It took a long time for Tim Gunn to finally make it work.
The ever-poised host of Lifetime’s new “Project Runway: Under the Gunn” revealed another side of himself to Terry Gross in a fascinating Fresh Air interview Wednesday.
Gunn was once a deeply troubled teen who tried to kill himself with pills at 17. He moved to New York and a job in academia after learning that a boyfriend had cheated on him extensively, during the height of the AIDS crisis. The academic job led to his mentoring role on “Project Runway,” which shocked his mother, who thought he was too old to do the show.
Gunn, now a youthful-looking 60, persevered — and looked collected throughout. He told Gross what his suits and ties are meant to project: “I have respect for myself, I have respect for you, I’m taking the world seriously, and let’s navigate the world with some style.”
Here are five bullet points (sorry) from an interview worth hearing in its entirety:
1. He’s not into excess.
He told Gross he likes school uniforms, because there’s too much pressure on young people, especially girls, to wear expensive clothes. Besides disliking fur, he also approves of pleather. When Gross described a grey faux leather jacket she wore during their interview (she was in Philadelphia and he in New York), she said it sounded “very chic.” He said he gets his own suits from a Dutch company, Suitsupply, for affordable prices.
2. He spent two years in a psychiatric hospital after his suicide attempt.
Gunn tried to kill himself after landing in a new boarding school, one of many he attended. He couldn’t imagine living there, so took more than a hundred pills from his parents’ medicine cabinet. In the hospital, he saw the same doctor five days a week for both years.
“It saved my life, and the doctor I had there — and he was actually my third doctor, because I was a very difficult patient, and doctors would — I won’t say give up on me, but they’d pass — but Dr. Phillip Goldblatt, God bless him, of New Haven, Conn., wouldn’t let go,” said Gunn.
3. His father, a tough-guy FBI agent, ghost wrote books for J. Edgar Hoover.
“He was an incredible man. In spite of all the trouble I gave him and the disdain that I so frequently felt for him, first of all — he was always there in a crisis. Who was there after the suicide attempt? He was. My mother wasn’t, because she would fall apart,” Gunn said.
Gunn was often beaten up as a kid, because he was “easy” and “fun” to beat, he said. He said he is curious about why his father never taught him to fight.
“My macho father never once took me inside and said, ;Let me show you how to fight back, let me show you how to throw a punch.’ Never once. And I find it really curious … and consequently, if you have a physical fight with me, I’m a biter and a hair-puller,” he said.
4. He considered himself “non-sexual” as a teen
“You know, I won’t say that I knew I was gay,” he told Gross. “I knew what I wasn’t — and I certainly wasn’t attracted to girls, but I didn’t know what I was. I called myself ‘nonsexual’ — at that young an age I did. I thought, ‘I don’t have a sexual bone in my body.’ There was zero attraction in any direction.”
Later he talked with Goldblatt about his belief that he spent years in denial about his homosexuality. When he was coming of age in the 1960s and 70s, he had few gay role models, he said.
“And today, we recognize that every flavor of humanity comes in every possible size, and color, and shape, and we have so much more awareness of the diversity of everyone,” he said. “Whenever anyone tries to stereotype gay men, it’s like, ‘Wait a minute, there’s just as many who live like slobs!'”
Gunn also said he prefers to be single now. He has spoken previously about his long celibate streak.
5. His mother wished he would dress like Mitt Romney.
“I remember so profoundly going to her home for Thanksgiving and walking through the front door, and she looked me up and down and she said, studying me with little squinty eyes, she said, ‘Why can’t you dress more like Mitt Romney?'” he said.