Bravo cable network's biggest hit show, the American Idol-esque fashion competition Project Runway, has minted one bona-fide break-out star. And it isn't world famous fashion designer and contest judge, Michael Kors, or the show's emcee and hot, international model, Heidi Klum, or any of the slightly mad, over-the-top contestants. It's Tim Gunn: mentor to the designer hopefuls, truth-teller, and all-around decent guy. His Q rating in certain circles is so high that stars like Sarah Jessica Parker reportedly become giddy and starstruck when Gunn appears on the scene.
Gunn's sincere nurturing of the Project Runway contenders, as well as his fiercely candid, face-to-face assessments of their in-production designs, have made him the Bravo audience's favorite reality-show uncle. Bravo clearly hopes to capitalize on all this goodwill with Tim Gunn's Guide to Style, an umpteenth cable makeover show featuring Gunn's unflappable honesty to distinguish it from the pack.
Amidst a flurry of press in the run-up to Guide to Style's premiere, Tim Gunn gave AfterElton.com an exclusive interview; giving us the dish on gay men and clothes, a frank run-down of his love life, and revealing the Project Runway contestants he'd least like to end up with on a desert island.
AfterElton.com: First of all congratulations on the new show. I know it's going to be a great success.
Tim Gunn: Well let's hope it's a great success. I'm terrified.
AE: Are you?
TG: Yeah. I really am. As we get closer and closer to the premiere date, I keep – where can I go and hide?
AE: No. It's going to be terrific. Everybody loves you.
TG: That's why I'm terrified. Anyway, shut-up, Tim.
AE: [laughs.] I read that you're thinking of putting out a Gay Man's Guide to Style …?
TG: Well, men. They don't have to be gay.
AE: Oh, a Men's Guide to Style.
TG: The heterosexual community's the one that needs all the help. I'm not saying that there aren't gay men who do too. But, I mean, who are the style setters? We know.
AE: But do you think there are specific style issues for gay men? Sometimes the accent is so much on appearance in terms of sexuality that we don't tend to accentuate other parts of ourselves as gay men.
TG: Well, I think our responsibility is simply to look good. I mean, I'm a man of a certain age – but even when I was younger, I just wasn't into the whole Chelsea muscle boy scene – even though I live in Chelsea. I don't have a disregard for people who are accentuating muscles and various things – though I draw the line at emphasizing genitals.
AE: [Much laughter.]
TG: You know. It's just – okay. I assume you have something there; you don't have to show it to me.
AE: But do you think there's a way for gay men to dress that accentuates other parts of themselves? Not physically. If you're a gay man and maybe you don't have that going for you; is there a way to dress to accentuate your creativity, your intelligence? Can you show other parts of yourself with your clothes?
TG: Oh, I see what you're saying. You're speaking sort of metaphorically. What we choose to wear sends a message about how we want the world to perceive us. And I think the only way to do that successfully and to navigate the world comfortably is to be confident about what you're wearing and to feel that you look good. And I'm hoping that it's through interaction, engagement with other people that they'll understand other dimensions of you.
But if you look good – whatever that means, and it can be different for everybody – then you'll have carriage and bearing and the confidence to own the world in a manner of speaking.
AE: And do you think that can be especially important for gay men who, in some situations in this country, are really undervalued, and need to find something to hang onto to help build self–esteem?
TG: You know, you're so right. Because I recognize that I'm really spoiled living here in New York, because New York is so accepting. I mean, what is it to be gay in New York? And also I'm in the fashion industry, where I assume every man is gay unless proven otherwise.
And there are a lot of people who don't have these advantages and probably feel very marginalized. And I just believe being gay is simply part of our DNA, and it's inextricable from who we are. But I don't know that the way we dress – how do I say this appropriately – I don't know that the way we dress has to say that. I don't think that people look at me – people know I'm gay – but do people look at the way I dress and say ‘Oh, he's gay'?
AE: But this is sort of your corner of the market: style, fashion – do you think that that can be a part for gay men to help build self-esteem or a sense of self that maybe they weren't given from their families or communities?
TG: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely, yes. I firmly believe that that's the case. And I think that's the case for everybody. It is definitely confidence building. Just as I feel that we should live with style and taste and panache – whether it's a little one room apartment or it's a twelve room house.