I was, being an art student revealed so much more than the years of psychotherapy I'd had before that, including being comfortable with being gay. I loved the diversity of the student body and the fact that none of the answers were in the back of the book. I had a lot of bad college experiences before I got to art school and went to more expensive schools than I even want to list.

You had the added challenge of growing up in Washington, D.C., arguably the worst-dressed city in the country.
Oh, it is! I was on Capitol Hill several months ago advocating for the Design Piracy Prohibition Act. Without fail, the men and women in Congress and the Senate would say to me, 'I'm not a fashion person, don't look at me, I don't know anything about clothes.' I finally said to one woman, 'You're a public figure elected into office. What you wear sends a message about how you want to be perceived by the world. Don't you think you should care about how you look?' I mean, I just lost my patience.

Who on Capitol Hill needs Tim Gunn's Guide to Style most?
Laura Bush. Oh, my God!

Would she require her own two-hour special?
I think it would be all day, every day for about two years. We'd have to reprogram her whole DNA. I think it's an impossible task'truly. Don't even get me started on the Bushes. Their daughter Barbara is a really fashionable young woman, though. I don't know how it happens. Maybe they left her on somebody's doorstep and didn't get her back until she already had her fashion DNA reprogrammed.

What else about Capitol Hill troubles you?
The Senate pages' uniforms. I had a group of about 20 female pages come up to me and ask what I thought of their uniforms, and they're pretty hateable. It used to be women couldn't be pages, and they still haven't changed the uniforms, so they're in men's tailored pants and men's shoes! Talk about backwards, anachronistic, and horrifying. Is that not crazy? Design Piracy Prohibition Act be damned, I'm going to take up their cause. Fix the pages' uniforms'immediately!

Let's talk about something as important as public policy: Project Runway. How has it changed since you first started?
Seasons 3 and 4 are incrementally at a higher level in terms of the designers and their work than seasons 1 and 2. So much so that, especially in season 4, it's really a matter of taste. All of the work is beautifully executed and presented. The producers are always interested in knowing who I think is going home and who might potentially win. I always say, 'I have no idea who's going to win, but I can tell you who's going home.' And then the person I think is going home is the winner.

You have no influence over the judges?
None. It keeps me an honest man. I have no interaction with them at all, but that doesn't mean they don't drive me to total despair.