Wednesday, October 20, 2010

the man with the golden Gunn

I recently downloaded Gunn's Golden Rules, Tim Gunn's latest book, which is a mix of etiquette, gossip, behind-the-scenes at Project Runway and some very personal revelations. It was an enjoyable read, if a bit of a mish-mash. The much-vaunted gossipy put-downs of fashion personalities like Anna Wintour and Isaac Mizrahi were hardly surprising. Vain, overinflated, nasty folks in fashion? Shocker.

Tim Gunn worked in the Parsons admissions office when I was an art student back in the day. I wish I could say I had a wonderful, personal memory, but I just have a vague recollection of a pleasant, laid-back office.

But Gunn is a pleasant force to be reckoned with, and there are some lovely little passages in the book of Gunn-wisdom:
With a certain amount of maturity, we can set up our own constraints. That's a lot of what education is about—letting people set those assignments for us so that when we graduate we can start to set them for ourselves. even now that I'm in my fifties, I still face certain situations where I have to admit that I need some rules to help me figure out what I should do.
I know that someone thought that fashion world gossip would be the selling point, but lots of folks like myself simply love Gunn and the sound of his voice, and I think the book suffered from not having a consistent and clear point of view—something that designers on Project Runway are frequently criticized for. The most interesting revelation was Gunn's personality—he simply cannot lie. His quest for honesty and integrity is fascinating, and I respect it, especially in the industry he has found himself in. His ideas of etiquette and desire to always "take the high road" are refreshing, and it would be nice if some of his colleagues made the same choices. I respect him for being so honest about his feelings about love and sex. I'm not sure I really felt I had to be on such a "need to know" basis—at times I was almost put off by the level of revelation, almost embarrassed. There were some excruciatingly detailed passages, mostly about his youthful love life and bout with depression. Some of his relationship stories just broke my heart—the decisions he made, the roads he took, or more accurately, didn't take. But Gunn puts his money where his mouth is—he said he believes in honesty and he means it. If he's going to tell a story, he's going to tell the whole story. Considering how hard it still is to be young and gay, Gunn's personal stories take on an even stronger meaning—if he can get through a failed suicide attempt and turn his life around time and again, even become a huge success in his fifties—then anyone who is having a hard time should know that it truly does get better. Bravo, Tim Gunn.
That is one thing I try to keep in mind when I talk about people's behavior. I believe very strongly that we should all try our best to treat another well, but I also know that some people who are difficult are doing their best, only their best isn't all that great.
After reading this book, spending time with Gunn, I was drawn again to watch him on Project Runway. I know, I know, I have said in the past that I was done, done, done with the show. Everyone falls off the wagon from time to time. I feel a bit like Pacino in The Godfather, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." I don't know if Gunn's self-realizations and revelations have given him a softer edge, but he really seems more the den mother and mother hen for the designers this season than ever before. He actually seems wounded when some are sent home. I started watching about mid-way through the season and couldn't believe the amount of back-biting and bitchiness that was going on in the workroom. There's always diva-like behavior and trash-talking—emotions run high in an artistic environment—but these contestants were re-damn-diculous with their attitudes. Especially bee-otchey were the women. The guys also wanted to dish the dirt, but no one seemed to get as down and dirty as the women. And not just critical, but nasty.

The mob mentality picked a whipping boy this season, Michael Costello. I'm not sure what set it all off, as I said I had missed earlier episodes, but from everything I could see Costello, although possibly not the most talented of the bunch (that's Mondo, without a doubt), at least was trying to do his best and didn't seem to want to engage in the nastiness. I'm sure a lot of the worst offenders will claim that they look bad in "the editing," but the show's editors did not make Gretchen and April consistently say derogatory things about whatever garment Costello was working on, or pull disdainful expressions whenever the judges praised his work.

What was great was when it all came to a head in a recent episode when queen bitch (and ousted former contestant brought back for one episode) Ivy started throwing around accusations of Costello cheating, in a pretty obvious attempt to get some camera-drama-time. Papa Gunn swept in, and in his inimitable, unflappable, style put a quash on all the nastiness, saying that whatever was said (by the girls in the girls' room!) was a non-issue. Taking the high road again, discussion over. High school's over, bitches, get used to it. Thanks to the positive force that is Tim Gunn and the upbeat designs of Mondo, I am enjoying watching Project Runway again, cattiness notwithstanding.

Fashion and art can be fun and uplifting. Even nice, sometimes.

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