STORY BY COLE NORUM
On Sept. 17, Tim Gunn delivered the 33rd segment of The Martin Bucksbaum Distinguished Lecture Series. As with past Bucksbaum speakers, Drake University’s president, David Maxwell, introduced him.
“As remarkable and fantastic as our previous 32 Bucksbaum lecturers have been, I think he is the first superhero,” Maxwell said. This was a reference to Marvel Comics’ crimes-against-fashion fighting hero based on Gunn, titled “Loaded Gunn.”
The Knapp Center, while not filled to its capacity of 7,150, accommodated an audience that buzzed in anticipation to see Gunn deliver his lecture, the 33rd in a series that has hosted prominent literary, cultural and sports figures including Maya Angelou, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Salmon Rushdie.
Students were excited to listen to Tim Gunn speak.
“I always go to the Bucksbaum lectures, and I was super excited when I found out Tim Gunn was going to be the speaker this year. I’m a huge fan,” said Kelsey Rooney, junior creative advertising major.
Cards handed to those arriving described in detail Gunn’s accomplishments as Chief Creative Officer of Kate Spade and as co-host of the Emmy-nominated fashion series “Project Runway.” But only two minutes into his lecture, Gunn elaborated on one short piece of information.
“I do have one comment to make about “People’s Sexiest Man Alive,” Gunn began, referencing his 2006 distinction by the magazine. “It was a bad year,” Gunn said.
The crowd of nearly five thousand erupted with laughter, the first of more than a few moments when Gunn’s modesty elicited laughter and applause from the audience.
The “A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style” author never deviated from recounting his experiences in the fashion industry. Gunn spoke directly to the crowd, a casual cadence that at times appeared as if he were improvising. At one point he paused in the middle of a lengthy tangent to ask a question.
“Why am I babbling like this?” Gunn said, only to answer himself moments later, “I don’t know!”
Gunn talked in detail about the process of writing his first book, a laborious process that left him with admiration for those who have written a book, and a piece of advice for any aspiring authors.
“If you have written a book, my hat is off to you and I congratulate you.” Gunn said. Then turning to anyone thinking about taking on the challenge, “And if you have not written a book and are contemplating it, don’t.”
Gunn was quick to give praise to those who had helped him throughout the process, revealing a number of universal themes he would draw from his abstruse profession.
“I’m always saying ‘life’s a big collaboration,’ and when I see people like me writing books and only their names are on the front, I think ‘Really?’”
Gunn recounted his time at Parsons School of Design, where he served as chair beginning in August of 2000 and has been credited with re-invigorating a stagnant, archaic program.
It was a significant portion of his lecture, a remarkably academic approach from someone heavily, at times solely, touted as a fashion icon. Gunn looked at Parson’s faltering design program, burdened with curriculum and ideologies, and realized its severity extended beyond fashion.
“This was about altering a culture, because … as students, you were not allowed a voice in your class,” Gunn said. “A critique was the faculty member talking at you.”
Gunn remembered when he threw off pressures from faculty and administration, going straight to the senior class themselves to pitch his new program, which encouraged more self-expression.
“Well, the crowd went wild,” Gunn recalled.
It was a moment that began a long path towards breathing new life into a once-prominent fashion design program and an act that epitomized the leadership Gunn demonstrated in the years after.
After Gunn ended his lecture, the floor opened for questions. He was asked by audience members ranging from a young girl wanting to know the yet-to-be revealed winner of this season’s “Project Runway” to a retired Drake writing professor, curious as to what article of clothing was the fashion equivalent to the most appalling sentence a student had ever submitted to her.
“The cargo capris pant,” Gunn said.
The Q&A session allowed the audience to interact with Gunn. It was an opportunity that a group of Drake students were also able to experience, as members of Drake’s concentration in Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) met with Gunn earlier in the day. Jenna Koretz, though not a member of LEAD, is a public relations major and member of Student Senate. She was inspired by his approachability and humility as a leader.
“He was very open about his experiences, and he didn’t really try and sugarcoat the reality of getting to where he was,” Koretz said.
Below banners and in front of curtains of Drake blue, Tim Gunn stood in a grey suit. Between inspiring mantras of staying true to oneself and taking the high road, he discussed the early stages of his six-time Emmy-nominated program “Project Runway” and its growing pains.
He paused for a moment, as if relieved, then continued.
“And the rest is history,” Gunn said. “We’re in season 13.” Then he posed a question.
“Do any of you watch Season 13?” Gunn said.
The crowd went wild.