Q&AA: Tim Gunn hangs tough -- especially on hammer pants

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Credit: Illustration by Paul Holland

Tim Gunn, fashion mentor, affable TV personality and all-around nice guy, has another project to add to his list: spokesman for 3M's Command brand. Gunn will appear in a series of TV and digital spots this spring illustrating the power of the adhesive strip in a campaign created with Colle McVoy. Gunn took time out from hanging pictures to reflect on student cultural movements, his new book and, of course, style trends.

Your "Make it work" catchphrase can be used for a variety of things, but how does it translate to home decorating with 3M?

I have to tell you, I've been a fan of Command strips for a very long time. My apartment isn't new, I've been in it three years now, but I'm constantly moving things around. Command strips are my savior! I have a lot of artwork and I stack things. It's just such a liberating product because you don't have to commit until you know it's absolutely correct. 3M reached out to me. I don't say this very often, but if I weren't in fashion, I would be in interiors. I'm a serious interiors nut. It's a whole other dimension of me.

Tim Gunn on an episode of Project Runway
Tim Gunn on an episode of Project Runway Credit: courtesy of A&E

3M Command used to work with MC Hammer, so of course we have to ask your opinion of Hammer pants. Are they poised for a comeback?

[Laughs] Let me put it this way: They'll never make a comeback on me! I believe in the semiotics of clothes—the clothes we wear send a message about how we want to be perceived, and that's a very tall order. On the right person, Hammer pants look fabulous, but they're difficult to pull off. People say the same thing to me about my pattern mixing. Sometimes, they crinkle their nose and look aghast. "How could you do this!" I wouldn't say anybody can do it ... well, actually, anyone can do it! It's a matter of what you feel comfortable with.

You're also an author and the voice of Baileywick the butler on Disney Channel's "Sofia the First." What's the one job that your younger self never could have foreseen?

All of this! I mean quite literally all of it. I spent most of my childhood, until I first went to college, wanting to be an architect. I hated school. I loved learning but I hated the social interaction of school. The fact that I ended up being a career educator—who would have ever dreamed of such a thing?

You've been a mentor to young designers for nearly three decades through your work at Parsons and with "Project Runway." What do you think about the youth-led movement on eliciting change for gun control?

I think it's fantastic. My hat's off to them. I applaud them. It's about time that someone takes action, and what incredible courage this demonstrates—it's phenomenal. I feel very proud to be a citizen.

When I was teaching, I was always extraordinarily impressed with the independence of thought my students possessed, the resourcefulness of thought and the spirit of being change agents. In a way, I matured as an adult surrounded by this, so I'm always saying that I feel confident about the future because these young people are going to take us places we never could have imagined. That's certainly what they're doing now.

Tim Gunn as the voice of Baileywick the butler on 'Sofia the First'
Tim Gunn as the voice of Baileywick the butler on 'Sofia the First' Credit: Disney Junior/Lou Rocco

A lot is changing in the fashion industry too through the #MeToo movement. Do you think an end to sexual harassment and abuse in fashion is on the horizon?

One certainly hopes so. These issues run very, very deep. Given how pervasive and systemic they are, nothing can be fixed overnight. But we have to persist. The design industries in general—home, interiors, fashion—are filled with such a diverse population that includes ethnicity and sexual orientation. The design industries are much more tolerant because of this. It's existed forever, it's nothing unusual. The calling out of these abuses is also nothing new—people have been doing it, but it was falling on deaf ears. Finally, people are waking up.

I'm reflecting upon the most tumultuous decade in design in terms of social and cultural upheaval—the 1960s. What's happening now takes me right to that decade.

How do you get your news?

I have a digital subscription to The New York Times. I read that for way too long every day. It's so easy to get saturated, to be completely consumed by this, that I limit my digital destinations.

Do you spend time on social media?

I have to confess to you, since the situation in Washington, D.C., I have infrequently been on social media. The last time I was on social media was Instagram. I was at the Metropolitan Opera seeing Wagner's "Parsifal" and was so overcome with emotion at the triumph of the human spirit that I had to share. I have Twitter and Facebook accounts, but I use them infrequently.

When not mentoring, what are you doing?

I'm writing a new book that's actually an extension of an op-ed piece I wrote for The Washington Post last fall about how the fashion industry and the retail industry have turned their backs on women larger than a size 12. That was the summary of the op-ed, but the book is about the evolution of perceptions of beauty and sexuality over millennia because it changes so dramatically. We're in a moment now that I hope we will evolve out of—the celebration of being unnaturally skinny. It's not a good message to send to anyone, but especially young women. And there's a very pronounced rise in eating disorders among young men now. It's how we portray our physical preference through media and it's dangerous.

How long have you been working on the book?

For months. I'm up to 40,000 words and I need at least 80,000. That means probably 100,000 because they'll be slicing and dicing through all of it.

What's your takeaway style tip for spring 2018?

People get so frustrated with me because I don't chase trends. But in working with 3M, we've been working on trends in fashion and interiors. We know that florals are in. 

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