'Runway' star pacts with fashion designer

Turns out the biggest winner out of Bravo’s hit reality competish “Project Runway” wasn’t a contestant at all.

“Runway” star Tim Gunn just signed a lucrative pact to become chief creative officer of Liz Claiborne, overseeing designers for labels such as Juicy Couture, Kate Spade, Lucky Brand Jeans and DKNY Jeans. He’s also the host of Bravo’s upcoming “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style.”

It appears Gunn will likely become the face of Liz Claiborne, at least if CEO William McComb’s comments are any indication.

“Tim will be a spokesperson for the creative community, a champion of product innovation, integrity and exceptional price-value and a catalyst for the creation of the irresistible product our consumers want and deserve,” McComb said. “While we knew of and had great respect for Tim through his work at Parsons, we like many Americans got to know him even better through ‘Project Runway.’”

Gunn wasn’t expecting any of this when, as a department chair at Parsons the New School for Design, he signed on to become a part of “Runway.”

The reality skein takes a handful of talented but unknown designers and pits them in a series of challenges that tests their ability to design fashion-forward wear, under intense time pressures and restrictions on what they can use. Gunn quickly earned a cult following as the contestants’ father figure, a kindly voice who nonetheless wasn’t afraid to give the designers his honest, sometimes brutal, opinion on their work.

Gunn’s star shot high during “Runway’s” second season, when edgy contestant Santino Rice earned laughs for his dead-on impersonation of Gunn’s verbal tics. (Gunn has a habit of telling the designers to “make it work” when faced with a deadline, and to “carry on” after he’s done critiquing them.)

He also earned a big following for his candid podcasts on Bravo’s Web site, in which he gives an assessment of the week’s episode. (As a result of some comments, Gunn has occasionally been at odds with the show’s contestants).

When offered the Liz Claiborne gig, Gunn said he “jumped at the chance to serve as a mentor, advisor and sounding board for the design and merchandising community within Liz Claiborne Inc.”

Gunn hasn’t yet officially signed up for a fourth season of “Runway,” and the Claiborne announcement is fueling speculation that his departure from Parsons might impact his role on the show. But Gunn is still expected to be a part of the show’s next season.

Also, in a memo to Parsons students, faculty and administration, Gunn said he was still in discussions with Parsons on maintaining some sort of relationship. Gunn first joined Parsons in 1982, and was named department chair in 2000.

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