Tim Gunn Reveals the Red Flag That Always Predicts a Designer’s Demise

by Charles Manning

Tim Gunn is stuck in isolation like the rest of us, but unlike the rest of us, he’s got a new hit show dropping double episodes every Friday on Amazon Prime Video. The Daily caught up with the Making the Cut host to find out the behind-the-scenes T on our new streaming obsession. Warning: Spoilers ahead for Making the Cut

How are you doing, Tim?
I’m happy to say that physically, I’m well. Emotionally and mentally, I’m a little battered.

Where are you right now? 
I’m in New York City on the Upper West Side. I have a view up Amsterdam Avenue for about a mile and a quarter and there is no one and the only vehicles are emergency vehicles with sirens. I can see no people. I went to the grocery store early this morning and I was the only person there. Amsterdam is usually heavily trafficked by trucks, but there are none. None! It’s spooky.

Are you still wearing your adorable little suits while in isolation or have you given in to loungewear?
I’ll go one step worse: pajamas and a robe.

You have to describe these pajamas and robe, because I imagine them being very dapper.
Well, they’re tartan. You know, cotton flannel tartan pajamas. I have them in green and in red and I have a navy robe… 

Sorry, I missed that last bit. Did you say they robe was from Oswald Boateng?
No! If I do that, you can come over and shoot me in the head.

So how are you feeling about the whole situation right now?
Resigned and matter-of-fact, I guess, because there’s nothing we can really do about it except protect ourselves and protect others. But it’s spooky. And contemplating how long this could go on is spooky, too. I will say I’ve gone from not being a fan to being perhaps the biggest fan of Governor Cuomo.

I would be a bigger fan if he hadn’t still been trying to cut healthcare spending in New York as of mid March. 
Yeah, I can’t disagree with that. You’re right.

How have you felt about the fashion industry’s response so far?
Those who have stepped up, have really stepped up, and I’m very proud of them. It’s time to reassess what our priorities should be. There are people making masks and hospital garments for people that need them at this very moment, and I think that’s great.

Now, let’s talk about your new show, Making the Cut! How involved were you in choosing the designers?
Heidi and I were very involved. We sat through all the auditions and all the postmortems. I have to say, though, that even then, you really don’t know how the designers are going to perform until they’re actually on the show, because even the designer doesn’t know. They have good intentions, but there’s a lot of pressure. A lot of stress.

Ji Won Choi and Tim Gunn (Courtesy)

Absolutely! And the time crunch of having to produce multiple looks in a day or two.
Yes, but we did bring in the seamstresses to help them, which we thought was very important.

Absolutely. And I think it has allowed the designers, in a lot of cases, to produce more complex and more refined clothes than they were often able to produce on Project Runway, where they had to do all the sewing themselves.
The other aspect is that we got see how they supervised an assist. Or, in the case of later in the show, when we were in Japan, they actually got the benefit of two people, so it was more of a team.

Who was the biggest surprise in terms of how you thought they would perform when you cast them verses how they actually performed on the show?
The biggest disappointed was Martha because she has a great deal of talent, she has a great personality, and she just crashed and burned, maintaining that she doesn’t know how to sew. Well, that’s not what you said in the audition! And if you didn’t know how to sew, how did you have the chutzpah to come on this show?

Martha Gottwald (Courtesy)

Right!? I mean, I know it’s not a sewing competition, per se, but come on!
It’s like auditioning for the New York Philharmonic and saying “Well, I don’t really know how to really play the violin.”

Were you surprised when she made it through the first episode?
Yes! [laughs] I’ll just say it. Yes, I was surprised.

It was so funny watching you try to find something positive to say about the looks she sent down the runway in that first episode. It was the definition of what my mother would call “damning by faint praise.”
[Laughs.] It’s so hard at that juncture because there’s nothing she can do about it at that point. In the design studio it’s a whole different matter, but there it’s just like… oh my god, this is just… it doesn’t get much worse than this.

How involved were you in choosing the judges?
I was more on the periphery of that. The one little bit of insisting I did was that we needed a man. We needed one person on the panel who was not going to be projecting themselves into the clothes. Because this whole conversation — it didn’t happen very often on Making the Cut, but it used to happen a lot on the other show — about would you wear it or not wear it — it’s like, “Who cares? They didn’t make it for you!” It just seems totally irrelevant to me. So I kept saying, “We have to have a man.” And I knew Joseph by reputation but I had never met him and he’s such a sweetheart. He’s just the loveliest guy and gave the designers so much valuable information. It was just wonderful.

Joseph Altuzarra (right) (Courtesy)

Were you ever surprised by any of the judges’ feedback or, after all these years, do you generally have a feel for how things are going to go?
I don’t have a feel for how things are going to go. I’m very bad at that. But with this group of judges and with Making the Cut the way that it is, there’s such a deeper, broader level of conversation being had. It’s really about branding. And you elicit so much more from the designers and you know so much more about where they’re coming from and what they’re doing that I never really felt in disagreement with the judges about anything, because I felt very sated by the depth of the conversation.

You say you’re not good at guessing which way things are going to go, but there must be red flags you’ve come to recognize at this point.
Stubbornness. When they don’t allow information in, I think “Okay, this isn’t going to last very long.” And I learned that from 29 years of teaching — being stubborn is not a good characteristic. It doesn’t mean you have to react to everything, so much as you have to synthesize it and process it and then make you own decision, but to reject things from the onset? No! People are telling you something for a reason.

How did you feel about Esther winning both of the first two episodes?
To be honest, I wasn’t a fan of Esther winning two in a row. I thought, “Our first two challenges go to the same person?  Has this entire season been wrapped up and we already know the winner?” It concerned me a lot, but then listening to the judges and listening to all the designers who spoke to the judges, I understood and I continue to feel nothing but support for the decision.

Esther Perbrandt (Courtesy)

Do you like watching yourself on screen?
I’ll put it this way, I watch the show because I have to, but I would be ecstatic if they cut me out.

Have their been any moments so far that you found particularly cringe-worthy?
Episode one in New York: I can’t believe my suit jacket fit me so poorly — I was humiliated by it. And the quality of the camera work is so high end and sophisticated, I would have benefited from having some makeup. I never wear it and I just thought, standing next to Heidi, I look like I’ve been ran over by a bus!

So besides Making the Cut, what are you watching right now?
I am catching up on season two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which I love because it’s shot on the Upper West Side largely. And I’m very late to The Crown. I’m now in season three and I’m obsessed. I didn’t want to move forward into season three, because I was going to miss Claire Foy and Matt Smith so badly, but my god — Olivia Colman. She’s fantastic. And Helena Bonham Carter! I just hate her. But, then, you hate everyone in a way.

Episodes 3 and 4 of Making the Cut debut today on Amazon Prime Video. 

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