Don’t worry, Project Runway fans. Tim Gunn will indeed be back when Season 13 bows later this year. But first he’s launching his own fashion competition series, Under The Gunn, which premieres tomorrow night on Lifetime.
Under the Gunn features the fashion guru mentoring three past Project Runway standouts — Mondo Guerra, Anya Ayoung-Chee and Nick Verreos — as they themselves learn to mentor a field of 15 aspiring designers.
Designer Rachel Roy, stylist Jen Rade, and Marie Claire Senior Fashion Editor Zanna Roberts Rassi round out the judging panel, with Runway alum Heidi Klum, actors Neil Patrick Harris and Jaimie Alexander, rapper Macklemore, and designers Georgina Chapman and Trina Turk stepping up to guest-judge. Modern Family’s Sarah Hyland is also slated for a “special guest appearance.”
Gunn recently told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour that he worked with his co-executive producer Sarah Rea, a six-year Runway vet, to bring the best parts of that iconic series to Under the Gunn — “great designers doing what they do, fun competitions, and my role mentoring which I have just the hugest amount of regard for, and it’s really an extension of who I am. … You feel like you’re in a very special place, seeing things that you haven’t seen before.”
Gunn said that having worked alone on Runway for years, he envied the collaborative process that Guerra, Ayoung-Chee and Verreos enjoy on Under The Gunn — and he thinks the viewers will appreciate the fly-on-the-wall education about what really goes into creating an effective mentor in addition to cutting-edge fashion.
“I was talking about it with someone this morning, and it struck me that on Runway, I’m the only mentor, so I can’t leave — well, I could leave the workroom and talk to myself in the hallway,” he said. “But our mentors, Anya and Mondo and Nick, are constantly huddling and talking about what challenges they have, what successes they feel they’re having, and how the designers are doing. So you get to hear this inner dialogue that’s always in my head.”
Gunn revealed that he Guerra, Ayoung-Chee and Verreos also do an on-camera walk of the workroom before the designers arrive to review their wares on the morning of the runway show — something he’s done alone and without the cameras rolling on Runway since the show began. “It’s good to have a checkup,” he said. “A check‑in, not a check-up.”
Asked about the process of choosing the mentors-in-training from Runway’s field of big-personality, big-talent winners, EP Rea admitted it was a challenge.
“We were looking for diversity among them. … We wanted various levels of experience,” she explained. “We wanted various levels of personality. The same is true for the selection of the designers. And it’s a bit of a crapshoot. You don’t know. But what we did know was that among these three individuals, they each possessed a tenacity. They each possessed a desire to succeed, a willingness to learn —those are qualities that were very important, and just making that commitment to being there with the designers.”
Rea said she especially enjoyed watching the mentors polish an important new facet of their careers in the fashion industry, even as they help the designers do the same — with Gunn, the master of mentoring, watching over them all the while.
“This is a huge responsibility they have, and we see them be vulnerable,” she said. “We see them grow and evolve as mentors even in this one season. You see them succeed. You see them fail. It’s very different in the sense that these people are on a journey as well, Mondo, Nick, and Anya. It’s fascinating to watch how they navigate trying to fill this man’s shoes.”
“I’m hoping that people in the education field are very captivated by this show, because it really is about that process,” Gunn added. “It’s about how you reach someone, how do you communicate with them, how do you correct a course, if necessary, and how do you make that distinction between being a cheerleader, a coach, and giving them the information you believe they should have. … Because from my point of view, they need to come upon this themselves. When you just tell them, ‘Well, do this,’ I don’t know what they really learn from that. A tremendous amount of it really is about this process.”
Under the Gunn premieres Thursday, Jan. 16 at 9/8CT on Lifetime.