I'm a fan of Tim Gunn's but had no idea this book had come out. Maybe because of its subject matter, which is mostly dedicated to the art of teaching, how to be a teacher, and Tim Gunn's experiences in teaching, designing curriculums, mentoring on Project Runway, etc. It's mostly focused on that with some digressions, so I'm not sure how someone who isn't into teaching would feel about reading it. I do think there's plenty of fun talk--Gunn is super snappy and chatty and a hoot to read and the book is just like watching him talk on TV. He does talk about his various reality TV show experiences and contestants, the vetting process, home visits, trying to get people to do things, etc. so if you're reading the book for that, you should get some of what you want. (Disclaimer: I read this book because I bought it for a Gunn-loving friend, but hell if I know how she's gonna react to it.) He also gets into personal experiences ranging from his suicidal teen years to jury duty to pet peeves about people and tipping. It's a book that's all over the place really, but I enjoyed it.
But I think for the rest of the review I'm just gonna quote him, because if all of this is your jam, you'll enjoy the book.
“One day in elementary school, our art teacher handed out bars of soap and told us to carve anything we wanted. She probably just wanted to relax for an hour, but I took the assignment extremely seriously. Most of my classmates made ducks or other animals; I whittled the Governor’s Palace from Colonial Williamsburg.” OH, TIM GUNN, YOU BEING YOU EVEN WHEN LITTLE.
“Mentors help their mentees achieve a vision, whatever that vision is. Teachers guide their students toward certain things.”
Once upon a time the Post quoted Tim talking about how Anna Wintour was carried down flights of stairs by bodyguards at a fashion show, so now he’s persona non grata with her, even though their were plenty of witnesses to what happened. He doesn't get invited to her galas, but does he care? Nope. He also points out that tickets are now $25k and require white tie, which...“They don’t even make those things any more, except for costume shops. I certainly don’t have white tie in my closet, and I don’t know anyone who does.” Jay Fielden, editor in chief of Town & Country, said, “I’m not sure where you’d go to find tails. And if I don’t know where to get it, who in hell does?” Also...
“While we’re on the subject of Anna Wintour, let’s gossip some more, as I have nothing to lose.” He recounts how he saw a flight attendant who wanted to meet Wintour on a flight and her bodyguard fended her off.
“Whenever I tell such stories, people say, “Don’t you think you should be more careful about what you say? Don’t you think you’ll become a social pariah?” To which I say, “From your lips to God’s ears. I go out far too much as it is.”
On students who insist on hiding their work even from Tim:
“What’s unique about this?” I would ask.
“The zipper’s in the front,” they would whisper excitedly.
“There’s a reason why the zipper is traditionally in the back or on the side,” I would respond. “Otherwise it’s vulgar.”
And you would see them suddenly see this secret thing they’ve been obsessed with for weeks in a whole new light. “Ohhhhh,” they would say.”
“Kanye West’s plain white T-shirt for A.P.C. retailed for $120. The only thing dumber than that is the person who would buy it. I say get one from Hanes and give the balance of the money to charity.” HEAR HEAR.
One student who, after only having two of his looks selected for a fashion show, petitioned to have the entire collection shown. When they said no, he pulled both outfits from the show, Tim was mad. Then two days later the student came in wanting a recommendation. “Don’t sit down,” I said, not even rising from my desk, which was very unlike me. I always rose and greeted students. “I wouldn’t recommend you to walk a dog around the block. You would come back without the dog, the dog would come back without you, or you would come back with a totally different dog. Leave.”
At one point he got annoyed at seeing a class full of people designing clothes "for the moon." Why would you have students design clothes for the moon? “When you have them design for the moon, there’s no tangible point of departure. There are no variables available to evaluate how appropriately or inappropriately the students addressed the problem to be solved. You had garments with thirty-foot wings. What is this, Leonardo da Vinci?” The teacher was all, well, I don’t want them to do boring stuff. “Those are the only options--boring or the moon? Making interesting work for this planet is the most important challenge for a young designer. It’s easy to make something absurd. But how do you create clothes that can navigate the real world without being boring? That’s hard.”
Grace Mirabella: “Don’t design dumb clothes and don’t make jokes.” The world doesn’t need you to design a T-shirt, there’s more than enough of them out there, and jokes are those things on the runway during Paris Fashion Week.
At one point Tim didn't like a teacher who was obviously sleazy and picking all hot young men for his class for years on end. Tim was trying to figure out how to get the guy to quit. “At the semester’s end I sent him a letter disinviting him from the fall registration session and stating that he would no longer be involved in the fashion show in any form. I added that I was aware he saw his students socially out of class and I believed it to be considerably inappropriate. It was, I wrote, potential grounds for sexual harassment charges.
“I will ruin you!” he promised the next time I saw him. He sent me a handwritten letter to that effect. It was like a medieval manuscript. He was a talented artist. It began, “I received your menacing missive.”
And so he quit. I was ecstatic. I proudly hung his letter in my office bathroom. Once, while using the restroom, Diane von Furstenberg called out from behind the door, “What is a menacing missive?”
(He loves Diane, btw. Lots and lots.)
He finds it irritating when rich parents spend tons of money to help kids with the homework, like taking them to Europe and meeting with the cardinal of Milan, or flying them to Cambodia. “By way of an epilogue, I would like to add that out of those privileged, jet-setting high school students whom I mentioned earlier, the only one who was admitted to a top-tier school was the boy who, while his classmates were flying around meeting cardinals and touring Southeast Asian ruins, stayed home and kept his nose buried in a book.”
Project Runway home visits: he found Patricia Michaels’s nonstop speaking to be exhausting, and then on the home visit he found out that in her culture, you weren’t allowed to write history down ever and it could only be transmitted by speaking. “The fact that she was living by an oral tradition put everything about her that I’d found annoying into a new and quite beautiful context. She wasn’t just talking to talk. She was talking to keep her culture alive. It was at that point that I relaxed with her. All my frustration dissipated. When you accept you can’t change something, what else can you do but embrace it? I had an epiphany and, in the course of the visit, came to love and admire her.”
And then there was the time Tim was sequestered for jury duty. He had one snooty fellow juror who kept stealing the silverware. Three conspiracy theorists would never let the defendant be found guilty. The jury eventually ended up being hung, but....
“The afternoon of our last day of deliberations, the forewoman of the jury said to me, “Tim, you’ve been uncharacteristically quiet today.”
“That,” I said, “is because I’ve been looking around this room trying to figure out ways to kill myself.”
”Oh, Tim,” she said with a laugh, “we’d never let you do that!”
“Don’t think,” I responded, “that my plan doesn’t involve killing all of you first.”
A few days after Hurricane Sandy, Tim was in the Food Emporium watching a woman throw a shit fit because they didn't have mascarpone cheese. He said to her, “May I suggest that this is a minor and temporary inconvenience? Surely we can soldier on without mascarpone cheese for another day or two, however long it takes?” She just stared at me, looking rather horrified. I looked back at her in horror, too.”
He does talk about the time he got in trouble for people thinking he dissed transgender models when really he was just wondering about how the fashion industry doesn’t seem to like womanly hips.
For awhile Tim worked in Malaysia on a branch school of Parsons, where he had problems with racism and misogyny (how dare he bring in a woman of the wrong caste for a job), them not finishing a building in time and when Tim pointed this out, nobody would believe him until a higher-up’s wife saw it. And also, a woman he worked with got fired and the Parsons dean said, “Oh, I fired her because of the poor enrollment, and I blamed the decision on you.” Tim’s response: “That’s when I threw away all my bow ties, because the dean wore them.” I did enjoy Tim's stories of going off on racists. At one point the president of the Cleveland Institute of Art was told to go around to the service entrance. When the bitchy lady was corrected as to who she was talking to, she invited him to come in and he said, "I'd rather not, actually." Damn straight. The same woman also didn't like genitalia, and objected to a giant six foot paper mache penis project being out for touring families to see. Tim was all, “So, you’d be with the popes, whacking off the genitalia of Michaelangelo’s sculptures.” She was flattered! They argued about censorship, and Tim ended up hiding a giant six foot paper mache penis from touring families while running with it through the school.
Tim used to teach a class in Concept Development. “One week the class’s subject was called “Wit and Whimsy.” I left it to them how they wanted to do the research.” Sounds fun, they could do anything.
Tim makes a list of movies with teachers he likes. He mentions Up The Down Staircase. “There’s a very moving scene where a student is in love with her very pretentious English teacher. She writes him a love note and he hands it back to her with the grammar corrected. She has a horrible reaction, as one would. Well, Sandy Dennis consoles the student and bitch-slaps the teacher, as well she should.”
Tim asked Dolly Parton about a rumor that when she goes camping she goes without hair and makeup. “Are you kidding? I wear full hair and makeup to bed! What if there was a fire in the middle of the night? I wouldn’t want to disappoint the firemen!”
On Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style, they had a woman with a scar she was trying to come to terms with. They brought on Padma Lakshmi, who has a scar on her arm, to help her think of the scar as a badge of survival and own it. Except Padma showed up late, no makeup, with an entourage, and she had no idea on how to help the woman. “All Padma was supposed to do was share her own experience.” In the end, what they shot didn’t even air. Ouch. Later when he was on Celebrity Game Night, David Alan Grier asked who the most difficult person was on the show and someone said it was Padma--she was super competitive and even dominated her own teammates.
And finally, Tim's thoughts on the people who don't do well are the ones who are stubborn and refuse correction and do it their own way even if it’s bad. “To everyone who was not in the final show, I made this announcement: “You’re not in the show. It’s not because your work was conceptually problematic, although in some cases it was. It’s not that it was poorly installed, although in some cases it was. There is one common theme: stubbornness. That was your downfall. You need to listen to feedback, especially if there’s a consistency to it.”
Anyway...I think I'll give it three and a half stars. It's a bit of a mixed bag, but I enjoyed the mix.