PaperGirl Celebrity Encounter: Tim Gunn!

Tim Gunn backstage during New York Fashion Week, 2009. Image: Wikipedia.
Tim Gunn backstage during New York Fashion Week, 2009. Image: Wikipedia.

 

I have only a few days left in Manhattan before I return to Chicago for a few weeks. I was getting worried that I hadn’t bumped into Madonna in the park or seen Sam Harris on the subway. I don’t seek out celebrity encounters, but I was a little bummed my elbows hadn’t been bumped by anyone fancy since arriving in the city.

Then I met Tim Gunn.

Yuri and I both had loads of work to do this weekend and decided to set up shop at the Balcony Lounge at the Met. This is a private lounge for members of the museum, and my family has a membership. (Thanks, Ma!) The lounge is quiet, serves excellent tea and cheese, there’s fast wireless, and if you need to take a break and go see Walker Evans photographs or stare at The Harvesters by Bruegel the Elder, you can absolutely do that. We all need Bruegel the Elder breaks from time to time.

I was focused on editing the May/June ’14 issue of Quilty when I heard a one-of-a-kind voice. I looked up to see none other than style icon and Project Runway host Tim Gunn greeting the nice lady at the registration desk. My mouth dropped open. I grabbed Yuri’s leg. I do that a lot for a variety of reasons on a regular basis, so he didn’t look up from his laptop.

“Yuri!” I hissed. “Yuri, it’s Tim Gunn. Tim Gunn just walked in!”

Yuri was programming. “Who?”

“Tim Gunn! Tim Gunn from Project Runway! And, like, fashion!”

My body was contorting into Martha Graham-like shapes. I was excited. Tim Gunn is someone whose career I admire. He taught at (and led) Parsons School of Design for many years. He was Chief Creative Officer at Liz Claiborne for awhile, which, according to my research, put him at the company during its morph into the Kate Spade-Juicy Couture-JC Penny animal it is now? This is unclear to me, but it is clear is that Tim Gunn is the man. And, as most people who are not named Yuri know, Tim Gunn has served as beloved mentor to designers cast in Project Runway since the very first season of the show in 2004. He’s written books, he’s done TV and film cameos; he’s even got his own catchphrase. Though we know people on screens are not magic, it’s plain as can be: Tim Gunn is neat.

I tried to focus on my work but it was impossible. I kept stealing teensy glances over to the sofa where Tim Gunn was sitting. He was perusing a large art book. There are many beautiful books of art on offer in the member lounge, no surprise, and he was engrossed in his selection.

What to do? I desperately wanted to meet him but refused to be weird or annoying. I decided after he had been there for an hour or so to write an extremely short, non-creepy little note to him. (Hear me out.) I would buy his glass of wine and give my note to the waitress to give to him in lieu of his check. My note said something like:

“Hi, Tim Gunn! Thank you for inspiring so many of us who work with textiles. If you ever need a quilt or a quilter for any reason, call me!”

I taped my business card in the center of the note using one of the stickers for my upcoming book. Actually speaking to the man was not part of my plan. I’d take care of the bill and Yuri and I would leave before he did or he’d call for his check and before he left, I’d escape to the bathroom so he wouldn’t feel obligated to come say anything. I wanted to make tiny, meaningful contact with a compliment. No awkwardness, no foul.

But then the waitress went on break! She was his waitress and my waitress! She was the lynchpin of my entire scheme! Now what?!

After a few panicky texts with my sisters, I changed my mind: I would deliver my note in person. If I didn’t try to say hello to Tim Gunn at the Met lounge at that moment, I would never have the chance again. I put on some lip gloss and walked over to where he was sitting.

Readers, I am happy to report that Tim Gunn is wonderful.

“Excuse me, Mr. Gunn?”

He was immediately on his feet.

“Call me Tim! Please!” He placed his book down on the table and stood to shake my hand. “How are you?” he asked, as though we had met. Eep!

“Oh, I’m fine,” I said. I was more timid than I have ever been in my life, I think. “I had this whole plan how not to disturb you. I was going to give you this little note and buy your glass of wine, but then the waitress went on break and, well, I just wanted to say thank you so much. You’re very inspiring. I’m a quilter.”

Tim Gunn was looking at my note. “This is wonderful! How delightful! My goodness! A quilter? That’s marvelous! What is this?” He was pointing to the sticker.

“That’s my book! My first book. It’s coming out in May.”

“That is a tremendous accomplishment,” said Tim Gunn. “I don’t know what I’d do without my co-author. She turns what I write into something actually worth reading! Congratulations to you! When does it come out?”

“May,” I said, beaming. Talking to Tim Gunn was like talking to… Well, Tim Gunn. It was the best. And yes, he looked amazing in tailored everything and he smelled terrific.

We chatted a teensy bit more. He said, “Oh, good. I see your email, here. I’ll send you my last couple of books!” and I said, “I’ll send you mine! We’ll trade!” and Tim Gunn said that sounded like a fine idea.

Start to finish, the encounter was all of two minutes, but it sure was pleasant. Thanks, Tim Gunn, for being kind to a stranger who admires you a great deal. I hope you do receive my book when I send it to you; since it doesn’t come out till May, it’s possible you’ll forget why you’re getting it and your people will move it to the revolving file. But if you do get it, I hope the quilts in the book will inspire you, even a tiny bit.

14 Responses

  1. Lynn Wilson
    | Reply

    How I enjoy your blog! I’m glad to know that Tim Gunn is the gentleman he appears to be. What I hope is that he looks you up and finds out what I talent you are.

  2. austen
    | Reply

    you made it work!

  3. Heather K
    | Reply

    Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    That. Is. Awesome. !!!!!!!!!

  4. Lynn Douglass
    | Reply

    That is so cool! I’m so glad that you got the gumption to approach him! As a new reader to your blog, I thoroughly enjoy your writing. I’m looking forward to seeing your book when it comes out in May!

  5. Andres
    | Reply

    You have more guts than I do, I would have chickened out.

  6. Patty
    | Reply

    Wow! How awesome! I absolutely love Tim Gunn! My daughter and I have followed Project Runway since the beginning. He is an inspiration to me too. Whenever I get stuck working on a project, I think to myself…what would Tim say? Why, he’d say “Pat! Make it work!!” Mary, I enjoy reading your blog–it’s a breath of fresh air! Looking forward to your book too!!

  7. Paula@TheSassyQuilter
    | Reply

    How exciting!!! I think I would have totally freaked out and bailed when I got close:) So refreshing to hear how kind and genuine he was. Thanks for sharing this moment…felt like I was there:)

  8. Becky M
    | Reply

    So fun! Glad to hear he was so nice and friendly. Kudos to you for introducing yourself!

  9. Kim
    | Reply

    oh Mary, how lucky and brave you are!

  10. Lynn
    | Reply

    That was such a fun experience, I’m so glad he is so gracious

  11. Laura Tawney
    | Reply

    How absolutely wonderful and what a great memory. It’s nice to know that how he is on Project Runway is also how he is in person! I’ve always believed that he is what makes that show successful. I would imagine he will follow through. I’m new to your blog and really enjoy your writing:-)
    LauraT

  12. Kristin
    | Reply

    Squee!! I would melt at that opportunity!! Have you washed your hand yet?? Tim Gunn shook your hand!! Jealous. 🙂

  13. […] I promise to post a picture when I get my dress and am sure I have the proper shoes to go with it. Tim Gunn, who I met a couple years ago, would be […]

  14. […] Remember when I met Tim Gunn at the Met in New York City? If you’re a new PaperGirl reader, you probably don’t know this happened at all — but it did!  […]

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