Hey, it’s part two of our Project Runway interviews! First, go read part one with Nina Garcia. Next, imagine that Tim Gunn came on the line (phone interview) and had about a 45 second lovefest with Nina because THAT’S TOTALLY WHAT HAPPENED. It was literally the cutest thing. “Hi Nina! I miss you!” “Tim! I miss you too, how’s the book doing?” and so forth. So anyway, here’s what everyone’s favorite mentor had to say about Project Runway…
Do you think this final four were the best four designers of the whole season?
Tim: Yes. I’ll say that without hesitation. The cream really does rise. I mean, am I sorry to see certain designers go? Oh of course, but no, the final four was a strong group.
Is the winning collection the one that you were hoping would win?
Tim: I always feel close to the designers, but this was a really difficult season. It was as though there was a rain cloud over that work room, and accordingly I was able to explore levels or dimensions of emotions with these designers that I really hadn’t fully explored with the finalists in previous season. I have to say I was rooting for all of them. This is not a Miss America response; I want to assure you. I would have been happy with any of the final four winning.
What are the qualities that you think make or break a contestant?
Tim: I can give you a whole list, but the unknown quality is how each designer will respond to the pressures of being on the show. You just don’t know. Of course, they need technical know-how, a strong point-of-view, strong ability to conceptualize, tenacity, a strong bladder (!), and a lot of self-confidence tempered with an ability to listen and synthesize. And a strong knowledge of fashion history is very important, especially with Nina. She’s constantly making references to the work of other designers, and if they don’t know who they, the contestants are really at a disadvantage.
Do you think the challenges on Project Runway are getting more demanding each season?
Tim: No, but they are getting shorter. Occasionally Heidi will ask me off-camera, “Why isn’t this work any better?” And my response is give them more time. I had a very serious talk with them the first time we went to Mood about time constraints and materials. Why if you’ve never use a silk chamois before, why would you choose it? Work with things that you’re familiar with as opposed to things that are ruling you and dictating to you.
I’d love to get your perspective on the designers who bailed early this season, Andrea and Kooan. Tim: Well, on the topic of Andrea I was totally and thoroughly mystified. She’s a fashion teacher! Why would she bolt in this way? Just in terms of quality of character, what does it say about being a quitter, especially when you’re a teacher? We gave her the opportunity to come back and tell her side of the story, and she wouldn’t do it. I just thought “what a weak sister”.
On the topic of Kooan, he was on the threshold of leaving from the moment he walked into the work room. It was just a matter of when. When we were back in the work room after Mood, he just dropped this bomb and says he’s leaving. I’m always on the other side of the work room wall so of course I bolted in and there was no reason to talk him off the ledge. It was kinder just to say, “Fine. You can go.” But it was certainly a surprise. And regrettably, you then worry about all the other designers. Because there was talk of leaving from a number of them, and thankfully no one else did leave, but it was dicey.
Do you think that those departures played in to that feeling of doom and gloom that you felt during the season in the work room?
Tim: I actually think that those two factors are inextricable. I really believe that it’s like the chicken and the egg; it’s hard to say which came first but they were partners in the whole season. It was very peculiar and hopefully will never happen again.
Do you have a favorite moment from this season?
Tim: The Babies R Us challenge. It was coming into the work room with the wagon to retrieve the robot babies and tell the designers I was taking them to the park. I’ve never experienced a more joyous moment from them, ever. You would have thought that each one of them had just won the season.
Are there any designers from over the ten seasons that you think back on, “Oh their work was unusual or they were especially great”?
Tim: I think most of them are wonderful. The ones that stand out for me are the ones that aren’t so great. One of the worst was edited in such a way that you wouldn’t know it. The editing of the show is kind to everyone. Gretchen’s (winner of season eight) home visit that was so dramatically edited. We were playing crochet and her mother kept knocking my crochet ball across the street into the traffic, so I had to run across the street and retrieve it. I’d bring it back and she’d slam it again. It was so hostile and angry! The apple doesn’t fall from the tree.
In one episode this season the judges consulted you on one of the looks for Ven. Do they usually do this before they make a decision?
Tim: No. That was unprecedented. I had a very dastardly motivation; I thought “Oh good I can talk to judges and help Ven go home this challenge.” But it didn’t work, and Gunnar went home. Had known that, I wouldn’t have agreed to talk to the judges. I’ve never done it before but Heidi asked. She teases that she’d like a red phone next to her chair so she can call me. It’s not as though they can’t shout out to me but my refrain is, “Sorry, Heidi. Separation of church and state.”
What were you really thinking when you had that moment of silence at Fabio’s place?
Tim: That it was one of the worst collections of clothing that I’d ever seen in my entire life. I was just mystified. He’s so incredibly talented but that palette was so juvenile. I was just mystified. He’s incredibly smart and incredibly knowledgeable and I thought maybe he was pulling my leg and was going to say, “Guess what, this isn’t really it.” I was hugely relieved that he passed through the judges’ analysis last week, and I was especially pleased to hear the feedback that the judges gave him because it was so similar to what I gave him when I had the home visit.
What did you think of his plastic canvas accessories?
Tim: Actually, I liked them. They were a collaboration with an artist that Fabio found online. I don’t know whether people know that.
You always tell the contestants to use the accessory wall thoughtfully. How important is accessorizing to the impact of a garment when it hits the runway?
Tim: Well, to hear the judges talk about it it’s the most important thing in the world. I’ll just be blunt – I feel that they’re an enhancement, but for me it’s all about that garment. Unless the accessorizing is an extraordinary distraction in a bad way, I would never comment on it at all, but the judges seem to have a very different take. They are times when it’s all they talk about is the accessorizing, and I just want to say, “be quiet, look at the clothes.”
Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking about auditioning for the show?
Tim: Be who you are. If you present yourself as someone you’re not, then the likelihood that you can sustain that on the show is slim. Just be who you are and be proud of that and don’t be someone you think that the producers or the judges will want to have on the show.
What’s the fashion risk that you’d like to see the designers take? Is there something that you’ve ever not seen and you’re like, “Gosh, I just wish somebody would make that?”
Tim: For me it’s more about what the individual designer’s point-of-view is and having them push the boundaries of that and explore further. I’ll cite Anya, the winner of last season. There were two moments on the show when she really stepped away from those maxi dresses and did some beautiful tailoring, and they were two of the best garments of the entire season – from anyone! When the designers have an epiphany about who they can be, I’m thrilled and elated, but I never look at them and think, “Oh if only you would do X.” I’m just so in awe of what they actually do and in the time that they do it. It’s staggering. I want to say to the judges, “You try doing this. See how good your work would be.”
How surprised were you that there weren’t really any designs with a huge wow factor this season?
Tim: Quite frankly, we get to a point in the season where I’m happy that anything is walking down the runway. The designers are so done at the end. I’m very much their advocate, their champion, their cheerleader, and their defense attorney. When the judges go after them I want to stand up and shout, but I won’t pretend that there were big wow moments this season.
What specific skills or general knowledge would you put on a checklist for those hoping to score a spot on Project Runway?
Tim: In terms of the technical aspect, they need to have a command of the sewing machine, pattern drafting, and how to express themselves visually through drawing. And I’m going to add something that may be controversial — whenever a designer proudly says that they’re self-educated, some people stand up and cheer. I don’t. It’s a disadvantage not because they learned it on their own. It’s more about the critiques and learning how to listen to critical observations about one’s work and then depersonalize it. There’s also the exposure to the historical context of fashion, which I believe is essential. Are there movies people should see? Sure. The Diana Vreeland documentary The Eye Has to Travel is fabulous. I’ve actually seen it twice and I don’t go to the movies!
I just feel any designer has a responsibility to be a kind of barometric gauge of their society and culture so knowledge about all things is, as far as I’m concerned, extremely important. I always say to my students it’s not about a pretty dress. Do we want the dress to be pretty? Well, of course, but it’s about the larger context in which you’re designing and creating.
Besides Project Runway what else are you working on?
Tim: Oh, God, what am I not working on. I’m writing my Marie Claire column and doing voice-overs for Sofia the First on Disney Junior. It’s really adorable feel-good animation. What else am I doing…? I’m starting work on a new book! I’m so proud of the Fashion Bible though. I’m just so thrilled with its success and its had great reviews and it’s gratifying when you put that much work into something and people actually respond positively.
Who would you love to see as your dream finale judge?
I’d love to hear how Meryl Streep talks about clothes.
What can you tell us about season eleven?
Tim: I can’t tell you a thing except that there will be one!