fashion on film

The Seventeen Films That Shaped Tim Gunn

In Project Runway host Tim Gunn’s new memoir, Gunn’s Golden Rules, he hints at the Hollywood influences on his sensibility. Vulture asked him to elaborate and pick out the specific films that affected him most, and he graciously replied with the following guide and this introduction: “Occasionally when I was teaching, a student would ask, ‘How do I get inspiration?’ I found it so shocking. What were they doing in art school if they didn’t feel the call to create? ‘Well, how can I find inspiration?’ they would ask. ‘Look around you!’ I would say. ‘Look out the window. Go for a walk. Go to a movie. Go to a museum. Go see a show. Read a book. Go to the library. Take the Circle Line. Have a conversation.’ That’s one of the main things I look at when I interview designers for Project Runway consideration: their inspirations. And I don’t feel right asking people to open up to me without opening up to them, so here are some of the fashion-forward films I would show to my students, and that I find myself going back to again and again.”

Gunn Says: Michelangelo Antonioni’s murder mystery is a spellbinding masterpiece involving a fashion photographer and his muse. I love how it depicts the fashion world of the sixties, which I consider the most innovative and provocative era in the history of fashion.
Gunn Says: I don’t enjoy people who think they have it all figured out, because I certainly don’t. Vivien Leigh in this movie is a ballet dancer in wartime with the worst luck. She makes suffering look terribly elegant.
Gunn Says: This frolicking romp stars Audrey Hepburn as the ugly duckling turned swan, Fred Astaire as a fashion photographer loosely based on Richard Avedon, and the fabulous Kay Thompson as a fashion editor loosely based on Diana Vreeland. It’s a great behind-the-scenes look at fashion magazines. Think The Devil Wears Prada set to music. And after seeing this movie, you’ll always “think pink!”
Gunn Says: This wickedly funny film paints a portrait of thirties society women whose lives revolve around beauty treatments, luncheons, fashion shows, and each other’s men. The script is laugh-out-loud funny and the entire film is a great escape, especially when I’m feeling bitchy and want to have a cathartic experience. (But please don’t waste your time with the 2008 remake. It’s sad.)
Gunn Says: I went to see this movie with Grace Mirabella. Meryl Streep’s character is loosely based on Anna Wintour, who replaced Grace at Vogue under dreadful circumstances. Grace was as still as a statue during the movie, which made me nervous. When the lights came up at the end, I slowly turned to Grace, whose eyes met mine. I gulped. She broke into a wide grin and shouted, “I loved it!”
Gunn Says: I was dubious about what this documentary could really offer up about the inner workings of Vogue magazine. Wow, was I impressed. R.J. Cutler’s documentary is brilliant: insightful, funny, ironic, drama-filled, and a freak show like none other.
Gunn Says: In this bigger-than-life movie about the rise of a nobody Hollywood extra into the motion-picture industry’s biggest star, Garland becomes seduced by a star (James Mason), but he’s a self-centered cad. Still, she marries him and stays by his side until … the end. Speaking of, there are few movies that I’ve experienced that end with the kind of welling of emotion that’s triggered by seven words spoken by Garland: “Hello, everybody. This is … Mrs. … Norman … Maine.”
Gunn Says: In this amazing musical, Barbra Streisand handles drama, comedy, music numbers, and tear-jerking sentiment with equal aplomb, and she does it all better than any actress before or since. And with the most fabulous hair.
Gunn Says: In Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play, the damaged, elegantly over-the-top Blanche DuBois says: “Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see each other in life.” Truer words were never spoken.
Gunn Says: Rosalind Russell was born to play the madcap Mame in this story of an eccentric, fast-living society woman of the twenties determined to “open doors” for her adoring nephew. Mame exposes him to everything from bootleg gin to oddball characters — all the while doing battle with her nephew’s ultraconservative trustee, who is equally determined that the boy’s life remain free of “certain influences.”
Gunn Says: This movie is my No. 1 guilty pleasure when it comes to movies. Yes, it is camp, but like they say, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore. A virtual facial contortionist, Dunaway plays up every scene and mood change. She also is able to act the part of the Hollywood diva very well. And this movie is full of diva behavior. Take, for example, the scene in which she chops up the rose garden, dressed in haute couture, the side of her face bruised and cut. She mutters “box-office poison,” and makes her unfortunate small children haul away the wreckage. Plus, she wields an ax like nobody’s business.
Gunn Says: “So you come crawling back to Broadway … ” That’s just one of a myriad of oh-so-quotable lines from the cult classic. The acting is pure cheese and the songs are godawful, but I could easily watch it every day.
Gunn Says: I think about Edward Albee’s vituperative play about marital warfare every time I go to a really tense dinner party. If only all hostesses had Elizabeth Taylor’s sense of style!
Gunn Says: This brimming goblet of religious tension, political conspiracy, sex, violence, and war is heaven thanks to Cate Blanchett’s performance as the naïve and vibrant princess who becomes the stubborn and knowing queen. The cold, dark sets paired with the lush costuming show the golden age of England’s monarchy emerging from the Middle Ages.
Gunn Says: Yes, I have a crush on Helen Mirren. She does an amazing job in this film making Queen Elizabeth II (a dead ringer for my mother, by the way!) seem downright human.
Gunn Says: The inimitably classic Katherine Hepburn plays a national hero’s widow. She has a great big secret that’s brought out by interviews with a biographer (Spencer Tracy). This is one of my favorite wartime movies.
Gunn Says: No one will be surprised that I deeply relate to this line from the script: “The mind plays tricks on you. You play tricks back! It’s like you’re unraveling a big cable-knit sweater that someone keeps knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting … ” Pee-Wee’s bow-tied style was always hilarious, too.
The Seventeen Films That Shaped Tim Gunn