smc interviews: tim gunn

So, first, I have to break the bad news…I didn’t get to meet Tim Gunn in person after all.

Wah-waaah. I know. But I did get to talk to him on the phone! Here’s how it all happened (I can’t believe I have actual celebrity dish for you!): Tim was coming to Portland to host a Lucky Brand Jeans event, and his PR folks contacted me to see if I’d like to interview him before the event (um, YES!). After our lovely chat on the phone last week, Tim asked me to attend the Lucky Brand event, and to let his people know I was there so he could meet me (!). Convinced we were destined to be BFFs, I showed up, dressed to the nines, of course. But alas, his schedule (or more specifically, I suspect, his handlers) had other plans. So, I had to settle for sitting 6 feet away while he expounded on everything from the tortures of warm-weather dressing (he shares my hatred for capri pants and showing too much skin) to that bitch, Gretchen, from season eight. Not a bad consolation prize…especially when paired with our phone chat. But I’ll admit, I was a bit blue.

{Photo by my darling hubs. Yes, that’s me, over in the right-hand corner. You can always spot me by the sunnies
perched on my head. And PS, aren’t those red jeans adorable on Tim? }

Minor setbacks aside, it turns out that, in person (and on the phone), Tim is every bit the poised, well-mannered guy you want him to be (if considerably skinnier). But he also loves to dish, just a little bit. He has some fantastic stories about behind-the-scenes wars with Heidi and the other Project Runway judges, which entertained me to no end. He’s nothing if not honest, but he has that rare gift for delivering the truth in a way that doesn’t make you hate him. {And as a bonus, it turns out the event wasn’t a total loss: Lucky Brand actually has some extremely cute summer wares, and is offering 20% off online today. Score!}

I know, I know, blah, blah. “Get to the part where Tim tells us the secrets of the fashion universe,” you’re thinking. And so, I shall. But be prepared…it’s long. He’s a chatty guy, that Tim Gunn. I edited for length, but not for content – I didn’t want you to miss a thing! So, this is the world’s longest blog post. You’ve been warned.

Shopping’s My Cardio: My readers are a very stylish bunch, and they want to keep their looks current without necessarily jumping on every trend that passes by. What are your thoughts on following trends versus sticking with a style you know works for you?

Tim Gunn: I hate trend chasers! You end up looking like a fashion victim. I believe that it’s important for every woman to really tap into the core of who you are, and dress accordingly. I’m always talking about the semiotics of clothes. The clothes we wear send a message about how the world perceives us. Just look around you and see what’s current that you really want to embrace. For example, I’m so happy that slimmer suits are in for men. I’ve gone out and bought quite a few new ones because of that. When baggy comes back, I’m going to stay slim – I just don’t like all that extra fabric! It’s only a good trend if it works for you. It may very well be a bad trend. You know what’s behind all this: it’s a collaboration of fashion and retail, wanting people to buy things. That’s why we call it “fashion,” not “clothes”. Fashion needs to change; clothes don’t.

SMC: I think everyone has their own list of wardrobe staples – be it 5, 10 or Nina Garcia’s 100. But what are some key items you’d like to see women incorporate to help them take those staples to the next level?

TG: For me, it’s probably more about accessories than anything else. I mean, I do have 10 essential items that I believe should be in every woman’s wardrobe, so the building blocks would then be accessories. I love something as basic and simple as a belt: how it can transform someone’s look, and instantly give you proportion and shape. You can cinch it, let it drape from your hips – it doesn’t have to be around your natural waist. You can really fix a lot of proportional issues with a belt. I love belting cardigans, adding one to outerwear, or to a piece that wouldn’t ordinarily be belted – I just think it’s a great look.

SMC: I think summer is the absolute hardest time to look chic, and it’s when otherwise stylish women make the biggest mistakes. Can you give us some tips on staying stylish when it’s sweltering?

TG: Oh, I agree with you. It’s very important not to show too much skin. It’s fine at the beach, but we don’t want to see it on the streets and sidewalks. It’s about having apparel that breathes. Natural fibers are always better for that. And quite frankly, covering up can have more of a cooling effect than bearing it all. You can show skin and be sexy without being vulgar. If you’re wearing a plunging neckline and a sleeveless top, then you have to be more demure on the bottom. And the inverse is true: if you’re wearing a shorter skirt, you need more coverage on top to counteract that. And it’s also true that you don’t want too much volume in both places either, so that everything you’re wearing is baggy. You’ve got to switch it around.

SMC: Could you talk about women dressing for their shape? I see women all the time wearing styles that might be beautiful on someone else, but that aren’t doing them any favors. Any tips or hints to help us get it right?

TG: I’m always talking about the principles of silhouette, proportion and fit needing to be in harmony. It has to do with your own silhouette, your own size. High-waisted skirts, for example: if you’re wearing one and you’re short-waisted, it’s going to look like a strapless dress! You have to be very conscious of your own shape and proportions. I’m always suggesting that women find a fashion icon that can serve as a mentor to them. But that icon needs to be age-appropriate, have a very similar shape, and ideally, the same coloring, because you can say, “Oh, that tangerine dress looks amazing on her, I’m going to run out and get it.” Well, if you’re pale as a sheet, it’s not going to be a very becoming color on you.

SMC: I think that in this case, someone that can help you figure out what your shape is – whether you’re short waisted, long-legged, people don’t always have a great perception of their own shape.

TG: Very true – the mirror lies! When I had my show, “Guys With Style”, we purposely brought in a 7-foot-high plasma screen to project a life-size image of the woman with whom we were working, because that’s how she really looks, not reversed, the way it is when you look in a mirror. It was always disarming for her – she always thought she looked better in the plasma screen than in the mirror. We bring so much baggage to the mirror. Are we really looking at ourselves critically and analytically? Not as well as we should. That’s why I like a three-way mirror, because it can also have that disarming effect of bringing the unexpected into your line of vision.

SMC: If someone wanted to invest in one really amazing, timeless piece to have in her closet forever, price being no object, what would it be?

TG: Oh, a trench coat – one that suits their lifestyle. It’s one of my 10 essential items, and it’s the only real outerwear item on my list. You can wear it to the grocery store, or you can wear it to the opera. And it can work in any season, any climate – in a warmer climate, you can remove the lining. It’s incredibly versatile.

SMC: What is your guiding principle when deciding whether or not to buy something? For so many of us, it might be What Would Tim Gunn Do? I’m curious about how you decide to buy a piece or walk away.

TG: Well, first of all, if it’s apparel, I always try it on. I have to say, I listen to my gut, and I find that my gut is usually right. I will say, though, there are moments when – I mean, I’m always ready for a bit of a push, as long as the push isn’t too far. I really had a kind of personal fashion epiphany a couple of years ago on the set of the Smurfs movie. The head of wardrobe, an incredible woman by the mane of Rita Ryack, really pushed my buttons when it came to what I was wearing. I brought my own wardrobe, and she looked at me and said, “This isn’t good enough. We’re going shopping.” She took me to a couple of places, and I was mystified by what she was doing, by the pattern-mixing she was engaged in, and some of the fit issues. In a way, I left that experience a different person. She got me to think beyond what I’m so used to when I look at myself in the mirror, and I now pattern mix all the time! She also got me to a comfort level with pocket squares, which I’ve always loved on men but thought I could never pull off. So, I like taking risks, pushing levels of one’s comfort until you have those moments in which you really do transform, in a manner of speaking.

Shopping’s My Cardio: Since I’m based in Portland, I can’t let you go without asking a question about all of the Project Runway contestants and winners we’ve had here. Do you have any thoughts on why that is? What’s your take on Portland’s fashion scene?

Tim Gunn: Well, speaking of the Pacific Northwest at large, it’s a very creative, innovative area. I think of it as being a curious art and design incubator in many ways. People are much more inclined to step up and out of the mainstream than they are in other regions of the country, and I think it’s a wonderful thing. I’m confident that’s why we find so many talented people there.

SMC: And last, but not least: What’s your morning coffee order?

TG: Dunkin’ Donuts, with milk or cream. Living in New York, there are delis at every corner, and I was always a deli coffee guy. My routine is to go out in the morning, get a cup of coffee and the New York Times and then come back home, even if it’s 5 am, which it frequently is. Four or five years ago, a dear friend of mine, Grace Mirabella, the former editor-in-chief of Vogue. And I’ll just be blunt: Grace is nothing if not a snob. But she’s a lovely snob, and I love her. We were on the phone, and she said, “I have to tell you, I had the most amazing cup of coffee this morning. It was glorious!” And I’m thinking, “Oh, someone brought some elaborate equipment to her apartment and hooked up an espresso machine or something”, so I asked her where she got it. There was this pause, and then she almost rhapsodically said “Dunkin’…Donuts!” Sure enough, she was right, and I haven’t gone back since.

A huge thank you to Tim and all of the folks at Fifth & Pacific for making this happen!

Share 'smc interviews: tim gunn' on Facebook Share 'smc interviews: tim gunn' on Google+ Share 'smc interviews: tim gunn' on Pinterest Share 'smc interviews: tim gunn' on Twitter Share 'smc interviews: tim gunn' on Email

3 comments on “smc interviews: tim gunn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *