Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bring out the big gunns.

Had a fabulous time this past Saturday afternoon at Fashion Island. This is the shopping center where I had my first retail job at the old Robinson's department store, and later used spend all sorts of lunch hours shopping and browsing because I eventually worked at Union Bank in one of the towers behind the outdoor mall. I haven't been there in a while because it's a pain getting down there with county traffic these days, so I got surprised by changes in the mall. But I digress. The main reason I went, and was able to drag the hubby along, was a promotional fashion show hosted by THE Fashion Mentor of all mentors, Tim Gunn.

Mr. Gunn was there in his capacity as Chief Creative Officer for Liz Claiborne, with selections from Kate Spade, Lucky Brand Jeans, and Juicy Couture being featured. Loved seeing the new threads as much as anyone else, but really, I wanted to question Tim about Project Runway. They had an open forum after the runway show, and I was surprised to find myself the only person asking about the show.

I started off by saying that it had been obvious that a few of the designers hadn't fulfilled all the requirements of particular challenges (he interjected "a few?" Well, we know it's been more than a few), so I specified Emilio Sosa and Gretchen Jones. How is it that they progressed onto the next level of competition? There has been talk on the PR boards, so did the producers, judges, or both actually get together early in the season and preselect certain designers to pass no matter what?

Tim very quickly and emphatically replied "no." He explained that in the earlier iteration of the show on Bravo, the old production company (Magical Elves) had tried to impose their preference for one designer or another into the process and that Heidi "would have none of it." Heidi felt that their integrity would be spoiled if the selections weren't entirely made by the judges that we see there onscreen. Tim also mentioned that he's only asserted his opinion in the judging process once in all those seasons, when he felt that the judges were loosing the point of the challenge. He pointed out that he generally saw much more than the judges saw because of his role as workroom mentor. They haven't walked up to the runway and take a closer look. He knew what the original concepts were and he saw whether or not they've been executed successfully. He also mentioned that the lights on the runway have sometimes made a garment look better or worse than it has actually looked in the workroom.

Tim said that what we see on the runway is pretty much what the judges see, and so the judging process that viewers see on the air is a pretty fair representation of the process.

I let Tim know that I had a second related question. I said that in seasons 2 through 7 the show had emphasized that the winner was the fashion forward designer. Why the change from the avant garde to the designer who is reflecting what the market is showing now?

Tim joked that he was going to get hauled into court because he had a non-disclosure clause in his contract, but he was going to answer anyway. He started off by saying that we could all forget about Jessica Simpson's opinion having any weight in the decision. As far as Tim was concerned he didn't remember her presence, she didn't register, her opinions didn't matter. Heidi was pushing for Mondo; she asked Tim to come over and try to convince Michael Kors of the same, and that Nina also was partial to Mondo. Kors turned and looked at Nina and said, "o.k. think about the runway presentations we just saw. Gretchen took all your advice and did everything that you asked her to do. Did Mondo change what you asked him to change?"

At this point Tim imitated Nina. He got this crestfallen expression on his face and physically crumpled up, while saying, "no..." in a voice that trailed up in a question.

Tim said that Kors declared that he was tired of all the winners being fashion forward and that it was time to have a winner that represented "classic American sportswear." Tim looked at me and said, "o.k. we know that Gretchen does not represent classic sportswear, far from it." After Kors' declaration, Nina changed her vote. Tim said that although he had a great deal of respect for Michael Kors, and that he was quite canny when it came to the business, he did not agree with this decision at all.

Now let me interject that Michael Costello happened to be there, sitting off to the side of the runway in the VIP section. Tim introduced Michael to the audience of about 1,000, and said that he had mentioned this before in other forums, but he wanted to make sure that he said this in front of Michael Costello himself. He said that the judges had made decisions to keep Costello in the competition to the point where he was indeed positioned to be one of the three finalists at Fashion Week, and therefore the judges had a responsibility to send him to Fashion Week as a finalist. He felt that they dropped the ball in sending Andy, Gretchen, and Mondo. (Let me point out that Tim was a gentleman in that he did NOT say which of the three he felt to be unworthy of the third spot.)

Tim finished up his detailed answers to me by retelling an anecdote that I'd already heard on YouTube. That the day after the finale aired, a woman stopped him in his local deli and expressed her disappointment with the final verdict. She finally accepted what Tim had to say telling him that, "Mondo will be successful no matter where he goes, Gretchen needs the money."

I really appreciate Tim Gunn more than ever after having this encounter in my home county. He is refreshingly candid, and whether in front of an audience or one on one, he behaves exactly as he does on television, so his public persona is about as genuine as they come. I love his sense of humor and the fact that he doesn't talk down to the audience; he retains his pedantic persona as a former educator and uses a public vocabulary that requires more than an eight grade education. His humor is expressed in some blunt, candid ways when giving fashion advice to the audience. Two of my favorites:

On comfortable dressing (around these parts sometimes expressed by people wearing pajamas in public): " If your aim is to look as if you've just rolled out of bed? Stay in bed."

On owning your look: "If you look in the mirror and think you look like an ass, chances are you do."

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