Tim Gunn knows when something works. And in the case of last season’s disastrous Project Runway — when something doesn’t. Days before season 7 aired (don’t miss our recap of last night’s premiere), Gunn called EW to discuss why he doesn’t want to go back to Los Angeles, what happened to Ra’mon’s losing outfit, and whether or not the show is headed to Europe.
Tim Gunn: Before we start this interview, I have to tell you that I know you all didn’t like season 6. Was it L.A. or the absence of Michael and Nina or…?
EW: Both, along with less-than-stellar designers and boring challenges. Though, the truth is, everyone was going to be hypercritical because the show was being reinvented on a new network and in a new city.
Gunn: Yes, I know that’s how people feel. People are sometimes reticent to share their thoughts with me but you can tell. It’s been awful to disappoint people.
EW: Let’s be honest. Did you hate last season?
Gunn: Well, we all need to be truth tellers about it. My response is so filled with selfish dimensions – having to leave my own apartment and camp out in a strange place for 5 weeks, piling into a van to go to Mood which would take up to an hour one way. I have so many feelings about season 6. This has nothing to do with the individuals Carol Hannah, Althea, or Irina, but I was disappointed that our three finalists were three women in their 20s.
EW: To me, that felt like Lifetime was pushing the show to choose someone in its demographic.
Gunn: Had Lifetime really had a hand in it, Gordana would have been among them. She’s more the Lifetime demographic-she’s a woman in her early 40s. I would have been eager to see her at Bryant Park too.
EW: If you could go back, what would you have done differently?
Gunn: Upon reflection I think it was not advisable to have that season be in L.A. And I missed Nina and Michael. I engage with the designers in anticipation of what Nina and Michael will say and I know them well. It’s hard when it’s Heidi and 3 guest designers.
EW: Yeah, the judges last season seemed random and perhaps not always in their right minds, like when they sent Ra’mon home.
Gunn: It’s a big responsibility. I don’t know how Heidi, Nina, and Michael can judge the work of the designers based on one run-through of that show. But that’s how it’s done. I didn’t do a blog for season 6 but I’m doing it for season 7. No one hears me talk about the final outcome. In terms of Ra’mon, guess who bought that losing piece at auction? I have it and I know how truly ridiculous it is. It’s two pieces of neoprene. There isn’t even a stich anywhere. It’s held together with pins.
EW: I also didn’t love the contestants. Irina was a decent enough designer, but she was so unlikable. Of course, that may have been in the editing…
Gunn: The editing certainly shows less than what I see. It’s very considerate of them and doesn’t manipulate things to create a situation that isn’t. That’s why there wasn’t a lot of effervescence in season 6. If we really had a creative hand in stirring things up we certainly could have. But new network, new producers. At some point last season I became aware – with a startling amount of both anxiety and adrenaline – that I was the only one present who knew what happened when. No one else knew anything about the rhythm and cadence of the work room, trips to Mode, anything.
EW: There wasn’t even one producer brought over?
Gunn: Trust that there was a lot of seduction going on but the gauntlet was thrown.
EW: Anything scandalous happen this season that you can share?
Gunn: A few of the designers throw me under the bus and say “I knew I shouldn’t have listened to Tim Gunn.” During judging I am always standing in the back of the room not saying anything. But Heidi said, “I wish I had a red phone so I could call Tim Gunn and ask him.” And I said “I wish I had a red phone so I could call you!”
EW: Do you ever want to tip off the judges to backstage drama during the runway show?
Gunn: No, I don’t want the designers to think that I leak things. There are times when Heidi really wants to know what’s going on behind the scenes. I always say, “I’m sorry, Heidi. Church and state.”
EW: Let’s talk about this season’s contestants. Ping is definitely one of the more eccentric contestants and her first outfit was crazy. Was guest judge Nicole Richie on crack when she said it was one of her favorites?
Gunn: I love and adore you for saying that. That took her out of the bottom. I have to tell you about the auditions and Ping. She’s a really innovative designer but the bulk of what we saw was hand knits. I told her there’s no time for hand-knitting on the show. I asked how she would translate her vision and she gave a very good response. But the truth is, those items would have been much more believable had they been colored yarns.
EW: Do you cringe when a contestant, like Anna Marie Lynett, talks so pretentiously about being an “artist”?
Gunn: Yes. Yes, I do. I wasn’t at auditions last season but I was for season 7 and that was one of my roles in the auditions – to beat back at the producers when they’re seduced by personality. My role was to make certain who moved forward had the fashion credentials.
EW: I really hope Anthony has credentials because he is such a love of a character. He’s this season’s Chris March.
Gunn: He really is who he is. We didn’t make him up.
EW: When will you start shooting season 8?
Gunn: I don’t know! I’m desperate to know. I keep thinking surely Heidi knows.
EW: Do you think the show will ever go back to Los Angeles?
Gunn: The plan has been to alternate – one year in New York, one year in Los Angeles. I don’t know that we’ll ever go back to LA. though. Even though season 6 is behind us, people still have a good deal of venom about it.
EW: Any chance season 8 will go to London or somewhere equally fabulous?
Gunn: That would be nice. But even though it’s a new network and it’s season 7, we still don’t have money.
Project Runway recap: Let’s Hear it for New York!