Tim Gunn on ‘Making the Cut’ Mentorship and Heidi Klum Friendship: ‘I Never Believe That I’m a Collaborator’

The “Project Runway” mentor also tells TheWrap why he thinks the fashion industry is getting better when it comes to accommodating different body sizes

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Iconic “Project Runway” mentor Tim Gunn is back to make it work on the third season of “Making the Cut,” and TheWrap caught up with the fashion designer to discuss what’s to come.

Gunn will return to guide a new slew of designers for the chance to win a mentorship with Amazon fashion, a chance to sell a collection in the “Making the Cut” Amazon store and the $1 million grand prize. Starting with a runway on the celebrated Rodeo Drive, host Heidi Klum challenges designers to go out of their comfort zone to design high fashion and accessible looks based on various themes while staying true to their brand.

TheWrap sat down with Gunn ahead of this season’s release as he discussed his mentorship style, the evolving fashion industry and his long-running friendship with Klum, who together makes up what Gunn calls “fashion’s oddest couple.”

Gunn also explained why he doesn’t see himself as a collaborator with the designers, and why he doesn’t blame himself when a contestant gets eliminated.

TheWrap: You’ve been such an iconic mentor and figure from “Project Runway” to “Making the Cut.” So how has your mentorship style changed and evolved from “Project Runway’s” early seasons to “Making the Cut” now?

Tim Gunn: Well, what’s so wonderful and what I love so much about “Making the Cut” — which actually is the show that Heidi and I’ve wanted to do for years, but because of the success of “Project Runway,” no one would let us tamper with with the format — is that it’s a much broader conversation. Speaking as a mentor, it’s a much broader conversation than talking about a pretty dress or a dress that’s not so pretty or a janky hemline. It’s really about ‘Well, how does this fit in to the larger rubric of your brand?’ and expanding on that conversation. So it’s broader, more depth is built. We know more about these designers, and we know much more about their potential to succeed.

You’ve long advocated for accommodating different body sizes in fashion. Does it feel like the industry is finally catching up?

Well, the industry is getting better. The only thing that I will say, as as an observer of it all, is when you have larger sizes and smaller sizes, the two most neglected populations are plus size women and petite women… it’s not a matter of sizing up or sizing down a garment that runs from let’s say, six to 12. It’s a matter of re-conceiving. And I feel that, far too often, designers and manufacturers are simply doing just that; they’re just sizing up or sizing down. And it means that proportions aren’t right. And it means that things can really be better, and that’s that’s a positive thing, the fact that things can be better. But people have to be mindful that: don’t size up, don’t size down.

What’s your favorite part about working with the designers?

Having the great privilege of being in their presence and witnessing the triumph of the human spirit. It’s a great, great joy and I have tremendous respect for it.

Can you talk a little bit about how your relationship with Heidi has developed over the years, especially wanting to start “Making the Cut” at some point?

Well, I will say this, after 18 years of working with Heidi, I’m still in awe of her. I never take anything about her for granted and I love and adore her. We have a very special relationship. And I keep saying we really are fashion’s oddest couple. And what binds us together is, first of all, our love of fashion and the industry, our great joy in helping these young designers ascend and flourish and the seriousness with which we take this industry. For us it’s not something ephemeral or inconsequential. It’s something very, very serious. And I’m always talking about, and Heidi is also, the semiotics of clothes; the clothes we wear send a message about how the world perceives us. And that’s a very tall order, and one that we all have to be mindful of, everybody.

Would you prefer to be in the room when the judges discuss their thoughts? Or is it difficult to not to give your input during the judging process?

It’s extremely difficult for me to keep quiet but I do. The only times that I’ve actually spoken out have been during our finales, because at that juncture, someone’s going to win and the rest of the of the field isn’t going to, and I can lose the discipline that I try to practice on regular assignment runway days. But I’m looking at it the designers’ work with information that the judges don’t have, and I can’t help but say that that colors my judgment.

What was it like doing that first runway of the season on Rodeo Drive?

Oh my goodness, it was magical. It was completely and totally magical. Yeah, I still see it and feel it in my head. And quite frankly, I didn’t believe when Heidi had the idea, that we could actually pull it off. I thought, ‘Can this really happen?’ And in fact it did.

Has there ever been anything else like that where Heidi has this wild idea, and you didn’t think it was going to be able to happen?

Heidi has wild ideas all the time! And frankly, most of them happen, they do. In Season 2, she wanted the models to walk on water. And in fact, they did.

Can you share a particularly memorable or special exchange between you and a designer where you really felt proud of the collaboration between you and the designer?

Oh, I never believe that I’m a collaborator. I’m simply not. When people ask, if it upsets me when someone goes home, and if I blame myself, well, it upsets me. Do I blame myself? No, just as I don’t take credit when the designer wins. So no, I really don’t see it as a collaboration. I … my role as a mentor being someone who prods and pokes and asks a lot of questions. Because while yes, I have a critical eye and I see certain things, my goal is to have the designer see what I see without my having to say it. So if I can ask enough questions, and including sometimes asking the designer to step away and stand where I am, so that the designer has my precise point of view, when they say, ‘Oh, I see it,’ that’s the happiest moment that I couldn’t possibly have, because they see it without me. So yeah, I see them as being collaborators, the designers, but not collaborating with me.

If you could participate in one unconventional challenge, what would it be?

Well, as someone who might jump out of a window if the paper towel industry goes belly up, I would want an unconventional challenge with paper towels.

Who have you kept in touch with over the past seasons?

Oh, I’m in touch with the designers who reach out to me. I purposely don’t reach out to them because I think it’s intrusive. But when they reach out to me, I’m there for them… If we count “Project Runway,” that’s a considerable number of people. If we’re counting “Making the Cut,” the numbers are growing larger.

Who was your favorite guest judge to work with this season?

The judges who really matter to me the most are our standing judges and I was just so thrilled and elated to have Nicole Richie back because she wasn’t with us for season two and she was fantastic on season one. And having her voice back, especially for the designers’ sake, was just a thrill. And she offers such great counterpoint to the points of view of Jeremy Scott, our other standing judge, and of course to Heidi. So I if we have a future season, and fingers crossed that we will, I hope that she’s back with us.

This interview has been edited for clarity.