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Tim Gunn talks American style, integrity, and the No. 1 crime committed against fashion

Make It Work: The Fashion Issue 2012



The modern fashion landscape is a veritable minefield, rife with devilish magazine editors, models who won't get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day, and enfant terrible designers whose incredible talent is often eclipsed by even more astonishing egos. But there is a knight in shining armor — or rather, in a well-tailored suit — who serves as a mentor to fledgling designers, offering honest, informed criticism and guidance. A man who believes in good manners and in treating others as you would like to be treated.

That would be Tim Gunn, beloved Project Runway co-host, former fashion design department chair at Parsons and chief creative officer at Liz Claiborne. In his bestselling book Gunn's Golden Rules, a self-described "manifesto for kindness, generosity and integrity," Gunn encourages everyone, particularly young designers, to always take the high road, and — sense of entitlement be damned — place a premium on hard work, thrift and skill.

Currently in production for new lifestyle show The Revolution, Gunn still finds time to inspire the next generation of great American designers, bringing him to events such as the upcoming Nashville Fashion Week.

"The [Nashville] fashion is so uniquely American — it makes me very proud," Gunn enthuses. That in itself, should be enough validation for our third-coast fashion glitterati, yet we still receive sneers and jeers from the larger markets who haven't quite caught on to sartorial happenings south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Not to worry, Gunn assures.

"It's very important to embrace your point of view, your style philosophy, and to not betray yourself," he says. "You have to hold on to it, and have integrity as a designer. I love nothing more than a distinct point of view — there's enough happening on the two coasts. Nashville doesn't have to be mimicking that by any means, and it should be channeling its own DNA."

Gunn also praises designers who focus on wearability, an area where local mainstays Imogene + Willie, Valentine Valentine, White Rabbit, and Jamie and the Jones excel, inspiring a pret-a-porter Southern fashion renaissance of late.

"In some circles, the word 'wearable' is considered pejorative," Gunn remarks. "If what's designed and created isn't wearable, what use is it? I would say to my students, 'This isn't going in a museum. It's going on someone's body.' It always confounded me when students would resist that. And it's hard to make beautiful, innovative fashion that's wearable. When you see it, it's incredibly exciting."

Gunn is also excited about Project Runway alumni such as Mondo Guerra and Viktor Luna, and has been incredibly supportive of Season Four winner and inaugural NFW guest Christian Siriano. He's also a fan of the smaller-market fashion weeks that are popping up everywhere from Austin to Charleston, giving area designers, photographers, models, stylists and artists the opportunity to elevate their work to the next level.

"Anything that creates excitement and fervor for fashion and, correspondingly, for retail, I'm all in favor for. I think it's wonderful that people are this ambitious — putting on a fashion week is a big undertaking, no matter what the scale is."

For those who eschew fashion shows and style magazines, Gunn has one piece of universal advice on how to look sharp: "It's about the size. Women err on one of two sides: They're either buying clothes that are entirely too big for them — and it's a comfort trap — or they're buying clothes that are too small, because they haven't reconciled the fact that they're larger than they may want to be. That's the number one crime I see being committed against fashion."

Speaking of fashion fugitives, Gunn would love to get his hands on the U.S. secretary of state for a makeover. On the other hand, he lauds Michelle Obama and Nancy Pelosi, citing them as great examples of modern American style. Ask him to name a well-dressed celebrity, and Helen Mirren is the first name to roll off his tongue.

"I have much more respect for women who get this right when they've had experience and have navigated the world as opposed to these kids — who, probably, a stylist is dressing. [Mirren] always looks fabulous and completely put together whether she's walking a red carpet or wearing a pair of jeans." A good thing to master in Nashville, where "black-tie optional" can result in guests dressed in everything from sequined cocktail dresses to jeans without holes, each being perfectly acceptable. And that, friends, is what's so beautiful about Nashville style.


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