The Fairfield campus was abuzz with excitement over the appearance of Emmy award-winning fashion expert and television personality Tim Gunn last Wednesday, Oct. 14. Gunn sold out the 10th Annual Students Forum, part of the Open Visions Forum, at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts.

Gunn, who is most famous for mentoring contestants on Lifetime’s “Project Runway,” spoke on various topics from fashion and style to the value of creativity and curiosity when it comes to the creation of art and beauty.

Gunn spoke to a clearly enraptured audience about his climb up the education and fashion ladder, describing his initial fear of teaching a class on architecture to becoming one of the most well-known fashion mentors in the world. The audience sighed in sympathy when he spoke of overcoming his speech impediment and learning his true passion of designing clothing.

While studying English literature and architecture at Yale University, at the age of 19, Gunn took his first drawing class and discovered a love for design. He described this as the first time he was able to be creative and make art.

“For the first time in my life, I felt unshackled,” he explained. “I felt like I could breathe; I felt like this bell jar had been lifted … I’d never felt such self-esteem before … It was a transcendent experience.”

Gunn, who only speaks three or four times a year typically at various universities, honored Fairfield’s Quick Center with his presence this year to inspire a full house of both students and Fairfield community members. In addition to his motivational anecdotes, Gunn split the audience at their sides with his sharp sense of humor. While speaking of his childhood in Washington D.C., he joked that it was never a fashion-conscious city. “I had hopes with Mrs. Obama,” he exclaimed over the laughter of the crowd, “but Mrs. Obama wasn’t enough!”

Upon moving to New York City, Gunn became an assistant director of admissions at Parsons School of Design in 1983. He would later become an associate dean at the school and ultimately the chair of the fashion department.

Gunn touched upon his experience of completely overhauling the fashion department at Parsons, which was severely lacking in 2000. There were no fashion history courses offered, no digital technology and a bad case of students being infantilized by professors and not being trusted to make their own designs. Gunn completely revamped the program in his seven years as chairman.

Gunn also spoke on being a part of “Project Runway,” which was nominated for an Emmy during its very first season. Gunn described this experience as both “thrilling” and “polarizing.” He spoke of the joy of mentoring the contestants on the show, despite the most recent season, in which the contestants had much to be desired, according to Gunn.

“Whenever any one of the contestants can take the win,” he added, “that’s when I’m happiest.”

He spoke of the hope for future generations in regards to Lifetime’s newest installation, “Project Runway Junior,” slated to premiere next month, where Gunn will continue to act as a creative consultant. “The first day I worked with these 13 to 17-year-olds, I was enraptured. They have incredible souls, and don’t give any excuses. They never say ‘I can’t.’”

After speaking of his own experiences, Gunn answered the questions of two Fairfield student panelists, Angela Sammarone ’16 and Brittney Wright ’16. Rounding out the panel was Assistant Director of Residence Life Pejay Lucky; OVF Founder and Professor in the Department of Visual & Performing Arts Dr. Philip Eliasoph; and Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Chair of the Department of Communication Dr. David Gudelunas.

He joked with these students about his fashion pet peeves, such as the infamous leggings-as-pants, saying “sometimes I feel like I’m on a roadshow for ‘Robin Hood,’” while also speaking on more serious matters, such as the importance of fashion in the world.

“When we look at the history of mankind,” Gunn said, “what do we look at? We look at the clothes they wear and the environments they were in. So it [fashion] seems pretty important to me.”

Eliasoph then followed with a question about fashion choices, which Gunn responded by saying as long as you’re neat and hygienic, you can “make it work,” as his famous catchphrase says.

The panelists’ conversation then switched from fashion faux pas to Gunn’s experience as an educator at Parsons, a driving factor in his most recent book “Tim Gunn: The Natty Professor: A Master Class on Mentoring, Motivating, and Making It Work!” Sammarone, an English-education major, asked Gunn about teaching, which he answered by stressing the importance of having faith in your students.

“Expectations have to be high; they just have to be,” he asserted. “Otherwise, you just live in a morass of mundaneness. And who wants that?”

Before leaving, Gunn had a question and answer session with the audience in which many students and community members spoke of how much Gunn influenced their lives. One woman even said that it was “Project Runway” that helped her decide that she wanted to go into fashion.

Gunn concluded with a comment on the importance of curiosity. “It is something that gives us greater empathy and makes the world more beautiful,” he said. “It is embedded in our souls, in all of us.”

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-- Junior | Co-News Editor -- English: Education

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