Fashion guru Tim Gunn has become nearly as celebrated a part of New York as the landmarks that surround his Manhattan home. His grace, wisdom and urbane charm helped propel TV’s Project Runway through 15 successful seasons on two networks; now he and co-host Heidi Klum are striking out on their own with a new series now in development at Amazon Prime Video.
With WorldPride approaching, we asked fashion’s most famous mentor to take us on a virtual tour of his adopted hometown. On a brisk afternoon, tucked up on his sofa in jeans and black turtleneck, Gunn guided us from his Upper West Side penthouse apartment to the Hudson River Esplanade — with an assortment of his favorite distractions along the way.
METROSOURCE: I want you to take us through your idea of a perfect Manhattan day, but I know you were born in D.C., so I’m wondering: What do you recall about your first visit here?
TIM GUNN: I’m reaching back, searching… I believe I was in boarding school, and I came to New York with a roommate who lived on Park Avenue to spend the weekend. And here’s what I remember most vividly, because this was a very well-to-do family with a huge apartment. Jim and I were in the kitchen, and they had a cook who ordered out for Kentucky Fried Chicken while pretending that she’d made the whole thing. Truly. I was rather flabbergasted, and Jim said to me, “Oh she does this all the time, but Mom doesn’t know it.” And I said, “I don’t understand. This is her job to cook, and she’s making phone calls?” So I don’t even remember where we went. Ha! I remember that evening with the chicken.
So you’d have been…how old?
Oh, a teen, a young teen, probably. Then when I was an art student I came to New York all the time, because even though I lived in Washington with its own scene, great art was happening here. And we’d go to the galleries; we’d go to MOMA. For me, it was MOMA much more than the Met. MOMA and the Whitney before, when it was [uptown] at the Met Breuer. And I haunted them. You know what else I remember from those days? Something that’s a phenomenon that I’ve experienced only experienced infrequently, and it has to do with climate. It’s the fact that the Hudson would ice over completely. Since I’ve lived here, I think that’s only happened a couple of times — and I’ve lived here for 35 and a half years now.
How do you like to start your mornings in the city?
Well I am a creature of habit — which is not to say that I feel stuck in a rut, as much as I have a certain routine that I look forward to — and it begins with getting up and getting dressed, getting prepared to go out. And I go out for breakfast to the same place every morning — at my corner, 90th and Broadway: City Diner. It’s a great place, and it’s the same breakfast every morning: two scrambled eggs and two pieces of turkey bacon. No potatoes. No toast.
Carbs are your enemy?
I think they’re everybody’s enemy. And I have to say at this juncture of my life – and you can agree or disagree – I’m constantly fighting back against the bulge. Just constantly fighting. I took up fencing four years ago and I work with a fitness trainer twice a week. But It’s still a battle, because we metabolize slower. So I eat breakfast and I eat dinner. I do not eat lunch. But we can’t have a life that’s only self-deprivation.
Once you’re up and about, do you have a preferred way to get around Manhattan? Town cars? Über?
I take the subway. Or I walk. Also just for your information, part of that City Diner routine is that I get The New York Times digitally and I use that breakfast time to catch up on the news. There are also a bunch of us regulars who worry about the possibility that their rent’s going to go up again and that the place will shut down because… Well, I don’t know where you live, but here on the Upper West Side, there are so many shuttered storefronts, and many have been shuttered for years. It’s this damn rent conundrum, and it’s just awful what it’s done.
Now you’ve had a bite to eat. Let’s say we’re going to explore the city. Where would you start? What would you want to show someone maybe visiting for the first time?
I would walk east from my apartment; I’d walk east to Central Park and across Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum.
Ha! You anticipate the question: Are you more a museum person, an art gallery guy, or someone who’d rather shop?
Oh, I’m a museum guy. I’m no longer an art gallery guy. What a bunch of crap. Sorry.
Excuse me? What is your issue sir, with art galleries?
Well, I just am so tired of poorly-executed expensive preening. For me, the contemporary art world is just uninteresting. And I can’t believe that much of it — if any of it — is going to withstand the test of time. I mean, ultimately that’s what it’s all about. A hundred years from now, what’s still going to be relevant?Find LGBTQ-Friendly Resources
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What’s your favorite thing to find on a jaunt around town: an experience, a trinket, a street musician? What comes to mind?
Well for me, it’s stumbling upon a bookstore I didn’t know about. And, of course, with bookstores in great decline, that’s getting harder and harder. But only recently, speaking of Chelsea – well, it’s probably more in the Flatiron – I didn’t know about the Rizzoli store at 24th and Broadway. It’s wonderful. Have you been to that Rizzoli?
I have, and they’re great.
And I will say too on the Upper West Side — not to cast aspersions on Barnes & Noble – but Book Culture at 112th Street and Broadway is phenomenal. Basically it’s Columbia’s Bookstore.
Do you feel the same way about the Strand down off Union Square?
Oh, the Strand’s a phenomenal bookstore, and their second floor rare book section is like going to a museum.
Say you were spending your last day in the city; is that where you’d be, in a bookstore? What would you have to experience one more time?
For me? I’d have to go back to the Met and see Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein.
Now I’m picturing you standing before it, and I’m wondering what’s going through your mind as you’re taking it in…
Well for me, it conjures up the incredible history of Paris at that time; what the Steins did for the contemporary art world; my love of Gertrude Stein’s writing, as idiosyncratic as it is — and the phenomenon that the early 20th century brought to culture in so many ways, including writing, music, art and theater. It was an incredible renaissance.
What a bunch of people to be able to hang out with…
And speaking of a last day, I went to the Met to see the Euphronious Krater, a bowl for mixing wine and water that was very prominently displayed, and it was acquired during Thomas Hoving’s tenure as director. So it’s 1970s, but it was discovered that it was stolen from Italy. So the Met being ever-ethical, they were about to return it, and they did. But its last day of being on display was a Sunday, and I thought, “I have to go and pay my respects to this piece.” And I maintain that only in New York would this happen: There were so many people there to see it that they had – what’s the word I’m searching for? – stanchions. And I probably waited an hour and a half in line to see it again. That’s how many people there were. It brought me to tears; I found it to be so moving that people would care so much.
New Yorkers never cease to amaze. So as twilight approaches, where would we find you? You seem like a rooftop happy hour kind of guy.
A “rooftop happy hour kind of guy?” Ha!
It’s just easy to picture Tim Gunn on a Manhattan rooftop with a glass of wine in his hand at dusk.
You’re quite right, though. I have a lovely terrace and when the weather’s nice, that’s where I have my glass of wine. This may or may not surprise you, but I really dislike going out at night. I’m a nester. I like cooking. I like the sanctity of my home. And I only accept invitations that are a must, things that I really have to do. So it’s rare for me to see something like The Cher Show twice. I saw it the first time the first night of the month-long previews, and I went with one of the investors. The second time, I had a friend here from Washington and I thought he’d love the show, so we went.
What elements go into a great Manhattan dinner for you?
An environment that’s aesthetically enticing, that’s seductive in a way. Food that’s delicious. But I think the more important component is just having just great conversation.
So having good company…?
You never know. If they’re people who you know of, you’ll have a certain expectation of them. And then you can get to a dinner party with them and you think, “Oh God, this is a colossal disappointment. Or it can exceed all your expectations. I have to say one of the most thrilling moments I’ve ever had here in New York at a dinner party was discovering that sitting next to me was Nora Ephron. She was fabulous, and basically, I gushed, including quoting her work – what a boor! And she smiled and nodded. When we were leaving the party, she said that she and her sister Delia and I should have lunch, but it didn’t happen. I — like most people — didn’t know how ill she was. Within six months of that dinner, she was gone.
If someone’s looking to lure you out, how would they do so?
I would rather it be Broadway. That would be number one on my list.
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Are you a musicals guy? Could somebody get you out on the town to see To Kill A Mockingbird, or…?
Oh, no no. They couldn’t. I have to tell you, the other thing about my evolution is that I have become — I think it’s this world we’ve been living in the last two years — I am so prone to tears that for me, it’s got to be a comedy, or it has to be a musical. I cannot do serious drama now. I just fight back the tears the whole time and it’s… Well, actually, it may be good for calorie burning. I hadn’t thought about that aspect. But it’s awful. Have you seen Colin Quinn in Red State Blue State? It is so worth it; 80 minutes, no intermission. And it is hilarious. It’s at the Minetta Lane.
Can you complete this sentence? I believe no visit to New York City is complete without…
Oh my goodness. There’s so much I love about New York. I’m just thinking… I would say no visit to New York is complete without a walk along the Hudson River Esplanade. You take in much of the scope of the taller aspects of the city, because you’re in Lower Manhattan. You take in the Statue of Liberty. You take in the great expanse of New York Harbor. And there are various stops along the way where you’ll find quotes either carved into stone or made out of metal. There’s a Walt Whitman quote down by the World Financial Center on that walkway that brings me to tears all the time. It’s very uplifting, and it’s very inspiring. I find it rejuvenating, and it always reminds me of why I’m here and why people should visit.
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Last modified: July 8, 2019