Tim Gunn

The Gold Standard: How the movies -- past and present -- changed our lives

Not many college deans have their own TV shows, but that’s where Gunn now finds himself: He hosts “Project Runway” in addition to being chair of fashion design at Parsons the New School for Design in Gotham.

On the movie front, he especially admires the Givenchy designs that Audrey Hepburn wore in “Sabrina,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Charade” and “How to Steal a Million,” but he remains loyal to Hollywood’s Adrian (“his designs for ‘The Women’ were from another planet!”), who was a Parsons grad circa 1918.

“Before there really was a Seventh Avenue, a lot of designers went to Hollywood,” Gunn explains. “Hollywood was the place to go, you could have fun with it and be creative. Here in New York City, we had sweatshops, and it wasn’t until World War II that America became a fashion force.”

While Hollywood has dramatically influenced what men and women wear, the movies have rarely turned its cameras on the fashion industry. “Cover Girl” (1944) and “Funny Face” (1957) are notable exceptions that Gunn watches with pleasure. “Who could have been a better Diana Vreeland than Kay Thompson?” Gunn says of the latter film, which starred Audrey Hepburn as a book kook turned supermodel.

Forced to choose a fashion-movie best, Gunn picks a Michelangelo Antonioni entry from 1966.

” ‘Blowup’ is an incredible fashion movie, one that is 9.8 on the sexual Richter scale,” he says. “It gives a lot of insight into the industry of the times, but is still relevant, particularly with regard to the whole photographer-model relationship. It can be so lusty and sex-charged. When David Hemmings is straddling (Verushka), the staccato clicking of the camera is almost like a metronome that speeds up as the lust increases.”

Are models and photogs really that charged on the job?

“With the good ones: yes,” says Gunn. “When the photographer is passionate and involved, he gets swept up in it. The model is, ‘Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do.’ It’s the power of seduction. I don’t know what to compare it to. Forgive me: It’s like having sex.”

Gunn does not dismiss “The Devil Wears Prada” as a total Hollywood fantasy, despite Stanley Tucci’s raid on the stylists’ closet, which would get any editor, high or low, fired. On the contrary, ” ‘Prada’ is a genuine lens on a certain editorial point of view that the future of fashion rests with the magazines. That editorial world has a lot of mysteries and mythologies; it’s like looking at a sphinx. There are myriad fashion magazines, and each has a different point of view. Vogue and Paper couldn’t be more disparate. Yet, they will each hold to that theory that it is all about us.”

Gunn feels that “Prada” took only one misstep fashion-wise. “When Meryl Streep wears that oversized fur coat, that was not a great moment. But the exaggeration and the shocking impact was part of David Frankel’s direction. It had us talking.”

Otherwise, “Patricia Field is a genius,” Gunn says of the “Prada” stylist. “The way in which the movie sent the message of Anne Hathaway’s transformation, it was almost surreal. I’m constantly talking about the messaging of what we wear, how we want people to perceive us. Hathaway didn’t have to open her mouth; the clothes did that.”

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