Tim Gunn reveals why he left ‘Project Runway’ at Austin luncheon

During easily the best Jewel Fashion Luncheon ever for the Women’s Symphony League, former “Project Runway” host Tim Gunn met briefly with fans in a side room, then spent a full hour on stage sharing life stories — including his reasons for leaving the show — with several hundred transfixed guests at the Hyatt Regency Austin.

Sharon Chapman and Tim Gunn at the Jewel Fashion Luncheon for the Women’s Symphony League. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

After a lovely, truncated fashion show staged among the lunch tables with apparel from Neiman Marcus, Austin singer, producer and radio host Sarajane Mela Dailey asked Gunn questions. As she does in performance, Dailey waited — alert and alive to possibility, without stealing focus — until it time came to pose each adroit query with just the right tone.

RELATED: America might need Tim Gunn now more than ever.

Dapper and open as always, Gunn spoke on four topics.

  1. His youth as he studied classical piano, while planning to become an architect. How e dropped out of architecture school to study painting, then was forced to take a sculpture class that turned out to be his 3-dimensional métier.
  2. His time as a teacher and administrator, brought into the Parsons School of Design to head the fashion program, only to find it was “not a design school, but a dressmaking school.” He radically restructured the curriculum and a signature fashion-show benefit in order to prepare the students for the real world, where they would be expected to be entrepreneurs who could think critically and handle any design puzzle. How dare he? “You’ve got to tell the truth.” He also introduced to much resistance mannikins that were “gazelle thin,” which not only helped students design for real clients, but also foreshadowed the variety of model shapes on “Project Runway.”
  3. The early days of “Project Runway,” when he was highly skeptical of the reality contest until he learned that they would be using actual designers, not people off the street. He wasn’t supposed to appear on camera. When they asked Gunn to ask questions of the designers in the studio while they, he expected that his part would end up on the editing floor. After all, this is what he did with Parsons students without calling attention to himself. Of course, with Heidi Klum, he became the unquestioned costar of the show and a role model for all teachers.
  4. The end of his time on “Project Runway” began in the spring. The new season was ready to go. Then he and Klum found out through young relatives by way of social media that the show was headed back to Bravo, its original home, from Lifetime. After a period of silence from the networks, their agents informed them on an offer of 60 percent less salary than they were making before. To the Bravo execs, these two idols were “old and stale.” So Gunn and Klum accepted an offer from Amazon to create a new fashion show. Details to come.