Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Not My Job: Project Runway's Tim Gunn Gets Quizzed On Terrible Fashion

BILL KURTIS, BYLINE: I'm able to look this good because of natural ability, but I understand some of you people need help, and that's where Tim Gunn comes in.


The fashion guru and star of "Project Runway" joined us just last June at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. And I started by asking him what he does when people come up to him and say hey, Tim Gunn, what do you think of my outfit?


TIM GUNN: Well, if we're engaged in a conversation that's more than a nanosecond or a minute, and I get to know who they are - I mean, I'll ask what I feel are important questions. What do you do? With whom do you interact? What's your lifestyle like? What do you think about how you're dressed? Do you dress like this all the time? But for the most part, that doesn't happen, so you, in fact, have a nanosecond to respond. And I borrowed a line from Lucy Ricardo in the show called, "Lucy Tells The Truth."

SAGAL: The episode of "I Love Lucy" called "Lucy Tells The Truth"?

GUNN: Yes. And in it there's a situation over bridge and Marion Strong or Caroline Appleby - I can't remember which one - comes in wearing a crazy hat and asks Lucy - so what do you think of my hat? And Lucy says to Marion or Carolyn, well, if that's the hat you want, you sure have a good one. And that's what I say. Well, if that's the look you want, you sure have a good one.


SAGAL: I would die.


MO ROCCA: I don't mean to send us on a digression, but since you brought up "I Love Lucy," you do have the single best Vivian Vance story ever.

GUNN: Oh, I do.

SAGAL: If you would like to tell your Vivian Vance story, who am I to stand in your way?


SAGAL: Vivian Vance played Ethel on "I Love Lucy."

GUNN: Yes. My father was a career FBI agent, 26 years. And he was - well, he was an agent, but he ended up being J. Edgar Hoover's ghostwriter, speechwriter - took care of all of his correspondents, and his office was two doors down from Mr. Hoover's office.

And growing up, my sister and I loved the FBI tour. And this one particular year, I was 9 or 10, and my sister was therefore 6 or 7. And my father said, you kids are going to be so excited - Vivian Vance is in Mr. Hoover's office. And I was a huge "I Love Lucy" fan. Would you like to meet her? Well, yes, of course. So we did, and it was lovely, and she was charming.

Years later, my father's in a nursing home with Alzheimer's disease - he's not at the Thanksgiving table where our family has gathered. And all these rumors are out about Hoover being a cross-dresser.


GUNN: So I was reflecting upon that time in his office with Vivian Vance.


GUNN: And I turned to my sister and I said, upon reflection, I know it was years and years ago - doesn't it strike you as odd that Hoover wasn't in the office?




ROCCA: My question is...

PETER GROSZ: So it's not a Vivian Vance story?


ROCCA: How was J. Edgar Hoover as Vivian Van dressed - which is really what matters?

GUNN: A stunning house dress.

KLEIN: If that's the look he wanted, he got a good one.

GUNN: But I have to tell you this too, I wrote about this in one of my books - "Gunn's Golden Rules." It was published by a division of Simon & Schuster. The Simon & Schuster legal team went to task on that book. They spent two weeks with it, and they contacted Vivian Vance's two biographers - neither of whom knew anything about this visit to the FBI, and then they went to the FBI to look at their visitor logs - no Vivian Vance.


SAGAL: That is...


SAGAL: I have a series of questions here, I'm tempted to throw them away and just say, tell more stories, Tim. But I do want to ask you - I want to ask about your personal style because you're always on the show - as you are right now - perfectly dressed. If I were to - and I won't do this - if I were to break into your house at say, you know, 8 a.m. on a Saturday. It's Saturday morning, you're up, you've got, you know - you're not going anywhere. And all of a sudden - oh, my gosh, I'm out of coffee. I'm assuming you drink coffee here.

GUNN: Of course I do.

SAGAL: All right. So you say to yourself, I need to go down to the Bodega at the corner and get some cough.

GUNN: Oh, it's actually not a Bodega at the corner, it's a stunning Food Emporium.

SAGAL: I'm sure.


GROSZ: It's the most stylish Food Emporium in the city.

SAGAL: Of course it is. But, the point of the story is, you say to yourself, I'm Tim Gunn, I need to walk down the block. I will be seen by people, do I need to put on a suit?

GUNN: No, I don't put on a suit.

SAGAL: Really? So you're willing to walk down the street in your jammies?

GUNN: Absolutely, in jeans, an oxford shirt, a blazer.


KLEIN: Just a blazer.


SAGAL: Tim Gunn, we are delighted to talk to you, but we have asked you here to play a game we're calling...

KURTIS: You're Never Going To Make That Work.


SAGAL: So we've watch your show avidly. You're famous for your optimism in the face of some pretty questionable design ideas. So we decided to ask you three questions about fashion notions that we believe are truly beyond help.

GUNN: Oh, I'm intrigued.

SAGAL: I - well, I hope so. Answer two or three correctly, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners. Bill, who is fashion guru Tim Gunn playing for?

KURTIS: Ellia Einhorn of Brooklyn, New York.

GUNN: Great.


GUNN: Ellia, I'll do my best.

SAGAL: All right, here is your first question. A designer named Manel Torres showed of his Spring/Summer Collection in London in 2011, but somehow his ideas never caught on. What was it? A - The Emperor's New Look, made of fabric so light and sheer it was essentially invisible, B- Fabrican, cans of spray-on clothes, or C - Fashion Plate, an adaptation of medieval steel armor for today's nightlife?

GUNN: Fabrican.

SAGAL: You know this.

GUNN: I'm intuiting and I hope I know it.

SAGAL: You are correct.


GUNN: Good.

SAGAL: That was very confident.


SAGAL: All right, next question. Fashion and jewelry designer Reid Peppard made headlines for his bold new accessories. What makes them special? A - they are physically stapled to the body so you never have to clutch your clutch purse again, it just hangs there, B - they're made from roadkill, like the beautiful Double Rat Headdress, or C - they're head mounted laser guns in eight designer colors?

GUNN: Well, I'm going to throw out A and C and go for B, the roadkill.

SAGAL: The roadkill? You're very good at this.


GUNN: But is that true?


SAGAL: Yeah.

GUNN: Would any of you buy a roadkill accessory? No.

SAGAL: Well, apparently he's gotten a lot of attention for this.

GUNN: Well, I can imagine - from the nut wards.


SAGAL: Yeah. No, he's a leader in the taxidermy jewelry crossover industry. There's a lot of that.


SAGAL: All right, now, this is very good. I want to see if you can get this last one as well as you got the first two. Back in the 1930s, the Pathetone Newsreel company put out a film in which designers were asked about what women would be wearing in the far-off year, 2000.

GUNN: Oh, I love this.

SAGAL: Yes. Which was one of the futuristic notions? They created these dresses - was it A - aluminum dresses with headlamps, so as to search for men?


GUNN: God for fems.

SAGAL: B - movable hemlines, which could go up and down at the push of a button as fashions changed, or C - motors to operate the legs and arms so people of the future could truly live a life of leisure?

GUNN: Any of the three of those are fun to consider.

SAGAL: Yeah.

GUNN: I think it's the movable hemlines.

SAGAL: You think it's the movable hemlines - 'cause that would be great. Maybe with like a dial so when the fashion changes...

GUNN: Well, I'm not even thinking about fashion changing as much as you go from day to evening.

SAGAL: All right, well actually it was the aluminum dress with headlamps.


SAGAL: It was. Here is a clip from the film.

GUNN: Oh, how great.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A dress of aluminum, with a sash that changes for your evening and electric headlights to help her to find an honest man.

SAGAL: Yes, a dress of aluminum, no less. Bill, how did Tim Gunn do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Well, even though he got two for three, I think his answers are better than the official.


SAGAL: There you are, I agree.


SAGAL: Tim Gunn is a fashion icon and is currently shooting season 13 of "Project Runway," and he has a new bedding line coming out this September. Tim Gunn, thank you so much for joining us.


SAGAL: What a pleasure to talk to you.

GUNN: You thank you so much.

SAGAL: Oh, my goodness. Tim Gunn.

GUNN: Thank you everyone.


SAGAL: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations. And Esurance, insurance for the modern world with online tools that provide customers with 24/7 advice and support. Learn more at The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, supporting the performing arts, the environment of medical research and child well-being. And Angie's List, where consumers can browse, buy and schedule local services online. More at WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME is a production of NPR and WBEZ Chicago in association with Urgent Haircare Productions. Thanks to all of our panelists, our guests, Bill Kurtis and of course Mr. Carl Kasell. I am Peter Sagal. We will see you again next week.


SAGAL: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.