Tim Gunn: What I Learned from Being on Project Runway

I have a bad poker face, which is why I never play poker.



The biggest thing I learned from being on Project Runway is how to be a good mentor. It took a number of seasons, actually I'm still learning! It's very challenging to know how to best approach each designer, but universally I ask them a lot of questions. I need a context to know where they are coming from before giving any critical analysis. I might think one thing about a person's work and then they'll explain the context and it may completely change how I view their work. I have to say, however, I'm not a chameleon when it comes to my critiquing. I'm very consistent; what changes is solely how I'm perceiving what I see. I give my feedback and if a designer is not receptive then, well, tough! It's up to each of them to decide what to do with what I'm saying. The truth is also sometimes more just about giving someone a big hug and helping them see the value in not giving up.

I've also learned that timing is key. In season one, my critiques were entirely too late in the game. It's important that I come in and see the work at a point where I can imagine where it will go, but not so much time has passed that things can't be undone. In later seasons of Project Runway, I would come in mid-day, which made things a lot better. I am jealous of the mentors in my new show (Under the Gunn) because they have access to the designers any time they want. With Project Runway, it was a crew issue that made this unfeasible.

As for social media, being in the public eye let's me engage in various platforms, but it's a one-way street. I don't watch what's out there. I'd rather not know! Lastly, being on the show has taught me to be transparent. When we're filming, while I'm aware where the cameras are — it would be irresponsible for me not to — I go about things as if they weren't there. I don't have to wait for cues or read a teleprompter; it's all very authentic and natural, but these are things that have come with my experience. I actually never thought I would be on the show! I started off as a consultant, but the producers got nervous that there would be silence in the workroom unless a person like me came in and engaged the designers in conversation. In the first season, I was never in the same frame as the designers, so I was sure I was going to be cut out!

One thing I'd also like to add is that no matter how many celebrities I meet and no matter how many years I am on TV, I am still starstruck, even by Heidi, and she and I are like brother and sister (or maybe father and daughter?). I always catch myself thinking I can't believe I'm sitting here with Heidi Klum! I also always tell the celebrities that I'm starstruck. I have a bad poker face, which is why I never play poker.