As a mentor on Project Runway, Tim Gunn has become a nationally beloved icon of good taste and optimism in the face of some terrible ideas. And since he's always urging designers to "make it work," we've invited him to play a game called "You're never going to make that work." Three questions about fashion ideas that we believe are truly beyond help.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where people who do everything right find out how the rest of us feel - it's called, Not My Job. You've seen Tim Gunn mentoring designers on "Project Runway" and always urging them to make it work. He's become a nationally beloved icon of good cheer and good taste, so while we're surprised he's here, we are delighted to welcome Tim Gunn to WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME. Tim, what a pleasure to have you.
TIM GUNN: Thank you.
SAGAL: I rarely feel this way because I love radio, but I wish for the moment that our listeners could see you 'cause you are - as you would expect - you look great.
GUNN: Thank you.
SAGAL: And do people come up to you all the time and say, how do I look? Do I look OK?
SAGAL: Right. And that must mean it's a burden because - do you tell them the truth?
GUNN: Well, if we're engaged in a conversation that's more than a nanosecond or a minute and I get to know who they are - I mean, I'll ask what I feel are important questions. What do you do? With whom do you interact? What's your lifestyle like? What do you think about how you're dressed? Do you dress like this all the time? But for the most part, that doesn't happen, so you, in fact, have a nanosecond to respond. And I borrowed a line from Lucy Ricardo in the show called, "Lucy Tells The Truth."
SAGAL: The episode of "I Love Lucy" called "Lucy Tells The Truth"?
GUNN: Yes. And in it there's a situation over bridge and Marion Strong or Caroline Appleby - I can't remember which one - comes in wearing a crazy hat and asks Lucy - so what do you think of my hat? And Lucy says to Marion or Carolyn, well, if that's the hat you want, you sure have a good one. And that's what I say. Well, if that's the look you want, you sure have a good one.
GUNN: I would die.
MO ROCCA: I don't mean to send us on a digression, but since you brought up "I Love Lucy," you do have the single best Vivian Vance story ever.
GUNN: Oh, I do.
SAGAL: If you would like to tell your Vivian Vance story, who am I to stand in your way?
SAGAL: Vivian Vance played Ethel on "I Love Lucy."
GUNN: Yes. My father was a career FBI agent, 26 years. And he was - well, he was an agent but he ended up being J. Edgar Hoover's ghostwriter, speechwriter - took care of all the correspondents and his office was two doors down from Mr. Hoover's office.
And growing up, my sister and I loved the FBI tour. And this one particular year, I was nine or 10 and my sister was therefore six or seven. And my father said, you kids are going to be so excited - Vivian Vance is in Mr. Hoover's office. And I was a huge "I Love Lucy" fan. Would you like to meet her? Well, yes, of course. So we did and it was lovely and she was charming.
Years later, my father's in a nursing home with Alzheimer's disease - he's not at the Thanksgiving table where family has gathered. And all these rumors are out about Hoover being a cross-dresser.
GUNN: So I was reflecting upon that time in his office with Vivian Vance.
GUNN: And I turned to my sister and I said, upon reflection, I know it was years and years ago - doesn't it strike you as odd that Hoover wasn't in the office?
JESSI KLEIN: Wow.
ROCCA: My question is...
PETER GROSZ: So it's not a Vivian Vance story?
ROCCA: How was J. Edgar Hoover as Vivian Van dressed - which is really what matters?
GUNN: A stunning house dress.
KLEIN: If that's the look he wanted, he got a good one.
GUNN: But I have to tell you this too, I wrote about this in one of my books - "Gunn's Golden Rules." It was published by a division of Simon & Schuster. The Simon & Schuster legal team went to task on that book. They spent two weeks with it and they contacted Vivian Vance's two biographers - neither of whom knew anything about this visit to the FBI, and then they went to the FBI to look at their visitor logs - no Vivian Vance.
SAGAL: That is...
KLEIN: ...Your dad is a betrayer of secrets and a sweetheart. It was so nice to feel like - my kids would love this.
GUNN: And that's true.
SAGAL: So let's follow logic. So J. Edgar Hoover wants to dress up as Vivian Vance, but that's not enough. He wants to meet children as Vivian Vance.
SAGAL: And so he says your father - he says, get me some kids.
GROSZ: It's weird 'cause it's like your father was the Ethel to J. Edgar Hoover's Lucy.
SAGAL: I have a series of questions here, I'm tempted to throw them away just say, tell more stories, Tim. But I do want to ask you - I want to ask about your personal style because you're always on your show - as you are right now - perfectly dressed. If I were to - and I won't do this - if I were to break into your house at say, you know, 8 a.m. on a Saturday. It's Saturday morning, you're up, you've got, you know - you're not going anywhere. And all of a sudden - oh my gosh, I'm out of coffee. I'm assuming you drink coffee here.
GUNN: Of course I do.
SAGAL: All right. So you say to yourself, I need to go down to the Bodega at the corner and get some cough.
GUNN: Oh, it's actually not a Bodega at the corner, it's a stunning Food Emporium.
SAGAL: I'm sure.
GROSZ: It's the most stylish Food Emporium in the city.
SAGAL: Of course it is. But, the point of the story is, you say to yourself, I'm Tim Gunn, I need to walk down the block. I will be seen by people, do I need to put on a suit?
GUNN: No, I don't put on a suit.
SAGAL: Really? So you're willing to walk down the street in your jammies?
GUNN: Absolutely, in jeans, an oxford shirt, blazer.
KLEIN: Just a blazer.
SAGAL: He's ready to be that informal any day. I bet your tie and pocket square don't even match.
GUNN: Not on Saturday mornings.
SAGAL: Not on Saturday mornings.
ROCCA: That's why God created a weekend.
SAGAL: But seriously, do you - I guess my question is, do you have to worry? Like, you know - if like, oh, my God, if you walk out wearing something silly or not really excellent, people will say, I saw Tim Gunn and he was wearing like that Three Dog Night T-shirt from Amazon.
GUNN: Well, I have to say, even the way that I dress now, you never know how people are going to perceive it. I was in Los Angeles for five weeks last fall doing a show and walked from my apartment to where we were taping - was a block away. And I was wearing a new suit, I thought I looked great. And it was early - probably 6:30 or 7, and a couple - a man and woman came up behind me. And I heard her say to him, you know, dear, I wish you'd dress more like this guy. And he - I didn't turn around, but I heard him say, what? You mean like an [bleep].
SAGAL: Tim Gunn, we are delighted to talk to you, but we have asked you here to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS, BYLINE: You're Never Going To Make That Work.
SAGAL: So we've watch your show avidly. You're famous for your optimism in the face of some pretty questionable design ideas. So we decided to ask you three questions about fashion notions that we believe are truly beyond help.
GUNN: Oh, I'm intrigued.
SAGAL: I - well, I hope so. Answer two or three correctly, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners. Bill, who is fashion guru Tim Gunn playing for?
KURTIS: Ellia Einhorn of Brooklyn, New York.
GUNN: Ellia, I'll do my best.
SAGAL: All right, here is your first question. A designer named Manel Torres showed of his Spring/Summer Collection in London in 2011, but somehow his ideas never caught on. What was it? A - The Emperor's New Look, made of fabric so light and sheer it was essentially invisible, B- Fabrican, cans of spray-on clothes, or C - Fashion Plate, an adaptation of medieval steel armor for today's nightlife?
SAGAL: You know this.
GUNN: I'm intuiting and I hope I know it.
SAGAL: You are correct.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: That was very confident.
SAGAL: All right, next question. Fashion and jewelry designer Reid Peppard made headlines for his bold new accessories. What makes them special? A - they are physically stapled to the body so you never have to clutch your clutch purse again, it just hangs there, B - they're made from roadkill, like the beautiful Double Rat Headdress, or C - they're head mounted laser guns in eight designer colors?
GUNN: Well, I'm going to throw out A and C and go for B, the roadkill.
SAGAL: The roadkill? You're very good at this.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
GUNN: But is that true?
GUNN: Would any of you buy a roadkill accessory? No.
SAGAL: Well, apparently he's gotten a lot of attention for this.
GUNN: Well, I can imagine - from the nut wards.
SAGAL: Yeah. No, he's a leader in the taxidermy jewelry crossover industry. There's a lot of that.
SAGAL: All right, now, this is very good. I want to see if you can get this last one as well as you got the first two. Back in the 1930s, the Pathetone Newsreel company put out a film in which designers were asked about what women would be wearing in the far-off year, 2000.
GUNN: Oh, I love this.
SAGAL: Yes. Which was one of the futuristic notions? They created these dresses - was it A - aluminum dresses with headlamps, so as to search for men?
GUNN: God for fend.
SAGAL: B - movable hemlines, which could go up and down at the push of a button as fashions changed, or C - motors to operate the legs and arms so people of the future could truly live a life of leisure?
GUNN: Any of the three of those are fun to consider.
GUNN: I think it's the movable hemlines.
SAGAL: You think it's the movable hemlines - 'cause that would be great. Maybe with like a dial so when the fashion changes...
GUNN: Well, I'm not even thinking about fashion changing as much as you go from day to evening.
SAGAL: All right, well actually it was the aluminum dress with headlamps.
SAGAL: It was. Here is a clip from the film.
GUNN: Oh, how great.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A dress of aluminum, with a sash that changes for your evening and electric headlights to help her to find an honest man.
SAGAL: Yes, a dress of aluminum, no less. Bill, how did Tim Gunn do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Well, even though he got two for three, I think his answers are better than the official.
SAGAL: There you are, I agree.
SAGAL: Tim Gunn is a fashion icon and is currently shooting season 13 of "Project Runway," and he has a new bedding line coming out this September. Tim Gunn, thank you so much for joining us.
SAGAL: What a pleasure to talk to you.
GUNN: You thank you so much.
SAGAL: Oh, my goodness.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DRESSED FOR SUCCESS")
ROXETTE: (Singing) I'm gonna get dressed for success, shaping me up for the big time, baby. Get dressed for success...
SAGAL: In just a minute, Bill Kurtis becomes a wet nurse in the listener Limerick challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. Support for NPR comes from NPR stations and Lumber Liquidators hardwood, bamboo and cork flooring, with a Floor Finder app for iPad and iPhone. Learn more at lumberliquidators.com. Angie's List, connecting consumers with user-reviewed contractors and online marketplace and concierge support for home improvement services - angieslist.com. And the Economic Development Authority of Fairfax County, Virginia, home to creative people and creative companies at powerofideas.org. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.