Known for his role as host and mentor on Project Runway, coining catch-phrases like “Make It Work” and “This Worries Me” in the workroom, Tim Gunn has become one of the most loved men in fashion bringing honesty and inspiration to the fashion scene. Mr. Gunn describes his career as “serendipitous” and it’s surprising to learn that his fabulous career in fashion actually found him!
After 17 years teaching various disciplines and eventually becoming Associate Dean of Parsons The New School for Design in NYC, Mr. Gunn was summoned for his “Mr. Fix-It” capabilities to revamp the archaic 50-year old fashion design program. The planned one-year stint, soon became a seven year tenure modernizing, expanding and growing the program. He expressed to me, “Creating beautiful, inspiring and innovative clothing is really hard. A fashion editor and friend calls the utter extremes of fashion ‘dumb clothes and jokes’. At one extreme, there’s dumb clothes like a t-shirt and at the other extreme, a joke like on a Paris couture runway – those are easy. But creating beautiful, inspiring and innovative clothing – all the stuff in between the two – is really hard.”
Mr. Gunn never thought to leave Parsons until the owner of Liz Claiborne, Inc. approached him in 2007 with an opportunity as Chief Creative Officer, a position tailored just for Mr. Gunn as LC, Inc. was ready to embark on some serious company and brand changes. His overall responsibility is to give the creative teams of the LC, Inc. brands including Juicy Couture, Kate Spade and Lucky Brand Jeans (who knew they were LC, Inc. brands!!), a voice at the executive level. He is quick to clarify that he is not a designer, nor does he ever edit a designers’ work. Rather, he mentors, offers honesty, inspires, attracts and retains the creative talent to the LC, Inc. divisions. Recently, his position has evolved into a “brand ambassador” for LC, Inc., giving Mr. Gunn the opportunity to bring unique labels together like Juicy, Kate and Lucky, as in the fantastic fashion show narrated by him and Leah Salak, Director of Marketing and Special Events, Saturday at Scottsdale Fashion Square. Super fun show!
I must be honest, I was completely mesmerized during my interview. He was such a nice man with incredible sophistication and I choose this word carefully, authentic warmth. Just like your favorite high school teacher or coach or college professor or parent who inspired you and gave you permission without judgement to follow your bliss, Tim Gunn has an amazing gift for inspiring fashion designers and fashionistas to follow their style bliss, individuality and feel great about what they’re creating or wearing. I left our interview feeling energized for two reasons: he loved my Elie Tahari dress that took me 5 nerve-racking days to select (whew!) and I had the blessed opportunity to meet and learn more about my favorite subject from the “The Headmaster of Fashion” (New York Times). Ah-mazing!
Here’s what I learned about fashion, and a few things about life as well, from this great fashion and style teacher:
1. His first job in fashion? The faculty chair of the fashion design program at Parsons in 2000.
2. There is a difference between fashion and dressmaking. Fashion happens in a context - encapsulating culture, history, society, economy and politics. Dressmaking is clothes and construction of garments. Both equally important elements for hopeful fashion designers.
3. TRY IT ON!! In a full length mirror and look at yourself critically and objectively. If your instincts tell you it’s an “Uh-Oh”, it is!!
4. He’s careful not to give fashion trend advice. What works for one regardless of the season depends on your lifestyle, coloring, size, shape and what you want to communicate to the world.
5. Classic silhouettes including blazers, trench coats and a classic dress pants are fashion staples and will have a long life in your wardrobe.
6. Belts are a great accessory. They work to help give you shape whether you’re wearing a dress or long blousy top and jeans.
7. What inspires Tim Gunn? Everything. Get outside if you’re stuck – the subway, nature, life.
8. No one wants to be in the ‘worst dressed’ category. But mistakes are a learning opportunity to not repeat the negative.
9. What does Tim bring when he comes to Arizona? For the event, a lightweight, tailored suit – describing it as “under dressed for New York, but overdressed for Scottsdale!” Ha!
10. And of course, “Make it Work!” He didn’t mention it directly in our interview. But we’ve all heard him utter his famous phrase in the workroom a million times during a Project Runway dilemma. Next time you’re stuck with a choice or a challenge, say to yourself “Make it Work!” And do just that!
I must say, I have noticed a difference in Juicy, Kate Spade and Lucky in the last few years. A few shoppers and event attendees I chatted with on Saturday mentioned the same. Juicy has thankfully evolved way beyond the terry-cloth tracksuit and Kate Spade is really fresh and bold, yet still feminine. And the pieces from the show – especially the accessories – were fabulous. As Tim Gunn would state in the workroom, “Go, Go, Go!!” and check them out next time at Scottsdale Fashion Square!
Make it Work!!
Photos by Darrylee Cohen of Perfect Party Pictures.