Tim Gunn
Photo: Virginia Sherwood
The fashion, the models, the celebrities, the tents—it can only be New York fashion week. Gunn, a fashion authority and beloved mentor on Project Runway, will be surrounded by it all this September.
But for women everywhere, there is a bigger question than what the "it" color for spring will be or what trend will become the new must-have look. The real question is: Will any of it fit me?

Charming, witty and impeccably well-mannered, Gunn recognizes this. He isn't the typical fashion figure—he's not afraid to declare that fashion should be for every figure.

"We are on the cusp of fashion week, and on the one hand I love it and the whole exhilaration of it," Gunn says. "On the other hand, those women walking the runway are not from this planet. Many of them haven't even left puberty. So how can someone in the audience look at these women and think, 'Oh, I'd look great in that?'"

Project Runway attempted to take on the real woman's figure in the past, and it's still a sore subject for Gunn. As a former teacher at Parsons The New School for Design and the current chief creative officer for Liz Claiborne, Gunn's opinion is highly regarded by the up-and-coming designers on Project Runway. However, he says he doesn't have a say in everything that happens on the show.

On the "Mom Challenge" in Season 3, the designers were paired with the mother or sister of a fellow designer and told to design an outfit for her. "The whole point was to address a body that wasn't a size 2," Gunn says. "So who wins the challenge? Vincent Libretti wins with Uli Herzner's mother, who is the size and shape of a fashion model. I was beside myself with fury."
If there was any question of whether Gunn and the show's producers play a role in the judge's decision, he says this episode proved they do not. Gunn was a fan of Uli's design, a printed tunic for Kayne Gillaspie's full-figured mother from the Midwest."Believe me, she looked fabulous," he says. "Uli should have won, I'm still mad about it. Can you tell I'm still mad about it?"

Actually, it's difficult to tell if Gunn is mad when his angry voice is still rather endearing. This isn't the first time Gunn has politely disagreed with the judges, either. "I am perplexed frequently about why they've chosen someone to win and why they've chosen someone to go home," he says. The judges often choose their favorite design based on personal taste, which Gunn sees as a problem. "Heidi and Nina will be discussing whether or not they would wear it," he says. "I'm not saying that Heidi and Nina can't be objective, they can be. But there are times when that ends up being the deal maker or breaker—whether they would wear the clothes."

Gunn may not have a voice in who wins Project Runway, but he is very vocal when it comes to helping real woman succeed in fashion.  "What every woman and every man needs to be extremely mindful of is that there are three key elements to getting your fashion right," he says. "Silhouette, proportion and fit."

Someone who gets this right, Gunn says, is 64-year-old actress Helen Mirren. "She has a figure, she's not a stick," he says. "You feel exhilarated when you see her. You feel warm and fuzzy when you see her. She's fabulous; I can't get enough of her."

A woman who throws silhouette to the wayside and disguises her figure with loose, oversized clothing is doing herself injustice, he says. "The more volume your clothes have, the more volume you appear to have."
To create the beautiful silhouette Gunn is talking about, try a waist-cinching belt. "A belt is an enormous friend of woman's fashion everywhere," he says. "Have an assortment, from thin ones to wide ones. It's that accessory that you can go a little crazy with, whereas your apparel can be a little conservative."

Once you've defined your waistline, it's time to think about proportion. When wearing a dress or a skirt, Gunn says the length is crucial. "A dress or a skirt should never fall any lower than the lowest point of one's kneecap. So many women wear it to mid-calf, but nothing could be dowdier and frumpier." The most flattering length hits right at the knee, he says.

The last key to the puzzle is fit. "Let's talk about pants," Gunn says. "They should fall straight from the widest part of the hip. They shouldn't' flair, they shouldn't be tapered."

Many women take issue with this rule and say they can never find the perfect fit. Have you ever tried on pants that fit in the hip, only to be too big in the waist? "A lower-rise pant works better because you don't have that issue with the waist," Gunn says. "Women shriek when I say this, but we're not talking about showing everything. We're not going to see a bare midriff here. It's about the fit."

Gunn's definition of a perfect outfit strikes harmony between silhouette, proportion and fit. "If it were easy, everyone would look fabulous," he says. "It's not easy." Next time you find yourself standing in front of you closet and feeling at a loss, just remember what Gunn would say. "Make it work!"

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