May 07, 2007


Tim Gunn's appearance last night at University Book Store was was co-hosted by UBS and Seattle Metropolitan magazine; also, 4 chic men's clothing shops were co-sponsors. They would have a contest to find The Most Stylish Man in Seattle; the fashion editor at Seattle Metropolitan (along with some colleagues of hers) interviewed men who nominated themselves or were nominated by friends, and then of the interviewees, 7 were chosen as finalists. The finalists would take a walk down the runway, and the top 3 would have the opportunity to meet and chat with Tim Gunn.

Because this was like 2 events in one, 2 sets of tickets were needed: 1 ticket for the Most Stylish Man in Seattle event, obtained from Seattle Metropolitan magazine; and 1 ticket to stand in line at Tim Gunn's booksigning, obtained from UBS when you purchased your book. My girls and I are big fans of Project Runway -- we even have a Nick Verios Barbie doll! -- and so the instant I got the e-mail notice from UBS about this event, I phoned Seattle Metropolitan and got our tickets to the style contest.

Tickets firmly in hand, we arrived at UBS last night at 5:45; doors were to open at 6:00. There were only two people in line at the doors adjacent to the parking lot (these are the doors off the alley), but we could see through the windows a large line gathering at the main doors on "The Ave." The two people in line assured me that the alley doors would be opened; in fact, they'd been in the shop earlier in the day and been told that only the alley doors would be open. Caterers were coming and going through these alley doors. I had moments of doubt where I thought I should drag my kids all the way around the block to the front doors, but we stuck it out. A few people joined us in line -- I think there were ten of us, in all.

But when the time came to open the doors, the bookstore opened the alleyway doors first! I couldn't have been more thrilled -- I always like to get front row seating whenever we go to readings. I was the third person through the doors, right on the heels of the couple who were already in lilne when we got there. And we were like, Where do we go? The Book Store had shoved aside some shelving on the main floor, and built a temporary runway from the staircase between the main floor and the second floor. Around this runway were set up some round cocktail tables -- some tall and some small. There were no chairs, no seating -- it was a standing-only event, and I think I can safely say it was standing room only. There were easily 250 people, by the time 7:00 and the Style Contest rolled around.

I scoped out a table that was just to the right side of the runway, and right in front. I parked the girls there, giving them a quick admonition to save our spot while I went to the counter to buy our copy of the book and get the signing ticket. When I came back to our table, I was a little surprised to see a woman's large tote bag sprawled all over the table, and she with two companions who were now sharing our table. I realized by how snappily dressed he was and by the way that they were talking, that one of the men was one of the contestants. All three of them worked together. The other man (of this group of three people who were sharing our table) had nominated him, and he hadn't wanted to be in the contest, but the magazine editor had phoned him and pleaded with him to participate. I thought it all very interesting, and I was willing to overlook the woman's sprawling tote bag taking up more than half of our table, for this peek at insider's information.

I dislike crowds, and there was some jostling that we had to endure in the hour that we waited for the event to begin. Allegra (being short and small) was pretty miserable. I could go on a diatribe here about having good manners, but I won't. On the positive side, there were hors d'oeuvres, and some fruit punch for us to enjoy while we were waiting.


(Jennie said later, "We paid $5 a ticket to see Annie Leibowitz and to see Byron Katie -- and they didn't serve food then. And these tickets were free, and we got food." I can't explain the disparity, other than to say that this was a co-sponsored event.)

Once the event got rolling at 7:00, the jostling crowd settled down and we had the event itself to focus on. The fashion editor from Seattle Metropolitan, along with her counterpart from the sister publication Portland, introduced the 7 finalists to the audience. These men were not professional models -- the first guy even had some trepidation about stepping out on the runway which was obviously a temporary structure.

I know my readers in other parts of the country think we're all about plaid flannel shirts and blue jeans here in the Pacific Northwest. These pictures might prove otherwise. Maybe.

Blaine, a self-employed clothing designer in Seattle. He was asked by one of the editors (standing at left in the photo) to show a necklace he was wearing. It had skulls on it, and he declined to comment about what statement that made. (Standing room only -- notice the people on the second floor, viewing the event from above.)

Tim Gunn was then introduced and came down the stairs to meet and chat with the 3 who were chosen as top finalists. I didn't get a photo of the first "Most Stylish Man" candidate, whose name was Daniel and who had amazing dimples. He looked about 16, was a male model and was actually wearing something designed by Blaine (from the photo above). I didn't get a photo, but I'll try as best I can to describe what he was wearing. He had on torn jeans, a black T-shirt that had some sort of white writing all over it, and a blue-and-black striped sleeve (yes, just one sleeve -- initially I thought he had a cast on his arm since kids get casts in all sorts of wacky colors nowadays). This blue-and-black striped sleeve came down over his hand and had a thumb hole; the portion over the hand was done in contrasting stripes of green-and-black. It looked to me like this long sleeve was part of a separate garment worn under the T-shirt -- the black T-shirt itself had the kind of short sleeves you'd expect to see on a T-shirt.

Tim Gunn said to Daniel, "I say in my book that clothes are a projection of who you are. Is this how you want people to perceive who you are?" I should say that Tim Gunn sounded just like he sounds on Project Runway. He was making a statement and eliciting a response from Daniel. I did not sense there was any judgment in this, at all, but rather, that Tim Gunn was very accepting of this young man in torn blue jeans and a T-shirt with a single layered sleeve.

Daniel answered that, yes, indeed, the clothes were him. He would wear an outfit like this around town. He hoped wearing this kind of stuff would help his modeling career.

Tim Gunn nodded and said, "Career advancement; career advancement." He then asked Daniel to choose just one article of his outfit as representing him.

Daniel said, "No, I don't know."

Tim Gunn summarized this as, "It's all you -- the whole package."

The next of the top 3 finalists to be introduced to Tim Gunn was Gobi -- the same man who, along with his two friends and co-workers, had shared our table. When Gobi came down the stairs, Tim Gunn brightened a bit and said, "Now here is something I would wear."


"Well, except for the white shoes. In New York, those shoes would be dirty."

Gobi works as a softwear engineer; he was born in India, was very soft-spoken with just a trace of an accent. His blazer was made of a material with nap -- velvet or something similar. He was wearing this with jeans -- I believe his jeans were of black denim. He said about his outfit that it was the kind of thing he could wear to work and then to a rock concert.

Ahab, the third finalist, works as a buyer at Nordstrom. I believe he had on cowboy boots with his blue jeans, and this shirt that looked hand-painted, and the leather blazer.

Tim Gunn said, "Turn around. I want to see the cut of this blazer. Because you know I love a leather jacket." (I mentally gave myself a gold star for wearing my leather jacket that evening.)

When Ahab turned around, there were catcalls from the audience. Tim Gunn asked, "Who's it by?"

Ahab: "Boss."

Tim Gunn turned to the audience, raised his eyebrows and made a big frown. "You know, I can't afford Hugo Boss."

We all laughed, especially Ahab. I imagine that, being a buyer at Nordstrom, he gets an employee discount.

Tim Gunn asked him if this was the kind of thing that he'd wear to work, and Ahab said no -- at work he wears a suit and tie.

I hadn't realized, until writing this, that all three finalists were wearing jeans! Maybe we can't get away from that cliche about Pacific Northwest style.

After these introductions of the finalists, they opened it up to questions from the audience. Tim Gunn was asked about his writing process. He said, "If anyone here has ever written a book, I applaud you. If you are thinking of writing a book -- DON'T DO IT! I love to write, but writing a book is the quickest route to the mental hospital. I foolishly began by thinking I could write in my office at Parsons for an hour or so every day; but then everybody needs just a minute of your time, and then the whole day is gone. And then I tried writing in my apartment, and discovered that the refrigerator needed defrosting badly, and that there was dust behind the bookshelves.... The book was due to the publisher, Abrams, on Labor Day. I quit reading their e-mails around Thanksgiving. In January they locked me and my co-author, Kate Moloney, in an office for a week and literally brought us in food and wouldn't let us leave until we had the book done. Two weeks later I was reading the proofs, and I thought it [the book] was not half bad."

He then went on to apologize that there is one typo in the book -- in a French phrase, and if he would've spotted it, it wouldn't be in there.

A librarian in the audience asked him what kinds of books he reads. He answered that he reads a lot of biographies, and a lot of historical fiction -- and also word etymologies. He didn't cite any particular books or authors as favorites. He did say that he's in the process of moving from one apartment (with built-in bookcases) to another (sans bookcases), and it's "an albatross" as to what to do with all of his thousands of books. "I don't care that I haven't read that one book in 25 years; I remember that I read it 5 times and really loved it, 25 years ago."

Tim Gunn was very generous and very genuine in all of his answers. Most of the Q&A was about fashion, as you might imagine. The last question was from a young girl, standing next to Allegra and about her age: "What's the best thing about being on Project Runway?"

"Being on Project Runway!"

That Tim Gunn is quick-witted, eh? (I was glad that he called on the kid, since I think it's unfair when grown-ups ignore kids, and I was also glad that the kid was brave enough to ask a quesiton.) He then went on to tell an anecdote about how he was hired for the show -- his role didn't exist as part of the original concept for the show, but he sees his role as getting the designers to talk to each other. That first season, he didn't know whether his part would end up on the cutting-room floor. He hadn't gone to the screening party for the first season, hadn't seen any of the rough cuts as they were getting the show ready, so he was watching it when it was aired, just like all of us common folk, "sort of peeking at the TV from under the covers the way I used to watch The Wizard of Oz when I was a kid."

Then it was time for the booksigning. Long lines, but the UBS was good at crowd control. Our signing tickets had large letters on them, and we lined up in alphabetical order according to the letters on the tickets. And yes, the signing tickets were checked. He posed with people for pictures, even putting his arm around the shoulder of some people.

In the car on the way home, Allegra and Jennie took turns reading the book out loud. And there, on page 20, is the story of how Tim Gunn, when he had relocated to New York, wanted to expand his wardrobe a little bit from the staid suits he'd been wearing in Washington, DC. He wanted to buy a black leather blazer. "I found a great one at Saks. It was Hugo Boss and it was -- gulp -- $800. I loved it. I bought it. And I left Saks in a retail daze, because $800 was my clothing budget for the year. I crossed Fifth Avenue . . . and stumbled into Banana Republic. I recognized that I was in a stupor, but I believed that I spotted a black leather blazer identical to the one I just bought.... I moved forward, and, sure enough, it was entirely possible. More important the blazer was only $400! I bought it. I even opened a Banana Republic account and saved 20 percent, too. Then, I crossed Fifth Avenue, again, to return the earlier purchase. I was so proud of myself: mission accomplished and at a 50 percent savings!"

So, I gotta wonder: Had Ahab read that far into the book, when he chose the Boss leather blazer as part of his Most Stlyish Man outfit?

Project Runway has its largest viewing audience in the Seattle area. And the Events Coordinator from UBS said also that Seattle has the highest rate, per capita, of book sales. Tim Gunn said, "I don't intend to be in a lot of book stores [on this book tour], but I feel very comfortable being in a university book store, and this event tonight was very special."

And, to bring closure to my point about the tickets for this event. As we were driving home at nightfall, once it got too dark for the kids to see well enough to read the book aloud any more, Jennie told me this story: When I had parked them at the table to hold our place while I went to buy the book and get the signing ticket, my kids had set down their tickets to the Style Contest on the tabletop. And this woman with the tote bag appeared with her two companions. The woman said to Jennie, "Oh, can I see your ticket? I didn't get one." (I assume that the woman and her companion were able to get into the event because they came in with Gobi, who was not only one of the finalists, he was named Most Stylish Man in Seattle.) The woman then proceeded to handle Jennie's ticket and never gave it back to Jennie but proceeded to put it in her own tote bag. She then picked up Allegra's ticket, but must have thought twice about taking it, too, and put it back down on the tabletop.

There was no harm done, because at no point did anyone check to see whether we had tickets from the magazine to attend the Style Contest. However, I am appalled that this woman so blatantly took a ticket away from a kid. Even if that kid is 20 years old and so is old enough to have asked the woman to give her the ticket back.

Posted by Karen at May 7, 2007 12:21 PM

Way cool! Thank you for sharing your evening. Sounds like fun!

I was a bit disappointed to hear about some people's behaviour. I just don't understand it. Manners....don't people learn manners anymore??

Love the red jacket!

Posted by: Naomi at May 11, 2007 08:17 AM