Tim Gunn added unique charm to his style, with his sharp yet classic pinstriped suit with an unexpectedly violet tie and handkerchief, and his speech, through the use of colorful anecdotes, when he spoke in Bovard Auditorium on Friday night.
The Chief Creative Officer of Liz Claiborne Inc., perhaps best known for his role as a host and designer mentor on Project Runway, addressed a nearly packed room as though he were talking to friends, speaking openly and frankly.
Though Gunn was an engaging, entertaining and enthusiastic speaker, he shone most during the question and answer session that followed his speech. USC students, staff and parents, as well as other Angelenos, asked a variety of questions that ranged from being introspective and insightful to being individual and clearly tailored to the asker.
Each of Gunn’s responses was genuine and honest, as he often asked the inquirers questions about themselves, briefly conversing with them.
Once prompted, he also spoke candidly about behind-the-scenes drama on Project Runway’s eight season, when he made a comment about a decision to cut a designer coming from “those crack-smoking judges” to the Los Angeles Times.
Gunn said judge and co-host Heidi Klum approached him at the finale taping and told him she was upset by his comment. During deliberation, judge Michael Kors convinced fellow judge Nina Garcia and decided to award the final prize to Gretchen Jones, the winner, though Klum and Garcia had wanted to award the prize to Mondo Guerra, who won the most individual challenges that season.
Gunn said Klum sought him out during taping, when he was sitting behind cameras in the “literal and metaphorical dark” to tell him about the situation and ask him if she was no longer smoking crack.
“Yes, I told her, you’re no longer a crack-smoker,” Gunn said. “But you’ve passed the pipe to Michael and Nina.”
With that kind of wit and charm, he was able to make his speech engaging as well. Much of its subject matter was already made public in his new book, Gunn’s Golden Rules.
Gunn, who served as administration and faculty at the Parsons School of Design for 24 years, said he wrote the book as though he was talking to a student in his office. Though the information was repeated, Gunn’s delivery was not pedagogic.
He said he was “troubled” by the amount of entitled students and people he has increasingly encountered, but softened his strong message with well-timed delivery. When Gunn illustrated the situation with a story about a student who asked for a recommendation after acting egomaniacally, he recalled precise words.
“Jeff, I would recommend you to walk a dog around the block,” he said.
Gunn’s storytelling ability, not often seen on the small screen, stood out as he spoke. He discussed some of the “ridiculous behavior” he has seen from those in the fashion world, such as an encounter with Vogue Editor-at-Large Andre Leon Talley when Gunn was hosting a panel discussion at the New York Public Library.
“He was reclining on a sofa with a translucent barber bibs, with his arms out as though he had stigmata,” Gunn said. “He was being fed cubes of cheese and grapes.”
He also gave some fashion advice by highlighting the subject matter in a chapter of his book, Don’t Lose Your Sense of Smell. He said the title came from the monkey house at a zoo, which smells horrible to all upon entrance, but becomes bearable as time goes on.
Gunn said this applies to fashion sense perfectly.
“If your visceral response is such that you think ‘I can’t possibly wear this,’ listen to your gut,” he said. “Your gut won’t betray you.”
He also said, though he is a public figure with fashion expertise, he tries to reserve judgment when people ask him what he thinks of their look.
“The person out there dressed like a circus clown, might just be a circus clown,” he said.
He said his common response is to tell people, “If that’s the look you wanted, you sure have a good one.”
Gunn’s slightly sassy, humble and always charming on-screen persona proved to be genuine as he spoke with gusto and affection. Both his speech and responses fit the evening appropriately, like a well-tailored suit.