Gunn recently spoke with Gold Derby senior editors Daniel Montgomery and Susan Wloszczyna about what inspired them to move on from “Project Runway,” why they settled on Amazon for “Making the Cut” and his desire to go on adventures with Klum. Watch the exclusive video interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby (Daniel Montgomery): First off, how did the relationship with Amazon come about after you and Heidi Klum decided to move on from “Project Runway”?
Tim Gunn: I’ll be perfectly transparent about it. When Heidi and I made the bold decision to leave “Project Runway,” because we had a vision for a very much elevated fashion competition that’s really “Project Runway” on steroids, we went out to pitch it and quite frankly, because of Heidi’s relationship with Netflix — she knows many of the executives — we met with Netflix twice and the meetings were wonderful. But then Amazon reached out to our agents, who are right across the hall from each other at CAA and said, “We hear Heidi and Tim are on the market.” I love that term, on the market. “And we’d like to talk with them.” So we met with Jennifer Salke at Amazon Prime Video and her team. Heidi and I left the meeting, went out into the parking lot, gave each other giant bear hugs and said, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” Not only was Amazon eager to be a creative partner, because this show is a real collaboration among many of us, including Jennifer Salke and her team, but what evolved was this whole shop-ability aspect, which is simply phenomenal. To actually see a design that is the winning look for a particular episode, to be able to buy it immediately is phenomenal. The winning looks have been selling out in 24 hours and 100% of the proceeds go to the winning designer. It’s simply a fantastic thing.
Gold Derby (Susan Wloszczyna): Well, we both already bought stuff. Nothing expensive though. I bought a T-shirt with a butterfly.
TG: Well almost everything is under $100 anyway so there’s nothing that’s very expensive.
GD (Daniel): Focusing on the business of fashion is so much a part of the show in addition to the artistry of it and I too bought that butterfly T-shirt, it’s really exciting because I interviewed a few of the designers over the course of the season and to be able to watch them make something, talk to them about making something and then own something that they made, even as someone who likes clothes, I’ve never had that relationship to my clothes before and it’s really exciting. What were your thoughts about thinking about how that whole business aspect of the show… was that something you always wanted for “Project Runway” and that was a big part of what you wanted for this?
TG: Well, yes. Heidi and I were observing but also full participants of the fashion industry since 2004 when “Project Runway” began and it’s a very different playing field now. Designer success can’t rely upon just a pretty dress. They have to have the whole package. That means they have to be a brand. So at the core of “Making the Cut” is branding. Designers design clothing, yes, but how did those designs fit into the larger rubric of their brand? That was for all of us a much more interesting discussion and a much deeper, broader discussion. We really built depth through that line of inquiry and Daniel, I share your feelings about the full circle of watching a show, getting excited about a design and actually owning it. It’s thrilling and it’s very surreal. I still have difficulty wrapping my brain around it. Quite frankly, Heidi and I found the process to be so daunting that we were dubious about whether it could actually happen. But I have to say, Christine Beauchamp, the president of Amazon fashion and her team, are phenomenal. Our Amazon experiences have been just otherworldly. I’m not used to this (laughs).
GD (Susan): What else besides allowing the public to buy the fashions did you also want to include because there’s a lot more money on the screen, that’s for sure, and to be able to be global, was that very important as well?
TG: Yes, being global was critically important to us. We wanted to travel. We wanted to explore other fashion capitals other than New York and of course Paris and Tokyo were prime candidates and they’re very, very different, which appealed to us. We literally take the designers around the world. We also introduced seamstresses because there’s no reason why the designers should have to execute every stitch themselves. It allowed them to be more ambitious, it’s a much clearer message about how the industry has evolved and it takes a team to execute anything and team management was part of our evaluation in determining who would win the season.
GD (Daniel): The thing that makes or breaks any competition show like this is of course the contestants you get on it. It turned out to be a really great crop. There’s this moment in the first episode where you look in the room and you say, “The next great fashion brand is absolutely in this room.” What was the process like of casting that group of designers and were you ever nervous, like, “Is this gonna come together? How are these designers gonna be in this context?”
TG: We were nervous before we started the process. The other producers winnowed down hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of candidates to a group of 60 and Heidi and I met with those 60 over a period of a very long day and we winnowed that group of 60 down to 25, then turned it back to the other producers and to Amazon and we said, “We step away from this now. We are confident that any of these 25 designers could win this season of ‘Making the Cut’ so you decide who the 12 are.” It just became too daunting for us to take it any further than that. And of course, we were ecstatic by the group and my emotion in that first episode is because you don’t know how they’re actually going to perform when they’re with you, when they’re on the show in the design studio. I was blown away by the quality of the work and the level of the work. That’s why I felt compelled to declare, “The next great fashion brand is definitely in this room.”
GD (Susan): Of course, the personalities of the people add to a certain mix. I would think that you wanted different types and just like their outfits are all a reflection of them, you want to have us, the viewer, to root for them or root against them or whatever and participate that way too, right?
TG: It’s very true, Susan, and we wanted diversity among them, diversity in background, diversity in personalities, diversity in a design point of view, and what I wasn’t prepared for, because I’ve never been faced with this particular phenomenon, what I wasn’t prepared for was how those 12 designers would build a community among them, that they would support each other, nurture each other, help each other. There wasn’t that backbiting and squabbling that I’m used to having to extinguish, “Just stop it, everyone!” This was just the loveliest, most user-friendly and dear, wonderful group of people. I loved being with them.
GD (Daniel): I think there’s a cliche that reality TV is all about the drama but I agree with you, I really like it when the designers are more supportive of each other and it’s much more about the competition of the fashion as opposed to clashing of personalities and I think you also brought that out. We see you standing next to the designers in every fashion show watching their looks be shown in this grand production. What’s it like getting to stand with them for every fashion show as they get to see this kind of experience of their looks being walked down the runway and being watched by Naomi Campbell and Heidi Klum and all the judges?
TG: Well, it’s a great honor to be able to stand with the designers. I feel like a proud papa in a way. I feel their emotion. I said to Esther in Episode 1 when we were in front of the Eiffel Tower, I said, “I can feel your heart beating through your shoulder.” We were shoulder to shoulder and she said, “I’m so nervous.” It makes you just love them even more, the fact that they’re emotional. They take nothing for granted. There isn’t a cynicism or a sense of entitlement. They’re overwhelmed by the grandness. I’ll tell you something else about that runway in Paris, the Eiffel Tower. You see me standing next to each designer one by one as we watch the first runway, which was cameras on sticks, so it’s all at eye level basically, then we gathered together, all 13 of us, for the second runway and what we weren’t prepared for was that the jib was going to fly over the runway and I have to tell you, I’m welling up right now, all 13 of us just burst into tears. It was so breathtakingly beautiful.
GD (Susan): One of my favorite moments was a funny moment, the packing montage. I’m thinking it’s probably pretty much on point.
TG: I hate to say it, it’s very much on point (laughs). I actually didn’t know that about Heidi. She suspected it about me but if I’m scattered about with everything, so is my brain. Part of my orderliness and my OCD tendency is just that I need to keep myself together. I’m inclined to fall apart if the circumstances present themselves in a certain way.
GD (Daniel): That’s another difference between this and “Project Runway.” We really got to see you and Heidi bond together with each other. We got your adventures in Paris and your adventures in Tokyo, you were fencing. What was it like getting to have those experiences with her throughout the season?
TG: Oh, it was wonderful. It was actually something else that Heidi and I desired in doing this new show. We wanted to spend more time together because on “Project Runway,” we rarely interact and we love each other’s company and we have fun together and laugh a lot and we thought, “Let’s share this with the audience.” And also, I’m not in the workroom all day and Heidi isn’t judging all day, so let’s have some adventures of our own that don’t necessarily advance the plot but allow people to see other sides of us. We had a blast. In fact, two of our favorite vignettes were making croissants in Paris and sushi in Tokyo and it spurred us to say to Sara Rea, our uber executive producer, “Let’s do a cooking show!”
GD (Susan): I would cover that (laughs). Now, I’m going to ask you something, Daniel and I both cover “Project Runway” still too and I just wonder if you’ve taken any glimpses of it and how Christian [Siriano] has stepped into your shoes.
TG: I’ll be honest with you, and I said this from the beginning, I wanna be an honest man, I’ve never seen the show so I really can’t comment on it.
GD (Susan): You would be very proud of Christian. He’s really stepped up his game since the first season he did.
TG: I’ve certainly been following Christian’s fashion career and he’s made me very proud indeed. He’s an extraordinary designer and person.
GD (Susan): But what’s happening in the fashion industry now that this coronavirus has slowed down everything? Is Jonny [Cota] able to make his clothing and all that?
TG: Jonny’s 20-piece collection is on Amazon right now and he is in production. I spoke with him yesterday. Of course this has turned the entire industry upside down but thank god for online shopping and more particularly, thank god for Amazon because these online platforms aren’t going anywhere. We don’t know yet what’s going to happen to bricks and mortar, but online is here to stay.
GD (Daniel): When you saw those looks, not just Jonny’s looks that are on now for his final collection but week to week, these looks going up and selling out, when you first started that, the first looks, like Esther won the first assignments and she won, had a look on Amazon, were you thinking, “Are these gonna sell?” Was that always a big question mark? What was it like seeing them selling out so fast?
TG: That’s exactly what I was thinking. “Are these going to sell?” And I thought, “Oh, it’ll take weeks, maybe months, but eventually they’ll sell out.” But no, 24 hours later they’re gone! In fact, I was contemplating getting pieces just as souvenirs and wrong, nothing. But I did get a menswear look from Jonny’s 20-piece collection. I bought the denim jumpsuit (laughs).
GD (Susan): You didn’t like what you were wearing in that one streetwear challenge but you looked very cute.
TG: Thank you (laughs). That was fun.
GD (Daniel): I loved that suit, that one piece was so cool. I would totally wear that too.
TG: It was fun! You should get one.
GD (Daniel): Tell Jonny to make one!
GD (Susan): So is there gonna be a second season?
TG: Well, Susan, we’re hoping so. Everything’s up in the air, so we’re certainly talking about it and making plans for an eventual Season 2 and we’d love to do it again. We had such a blast and we’ll tell you about a Season 2, we’re committed to not getting into a rut. We’re committed to changing things up again and we’ll see where it may take us.