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.