Q&A with Project Runway’s Tim Gunn and Daniel Vosovic

On Saturday at Macy’s, Amy Odell sat down with Project Runway season two runner-up Daniel Vosovic and Parsons fashion department chair Tim Gunn to talk reality shows, spring looks, and what everyone really thought of Project Runway winner Chloe Dao’s collection. In tomorrow’s paper: her report from the first day of the season three auditions.

Tim Gunn’s voice is big. It booms and fills the room in a warm kind of way. He talks with his hands; he wore his signature black pinstripe suit and a black turtle-neck. When it comes to criticizing fashion in any way, he immediately adopts his “Project Runway” hyper-critical expression.

Observer: One girl, a model for someone else, said she went to Parsons and you were kind of a celebrity at the school.

Tim: Ha, ha, ha, ha! Well it’s funny the students infrequently talk about the show. I don ‘t know whether they think it’s not cool to engage me in a conversation about it. But what is funny are phrases like “make it work.” I mean it ‘s a Parsons term–it’s a phrase I used at Parsons for years and now that it’s kind of branded on the show, when I use it at Parsons people laugh. It’s like, “No, no, no, no, no. It was born here, it’s mean to be here!”

Observer: You must get “Make it work!” on the street all the time.

Tim: They usually shout that from cars. Ha, ha, ha, ha!

Observer: What motivates your critiques on the show?

Tim: I really want them all to succeed and be prepared for the runway judging so it’s more like the Olympics, where someone will lose by a thousandth of a second as opposed to, “Boy that was so horrible, I knew he was going to be out.” I mean, that does happen, but I’m hoping to–when there is a problem–get that individual to a place where they can, well, make it work–that they can take it and still have time to fix it. And because whoever wins really is a matter of taste, I’m never confident about how the judges will respond to the best work.

Observer: Were there any eliminations that really surprised you, from Season One or Season Two?

Tim: No. I have to say I’m always in complete agreement with that decision and stand completely beside the judges. Occasionally, I’ll disagree about the reason why, but I will agree that it should be out, yeah.

Observer: When Daniel returned to show his final collection, your initial reaction to his clothes scared him. In his interview he was saying, “Oh my gosh–Tim didn’t like my stuff–“

Tim: Tim didn’t. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

Observer: What were you thinking when you saw his clothes?

Tim: Well it wasn’t even that I didn’t like it as much as I left him in a certain place when I had seen him in the middle of December and said to him, “Daniel it’s all in the details. It’s all in how you finish this work that really matters.” So, what I was so perplexed by was the fact that he arrived with a collection, no piece of which was finished. So all that critical stuff is going to happen that four days we have before the Bryant Park show? That really worried me. And some were less finished than others–so he had a lot to do.

Observer: How did Chloe’s pieces differ from his?

Tim: Beautifully finished. Beautifully finished. But I was concerned about the fact that here we have a designer about whom–I would say she’s a great sportswear designer–the entire collection was eveningwear. I found it difficult to wrap my brain around that too.

Observer: Did you like her collection?

He pauses.

Tim: I’m just trying to think of really a polite way of getting out of answering your question. I will say about all three of them that there was a very palpable point of view in each collection. And contrary to what the judges said about Santino’s, I thought they were all well-made, I really did. I thought they were all beautifully made. And I said to anyone who would listen, whoever wins really is a matter of taste. I was very surprised that Chloe’s won.

When I saw Chloe’s designs on the dress rack in the work room I thought this looks like a lot of matronly eveningwear for a Texas socialite. And thankfully when she got the clothes onto the models, they looked much more youthful. And that was a relief because I was really worried about her.
And Santino was the only one of the three of them about whom I wasn’t worried at all. The collection was magnificent. Nick’s phrase “We need to tame the beast”–the beast had been tamed.

Consequently I felt so bad for him and frustrated for him when some of the criticism was “What happened to Santino?” What happened to Santino–you beat him back and he listened and he responded. But I will say though, I agreed about the fit of the clothes. Everything arrived so finished that it would have been a really arduous feat to have to start taking all that incredible construction apart–that was an issue. But also I will just say I felt he couldn’t win in spite of how beautiful that collection was because he’s so–he’s a freak! I mean a loveable freak, but he’s a freak.

Observer: What do you think of Daniel?

Tim: I think he’s fabulous. And I believe he’s going to go very, very far. He has a very succinct idea of who his customer is, and what I love about him is that that customer isn’t just a 24 year old–it could be a 60 year old. There is a sophistication to his work that really betrays his age. He’s 25 today and I keep having to remind myself of that. There’s also a spirit of innovation to him where you can take something that could be considered quite basic and he just tweaks it. He tweaks it just enough to make it contemporary and relevant to today and avoid all of those labels of’retro’ or’tired’ or’stale’ or’we’ve seen it.’ I’m absolutely confident he’s going to make his mark in the design world. I will add though I do believe he needs a couple years of seasoning. I’m hoping that he goes to work for another designer before he launches out on his own.

Observer: What’s your favorite look for spring?

Tim: Hmmmmmmmm. Boy. What’s my favorite look for spring? I’m running clothes through my head and all I can think of is what we’ve just seen in there! It’s like,’Run for the hills!’ ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.
Observer: If I were to go shopping in Macy’s and buy the perfect spring outfit what should I buy?
Tim: Oh, I want to go with you. But I want to see what’s here first. Because I wouldn’t just want to say,’Go out and get a cropped jacket.’ Oh, god–why am I speechless?”

Mr. Gunn paused for a long time, then turned to Bravo spokeswoman Bonita Lynch. He was wearing that “Project Runway” face.

Tim: What’s your favorite look for spring?

Bonita: Hmmm. I don’t know. There’s a lot of the eyelets that are out–you know what I’m talking about right? I do love that.

Tim: You do love that?

Bonita: I do like that.

Tim: Why do you like it?

Bonita: I think it’s feminine–

Tim: I mean there is a return to femininity to a sort of girly-ishness that I like the spirit of. I was beginning to think things were getting more and more vulgar, and now I think they’re getting more sophisticated. And I hope that that’s a trend that continues. Because a woman can look incredibly sexy without having a lot of skin showing–hi, Tally. You need me?

Crew member Talley: I was just wondering if you’ve eaten yet?

Tim: Yes.

Tally: You have.

Tim: I did. I just want a cookie, that’s all. But I have eaten lunch. Thank you. Tally’s always looking out for everybody.

Bonita: I look after him, too!

Tim: And Bonita.

Tally: Okay, but we’re going to get back pretty soon so I just wanted to make sure you ate.

Tim: Okay, I’ll wrap up. Anyway, there’s something out there for everybody. Lovely to see you!

Later. Daniel walks into the room with Bonita. He wears a Ben Sherman zip-up sweater, jeans, and sneakers, and has a scratch on his upper lip.

Daniel: …I got popped on the lip. My roommate accidentally–and there’s a mousetrap, an old school one!

There is indeed a mousetrap, strangely enough, on the floor.

Observer: How did you get popped on the lip?

Daniel: Wrestling. Now you all know the story. I really just was wresting with my roommate.

Observer: How do you know your roommate?

Daniel: Oh my gosh–he’s just one of my best friends. I’m a street fighter actually on the side.
Observer: What’s your favorite look for spring?

Daniel: I have to say, for women, it would be a chunky platform wooden heel with a delicate sun dress.

Observer: How do you feel about the outcome of Season Two?

Daniel: Now that it’s been a few weeks since the show finished, I’ll definitely be the first to say that my first reaction was disappointment, and definitely surprise. And that’s mostly in regards to the dialogue that happened on the runway. I understood that and then I heard the outcome, but I didn’t understand the road between the two. There’s a lot of that that you guys didn’t see. But there’s a lot of silver lining, coming in second place. So I have a lot of offers right now, and being 25 today–

Observer: Happy birthday!

Daniel: Thank you very much!

Observer: Got any big birthday plans?

Daniel: I do! Well, actually I gave my roommates–who are my best friends–I was like, “Here’s my phone list. If anyone wants to come, do it.” And they planned everything. But I have castings again at 7:30 tomorrow morning… And I forgot what I was saying.

Observer: The outcome of season two?

Daniel: Oh, yeah. Being 25 and having options is something that a lot of 25-year-old designers don’t have. They’ll take anything. So the fact that I’m able to do kind of what it is that I want is very nice.

Observer: Do you keep in touch with others from the show?

Daniel: I keep in touch with almost everyone. My great friends on the show are Nick and Andrae. And I love Raymundo and John. Santino and I and Chloe haven’t talked since the finale–actually no, Chloe and I did. But we, all three of us, have an understanding that we’re all so busy right now.

Observer: What’s your relationship with Tim like?

Daniel: Tim has been–is an ever growing mentor for me in life, in my career. I know I can turn to him no matter what the problem is and he’ll give me the most unbiased, genuine answer he can give.

Observer: If you could work for any designer–

Daniel: Ugh! Oh my gosh. I find myself gravitating toward designers such as Narcisso Rodriguez–there’s a lot of European designers that I love. But I guess based here in New York? I mean the thing is that Michael Kors or Marc Jacobs–those designers can still give me an idea as to the business side and the creative side. And they’re not so big that I’d be designing buttons. But not so small that I’d be packing boxes.

Observer: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Daniel: In five years I definitely see myself designing my own collection. It’s interesting, this whole process has actually settled my mind, which is nice.

Observer: What do you mean settled your mind?

Daniel: Settled my mind as to what I want to do. Every single person who comes in that door or that will come in the door I guarantee says, “I want my own line. I want my own design house.” And the thing is that I want that too, but there are certain steps–like being on “Project Runway,” having national exposure–there are certain steps that have to be taken. And for me, I now know what those are. I just have to finish taking them.

Q&A with Project Runway’s Tim Gunn and Daniel Vosovic