Celebrate Tim Gunn’s 60th Birthday With His Best Creative Advice


Project Runway‘s golden age may be long over, but Tim Gunn is eternal. The show’s stern-but-loving uncle figure turns 60 years young today, and in honor of his role as the contestants’ tough-love mentor, we’ve rounded up his best pieces of advice throughout the ages, from his dozen and counting seasons on the show to his bestselling books. Gunn’s words of wisdom are great for aspiring fashion designers, of course, but they’re also handy for anyone looking for professional or just plain life advice. Without further ado, here’s the best of the ever-quotable Tim Gunn, along with some snazzy photos of the man who single-handedly gives reality competition shows a good name.

On politeness: “I am a stickler for good manners, and I believe that treating other people well is a lost art. In the workplace, at the dinner table, and walking down the street — we are confronted with choices on how to treat people nearly every waking moment. Over time these choices define who we are and whether we have a lot of friends and allies or none.”

On creativity in the digital age: “As long as we have Netflix, Turner Classic Movies, Amazon, YouTube, and bookstores, there is no excuse ever to lack inspiration.”

On support systems: “Life is not a solo act. It’s a huge collaboration, and we all need to assemble around us the people who care about us and support us in times of strife.”

On not being too harsh: “I’ve learned the hard way to try to never insult someone’s character. You never say things like, ‘Well if you didn’t arrive here thirty minutes late every day.’ But I still have to stop myself at times thinking, how do I phrase this in such a way so this person does not shut down like a garage door and not let me in? It’s hard. I would never say it’s easy.”

On knowing your stuff: “With fashion, you really need to understand the aspects of construction. Not just design on an iPad.”

On the importance of criticism: “I always say I have a Socratic approach to most things that I do. I pummel people with questions, because I need to know what they’re thinking, what they’re trying to achieve, what they believe the final outcome is going to be.”

On social engineering: “I also like having at least one person around who is widely disliked among your crowd of lovely people. You never know who’s going to get along with whom, but you do know people need someone to gossip about later, and you don’t want it to be you.”

On mentorship: “I really do believe that it is good to have people outside of yourself that you do not want to disappoint because when you are ready to throw in the towel and say, ‘This is it!’ If you think about that other person, you probably will stick it out. ”

On what really counts: “Trying and achieving are two different things.”

On self-doubt: “There hasn’t been a single semester of teaching, even twenty-nine years’ worth, when I don’t have some serious butterfly moments meeting a class for the first time. But nervousness is good, it’s useful, it keeps you on your toes, it keeps you alert. It means you’re not taking things for granted.”

And of course, the all-important: “Make it work!”