Press Tour: ‘Runway’ star Gunn will be ‘Big Daddy’ of ‘Under the Gunn’

If you can’t get enough of mentor Tim Gunn on “Project Runway” (and really, who can?), Lifetime is launching “Under the Gunn,” a design competition show in which Gunn mentors three “Project Runway” winners as they mentor a bunch of competing designers. Sound complicated? Gunn says “multi-layered,” so there. 

“Sara [Rea, executive producer] huddled and really came up with this concept of me being the Big Daddy, mentoring mentors who are mentoring designers in the workroom. I just saw the first episode, and I was struck by how behind-the-scenes it feels. I was talking with someone about it, and [they said] on “Runway” I’m the only mentor. Our mentors, Anya [Chee],  Mondo and Nick, are constantly huddled together. I’m crazy about the show. We loved doing the season, it was really joyous… I really loved it,” Gunn explained. 

Rea added, “These mentors are coming in fresh and new, and we see them grow and evolve as mentors. There’s a serial arc with these mentors. It’s fascinating to watch how they navigate having to fill Tim’s shoes.”

As far as how the show was constructed, Gunn admitted, “We just lob it out and see where the mentors take it and the designers take it, and we were constantly surprised and, frankly, in awe. We were flying by the seat of our pants, and we loved that.

When asked about the success rate of previous “Runway” winners, Gunn said, “It’s a throw of the dice in so many ways. Frankly anyone who’s on the show, other than 3 or 4 challenges, they can only achieve what their resources and talent allows them to. Some people don’t want to be a global brand… I’m certainly there to help them when they reach out. You can’t want them to succeed more than they do.”

As to whether that degree of success has correlated with a lack of business acumen, Gunn said, “One our our judges, Rachel Roy, is a very business minded designer and brings it up with diplomacy during the judging. I will say no matter how deft a designer thinks he is at business, he needs a business partner.”

Gunn explained a bit more of the show, saying, “I sit with the judges. I’m kind of a Big Daddy, I help facilitate outcomes. I say, okay guys, make a decision now. I will correct course if the judges don’t fully understand the challenge… I’m also there to probe the designers, tell them what happened with X, Y and Z.”

Whether or not he has more control than he does on “Project Runway,” Gunn demurred, “I have no desire to control it. We have a brand spanking new group of judges, and they all have different points of view, and it was really wonderful to hear them debate things. We have so much fabulous content, we can’t possibly show it all to you. There are so many dimensions to this, and we let it play out and don’ t try to control it.”

But, is it really all that different from “Project Runway”? According to Gunn, the differences are a plus for competitors. “I’m very envious of our mentors. On ‘Runway,’ I only make one round of the workroom. I just can’t go back in. Our mentors are in charge of 4, so after the initial critique we make together, then they have free access to those designers the rest of the day. 

Like “Runway,” there will be celebrity judges, and the inclusion of Macklemore caught the eye of one journalist. What does he know about fashion? “To be fully transparent, I thought the same thing! But he’s fabulous! So knowledgeable about fashion. We had this incredibly depth-filled discussion about the last fifty years of fashion, and I was blown away. [For the whole season] there were people I thought ‘what?’ And I was blown away.”

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