In fashion, you're either in or you are out. But in the real world, some things never go out of style. Like being a teacher. "[It] isn't just a job, it's a lifestyle," explains Project Runway's Tim Gunn in his recently published advice book, The Natty Professor: A Master Class on Mentoring, Motivating, and Making It Work (Gallery Books, $25). With years of inspiring aspiring fashionistas at Parsons The New School for Design and on screen as Runway's adviser, the dapper guru's tome is teeming with some savvy insights about navigating life, online haters, and alcohol-soaked game nights.
Beware the Out-of-Context Quote
Gunn got his first real taste of trolling after the Huffington Post ran an edited-down comment by him about designers using trans models. His intent was to point out how the move set yet another unattainable standard of beauty for women who happened to have hips, but it came off as intolerant. "I was not prepared for the reaction," he writes, adding that "calls and emails flooded in calling me all sorts of names. I was accused of 'bone structure essentialism,' transphobia, and ignorance." The experience led to countless apologies, while reaffirming his belief that words do indeed have power. "When I hear people say things I might consider ignorant, I try very hard to see it as an opportunity to educate, not to shame."
No stranger to talk shows, Gunn explains why communication is best when things are give-and-take. "I'm convinced that the reason [Megan Mullally's show] was short-lived was because it was scripted. I was given a script when I got there, and I thought: Talk about being overly prepared." Worse yet was his experience Katie Couric's former chatfest. "I noticed she didn't seem to listen to anything I said. There was no dialogue. She just kept going from question to question." Oddly, it seems that guys (whom many would joke are the worst listeners!) earn high marks from Gunn. "Conan O'Brien, Seth Meyers, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Kimmel, all of them are great at keeping a conversation going."
Know When to Ask For and Accept Help
"When I had to confront Ken Laurence in Project Runway Season 12 about some aggressive behavior, I asked him what was going on with him and he stared at me sullenly for a very long time before answering." Although the exchange was cut down on-air to "a few seconds," Gunn notes that Laurence took some time before responding—and denying. "He insisted he didn't need help with his anger management issues, or anything else, and that was his prerogative. I've learned that you can't want people to succeed more than they do. If they tell you they don't need help, don't push it."
Stand Up for Your Beliefs
After the 2014 suicide of friend and designer L'Wren Scott, Gunn recalls being booked on "one of the leading morning shows" to discuss the tragedy. "[They] wanted me to come in and talk about her death, and to specifically address the evils of the fashion industry and how it destroys people," he says. "I wouldn't do it. You can't pin something like that on an industry, just as you can't pin it on another person or even a specific incident or circumstances. You never know what demons are in a person."
Allow Yourself to Be Happy
In discussing his own bouts of depression and teen-years suicide attempt, Gunn points out that he's learned how to take the good with the bad. "The comedian Louis C.K.,whom I adore, has a routine about this. He talks about how he's learned to just accept the fact that human beings sometimes experience real loneliness, and to let that sadness wash over him. 'When you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies—it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness.'"
But Maybe Stick to Water
Appearing as a contestant on Hollywood Game Night, Gunn got a sobering lesson about getting a little too happy from a fellow player who hit the show's on-set bar hard. "Sure enough, she got wasted and kept flirting with Survivor host Jeff Probst," he writes of his unnamed tequila-swilling teammate, who at one point almost fell into the prop fireplace and wound up bringing nothing to the party. "Because she was so tipsy, she couldn't do anything for our team." [Note: Gunn's team members that night were Poppy Montgomery and Leslie Bibb. So …]