A trip to the Gunn show; ADL to honor WashU senior class

Editor Ellen Futterman

By Ellen Futterman

“I didn’t know Tim Gunn was Jewish,” a friend and former colleague whispered as we waited Saturday to interview the style guru and co-host of TV’s reality-based fashion design incubator “Project Runway.” He was at Plaza Frontenac to host a fashion show highlighting looks from three of the mall’s tenants, Juicy Couture, Kate Spade and Lucky Brand Jeans, all of which are owned by Liz Claiborne Inc. As Chief Creative Officer for Liz Claiborne, Gunn is in charge of attracting, retaining and developing its creative talent. Prior to joining the company, he spent 24 years on the faculty and administration at the Parsons School of Design in New York.

While it is true that Gunn is not Jewish, I wasn’t about to let that stop me from interviewing the fashion icon, especially since I’ve been a devotee of all seven seasons of “Project Runway.” Besides, I’ve gotten pretty good at peppering some Jewish questions into interviews. In true Tim Gunn fashion, I was going to make it work.

As it turned out, Gunn, 56, is even warmer and more delightful in person than he appears on TV. In case you are wondering, he wore a dark blue suit and not a single strand of his whitish-blond hair, receding but handsomely so, was out of place.

When I asked him what’s the one must-have for the spring season, he looked at my multi-colored print cotton jersey dress and peony-colored cardigan and said, “You. Color.” Who knew?

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“If people are shy with color in their apparel, I tell them to do it with accessories,” he said. “It’s just a way of feeling that you’re on trend. I’m reticent to talk about trends because I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to rush out to buy something because Tim Gunn says so. It’s all a matter of what’s in your closet, what do you need and what’s going to perk you up a bit.”

Gunn suggests that we all take a “closet inventory” because we’re likely to rediscover clothes we had forgotten about or ones “we can reappropriate for a different purpose.” I rushed home and reappropriated many of the fashion choices I made over the last few years to charity donation. I’m now willing to admit my mother was right when she said, “Buy less, but buy quality.”

Of course the conversation turned to “Project Runway” and Season Eight, which will begin on the Lifetime Channel in January. Currently, auditions are taking place, and filming will begin this summer.

And while Gunn says he doesn’t have a favorite season or favorite winner (though he predicts that with all his ambition, Season Four winner Christian “Fierce” Siriano will become the next Marc Jacobs), Gunn did promise that nothing on the show is scripted. “It’s really about the creative process and you don’t have to contrive any of that,” he said, adding, “Of course our deadlines fuel stress.”

After learning Gunn is not a fan of fashion interventions (“people need to be a willing participant’) and that he thinks many men are “stuck in a rut” when it comes to fashion, I popped the Jewish question. “So Mr. Gunn, who is your favorite Jewish designer?”

Without missing a beat, “Michael Kors,” he replied. “He is the neo ultra classical American designer and everything that personifies what this industry became after World War II,” he said..

“Until WWII, the American fashion industry was all about copying what happened in Europe. When the couture houses closed (after the war), there was nothing to copy. We ended up having our own look. When it comes to classic American dressing, Michael is it for the 21st century.”

“And is there a female Jewish designer you most admire?”

“Donna Karan has a permanent place in fashion history,” he said, again with the kind of authority that indeed makes him an expert. ” When I look at 20th century fashion design and seminal moments, there was (Coco) Chanel, (Claire) McCardell and Donna Karan. It’s interesting to reflect that they were all women.

“Donna has a profound place in fashion history. She completely changed the way women dressed for work and feminized them.”

And with that, it was time for me to go, go, go.

ADL To Honor Washington University Seniors

The entire 2010 graduating class at Washington University will receive the Anti-Defamation League’s prestigious Torch of Liberty Award during the Senior Class Dinner at America’s Center on Monday, May 17th. The class is being honored for its exemplary response following the biased targeting of six African-American classmates during the senior class visit to Chicago last fall, according to the ADL.

The Torch of Liberty Award was established to celebrate those who, by word and deed, seek to preserve liberty, freedom, equality and democracy. It recognizes those in today’s world who demonstrate significant leadership and courage in the face of bias and bigotry.

During the class trip last October, six black students were racially profiled for wearing baggy pants and denied entry to Mother’s Bar in downtown Chicago. “Their fellow students’ response was immediate and powerful,” the ADL noted in a release about the award. “First, white students exchanged clothing with the black students, and immediately were permitted entry to the bar.”

The senior class and its leadership council followed up with public protest, national and international media outreach, which galvanized the Washington University campus. They also filed a complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission. A formal settlement between the bar and the students included a public apology to the students from Mother’s Bar, and implementation of ADL anti-bias training programs for Mother’s staff.

“The action of the Washington University Senior Class and its Leadership Council in confronting racism and discrimination demonstrate that our community’s strong respect for Washington University students is well-deserved,” noted David Grebler, ADL’s board chair for the Missouri-Southern Illinois region and a trustee of the Jewish Light. “We are confident they will continue to demonstrate courageous leadership to improve their communities wherever life takes them.”

The Torch of Liberty presentation will include a special call to action to harness the allies who comprise the nearly 1,200 students of the senior class. ADL will work with the seniors and develop a Web site to allow reporting of similar incidents from around the country, develop race neutral policies that encourage bars, restaurants and other public accommodations not to use baggy pants and other dress codes as excuses for excluding black customers, and link graduating seniors – who will be moving all over the country – with resources to respond if they encounter such incidents again.

Time for Tea

A shout out to Ron Rubin, CEO and “Minister of Tea” at the Republic of Tea company and Clayton resident, who was featured in the May 10th issue of Time magazine. Apparently, when the economy started to tank at the end of 2008, Rubin thought, “What can we do to benefit our ministers?” referring to the company’s 100 employees.

According to the article, the company began a “Healthy Ministry” program, dedicated to improving the health, physical fitness and well-being of its employees. It brought on a full-time nutritionist, gave employees a $500 credit for gym memberships and other outside health plans like Weight Watchers and encouraged employees to take 10-to-15-minute strolls during the workday. The program even outfitted individuals with $125 New Balance running shoes.

“We felt if we had this program, we could change some lives and service our customers better,” Rubin told the magazine.

Time reported that a year and 100 pairs of sneakers later, the company considers the program a success. Participation has climbed to 100 percent, efficiency of order processing is up 11 percent, overall order-accuracy rates have increased 7 percent, and absenteeism is down. To read the full article, go to: http://bit.ly/dbOj8z.