Tim Gunn on Project Runway, Season 14 & The Phrase “Make It Work”

Project Runway Kellie Freeze

Fashion’s most creative competition returns Thursday to Lifetime, and Project Runway cohost and mentor Tim Gunn shares, “I don’t know when I’ve seen such a diverse group!” With designers hailing from India, China, New Zealand, Belgium and all over the United States, this year’s competition will showcase the global nature of fashion.

Project Runway
Season 14 contestants (B to F, L to R): Ashley Tipton, Amanda Perna, Blake Patterson, Edmond Newton, David Giampiccolo, Lindsey Creel, Kelly Dempsey, Candice Marie Cuoco, Duncan Chambers-Watson, Laurie Underwood, Jake Wall, Joseph Poli, Swapnil Shinde, Gabrielle Arruda, Haniamo Yang and Merline Labissiere.
Photo by Barbara Nitke Copyright 2015

This season’s 16 designers must use their talents, creativity and fashion points of view to impress cohost and judge Heidi Klum, judges Nina Garcia and Zac Posen, and a crop of exciting celebrity judges. And once again, Gunn will have an opportunity to save one designer from being eliminated.

This season, Project Runway is once again stretching the minds of talented designers with challenges that push the boundaries of fashion. But while Gunn maintains that the show could “use the same challenges every season because we have different designers with different points of views, different DNA, and they’ll solve the challenges differently,” he admits that much of the show’s fun is seeing new challenges and how the designers adapt to time and creative constraints.

Project RunwayGunn says that even though the series has aired for over a decade, contestants are still surprised by the “harsh reality” of reality TV. “That’s the big shock for the designers,” he reveals, “they can’t believe that they really have ten hours. What do you mean? It’s ten hours to conceive, to shop, to drape and to draft, to cut and to sew, to fit the model and style the model. It’s ten hours!”

But Gunn reveals that the show’s time constraints mimic the real-life pressure facing fashion designers. “Michael Kors said many seasons ago, ‘Look, I have a show tomorrow. My knits don’t get off the boats from China. What am I supposed to do? Not show thirty looks?’ He said the show goes on and we scramble to get it done.”

That scramble to get things done can best be summed up in Gunn’s signature phrase, “Make It Work.” He explained the phrase’s origin and meaning, which evolved when he was a faculty member at Parsons The New School for Design. “I began using it as a teacher because the studio classes that I taught were all product or object related. There was a product object outcome and I found early on in teaching that when things weren’t going well for a student, their tendency was to abandon it and start all over again. First, I nurtured that and encouraged it and thought, ‘This is all right.’ Then, I became very disturbed by it, I thought, ‘What is really being learned here?’ I began to say, ‘No, you’re not doing that, you’re going to offer up a diagnosis of what’s going wrong with this project and then a prescription for how to make it work.’ The reason I’m insisting upon this is because you’re going to develop resources within you, problem solving resources that you can bring to the next problem to be solved.”

Tim Gunn has a "Make It Work" moment with contestant  Amanda Perna on Project Runway season 14. Photo by Barbara Nitke © 2015
Tim Gunn has a “Make It Work” moment with Season 14 contestant Amanda Perna.
Photo by Barbara Nitke © 2015

Gunn Continues, “As opposed to just saying, ‘the garment isn’t going well, I’ll leave that and then hope for a success.’ What if the next attempt isn’t a success? Making it work for me is really critically important and I do it myself everyday.”

Gunn figures that if students, or designers, or anyone facing a challenge has to be resourceful and come up with a creative solution to a problem, the outcome may not be your ideal, but it may be genius. “I find that when an individual has an epiphany of sorts about what they can achieve, it’s the most uplifting, confidence boosting experience that they can have and it really propels them forward to whatever the next obstacle may be.” And when he needed to inspire and encourage the designers on the show, Gunn says, “I began saying ‘make it work’ so frequently on Project Runway, because Project Runway is a make it work environment. They’re not getting another challenge if this one isn’t going well; They’re not going back to Mood to buy fabric; they’re not getting additional machines. It’s make it work because they’re not getting additional time!”

In its previous 13 installments, some of the more creative Project Runway challenges have ranged from designing uniforms for the U.S. Postal Service, to creating haute couture gowns on a budget. And when Gunn spoke with us, the contestants were mid-challenge and “working with materials from a corresponding industry that changes as rapidly as fashion does.” After so many seasons, Gunn is still in awe of the tenacity, talent and time management of the show’s nimble-fingered contestants. “The fact that they get anything on the runway, let alone something that’s great, is nothing short of miraculous,” he marvels.

“Do you know what I love about Project Runway?” ponders Gunn. “The viewers have spanned three generations. We have kids, we have their parents and we have their grandparents all watching us.”

In response to that multigenerational appeal, Lifetime and Project Runway have announced the creation of Project Runway Junior, a new series for aspiring designers ages 14-17, which is set to premiere this fall. Gunn will serve as co-host and mentor to the designers and shares, “If it inspires young people to go into the fashion industry that want to be a designer, I couldn’t be happier because it doesn’t paint some wonderful, romantic, bucolic, beautiful story. It’s gritty, it’s hard, it’s daunting, it’s difficult. If it motivates people to want to be part of it, I’m thrilled because that’s really what the industry is about.” Supermodel Hannah Davis will also co-cohost and judge alongside former Project Runway winner Christian Siriano and Aya Kanai, Executive Fashion Editor at Cosmopolitan and Seventeen Magazine, who will also judge.

Project Runway > Lifetime > Thursdays at 9pm ET/ 8pmCT beginning Aug. 6



  1. I am so glad I can express my feelings about project runway. I love the show and it’s one of my favorites. BUT something has been on my mind for quite sometime. That something IS that I can’t stand it when Zac Posen is critiqueing the model’s wearing apparel, he eyes and touches the model’s like a kid in a candy store. He acts like he’s drinking milk and eating cookies or as though if he doesn’t do touchey, feeley at that moment , he will never get another chance. He seems perverted in someway about his interaction with the models. I’m surprised one or some of the models haven’t slapped him yet because I feel like slapping him.

  2. I have a one of a kind necklace collection that I would like to introduce to Project Runway. Can someone contact me please. Thanks much for your time. I love this show, as I am a designer.

  3. Dear Mr. Gunn,

    I am a registered nurse and work in long term care. I work most Thursday evenings and have to wait until I get home to watch the re-run of Project Runway at midnight. During PR season 13, I was caring for one of my patients and she was watching PR. Our relationship immediately went from that of patient and caregiver, to friendship. On Thursdays, I would arrange my evening, best I could, so I could watch the runway and critiques with her in her room. We would have discussions about who should stay and who should go. We talked about what we loved and what we didn’t love so much.

    This past week my friend passed away suddenly and unexpectedly and it affected me more deeply than I imagined it would.

    As I took time to reflect back on what little time we had together I realized that PR broke down the barriers that today’s society has built. PR is not about political correctness or racial division. It’s not divided by geography, rich verses poor or old verses young. It’s not about Republican verses Democrat, gay versus straight or ethnicity and religion. It’s not about the size of the dress, the amount of money in one’s bank account or about the number of years they have lived on Earth. It is a melting pot where we can all come together and agree to disagree. It tears down walls and builds bonds.

    While I will no longer have the opportunity to watch Project Runway with my friend, those memories will live on.

    I know that PR is an incredible opportunity for designers and models. You provide them exposure, critique and opportunities they may never have otherwise. But what you do and have done is so much more profound than fashion alone.

    To you, Mr. Gunn, and to the other PR judges, Ms. Klum, Ms. Garcia and Mr. Posen, the designers and the models, I want to send you a sincere and heartfelt thank you.

    Making it work in my own way,


  4. I love this program!! However, would like for the designers to watch
    Their language. It is not necessary to use foul language. We have a
    Whole dictionary full of great words.
    Has the program ever considered designing clothes for 70 to 80 years
    Old? I am in that group and love to look up-to-date and fashionable.
    Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn are my favorite. But I also like the ones who
    Thanks for a great program.

  5. Natalie I disagree with you on one point…..Gunn is NOT making it work as a man. Real men do not behave in the effeminate manner that he acts in. Sorry

  6. I am 37 and I can’t stand this show because the effeminate behavior of this dude disgusts me. What happened to real men? John Wayne would beat the you know what out of this guy.

    • What the heck is wrong with you? Tim Gunn is most definitely a man, and a most attractive one at that. Men are diverse beings, not one size fits all. I hope you one day grow a brain and a heart and drop your apparent need for stereotypes and bigotry. Tim rocks, and he makes it work!

  7. I m 78 and love the show because of the creativity and technical skill of the contestants and of couse because of TimGunn. Somewhat irritated by the sense I get you believe that Fashion is only for the young. Also i think you re too hard on ethnic designers whose styles differ from New York / western Europe houses.

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