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August 12, 2010

Tim Gunn's 5 Ways to Make It in Fashion

The Project Runway mentor shares what makes him tick and what ticks him off — including Padma Lakshmi!

tim gunn

Photo Credit: Perry Hagopian, Splashnews

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1. Take the High Road

Usually people think of me as a nice person, but occasionally someone will corner me and say: "You're so mean!" Often, this is because they think I'm Clinton Kelly from What Not to Wear — which I'm sure would disturb him since I could be his grandfather. When that's the case, I say, "I think you have me mistaken for ..." They'll interrupt, "I've been watching that show for years!" And I say, "Then you really should know I'm not Clinton Kelly." During Project Runway season 3 auditions, which were held at Macy's, I went to Au Bon Pain every morning for coffee and a croissant. The first day, the woman behind the counter pointed to me and said, "Look, it's Michael Kors from Project Runway!" I didn't want to disappoint her and I didn't think it mattered, so I just took the high road. I smiled and thanked her for watching the show. By the third morning she got closer and asked, "What happened to your nice tan?" I told her I was the other guy on the show. She seemed so confused, I almost regretted not having done my best Michael Kors impression: "Good call! I gotta get back to the beach!"

Story continued below.

2. Be Nice

In season 2 of Project Runway, we went to see Fern Mallis, who runs Fashion Week in New York and worldwide, too. I think it was Daniel Vosovic who asked her, "What's the one piece of advice you'd give a young designer getting into this industry?" "Be nice," she said without hesitation. I thought: God bless you, Fern Mallis. I'm sure some people thought she was joking or being flip, but she was dead serious and dead right. There is absolutely never any reason to be a fire-breathing dragon.

3. Physical Comfort Is Overrated

Some people think of dressing up or being polite as a burden. They think having to wear a tie or use the right fork or send a thank-you card is a kind of shackle. To these people I say: Getting out of bed is a shackle. If you feel that way, stay in it! Invest in a hospital gurney and wheel yourself around on it when you need to go out. I get very impatient with this whole "comfort issue" with clothing. Yes, you don't feel as comfortable in clothes that fit as you do in your pajamas. That's a good thing. You're navigating a world where you need to have your wits about you. If you're in a lackadaisical comfort haze, you can't be engaged in the world the way you need to be.

4. Don't Take Fashion Too Seriously

Don't even get me started on Isaac Mizrahi. In my view, he's one of the world's biggest divas. One time, I saw Isaac throw a fit about a security guard from the second-floor showroom at Liz Claiborne Inc.'s Times Square offices. Why, you may ask? Was the guard stealing? Harassing guests? Showing up late? No, he was wearing brown. Can you imagine having your senses so offended by a color that it provokes such an extreme reaction?

5. Never Underestimate Karma

I go for long periods of time when I feel like casual politeness is extinct. I received an e-mail recently from a certain glamorous host of Top Chef. I won't say who she is, but she was once married to a world-famous novelist. She was looking for a designer for her jewelry line, and I said I would put up my radar and send her anyone I thought might be a good fit. Well, I found someone terrific, discovered she was available, and sent along her résumé. I was very proud of myself for making such a great match. Then I never heard back. Nor did the designer. I was so embarrassed. Here I had this great designer all excited, and then it was as if I'd made up the whole gig. Either the glamorous host should have followed up with the designer or written one of us back to say, "I found someone, but thank you so much." Without acknowledgment I have to assume she didn't really want my help after all, so I'll keep that in mind if she ever asks for anything again.

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