Tim Gunn: Make It Smirk! Project Runway fashion guru Tim Gunn reveals he would choose "Project Runway Juniors" over the original any day of the week, and shares his optimism towards the current state of the fashion industry.

Tim Gunn: Make It Smirk!

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JONATHAN COULTON: This is NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton, here with Puzzle guru Art Chung. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.



Thank you, Jonathan. So we'll find out which of our contestants, Katie or Rohan, will be today's big winner. But first it's time to welcome our special guest. He's the mentor on the fashion reality show "Project Runway" and objectively one of the best human beings. Please welcome Tim Gunn.


TIM GUNN: I have to - I just have to tell everyone I'm thrilled and excited and invigorated to be here. But I have performance anxiety.


GUNN: It's true. And it's a metaphor for a lot of things. Let me tell you.


EISENBERG: I'm so happy to meet you. So thanks.

GUNN: Ophira, I'm thrilled to meet you.


GUNN: I'm a huge fan - huge fan.

EISENBERG: And, of course, you know, as we have to point out, you are impeccably dressed, as you always are. You have a fitted suit. You have a nice tie, pocket square.

GUNN: Of course.

EISENBERG: Of course - pocket square.

GUNN: Yes.

EISENBERG: Now, I am told, actually, that your iconic look is partially yours but also partially came to you via a woman you worked with on "The Smurfs" movie.

GUNN: Yes, Rita Ryack. Yes, the costumer for "The Smurfs." I have to tell you I was very confident about how I was presenting myself to the world. And I called Rita in preparation for wardrobe. And she said, I wouldn't dream of telling you how to dress. You're Tim Gunn. Just bring whatever you have. So I did. And I got home after the first day of filming. And she said, I just looked at today's rushes. And your clothes are not good enough.

EISENBERG: That's bold. She said that to you?

GUNN: I was devastated. I felt humiliated and as though I'd let the whole production down. And she said, I'm going shopping tomorrow. You will meet me at a tailor on West 54th Street. I go to the tailor. She pushes me into the dressing room.

And I start looking at the labels of things. And I see a shirt the $450 and a suit that's $4,000 and a tie that's $250. And I shriek at her, I cannot wear these things. I'm not going to do it. My wardrobe will just have to do. She said, you put them on.


GUNN: So I was obedient. But the last straw for me was the pocket square because I have to tell you I've been a fan of pocket squares forever. But I could never do it. I would experiment. I'd put my jacket out on my bed. I'd flatten it out and stick the pocket square in. I'd think, that looks all right. Then I'd put the jacket on, look in a mirror and say, you look like an ass.


GUNN: So I said that to Rita. You pushed all my buttons. You've taken me this far. I'm not doing that. She said, you're going to do it. So now I'm addicted to all this pattern mixing in the pocket squares. And I owe it all to Rita.


GUNN: Yeah.

EISENBERG: So when you put the pocket square in now and you look - you are the same person. It is the same pocket square. But you see a different person in that mirror.

GUNN: Well, I may still look like an ass. But I'm a confident ass.


GUNN: I own it. I have to say I am what I am.


GUNN: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: I see you as someone who's always worn suits. But I understand that that is not exactly the case. However, I am surprised to learn that, recently, you bought your very first pair of sweatpants.

GUNN: I did indeed.


GUNN: And I have a very special person to thank for that, Olympic fencer, three-time Olympian and silver medalist Tim Morehouse. He is my fencing coach. And he said, you need a pair of sweatpants.


GUNN: You cannot come to my fencing club dressed like this.


GUNN: You need to have freedom and agility. You need to have ease of movement. And I have to tell you I get a real kick out of those sweatpants.


EISENBERG: And so this is a new thing - fencing - for you.

GUNN: It's a whole new thing that began a year ago yesterday, I'm thrilled to say.


GUNN: Yeah. Though a five-month hiatus during the taping of two seasons of "Project Runway..."


GUNN: ...Because we tape all day every day. But I'm back in the saddle now.

EISENBERG: Now, you had to take time off to work on "Project Runway," which is in its 15th season.

GUNN: I know. Hard to believe.


EISENBERG: So, you know, you were saying to me backstage, Season 1 - you had no idea it would even go to Season 2.

GUNN: Never dreamed it would go to Season 2 - never in a million years.

EISENBERG: What do you think it is that has made it last to Season 15?

GUNN: Well, people love the creative act. They love the fact that these are individuals who have a passion, who have a fire within them, who are talented, have a vision. And we watch that vision go from the ether to something concrete. And it's quite thrilling to watch. And I'd like to say, as the mentor, I'm in awe of them.


GUNN: I'm in absolute awe. I could never dream of doing it. Of course, I can't tell you the number of times I want to shout at the judges, you try it.


GUNN: You get in that work room. You're being so critical about - oh, the hem's a little off. Really? Ten hours, everyone.


GUNN: I mean, 10 hours to conceive, to shop, to drape, to pattern make, to fit, to style. Ten hours - we don't fake it. It's real.

EISENBERG: Everyone knows this from watching the show. And this is part of the reason we all fall in love with you - because you manage to give critiques that are constructive, but you're also honest, but not in a way that's mean. One of my favorite things that you say is, you know, that's a whole lot of look...


EISENBERG: ...You know, when someone's just like, whoa, too many things. But that is a nice way of saying, what is going on? You're crazy.

GUNN: Well, Ophira, I have to say, I learned quickly as a teacher that if you are perceived to be mean-spirited, unkind, caustic in any way, your students shut down.


GUNN: And - and they discredit you. So I want the doors to be open. I want us to have a good, healthy relationship and one that is based on truth-telling and candor. I employ a lot of empathy when I'm critiquing because I think, how would I feel if someone were to say those words to me with that intonation? I'm here to provide some feedback and to help you step away from your work for just a little bit and look at it critically and objectively as you can. What I try to do is I pummel the designers with questions because I want to get them to the point where they declare to me exactly what I'm seeing without my saying to them, this is what I see, because that's joyful for me. Good, you see it.

EISENBERG: It's like therapy.

GUNN: Well, it is like therapy. I call myself a fashion therapist...


GUNN: ...For just that reason.

EISENBERG: It's totally like that.

GUNN: Yeah.

EISENBERG: They're like, oh, yeah, it is a whole lot of look.


EISENBERG: So you have "Project Runway," and now you have "Project Runway: Junior."

GUNN: Yes.

EISENBERG: So we have - the kids competing are under 18. Is that correct?

GUNN: They're 13 to 17.

EISENBERG: Thirteen to 17. So with "Project Runway: Junior," what has changed about the show to accommodate, you know, the younger juniors?

GUNN: I'll be honest - nothing.


GUNN: The only thing that has changed is the length of our work day because of the child labor laws. Thank God for those child labor laws.


GUNN: I'm telling you, getting home at 9 o'clock at night for me is such a reward. So we actually play the work day - we have to play that as two days. But other than that, no, it's the same. I mean, the first day in the workroom with the designers, I will be honest, I was very trepidatious. I was walking around on eggshells, thinking, oh, I don't know how much I can really say and how far I can go. But within five minutes, pow, it hit me. They want it all. They know when you're pandering. And they're much more mature about it than the regular "Project Runway" designers.


GUNN: They accept responsibility for their work. They are supportive of each other. They're a joy. If I had to choose between the two shows, I'd take "Junior" in a heartbeat.

EISENBERG: Wow, that says something. I want to throw out, just for fun, some fashion trends.


EISENBERG: And I just want to get your gut reaction.

GUNN: Oh, all right.

EISENBERG: OK, what do you think about activity-tracking jewelry, like Fitbits and Apple Watches and...

GUNN: I find them to be gimmicky and trying too hard. If the wearer benefits from them, fantastic, but I'm not going to do it.


EISENBERG: How about pockets or flies that don't work?

GUNN: Well, I'll say whatever works for you, but I don't think that's a faux fly zip on a woman's pant is particularly flattering. And I think a man's pant without it is really peculiar.


EISENBERG: How do you feel about the drop-crotch Hammer pants?

GUNN: Unless you're packing a Depends, don't do it.


EISENBERG: Tim Gunn, are you ready for you ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?

GUNN: All right.

EISENBERG: OK, very good.


EISENBERG: Tim Gunn, everybody.

GUNN: Oh, Jonathan's coming out.

EISENBERG: Let's welcome Jonathan Coulton back on stage.


EISENBERG: Tim Gunn, you are an inspiration for this game and - because we love your famous catchphrase, make it work.

GUNN: Make it work.

EISENBERG: Was that something that you've said forever and ever?

GUNN: Forever. Forever - as a teacher. It's very useful.

EISENBERG: Do your students say it back to you and perhaps, like, embroider it on a pillow, or...

GUNN: No, they would begin to say, don't tell me to make it work again.


GUNN: Well, I am going to. It's very important.

EISENBERG: And that is a response usually because people are like, no, it can't happen. Is that the sort?

GUNN: Or they just want to - especially in a - in classes where students make things, they just want to abandon it If it's not going well. And I always say, look, sit down. Study it. Offer up a diagnosis of what's wrong and a prescription for how to make it work because if you just abandon everything that presents a huge problem to you, then what do you really learn from it? Nothing.

EISENBERG: Yeah, and you just are starting from scratch over and over.

GUNN: Yeah, over and over and over again. It's "Groundhog Day."


EISENBERG: So in this game, we took that phrase, but every answer is going to be a word that rhymes with work.


EISENBERG: It's going to be easy. If you need hints, feel free to call on our puzzle guru, Art Chung.

GUNN: Art...


GUNN: ...The Nina Garcia...

EISENBERG: Nina Garcia.



CHUNG: I wish.

GUNN: Oh, no, you don't.


EISENBERG: If you get enough right, Matthew Griffin (ph) from Stoney Creek, Ontario, Canada, will win ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's cube.

GUNN: Oh, good. I'm planning on moving to Canada. I need to make friends there.

EISENBERG: That's right, yeah.


EISENBERG: So here we go. Tim, I've got this troupe of French-Canadian clowns, and we want to call ourselves something - something du Soleil. What do you think it should be?

GUNN: Make it Cirque.

EISENBERG: That's correct, yeah.


EISENBERG: Now wouldn't it be great if everyone came up to you with that question? Tim, I've got this group of French-Canadian clowns.

GUNN: Given the way things are today, I'd be grateful.


GUNN: I'll join them.

COULTON: Tim, I want to perform a popular dance where I shake my butt.

GUNN: Make it twerk.



EISENBERG: Listening audience, there are no words for me to describe what happened.


GUNN: I just shimmied.

EISENBERG: Tim, I'm trying to remember the name of the Star Trek captain played by William Shatner.

GUNN: Naked Kirk.



COULTON: Tim, I'm trying to make some delicious Jamaican chicken rubbed with hot spices.

GUNN: Jonathan, make it jerk.


GUNN: I was hoping we were going to use jerk for something else.


GUNN: I guess we already have.

COULTON: I'm going to make that my ring tone, by the way.


EISENBERG: This is your last clue.


EISENBERG: Tim, I'm trying to remember the actress who played Suzanne Sugarbaker on "Designing Women."

GUNN: Make it Delta Burke.



GUNN: Ophira, did you think I wouldn't get a "Designing Women" question?

EISENBERG: I - you know what? I know.


EISENBERG: Easy peasy. You got them all right.

GUNN: Well, it's the company and the supportive environment.


GUNN: Thank you everyone.


EISENBERG: So congratulations, Tim. You and Matthew Griffin from Ontario, Canada, have won ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes.

GUNN: Wonderful, thrilling.

EISENBERG: Yes. Thank you so much. One more hand for "Project Runway's" fashion guru Tim Gunn.

GUNN: Oh, thank you. Thank you everyone, thank you.


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