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Tim Gunn's Take on Fall Fashion

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Tim Gunn
Chair of Fashion Design at Parsons The New School for Design
Monday, September 25, 2006; 11:00 AM

talks about the new shape of fashion and what to expect from here on in.

Chair of Fashion Design at Parsons The New School for Design Tim Gunn answered your questions about fashion's new look for fall.

Tim Gunn: Good morning everyone! I'm delighted to be back on washingtonpost.com to answer your questions. There are lots of them, so please be patient with me over the next hour.

Carry on!

Tim

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Bethesda, Md.:

I'm not one to spend more on my wardrobe than on my rent. What stores do you recommend for high fashion without the high price?

Tim Gunn: I'm with you! I, too, can't afford the high-priced spread. Banana Republic, Club Monaco, Anthropologies, and private label designs at major department stores (Macy's, Saks, Bloomingdale's) are great options.

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Bethesda, Md.:

I know it's a cliche, but what do you see as the three most important features of a good piece of fashion design? Or is it all a matter of this year's trend?

Tim Gunn: If it were a cliche, then we'd all know the answer! For me, good fashion design has to evoke innovation (without being a joke), be great-looking, and be wearable. Other than those three factors, the sky's the limit!

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Alexandria, Va.:

As a Washington, D.C. native, how would you rate the fashion industry here?

Tim Gunn: I haven't been to D.C. for eons. I look forward to my trip to the Corcoran on October 5. I'll check out the fashion scene!

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Toledo, Ohio:

Hi Tim! I'm a big fan of yours and Project Runway! I've been interested in fashion for a while, and would like to start dabbling a little in design. I was wondering if you could give some tips to those who are a novice in fashion design.

Tim Gunn: Wonderful! I believe that it's very important to get to know people with whom you can have a substantive dialogue about design and its development. In addition, read everything about fashion that you can get your hands on. A palpable point of view is what makes a designer, so you need to be confident about yours.

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Ankle Boots:

Tim, What do you think of the ankle boots trend? I'm undecided. One minute I think I'll go buy some and the next minute I change my mind. If it helps, I'm 24, slender, and my style is sort of funky-preppy. Thanks! You're the best!

Tim Gunn: From your description, you were born to wear an ankle boot! Find one that suits your style and works with most of your wardrobe.

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Arlington, Va.:

Hey, Tim - love the show. What trends are you seeing for the guys this fall and winter, other than shade upon shade of gray??

Tim Gunn: For us guys, the skinny suit is in, but it's not for everyone. Personally, I tried one on, recently, and looked like Pee Wee Herman.

Camel is a great "new" color -- coats, sweaters, scarves.

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Cleveland, Ohio:

For those of us on a more modest income, can you name a few wallet-friendly stores/collections that you feel are comparable to/fall in line with higher end designers? I know you've featured Banana Republic and INC on Project Runway, any others in the same price range? How about less expensive shoe lines?

Tim Gunn: Add Club Monaco and Anthropologie to your list. And try Steve Madden for shoes.

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Washington, D.C.:

How important is the personality of the designer? I know it must play into their creativity a lot. Does it play into the decisions of who is "in" or "out" on Project Runway?

Tim Gunn: Although personalities can't be discounted, the judges only examine the work on the runway when making their decisions. Truly.

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Charlotte, N.C.:

My daughter is a high school student and is interested in going to design school. Can you recommend a good one in the Southeast and what does she need to be doing now to get prepared?

Tim Gunn: I'm delighted that your daughter in interested in a design career. I suggest that you contact the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) in Reston, VA for a directory of design schools. Each school will have different requirements, so visit their website and view their catalog. But most will require a portfolio of art and design work.

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Washington, D.C.:

Tim, You are my favorite person from "Project Runway," really the highlight of the show for me. You seem like such a genuinely kind person. How are you dealing with your more wide-spread fame now that the show's a big hit?

Tim Gunn: Thank you! I'm enjoying every minute of this great ride, because I know that it will end just as quickly as it began.

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Not understanding High Fashion:

How did Jeffrey win the second of the Paris challenges? It looked to me like his model was being eaten by an aggressive picnic tablecloth.

Tim Gunn: My refrain this season pertains to your question: "It's a matter of taste." For the judges, that is!

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Los Gatos, Calif.:

I consider myself quite thin (size 0) but the new skinny jeans look horrible on me and seem to accentuate the hips, stomach area and are horribly unflattering. Can anyone wear this style? Is this a trend that is here to stay?

Tim Gunn: Don't give up! I suggest that you try other brands. I find that the fit of jeans can be worlds apart from brand to brand. If you can find the right fit, skinny jeans can be very flattering.

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Arlington, Va.:

Good morning, Mr. Gunn. As a 39 year-old woman, I'm curious about this no-hosiery/bare legs trend with skirts, even in winter. I know my legs are less than perfect and it seems that if I wear a suit with no stockings, I look like a small child playing dress-up. It seems that stockings really are necessary for a more polished look, and obviously the hosiery companies are not going out of business any time soon, so I'm not alone in my view. And they help keep my legs a bit warmer in the cold weather. Can you demystify this trend for me? Thank you and have a good day.

Tim Gunn: I hear you! I, too, am mystified by this trend. It's not particularly attractive and it's impractical in cold weather. Basically, it underscores my view that we can wear whatever we want and get away with it. Just be confident about being who you are and dressing for that person.

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Arlington, Va.:

Tim, In what is, to me, a particularly distressing trend, I have seen many women (and quite a few men) wearing crocs in public. Is this truly acceptable? Is there some sort of fashion clearinghouse which decides on a whim that actions which would normally result in ostracization are instead cool and accepted? Tim, please offer your advice.

Tim Gunn: Ohhhhh... May I respond by merely saying, "I hate crocs. May they please go away."

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Bethesda, Md.:

Ok...please settle this debate. What color shoes should a man wear with a navy suit?

Tim Gunn: I say black. Does anyone want a debate?

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Philipsburg, Mont.:

I currently work in Montana, where, needless to say, fashion is not the high priority. I will be leaving Montana and an organization that did not value professional dress and will be joining the real world sometime soon. I have no idea what the current trends are and am wondering what are the best options for someone hoping to re-join the real world in a professional setting? Also, are there any staple pieces that I should have to start off with?

Tim Gunn: Staples are only good if they truly suit our lifestyle. I suggest that you go search fashion websites and see what looks appeal to you. Most retail sites have a "What's new" section that will give you an idea about the latest in their line. But rest assured that there there's something appropriate for everyone out there.

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Washington, D.C.:

You always appear so gracious to press and fans alike: however, have you found the level of your fame difficult to manage?

Tim Gunn: I'm having the best time of my life. I love the fans of the show and am thrilled when they want to say "Hello!" If I become a diva, then I hope someone shoots me!

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Philadelphia, Pa.:

Tim, in light of the multitude of knockoffs available today, do you think that fashion should be copyrighted?

Tim Gunn: This is the question of the century! As of now, clothing cannot be copyrighted. I speculate that we'll see some industry advocating in Congress. But if copyrighting is enacted, then I shudder at the prospect of zillions of cases of litigation!

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Fairfax, Va.:

How important is the body of work from a designer as created on the show? I wonder because I was not happy to see Allison leave for what seemed like one mistake but to see Vincent stay on after multiple bad garments.

Tim Gunn: I am in total agreement with you about the elimination of Alison. Although the judges can't help but conjure each designer's previous work, they remain focused on what is before them, only. Still, if I had been voting, Vincent would have been gone!

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London, U.K.:

Hi Tim, Greetings from "across the pond" and thanks for chatting with us today. I recently moved from our shared hometown of Washington, D.C. to go to grad school in London. Am sorely missing "Runway," but keeping up on it through your great pod casts. I've noticed that Leggings are EVERYWHERE in London (along with wide belts and ballet flats). What are your thoughts on this trend? How/why is it back? Also wondering if you know anything about "Project Catwalk," Britain's version of the show hosted by Elizabeth Hurley? Thanks so much. Carry on!

Tim Gunn: I hope you're enjoying London. What a great city! Leggings are everywhere, indeed. Personally, I'm not crazy about them, but they can look great with the right look, a tunic, for instance, or a long cardigan. Just don't try to dress them up!

As with most things in fashion, we recycle. Leggings were big in the 80's, so 20 years later A typical recycling period) we revisit them.

I've never seen Project Catwalk, but hope to some day.

Carry on!

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Navy suit shoes:

I think both black and brown work, provided the brown is a darker/redder shade. I wear both, particularly because I'm just starting out and only have two decent suits.

Tim Gunn: Agreed. Cordovan works.

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Bethesda, Md.:

Tim, Love you on PR--you are a sea of calm and reason in the hectic drama! My question: do you think it is ever feasible for a man to wear fur? It's so comfortable and warm, but doesn't seem stylish. What can designers do?

Tim Gunn: Thank you for your kind words. Frankly, I think that fur on a man is difficult to pull off. If it's the warmth you're after, then I'd go with a fur-lined coat -- it won't show.

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Alexandria, Va/:

As a plus-sized person, the Project Runway episode on dressing real women appealed to me. What do design schools do to ensure that graduates have the skills to dress real people, and not just small-sized models? As Vincent pointed out, in the end it is real people who will be buying clothes.

Tim Gunn: I'm so glad you asked this important question. We stress this issue at Parsons and hope that our graduates will help blaze a trail in this area. The larger-than-size-4 market is robust and is in need to good designers.

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Arlington, Va.:

Do the judges ever ask your opinion on the clothes, or is your role to be more of someone who can point the way, but not hand the contestants a map?

Tim Gunn: I say with impunity that I do not interact with the judges, other than to say "hello." I bring far too much baggage to the table to be a responsible judge -- thankfully!

My relationship with the designers is to be a mentor; that is, to offer guidance without telling them what to do. I love my role and take it very seriously.

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Yonkers, N.Y.:

Hi Tim! There's a lot of emphasis on innovation on "Project Runway." However, looking at pictures of the lines from Fashion Week, sometimes the clothes look more clownish and outlandish than innovative to me. What do you consider more important overall in fashion: wearability and beauty or innovation?

Tim Gunn: Excellent question. When it comes to Fashion (capital "F"), I make innovation an equal partner with wearability and beauty, because without it, fashion is merely clothes. However, how much innovation is the critical factor. When there's too much, bring on the circus!

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Short in Boston:

Hi, Tim -- what is your take as to why the vast majority of designers ignore the existence of short women? You'd think that with half the women in the country 5'4" or less, they'd be more interested in making a buck off of us. Even the New York Times noted a month or two ago that Bloomingdales and Saks were planning on discontinuing carrying petites.

Tim Gunn: I was shocked by this, too! I trust that other retailers will see this egregious mistake as being an opportunity. You cannot be ignored!

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Washington, D.C.:

Tim, You're the Man. I've got a wear a suit to work every day and I try not to look like an android (in the standard edition navy suit, white shirt and red tie). Any tips, from shirtsleeves to shoes?

Tim Gunn: I understand the "android" question, because I ask myself the same thing. Try some striped shirts, even just a hint of a stripe if that's an issue. And why not venture out into more tie options. Regarding shoes, I believe that the sleeker the silhouette, the better -- no tassels and fringes for me. Shirtsleeves? If you like a French cuff, then try some novelty cufflinks. But whatever you do, keep the shirtsleeves long.

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Alexandria, Va.:

How long does the competition last? From the time the designers check into Atlas to the time the final three (or four) leave Atlas to start working on their collections for Fashion Week?

Tim Gunn: We tape for 32 consecutive days -- no breaks! We're all done in by the end, including me!

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Devil wears Prada:

There was a terrific scene in the film where Meryl Streep's character lectures Anne Hathaway's about the color choice of her sweater. she maintains that if it weren't for fashion designers and critics, clothing manufacturers wouldn't have the guidance needed to fashion their collections. What can you say about this?

Tim Gunn: I believe that this is quite true. If the manufacturers led the discussion, then we'd have clothes, but not fashion.

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Washington, D.C.:

Hi Tim! Before I get to my question, I have to say that I absolutely adore you! I've been following the whole banning of the ultra-skinny model that is taking place in some countries and thought that the issue might go away until I saw that Giorgio Armani weighed in it. What are your thoughts about this issue?

Tim Gunn: Thank you for the kind words. Regarding Madrid Fashion Week and the banning if skinny models, I believe that it's just a reactionary extreme of its own. Why can't we strike a happy medium? With this issue become parallel to boxing; that is, will models have to weigh-in before walking the runway? I'm not in favor of eating disorders, of course. Let's get serious about this matter.

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From the fashion desert:

Tim, from your involvement with "Project Runway," do you get any sense that the show is helping bring a wider audience and broader appreciation to fashion and the fashion industry? I know that this year, as a new fan of the show, I was far more aware of Fashion Week than ever before.

Tim Gunn: Although fashion has surely become inextricable from our culture, there is demonstrable evidence that Project Runway has succeeded in making fashion accessible to a wider audience. Additionally, it has helped demystify the fashion process and made viewers excited about it. Fashion Design enrollments have risen in schools nation-wide, and there were more designers participating in Olympus Fashion week than ever before. I'm thrilled about this!

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Re: no hosiery trend:

The Post's fashion columnist, Robin Givhan, says no hose is okay in summer when it's hot! Is this a real no-no? I started wearing skirts in the summer when I found out.

Tim Gunn: I don't disagree. In hot weather, no hose is fine. I'm all in favor of options, providing they're carefully considered.

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Men's fashion:

Curious as to why there is not a challenge for designing for men?

Tim Gunn: Good question. Basically, it's the time factor. Most menswear is tailored and tailoring takes a lot of it

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Plymouth, Mich.:

Has Project Runway been accepted within the fashion industry itself? Is it taken seriously amongst the big name designers?

Tim Gunn: Fortunately, the show has been fully embraced and even celebrated by the fashion industry. Witness our guest judges this year and you'll know that big names love to be part of the show -- Diane von Furstenberg, Francisco Costa, Vera Wang, Zac Posen among them.

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Stuttgart, Germany: We always see you wear what's black and gray and white. What is your favorite color to look at? (Please! Don't say black or gray or white!)

Tim Gunn: I'd love to say "black," but I won't. Promise. My favorite color is the sandstone in the buildings of Bath, England. I painted my apartment that very same color.

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Richmond, Va.: Tim, I admire your sense of classic style -- you consistently look great on Project Runway, and you are so funny too. I have a truly burning question for you about all the interesting and different shapes in women's fashion -- the oversized tops, bubble skirts (not the Angela variety, though!) and leggings. It seems like we've always been told to keep proportion in mind -- wide-legged pants for those of us larger in the hips, etc. So, how do we incorporate these fashions that take us in a completely different direction -- without looking like cows in the process?

Tim Gunn: Thank you for your kind words. You are quite right to pay attention to proportion. It's a key element to a successful wardrobe. Another key element is fit. Most people wear clothing that is too big or too small for them. And "oversized" is the downfall for most of us. We have to be careful that we don't look like we're slipcovered!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Mr. Gunn, You always seemed to be well-turned-out on the show. Do you wear your own clothing, or are you "styled?" What would you say is the one essential piece in a man's wardrobe?

Tim Gunn: Thank you for the kind words. I wear my own clothing on the show. My wardrobe is enhanced by pieces from INC (Macy's private label), because they sponsor the show, but it's completely up to me as to how I use them.

The one essential in a man's wardrobe is a good suit. It doesn't have to be expensive. It just has to fit properly.

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Boston, Mass.:

Hi Tim! I have a question about the recent "Couture" episode of Project Runway. Both you and the judges deemed Kayne's garment outlandish and "too much," yet from looking at the couture lines of houses such as Christian Dior, there seems to be no limit as to what a designer can do as long as it has a "vision." Can you explain the intent of the Couture challenge and the problems with Kayne's design?

Tim Gunn: The intent of the "Couture" challenge was to give the designers a taste of Parisian traditions in fashion. They were to use some couture techniques in the construction of their design.

Regarding Kayne, there are many people who loved his garment. I was put off by the evidence of the boning, because I felt that seeing it undermined the elegance that he wanted to achieve. Regarding the entire dress, I also felt that there was simply too much going on -- beads, lacing, ombred fabric, egads! But I understand your point. Compared to John Galiano, Kayne looked tame!

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Lincoln University, Pa.:

Tim, have you considered what makes your reality show such a success and so appealing (even to sports loving-, fashion retarded-men like myself) compared to others; for example, there is a reality cooking show which isn't nearly as compelling as Project Runway.

Tim Gunn: Good question. I believe that Project Runway's success has everything to do with having real designers do what they do and having an audience that can form an opinion about fashion by simply watching it. With cooking, you can't smell or taste the food, so how to you really weigh in on a judgement?

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Fairfax, Va.

Hi Tim. I love you on "Project Runway." I hope you can provide some advice so I can "make it work." I'm a 28-year-old male, 5'9" and a little overweight, and most of the clothes I see in men's fashion magazines and store ads do not look good on me. Is there anything I should add to my wardrobe for winter or spring?

Tim Gunn: No matter what size or shape we are, we all face this conundrum, or we should! Fit and proportion are key factors. Try things on and have them tailored if necessary. Avoid a fit that is too big or too small. The former ins the usual culprit. Just be mindful of how you look in certain items and you'll look great.

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Washington, D.C.:

I love you Tim Gunn!!! I'm constantly amazed at your advice on PR. You seem to always see the broader picture -- before even the designers do. Speaking of the broader picture, how important is the "theme" of a designer's line? Can it be a well-produced line if all the designs are separate and different? In high fashion runways, do the designers always have a theme?

Tim Gunn: Although it's not necessary for a designer's line to have a theme, it does need to be cohesive. The customer wants to be able to mix and match within the line, so if the items are too disparate, that can't happen.

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Aberdeen, S.D.:

Tim, I'm very interested in fashion as a career, but as a writer, not a designer. Is it necessary for me to attend a fashion school after college?

Tim Gunn: I'm delighted to learn that you're interested in fashion writing. We need more good writers! It's not at all necessary that you attend school for fashion, but do make certain that you learn about the process of creating and developing fashion. Good luck.

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Tim Gunn: Thank you, everyone! This has been great fun for me. I hope it's been useful and a little informative for you.

I hope to be back, again, sometime soon.

Carry on!

Tim

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