Spring Forward

Tim Gunn
Chair, Fashion Design, Parsons The New School for Design
Thursday, March 30, 2006; 11:00 AM

Tim Gunn, Chair of Fashion Design at Parsons The New School for Design, is fresh from his second stint at "Project Runway," where he won critical acclaim for his role on the reality-based, fashion design television series that received an Emmy nomination for its first season.

Chair of Fashion Design at Parsons The New School for Design, Tim Gunn , answered questions about what to wear for spring, Thursday, March 30, at 11 a.m. ET .

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washingtonpost.com: Hi, everyone and thanks for joining us on this glorious spring day. It's exactly the kind of weather that makes us all feel like ditching our winter clothes and putting on some new bright colors. And here for some inspiration today is the maestro of Project Runway, Tim Gunn. Welcome!

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Atlanta, Ga.:

We love you, Tim! Discovered Project Runway at beginning of Season Two and immediately had to go out and buy the entire Season One. I am a Parsons grad (product design, never had the pleasure of meeting you), and it is such a delight seeing Parsons again. My question: why didn't Santino win? Thank you!

Tim Gunn: Thank you for the kind words. I agree that Santino's collection was superb. Frankly, I felt confident that any of the Final Three could have won. With our judges, it was a matter of taste, plain and simple.

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Washington, D.C.:

Hi Tim! I join the ranks of women who gush about how fabulous you are. We speak the truth! My question for you is: I bought a pair of bronze gladiator style sandals for the spring, but am unsure what would be a good match for a complete ensemble since I feel like I am in roman high-tops. Thanks so much.

Tim Gunn: Let's be blunt about this: gladiator sandals are just that. And I'm confident that you bought them for that very reason. Think 50's and embrace that style -- a pair of black cropped pants, for example, with a crisp white top. Or try a circle skirt. Don't force the sandals to compete with the rest of your ensemble. Embrace your inner gladiator, just don't carry a trident!

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Denton, Tex:

Dear Tim,How many people are on hand to help the Project Runway contestants sew their designs? Based on the implied time frames for each project, I'm guessing the contestants have help, or the time frame is actually longer than you reveal on the show.

Tim Gunn: Does our audience really think that there are behind-the-scenes sample-hands? Heavens no. The Project Runway designers are on their own, literally. They would love some assistance, but, alas, there is none. And the timeframes are exactly as they are represented on the show.

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Fairfax, Va.:

Is there a way to wear cowboy boots this spring or are they completely out of fashion?

Tim Gunn: The cowboy boot is a classic item, regardless of gender. Its fashion success is all about how it's worn; with a Juicy gauze mini and leggings, the look will be dated by definition. However, paired with jeans and a great blouse and a corduroy jacket, cowboy boots look wonderful. Think about how you can have a western flair without looking like Brokeback got you good.

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Louisville, Ken.:

Tim,So what to do if you're a man who likes the current thin jeans look in for men, but has a rear end just too big to pull that off? I'm more comfortable in khakis, but feel like I'm missing out.

Tim Gunn: Ken, you are NOT missing out if you aren't wearing a look that is unflattering to you. Furthermore, one that makes you uncomfortable is even worse. Try a slimmer, flat-fronted khaki and don't worry about the jeans. I have to practice tons of self-discipline when shopping!

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King of Prussia, Pa.:

I'm seeing a lot of bronze, silver and gold shoes...how fast are they going to go out of style?

Tim Gunn: I believe that the metallic shoe is here to stay. Choose classic styles -- a ballerina flat, for example -- and wear them like a neutral.

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Columbia Heights:

I love love love Project Runway but I always wonder if the show is really set up to truly highlight a particular designer's talents or to expose their inexperience and inadequacies. It seems to me that as the episodes progress the designers should be given more money and more time to truly execute their designs so that it's more reflective of their capabilities. The early episodes should be set up to eliminate those who don't have basic technical skills .You guys do a great job on that program and would have my Emmy votes if I could vote!!

Tim Gunn: Thank you for the vote of confidence and for the season two Emmy support. I understand your view of the early eliminations, but, frankly, a larger budget or more time will matter only marginally. The designers' capabilities ARE their capabilities.

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Washington, D.C.:

I love Project Runway and fashion, but my question is: If they are going to work with Banana Republic, why couldn't one the challenges be to design for the average women? We know all the designers can make things that look fantastic on runway models, but it seems that designing something to look good on a 5'4" or 5'5" size 10 or 12 could be more of a challenge and a taste of the reality of designing for BR...even petite wear would be nice to see what the designers would do...just a thought

Tim Gunn: We're on the same page! Keep an eye out for one of the season three challenges....

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Washington, D.C.:

Tim, So we're seeing white, white, white (and off-white) this spring. But white shoes remind me of being a 6 yr-old in the Easter dress, and just generally make me want to hurl. What do you recommend shoe-wise for all this white?

Tim Gunn: I share your view of white shoes, especially in an urban setting like Washington or New York . I recommend that you wear a neutral, bone or taupe.

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Arlington, Va.:

First: You rock. Congrats on the show's successful second season. Question: Besides the "femsuit" for Daniel V, cleaning up Santino and making Nick feel like an airline steward why don't we see more mens fashion on the show as part of the challenges? Why not give some male models some work and the viewers a chance to see how the designers handle menswear. Just a thought.

Tim Gunn: Thank you for your excellent question. Time is our enemy when it comes to menswear. Tailored clothing is practically impossible given our deadlines. Have you noticed that our womenswear looks rarely have sleeves? Think about how that would translate to menswear!

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Wayne, Pa.: Sandals on men ... a fashion do or a fashion don't? Most importantly, do YOU wear sandals in warm weather?

Tim Gunn: I don't. If you're an Agnelli and you're at your palazzo in Capri, do it. Otherwise, do it at your own risk!

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New Haven, Conn.:

At the risk of living in the past, I still cannot understand how Santino survived the lingerie show. Any comment?In the end, however, I liked his collection the best.

Tim Gunn: You have a lot of company in your view. Had Daniel Franco not served himself up to go, the Santino debate would have been more of an issue. As it was, Santino demonstrated a vision, for better or for worse.

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Chicago, Ill.:

Tim: Love your show! But want to rant a little. We're not all 20-somethings with size double-zero bodies. Why can't the fashion industry design for women who can't or don't want to wear sleeveless, spaghetti strap, low-cut, tight-fit, revealing clothes? What has happened to elegance instead of everything aimed at the tween to twenty crowd? Are there any lines out there with a modern, but not slutty, sensibility?

Tim Gunn: I understand your pain and frustration. There are solutions, but they're pricey -- Jil Sander, Prada, MaxMara. Even if you don't want to spend a fortune, visit a high-end boutique, learn from the clothes, and put looks together at a more budget-friendly locale.

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New York, N.Y.:

Are leggings really back? Or rather, what do YOU think of them?

Tim Gunn: They are back, but they're tricky. It's important that they enhance your look rather than dominate it. Keep your look sophisticated -- think Martin Margiella, not Fame -- and you'll be safe. Personally, I think leggings are dreadful...

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Gaithersburg, Md.:

Tim, we saw it happen once or twice this season, but how often does a designer walk into the fabric shop with no real design in mind, hoping to find the right fabric to inspire them?

Tim Gunn: Actually, this happens all the time. Designers can seek inspiration from an infinite number of sources, including the raw material itself.

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Washington, D.C.:

I totally though Daniel shoudl have won. His designs seemed to be the most wearable for the average person. Is this not something the judges considered? While Chloe does great work, how many people would honestly wear any of it?

Tim Gunn: I have to agree that Chloe's runway collection eluded me. She's a great sportswear designers, so why did she opt for evening looks, only? I'm still stumped.

To be blunt, being "most wearable for the average person" is not a criterion that the judges are using.

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Wayne, Pa.:

I adore you, Tim! My husband needs to update his jean wardrobe; what brand do you wear?

Tim Gunn: What's important is the fit. Too many men are wearing saggy, ill-fitting jeans. It's one thing for working in the yard, but if they're wearing them out, then purchase a size that fits like any other pair of pants.

Personally, I wear Banana Republic jeans, because they fit me well.

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Washington, D.C.:

Hi Tim! My girlfriend forced me to start watching Project Runway, but now I'm a bigger fan than she is! I notice at the end of every show that there is a disclaimer about how the producers of the show sometimes influence the decisions of the judges. How often, if ever, does that happen and what is the rationale behind that decision?

Tim Gunn: It's amazing to me that there is so much season two focus on that disclaimer. It was with us all through season one and no one paid attention. The disclaimer is mere for the purpose of transparency. Occasionally, the producers will engage with the judges for the purpose of facilitating a judging impasse. Be assured that the judges have the final say. Always.

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Washington, D.C.:

Tim, what do you think of designers taking their wares to specifically lower-end retailers and classing up the joints? I'm thinking particularly of Stella McCartney at H&M and Isaac Mizrahi and Todd Oldham at Target. Personally I think it's a brilliant marketing move on their part, but do you think the end customer is getting the same level of design?

Tim Gunn: The consumer is certainly getting the same level of design. What they're not getting is the same level of textile and finishing.

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Washington, D.C.:

Tim - I am among the ranks of those that love the show and you. My question is "Where is andre?" Seriously though, I honestly felt like the runway show of season 1 (particularly Kara Saun and Jay) were far and beyond superior to the designers of season 2. The outfits felt more complete, more highly stylized - more runway! Do you agree? And did the show encourage season 2 designers to make the clothes less runway and more wearable?

Tim Gunn: Thank you for this interesting and provocative question. I believe that the season two designers are stronger than season one's as a whole. I also believe that the absence of immunity in season two removed the incentive to win the individual challenges. The designers just wanted to be IN, so risk-taking was seen as being just that, a RISK.

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Chicago, Ill.:

Hi Tim! What was it like being a guest on Conan's couch this week? I thought you were a great guest.

Tim Gunn: Thank you for the kind words, Chicago. It was truly thrilling to be on Conan's show. I was soaked through with perspiration, but Conan's soothing and confident manner succeeded in putting me at ease.

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Washington, D.C.:

Hi Tim,You must get this a lot, but I'm a huuuuuge fan! Quick question: my fiance is in his early thirties and yet still insists on living in baggy jeans and track jackets (I think, in part, to camouflage his exponentially expanding belly). Are there any comfortable but less, er, youthful alternatives for light jackets for men that you can think of?

Tim Gunn: I am in total sympathy with your plight. However, let's resign ourselves to the fact that the look you describe is here to stay. What makes an incremental difference is the quality of the material. Take that track jacket and substitute cashmere for nylon. And try coaxing him into some jeans that fit properly -- try the APC brand, expensive, but very chic without being over-designed.

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San Antonio, Tex.:

Tim, after all of the glamour, and terribly hard work to be sure, what will it be like going back to your work at Parsons?

Tim Gunn: Let the truth be told: I never leave Parsons! Project Runway is shot on the floor directly below my office, so I'm working as Chair of the Department of Fashion Design through each season of taping.

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Takoma Park, Md.:

I absolutely treasure my Wednesday nights with you and Project Runway! During the season, I was inspired to design and sew clothing. Basically, I am a hack but enjoy the process. Where might a wannabe learn on her own to create and sew her own apparel?

Tim Gunn: I'm delighted that you're inspired to design and sew! Many fashion fabric stores offer sewing courses. And I always recommend the Readers Digest Guide to Sewing. It's very comprehensive and very user-friendly.

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Washington, D.C.:

Hi Tim. Thanks for taking my question. I am a 29-year-old woman who will be turning 30 soon. Any suggestions on transition in my wardrobe for my new decade?

Tim Gunn: Bravo. The fact that you can ask yourself that question means that the transition for you will be a piece of cake. It's not a wholesale shift; make adjustments as you see necessary. Carry on!

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Washington, D.C.:

You remarked just now on the lack of immunity for challenges; can you tell us if immunity will be back for season 3? I also preferred the Season 1 way of handling models .And, for my fashion question, will shrugs go away?

Tim Gunn: Let me assure you that these issues -- and a myriad others! -- are being debated by the producers as I write this. Even I haven't a clue what the outcomes will be.

Shrugs are useful, so I believe that they're here to stay.

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Tim Gunn: Thanks everyone! Your questions were thoughtful and this was great fun.

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washingtonpost.com: Thank you, Tim, and thanks to everyone for joining in. Now, go out and make it work.

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