Project Runway's dapper mentor Tim Gunn is one of my heroes. Not only is he whip smart, he usually conforms to a high standard of propriety -- a true gentleman as well as a gentle man.
Some might argue that Gunn steps out of character when he feels compelled to be a truth teller -- be it about the show's judges, its producers, the contestants or the challenges. Not me. It is just another facet of him that I admire.
But as a fervent fan of Team Gunn, I am concerned that his outspokenness could put him in permanent hot water with Project Runway's producers.
Gunn fired the first salvo even before the current Season 8 premiered. (Episodes premiere on Lifetime Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET.) During a conference call with the press, referring to the show's core judges -- host Heidi Klum, designer Michael Kors and Marie Claire fashion director Nina Garcia -- he said, "There's a reason why I call them the crack-smoking judges." The remark was elicited by the judges' misunderstanding of one of the Season 8 challenges. (I'm guessing it was Episode 8; more on that below.)
In his first Facebook vlog this season, Gunn admitted that he was admonished by one of his bosses about his statement about the judges. His response? "Just wait. The crack pipe gets bigger and bigger as the season progresses . . . I believe one of my roles as mentor to the designers is to at least be able to anticipate what the judges may say. I can't. I give up. Who knows?"
And as early as Episode 1, Gunn was vocal about his disagreement with the judges' decision to eliminate McKell Maddox, saying, "I thought her dress was adorable, I thought she did a great job." Gunn also was astonished that they dismissed Maddox over Jason Troisi. Speaking of Troisi's creation, Gunn said, "It was stapled, it was pinned. There wasn't a stitch in any part of it. I mean, talk about an atrocity and a crime against fashion. I was shocked, shocked."
In his vlog for Episode 3, Gunn told us, "I thought the producers were trying to get rid of me," after he arrived early at the agreed-upon spot for that day's shoot, but the producers and designers were nowhere to be found. Saying he's very resourceful, Gunn told us with a Cheshire cat smile, "I found them. They looked a little surprised, to be perfectly honest."
Gunn's most recent "transgression" was contained in his vlog critique of Episode 8 (the vlog has since been removed, but as of this writing could be found here), in which he vents about "the huge amount of frustration" he has had about the content of the challenges. It is now being called his rant vlog.
The episode's original concept was classic American sportswear, an oxymoron according to Gunn since American sportswear hasn't been around long enough to stand the test of time and thus be considered classic. The twist? From each designer's point of view. As Gunn said in the vlog, "It doesn't make any sense. Why wouldn't they be designing from their point of view from the onset of the challenge? . . . What am I telling them? We're going shopping at Macy's? What are they doing? They're copying existing design work?"
Gunn spoke with the show's "uber" executive producers, Sara Rea and Colleen Sands. Sands shared with Gunn that the challenge was actually linked to the History channel's upcoming mini-series The Kennedys, and that the winning design would be worn by Katie Holmes, who portrays First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the film. Gunn argued that this needed to be revealed to the designers, because what they were really being asked to produce was a period costume.
After Gunn, Rea and Sands talked, a decision was reached to dump the Kennedy sportswear challenge for a dance costume challenge. On the day the challenge was to be filmed, Gunn arrived at the dance studio, but no one else was there. Beginning to sound familiar? Eventually, he tracked them down, but when he got to the location, Gunn says instead of meeting "tango people," he saw "a whole wall of Jackie Kennedy iconography."
Because Gunn felt even linking Jackie Kennedy to American sportswear was a stretch -- if anything, Kennedy brought European designers into the vocabulary of America -- he suggested they change the challenge to designing a two-piece sportswear look for Kennedy if she were a young, vibrant woman in today's world.
But when the show aired (Gunn sees it for the first time along with the rest of us), "two-piece" had been edited out when he presented the challenge to the designers. More upsetting to Gunn was that the judges had been given dossiers containing photos of Jackie Kennedy from the early '60s. During the runway Q&A with the challenge's six best and worst designers, the judges were very critical, telling the contestants that Kennedy would have never worn their designs.
No longer able to listen to the criticism, Gunn said he stepped into the judges' circle to explain that the challenge had been for the designers to envision where Kennedy would be aesthetically if she were a young woman today. He said when he left the circle, "The judges were all looking at each other like, 'I think someone needs a strait jacket.' " Gunn added, "Well, I did. But nothing was going to restrain me. I would have broken out of a strait jacket. And don't mess with my designers, judges."
After Gunn removed the vlog, he told the New York Post, "There was a hurtful reaction to a couple of things I said, and that really concerned me. That was never my intention. I thought, 'Let me just take this down.' Lifetime had nothing to do with it. I did it completely on my own." That might be true, although because of Gunn's vlog, we know that Lifetime has asked Gunn to censor himself on at least one previous occasion.
What comes next? Gunn may stop posting vlogs. "I'm debating it," he said. "I don't want to hurt anyone, and at the same time I want to be able to talk matter-of-factly. The experience with this episode has been very sobering for me. It's kind of a wakeup call -- you just can't say anything, yet, at the same time, there are things I want to share. I need to be a little more careful about it, even though we all make mistakes."
Project Runway without Gunn's transparency will leave it almost as boring and opaque as Michael Kors' ever-present black outfits. And that would be a shame.