10 Questions for Tim Gunn

The host of Tim Gunn's Guide to Style mentors young designers in a new season of Project Runway, debuting July 16. Tim Gunn will now take your questions

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Scott McDermott for TIME

Tim Gunn

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I am 5'5" in height, a size 6 and in search of fashion sense for my body type. I don't want to look like a teenager, I want to look like the terrific 50 year old woman I am. What are the basic rules for putting yourself together? I believe I am a pear shape. Thank you very much for your help.Darla McMichael, Berwick, PA
Women like Darla are marginalized. Can I be honest? They are marginalized. And we in the fashion industry have to do better by them, and for them, and stop having as our muse a 19-year-old, or 22-year-old, who is a size 2. It's ridiculous and limiting. I think there's no greater challenge and no greater joy than dressing real women and having them look great and feel great and be age appropriate, without being dowdy, without being remotely matronly. No one has to look like that. For a pear-shaped woman, it's always important to let your shoulders be your friend. And I'm not talking about shoulder pads. I'm just talking about items of apparel that go to the end of the shoulder. Have a sleeve as opposed to being sleeveless or strapless, because it will visually broaden you and mitigate the effects of the hip. That's a critical element with the pear shape.

Who or what inspired you to join the world of fashion?Jennifer Shipton, Lombard, Ill.
It was not a plan. It happened to me, in a matter of speaking. And it happened to me when I joined Parsons School of Design in 1983—as a fine artist, not as a designer. I was thrown into a world of many kinds of design, from fashion to architecture to product interiors and graphic design. I had entered Parsons in the admissions office and spent a number of years interviewing students and looking at portfolios representing all these disciplines, so I had to learn a lot about them. And then by a crisis of leadership in the fashion program at Parsons, which was and is the most famous program at Parsons and one of the more important in the nation, I was thrown into the department as chairman for ostensibly a year, and that year grew into seven years. So, I really came into fashion as an educator.

Tim old chum, How did you acquire such an expansive vocabulary?Joseph Gerard O'Brien, Newark, Delaware
Teaching! It really is from teaching. And also I grew up in a household where my mother was constantly correcting my grammar, and still does. And I love, love, love, love the written word. I'll re-read books, I'll reread passages from books over and over and over, because I just love the way words look on the page. And I have to say as a teacher, I always wanted to raise the bar for my students. I wanted them to wonder and then research, 'what is he talking about? What does he mean?' And I will tell you, when I wrote my book A Guide to Quality, Taste, and Style, my editors came back to me and said, "You know, we need you to change a lot of these words because people won't know what these mean." And I said, "You know something? Let the readers who need to sit with Merriam-webster.com and Google! I'm not going to dumb this down."

In your opinion, how does fashion reflect our globalized culture?Ronald Henry Ian Arrosas, Manila
I don't know of any designer, any brand, that is really global in its thinking. It may be global in its reach, but in terms of global in its thinking, that remains ahead of us. There's an American fashion culture, there's a European fashion culture, there are various flavors of Asian fashion culture. What's very interesting about the rise of fashion in Asia is that if you study fashion history, Asian cultures are maybe a chapter, and maybe only a paragraph. And there's a reason for that. The sari, the cheongsam, the hong bak, the kimono—they remained unchanged for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. And then when we get to the West and in particular Europe and in particular Paris, in the 17th century, suddenly you have fashion. You have clothes that change, you have people competing for attention on the streets and in ballrooms. It's a very Westernized thing to think about fashion being fully integrated with changes in society and culture. Versus Asia, where it could just remain the same forever. And that globalization of fashion, truly cultural globalization, lies ahead.

What has been your favorite outfit designed by a contestant on Project Runway?Rachel Thompson, Dallas
May I give two answers? For me—and it's very emotional—it was the winning look from the very first episode of the very first season, when we took the designers to a Gristedes grocery store and Austin Scarlett made a dress out of corn husks. It was the closest to couture as a corn husk in America could possibly get. On the fashion front, it was the collaboration of Christian Soriano and Chris March on Season 4, the avant-garde challenge. That dress was magnificent.

Do you ever watch Project Runway when it airs? How do the edited versions of the show compare with what the TV viewers never see?John C. Mohn, Jr., Cornwall, PA
I always watch Project Runway when it airs. And if I'm not home I DVR it. I have to say that the editing is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I'm there with the show, day in and day out, and I don't know that I could tell a cohesive story. Whenever one of the designers has the lack of presence of mind to say "you know, I wasn't really like that, it was the editing." Really? The editing can't put words in your mouth, the editing can't have you doing things you didn't do. If anything, the editing is kind to everybody, including me.

Between mentoring Project Runway contestants, filming your Guide to Style, and working at Liz Claiborne, do you ever sit down, take out the old sewing machine, and just make something?Gina Chen, Troy, MI
I am resourceful and time-conscious and sometimes what I'll do is hem a pair of pants, do something very basic like that. I am not sitting down and creating a garment from scratch.

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