“Project Runway” mentor Tim Gunn talks fashion crimes, celeb makeovers, fighting with Heidi Klum, and why Mondo should have won last season

Tim Gunn talks fashion and the new season of Tim Gunn talks fashion and the new season of It's hard not to love Tim Gunn. As the design mentor on Lifetime's "Project Runway," he's helpful, honest, and respectful, he bounces around funny catch phrases like "make it work," and above all, he knows fashion. He served as chair of fashion design at Parsons The New School For Design (alumni include Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui, and Tom Ford among others) until 2007 when he left to become Liz Claiborne's chief creative officer. He's also launched his own spin-off show, Bravo's "Tim Gunn's Guide to Style" as well two books "A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style," and "Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making It Work."

As a current spokesperson for Tide, we asked Gunn about fashion rules, common style mistakes, and must-have clothing items, as well as who he'd love to makeover, and what really goes on behind the scenes on "Project Runway" (which begins a new season on Thursday, July 28). And boy did he have a lot of insight and juicy gossip to share with us! Take a look at our exclusive interview:

S: What's your number one fashion tip for women?

T.G.: I'm always talking about counterpoint. If you are wearing something that's slim and close fitting on top, have more volume on the bottom, and vise versa. If you have a legging, wear a loose fitting tunic. If you have tight and tight, you're going to look rather trampy, to be blunt, and if you have loose and loose you're going to look sloppy.

S: What are five garments that every woman should have in her closet?

T.G.: Easy. A basic black dress-which I find very few women own-a classic dress pant, a blazer, a day dress, and a trench coat. I say a trench, because you can wear it to the grocery store and you can wear it to the opera.

Shine: What is the biggest fashion crime you see committed?

Tim Gunn:
I'm going to be perfectly transparent about this, Joanna. One of the reasons why I was so eager to get involved with Tide and Procter & Gamble is because the biggest crime that I see committed against fashion is clothing maintenance. There's no excuse for pilling and for ratty clothing. This is a season when you want to wear lighter colors and you want to wear lighter weight textiles, and people don't know how to take care of them. But if you use Tide with Bleach for instance, and if you read the label...you can't just throw everything into a washing machine and expect it will do its magic on its own. It's like a recipe, you have to pay attention to the ingredients and see how you're mixing things together.

S: Speaking of white, do you think people can wear white after labor day?

T.G.: I really believe most of these rules are made to be broken. Maybe not head-to-toe white after Labor Day, but for goodness sakes, it's still hot out! People should simply dress in a way that they feel confident and that they feel they look good in. I'm always saying don't chase trends, and a trend is only good if it's good for you. Which is why we all need to accept responsibility for how we do present ourselves to the world.

Tim Gunn considers crop tops the worst trend ever.Tim Gunn considers crop tops the worst trend ever.S: Would you say that's the biggest problem women have when they get dressed? Wearing something that's not right for them?

T.G. Yes, and wearing something that their friend looks really good in when they're friend has a completely different body type, different coloring, and maybe even a different age. They say, "oh, so-and-so looks so good in that." Well, she does, but that doesn't mean it's perfect for you. We have to be very critically analytical about ourselves and what we look good in.

S: What are the worst fashion trends you've seen in recent years?

T.G.: Well, one is the items of apparel that bare a midriff. I don't even know how intentional it is, but it happens because the pants are a low-rise and the top just barely meets the waist band, so any physical activity, including just walking, exposes that. I don't think that's something women should be exposing unless they're on the beach, and that's a completely different matter. At the shopping center? No one wants to see that stuff! It's even hard for a 16-year-old girl to pull off a crop top, so once you get up in the numbers it's impossible. And New York is filled with women I call Grandma Jezebels. They're women in their 50s and 60s who dress as though they're teenagers and it's so inappropriate.

S: What should women over 30 should never wear?

T.G.: There are always people who can break those rules. I look at Heidi Klum and she's in her mid 30s and she knows how to rock a miniskirt. But for the most part, unless you are a supermodel, you need to be mindful of how short your skirts are. I always say, and this is a dowdiness issue, you never want it any longer than the bottom of your knee cap. And when 30 and above you can go a couple inches above depending on the state of your legs and the quality of your confidence.

S: I've noticed a lot more fur on the runways recently and I know you're anti-fur. How does that make you feel?

T.G.: Oh indeed, yeah, you have. I've been working with PETA for 10 years, purely volunteer. But I have to say, I would never ever go up and verbally abuse someone on the street because they're wearing fur. If you are wearing fur, know the source of it. If the fur comes from China you can pretty much be sure that it's dog. So it's scary! If you want to wear it, go ahead, but accept responsibility for it. I saw Vanessa Williams at the Emmys a number of years ago and it was 65 degrees out and she was wearing a full length mink coat. She knew I had worked with PETA and she said, "Don't look at me that way! I didn't kill it!" and I thought of the perfect retort afterwards which would have been to say to her, "Vanessa, maybe you should have." Because then she probably wouldn't have worn it!

Tim Gunn thinks Meryl Streep needs a makeover! Here she is wearing a design by Tim Gunn thinks Meryl Streep needs a makeover! Here she is wearing a design by S: If you could make over celebrity who would it be and why?

T.G.: Well, let me put it this way. I'd like to have a conversation with the celebrity, because I don't believe in making anyone into my dress up doll. I really believe that if you're doing a makeover it needs to be a collaboration with that person because you need to preserve who they are at their core. I'd like to have that conversation with Meryl Streep. [Laughs] She's beautiful, she's probably the smartest actress in all of Hollywood, but she echews the whole fashion topic. She doesn't want to talk about it. She maintains that it's inconsequential and ephemeral and it shouldn't bother anybody, but I want to say, "wouldn't you agree that the clothes you wear sends a message about how the world perceives you?"

S: I've seen her wear some designs by "Project Runway" alum Chris March.

T.G. You know, she's looked best in Chris March looks. The last two times I've seen her on the red carpet she's been wearing Chris. One look was white and one look was black and she's never looked better.

S: OK, I've held out long enough! Tell me a secret about the new season of "Project Runway."

T.G.: It's an extremely compelling season and I'll tell you why. We bring 20 designers to New York and we tell them, "we don't know which 16 of you are actually going to be on the show." So they don't arrive with a sense of entitlement like the usually do. They arrive with their tails between their legs, which is a good thing because it keeps them on their game, and attentive, and it keeps them hungry. That really sets the tone for the whole season.

S: I have to admit, I was rooting for Mondo Guerra last season and I was upset with the results because I didn't like the way Gretchen Jones came across.

T. G.: No! Nor did I!

S: Were you upset by that? What do you feel makes a great designer personally and professionally?

T.G.: You've got to have a point of view that has a specialness about it. You need to have a tenacity that will stay through the speed bumps in the fashion world. And you have to love what you do, because [then] you'll do it no matter what. I was shocked by Mondo's loss, and I have to tell you, we've heard a lot about Mondo since the season 8 finale, he's all over the place, and I haven't heard a word about Gretchen.

Heidi Klum wore a dress by Heidi Klum wore a dress by S: I wrote about Project Runway recently and many fans said they too were upset about Mondo's loss.

T.G. I have to tell you, Joanna, you can say what I say. I blame it on the crack-smoking judges! I'll tell you what happened leading up to that. We brought back the four finalists, including Michael Costello, who was the first one who had been eliminated, and I was so angry about that elimination that I went to the producers and said I want to talk to Heidi. I believe in the separation of church and state and I don't get involved in the judges affairs, but I thought this is very morally and ethically incorrect. And the reason I say that is because I was packing Michael's bags with every challenge. I kept thinking, "he's going home, he's going home, he's going home." But he won a number of challenges and he was only there because they enabled them to be there. So I said to Heidi, "why don't you just bring four people to Fashion Week. Why eliminate Michael at this point when the fact that he's here is because of you!" So she said, "you have no power and authority here, this isn't your decision, you're not a judge." So I thought, OK, back off. And also I know Heidi was mad at me because I had said in the press that the judges were a bunch of crack smokers and she said, "I have a family, that's a really unkind thing to say." Heidi, I mean that metaphorically, not literally! So then, during the finale deliberation, Heidi came to me and said, "This is not going well. Michael has now talked Nina [Garcia] into standing behind him when she had been standing behind Mondo and I need you to come with me and speak to the judges. You'd think that the host of the show could simply say, "I'm calling the winner," but it really is a democratic process.

S: Well, on the show it looks like only four designers went to Fashion Week, but I was at the presentation and there were actually 10. I know the producers don't want to ruin the surprise of who is presenting their collections, but showing at Fashion Week is supposed to be a great reward for the top contestants, isn't it?

You're right, there's going to be nine this season. I'll be blunt, it's absolutely horrible, and I hope you write about it. The date that the show premieres and the date that Fashion Week occurs dictate the number of people that have to show and since the move of the show from Bravo to Lifetime I don't think the people there have wrapped their brains around it yet. And I don't like showing a lot of designers who aren't fully invested in being there. I am in total agreement. Joanna, you and I are on the same page!

Whew! We feel validated. And really excited to watch the new season of "Project Runway" with Tim Gunn! Don't forget to tune in at 9 p.m. EST on July 28 on Lifetime.

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