Tim Gunn On  His Stylish Words and Phrases

I didn't talk about Yale very often, because I was so unhappy there. ... I really thought I was going to be a writer.

Danielle Sacks

Interview by

Spring 2008

I didn't talk about Yale very often, because I was so unhappy there. ... I really thought I was going to be a writer.

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* Interview by Danielle Sacks | office of Liz Claiborne CEO in New York, Spring 2008 | digital recorder
* Read the profile, “Project Rehab”, in Fast Company Magazine.



David Gerlach: Today you’ll hear fashion deacon Tim Gunn on his stylish vocabulary and his penchant for using smart words. The interview with the Project Runway host comes to us from Danielle Sacks, a senior writer at Fast Company. This is Blank on Blank.

Danielle Sacks: I have all the different sections of your life I want to ask you about, so I am trying to figure out where I should start. Okay, first of all I want to ask you about your vocabulary.

Tim Gunn: (Laughs)

Tim Gunn (sound bites from “Project Runway”): The whole thing looks like fauxbois. Why is there so much consternation and Sturm and Drang?

David Gerlach: This is David. I just had to jump in for a second. Those were sound bites of Tim Gunn on his show. Who knew that a little Strum und Drang, the angst-ridden German literary movement of the18th could propel reality television today. But back to Danielle’s conversation and we are right at the point in the interview, Danielle wants to know about this vocabulary and where it came from. The CEO of Liz Claiborne, who was in the room, he jumps in with gusto to vouch for Gunn, his new hire, his new addition to the company.

Danielle Sacks: I was transcribing our conversation and I was sitting there thinking: where does he get these words. It’s completely natural.

William McComb: He’s a Yale grad.

Danielle Sacks: I didn’t know that.

William McComb: Hello?

Tim Gunn: I have to say it came from teaching. I didn’t talk about Yale very often, because I was so unhappy there. I’ve been at half a dozen colleges easily. But I did graduate from there.

Danielle Sacks: What did you study?

Tim Gunn: English lit. I really thought I was going to be a writer.

Song: LeRoy Anderson “The Typewriter”

Tim Gunn: I loved the written word. I loved the power of words. And teaching is all about vocabulary. It’s all about leading your students and raising the bar for them. When I wrote Guide to style… Did I give you a copy?

Danielle Sacks: I have a copy.

Tim Gunn: The editors wanted to change…

Danielle Sacks: By the way I as reading this morning and then suddenly feeling very insecure about what I was going to wear today.

Tim Gunn: Oh, stop. I really believe in people just owning responsibility for what they wear. Whatever that is. I honestly do. Even if you really were wearing a sweatsuit here, as long as you own responsibility to it.

Danielle Sacks: Or flip-flops?

Tim Gunn: Just own responsibility. The editors wanted me to change a lot of the words and to change a lot of the proper names. I said ‘No. Let people sit reading the book with Google and Merriam-Webster dot com. I wanted people to learn something. I wanted to raise the bar. I don’t want to dumb things down. I found that with teaching if your students’ capabilities are ten feet off the ground and the bar you raised is only at seven feet, that is as far as they are going to go. But if in fact you raise it to 15 feet, they’ll go to 12. They’ll go to 13. They will exceed even their own expectations of what they can deliver. So raise the bar.

David Gerlach: That was Tim Gunn on his stylish vocabulary and this is Blank on Blank. To hear the fashion guru talk about his FBI agent father, the man who was the right hand to J. Edgar Hoover, head over to blank on blank dot org. I also want to thank Danielle Sacks of Fast Company for adding her interview to the archive. I’m David Gerlach. Keep listening.

Music Credit: LeRoy Anderson “The Typewriter”
Photo Credit: Shutterstock