Tim Gunn and Fern Mallis Talk Life, Project Runway and Parsons

Tim Gunn & Fern Mallis at the 92Y
via Fashion Week Daily

At 62 years old, Tim Gunn’s piece of advice for anyone that wants to make it in the fashion industry is simply be nice. Fern Mallis agreed with this as they talked candidly about his life, time at Parsons, Project Runway and his new book, The Natty Professor: A Master Class on Mentoring, Motivating and Making It Work! as part of the 92Y’s Fashion Icon series.

Here are a few highlight’s from America’s favorite fashion mentor:

1. He shares the same birthday as Diana Vreeland.

2. He was a champion swimmer during high school.

3. He admits that while growing up he had a lack of sexual identity. He didn’t know what he was, but wasn’t attracted to women. He attempted suicide by taking pills and later went to Yale for two years and 3 months for psychiatric help.

4. He had a serious dream of moving to NYC and in 1983 he became assistant director of admissions at Parsons.

5. Some of the questions he asked while reviewing portfolios are who are you, what are your goals and aspirations, what is your background and how have you used the resources presented to you?

6. Project Runway was never intended to be shot at Parsons but the school was empty because of summer break and they needed the space.

7. He wasn’t sure how Project Runway was going to be received. He didn’t go to the premiere. He said that Heidi Klum had the show on a disk and showed it to Naomi Campbell and she said, “this is load of crap and fun as fast as you can.”

8. He felt that the show was validated when it was nominated for an Emmy. Now, his statue sits in his kitchen next to his coffee maker.

9. He resigned from Parsons after 24 years to become creative director at Liz Claiborne after his reappointment process became extremely difficult. When he left he made $81,000 and his replacement made $300,000.

10. He gave his thoughts on why many designers don’t make it after Project Runway. First, designers are as successful as their ambitions and resources. Plus, the economic downturn had a big impact and the the fashion business is just hard.

12. To further his point that the industry is tough, he said that while at Liz Claiborne he tried launching a line of essentials. After two years of development, funding and resources, no one bought it.

13. In regards to his wardrobe he said that even on Sunday he would wear a suit to a museum out of respect for the work. One of the only brands of suits he wears is Suit Supply.

14. He doesn’t have anything on his bucket list because he believes that he would be reckless to ask for anything else.

Learn more about the 92Y talks and Tim Gunn’s new book.


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  • Francisca, BHAVA Design

    Omg, 81K after 24 years? That’s a fraction of the price of admission for one student. Maybe he can replace himself back at 300k. Once in a while I love to stay in and watch old project runway episodes, he was the best!

    • melissahall

      When I heard that I was shocked too!