When I read excerpts of Tim Gunn's new book in the June issue of Marie Claire, I knew that its stories would be far more biting than most people would expect from the usually prim and proper host of "Project Runway." In his new etiquette guide "Gunn's Golden Rules," Gunn lays out his basic guidelines for surviving and thriving -- and references some of the fashion industry's most important members as examples not to follow. He's made headlines for dissing Anna Wintour, André Leon Talley, Isaac Mizrahi, Martha and Alexis Stewart and Padma Lakshmi, and people must be wondering what consequences are in store for him. I know I am.
While his anecdote about Anna Wintour getting carried around by bodyguards has gotten the most attention though, the book has more to offer than celebrity gossip. It reads like a long conversation with Tim Gunn, who's famous for keeping it real as a mentor on Project Runway. His tone is even-handed and engaging and his advice is pithy, just how he carries himself on the show. While it's doubtful that anyone who seriously needs help improving their manners and style is going to find it in a book, Gunn delivers his advice with sass. Case in point: "Really, a good rule is no beige after five. If it's after five, people call it "nude," but that's not in my vocabulary because it's a racist color name." Or, "Some people think of dressing up or being polite as a burden... To these people I say: Getting out of bed is a shackle. If you feel that way, stay in it! Invest in a hospital gurney and wheel yourself around on it when you need to go out."
For his fans, Gunn's Golden Rules also explains a lot about a man who doesn't share details of his personal life often. It sheds light on his homophobic father, his mother, who has never acknowledged that her son is gay, the ex-boyfriend who cheated on him, and his subsequent years of celibacy.
Behind the hype about celebrity gossip and Gunn's personal life though, Gunn's path from introverted child suffering from depression to successful TV personality and fashion mentor makes for a surprising psychological memoir. After all, Gunn's Golden Rules is located in the self-help section at Barnes and Noble, not style or biography. He's a strong example of someone who has followed his own trademark line: "Make it work." Make it work indeed -- Gunn started his career as an instructor at the Corcoran College of Art, where he threw up on the first day from nervousness. His history of being bullied as a kid and his teenage suicide attempt made him a somewhat unlikely candidate for a beloved TV personality. As much as his book is about celebrity gossip, it's also about his experience overcoming personal challenges to achieve his success. Gunn writes, "I'm not built to be a public persona, but through sheer force of will, I've made myself step up to the plate."
Nowadays, it seems like Tim Gunn's been on TV forever, but he's only really been in the limelight since Project Runway premiered in 2004. Compared to most people who write bestselling memoirs at the age of 57, Gunn has been a public person for a relatively short time. Up until a few years ago, he never even dreamed of having the means to own an apartment. Gunn's experience of making it big his 50s is rare and for some, maybe encouraging. He writes, "Maybe it's the gift of having become successful late in life, but I feel so incredibly lucky to have the life I do. I am blessed to work in a field I love, to do projects I care about, and to be appreciated for what I bring to the table."
Gunn's Golden Rules is a lighthearted and easy read about the brighter side of things. Give it a shake after you get tired of all that heavy Tolstoy and puzzling Kafka. Realistically, I wouldn't expect someone who's not a fan of celebrity gossip or Tim Gunn to read it, but you could still find it funny and insightful if you do. At the very least, you'll crack a smile at Tim Gunn declaring "nude" a racist color name -- he's quite cheeky.