Tim Gunn

Fashion adviser, shorts wearer

Who are your favorite New Yorkers?
Tim Gunn: How much space do we have? This city is filled with so many incredible people. Grace Mirabella. She was the former editor-in-chief of Vogue and she founded Mirabella, which was a seminal magazine for dressing the mature woman. She’s a quintessential New Yorker. I love and adore her, and she’s a dear friend. Also, Anderson Cooper, Lauren Zalaznick—because I love and adore her and she’s the president of Bravo—Martha Stewart, Gretta Monahan. The list could go on and on.

What’s the biggest thing to happen to this city in the last 13 years?
Tim Gunn: September 11th. Is everyone saying that? I’ll say something different. It’s more of an evolution than an event, but New York has indisputably become the fashion capital of the world. Within the last 13 years, fashion has become an incredibly diverse industry. In its former iteration, it was a very narrowly defined industry: It was designed basically by Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren. Now there’s something for everyone and I don’t think the American consumer will ever want to return to a time when there were fewer choices.

Would you say that there’s one event that turned all of that?
Tim Gunn: Sure. It’s September 11. Well, it’s actually before that. Fashion was in a crisis up until the mid-’90s and, when it came out of the crisis, it was a very different place. It was a place that nurtured and cultivated young entrepreneurial designers. Now there’s a quest to be excited and inspired by fashion, and there is a real fervor for something new. At the same time, this industry looks at fashion through a lens of commerce. So we don’t get crazy clown clothes. We get real fashion that navigates the real world, but is still innovative and expressive and speaks to the current day and age.

What’s your favorite place in New York City?
Tim Gunn: I love this entire island. I’m an ardent walker and I’m constantly exploring new places in the city. But if I had to choose a single destination where I’d be held captive for the rest of my time in New York, I’d choose the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tim Gunn: It is my greatest source of inspiration. I’m there whenever I have free time, which isn’t frequent. But it’s where I get my booster shot for returning to my core values and massaging my soul. It’s like a safe and inspiring haven.

What’s your favorite personal moment in New York and where were you when it happened?
Tim Gunn: I will tell you the moment that probably triggered the greatest degree of excitement: We had just wrapped the taping of Project Runway season two. Season one had aired, and there were mixed reviews in the industry, including a fair amount of snarkiness about whether it was a quality program. On Bastille Day 2005, I was in my office and received a call from Lauren Zalaznick telling me we had been nominated for an Emmy. I went screaming down the halls to see the producers, who were a floor below me, shouting at the top of my lungs, “We’ve been nominated for an Emmy! We’ve been nominated for an Emmy!” I remember it vividly. And one of the things I was most pleased about was, “Take that, Seventh Avenue snarkiness. Take that!”

Tim Gunn: And now I can say we won a Peabody Award. So that’s really an achievement.

Well it’s a great show! What’s the future of New York? What are your hopes, and what needs to happen?
Tim Gunn: I’d love to rid the city of private cars. Traffic here makes us feel like a Third-World city. And if I had another wish, I’d want the city to be more affordable—I just want to be able to buy an apartment! I don’t think that will ever happen.

You’re a renter?
Tim Gunn: Yeah. I’ve been renting for 25 years. And when I add up all that I’ve poured into that rental black hole, it’s formidable.

And you live in Chelsea?
Tim Gunn: Yeah, I live in Linden Terrace, which is a fabulous complex. When it was built in 1931, it was the largest apartment building in the world. It has 1,700 units, but it feels very intimate because there are no more than six apartments off of any given hallway. I only feel like it’s big when I look out my window. In fact, it’s rumored that Alfred Hitchcock stayed in the building in the 1930s, and that’s what inspired him to make Rear Window.

What are you going to miss most about the city when you’re in L.A. filming for five weeks?
Tim Gunn: Everything: The sound of it, the smell of it, the quality of the light. L.A. is fantastic—it has great weather and I’m really very fond of it—I’m just a New Yorker at heart. I love the high-rises and walking. I feel like a freak for walking around L.A. I’ll probably be arrested.

You named Anderson Cooper as one of your favorite New Yorkers. If you could have a drink with anyone else on this Top 40 list, whom would it be? Would it be Anderson or Marc Jacobs, maybe Derek Jeter or Stephen Colbert?
Tim Gunn: I have to say Anderson. We’ve met, but we’ve been intending to have lunch or dinner and we haven’t able to do it because of our schedules. So if TONY can make it happen, I would be very grateful. I’d like to know him better. I read his book, and I’ve been a fan for a long time. In fact, I’ve been a fan since he was the host of The Mole.

What does TONY mean to you?
Tim Gunn: It’s how I really learn about what’s happening. It’s the barometric gauge of what’s going on in New York. And it’s got dozens of things that I’d like to do, but don’t have the time to do. I get a vicarious thrill out of reading it.

Compare it to New York magazine.
Tim Gunn: New York magazine is more profiles of issues pertaining to the city. Forgive me, New York mag, but it’s more of the veneer. In TONY, you really get depth about what’s going on currently.

Complete the sentence: New York is…
Tim Gunn: …the most fabulous city in the world. There’s something for everyone. It spoils you for living anywhere else.

You’re always insanely busy. How do you relax in the city?
Tim Gunn: Being here is my tonic. There’s nothing I like better than going to my apartment, closing the door, cooking my little dinner for one and just tuning out. My apartment really is my haven. It’s a nest where I go to heal.

Are you addicted to coffee like other New Yorkers?
Tim Gunn: Yes. I have to have my coffee. I probably have three cups a day, but only before noon.

Do you get it from Starbucks?
Tim Gunn: Actually, I’m a Dunkin’ Donuts fan. Grace Mirabella turned me on to them. She told me she had the most incredible cup of coffee and she said it was from Dunkin’. And I said, “Grace. Dunkin’ Donuts?” And she said, “Yeah, it’s really good.”

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve been caught wearing on a Dunkin’ Donuts run? You don’t wake up in a suit, do you?
Tim Gunn: No, I don’t. One of my neighbors saw me around seven in the morning and couldn’t believe I was in a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops.

What were you doing up and about that early?!
Tim Gunn: That’s when I go out on the weekends—sometimes it’s as early as 6am. I love the mornings in New York. The sidewalks are empty and its sublimely wonderful. You have the whole city to yourself—it’s like you’re on a movie set.

Back to the shorts, were they designer?
Tim Gunn: No! I’m not going to get dressed up to get a coffee. I wear jeans and T-shirts all the time.

Designer jeans and shorts?
Tim Gunn: My shorts are from J.Crew!

Do people make you say “Make it work” all the time?
Tim Gunn: More frequently they’ll ask me to say, “Where’s Andre?” or “What happened to Andre?” But people tend to shout at me, “Make it work!” It happened coming into this building.

Do you sometimes wish that maybe you had a different phrase?
Tim Gunn: No! I love “make it work.” It’s so good in the classroom for my students. If something isn’t going well, students are always inclined to put it aside and start over again. And I maintain that you don’t really learn anything that way. If you can take something that isn’t working well, and you can wrestle with it, move it to a new level and have it succeed, you learn so much from that. My students can run back to the store and buy a different fabric or a different color, but the Project Runway designers are stuck. They really have to make it work, and I don’t believe in talking to them about things they can’t change. So you don’t hear me saying things like, “You can’t use this red fabric.” It’s more about, “How are you going to make this red fabric work?”

Who would win in a catfight: Nina Garcia or Anne Slowey?
Tim Gunn: Oh boy. I think it would be a stalemate with them both in intensive care. It wouldn’t be a pretty sight.

Which trend do you wish would go away and never come back?
Tim Gunn: Bare midriffs. It’s not cute on a teen, so why do older women think it’s acceptable? I just don’t get it. It’s fine if you’re wearing a bikini, but the separation between a waistband and a hem of a top—I don’t get it!

Is there anything you’d like to say to Mayor Bloomberg?
Tim Gunn: Yes! Keep Fashion Week in Bryant Park! He’s the mayor—he could buy Bryant Park!

What is your go-to karaoke song?
Tim Gunn: Oh, I don’t do karaoke. I’m just not a performer and I’d be entirely too embarrassed. I don’t dance, I don’t sing. Trust me, I’m not meant for showbiz.

You said during your photo shoot that you were excited to see yourself in TONY. Do you look for yourself in magazines?
Tim Gunn: No, but my mother does. I’ll send her a copy of this. She used to tell me these were my 15 minutes of fame and the clock is ticking, and she’d get ten copies of all the magazines I was in. Now when I tell her I’m in an article she asks, “Is there a picture?” If there is, then she’ll go out and get it.

One last serious question: Which would you rather have as your fingers, foot-long hot dogs or baby shrimp?
Tim Gunn: Oh, foot-long hot dogs. I’m a tactile person and I’m a toucher, so the more I could grab a hold of, the better.

Next: Christine Quinn >

The New York 40:

Adam Rapp
Amy Sedaris
Anderson Cooper
Basil Twist
Christine Quinn
Christopher Wheeldon
Danny Meyer
David Cross
David Remnick
Derek Jeter
Dick Zigun
Elizabeth LeCompte
Elizabeth Marvel
Eliot Spitzer
Gavin Brown
James Murphy
Joe Torre
John Zorn
Jonathan Lethem
Junot Díaz
Kelly Reichardt
Kiki & Herb
Liev Schreiber
Lisa Phillips
Michael Bloomberg
Nellie McKay
Pat Kiernan
Patti LuPone
Peter Gelb
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Richard Serra
Sarah Michelson
Stephen Colbert
Tim Gunn
Tina Fey
Tony Kushner
Upright Citizens Brigade