…And She Had an Audience with Tim Gunn: Q&A with Fashion Designer Kori Wahman

I’m not one to become jealous of anyone (quit your smirking) but the evil green monster that is envy reared its ugly head a while back when I saw my favorite, play uncle, uncle-in-my-head, Project Runway’s Tim Gunn on a local (Minneapolis -St. Paul) afternoon talk show, Twin Cities Live. He was there to discuss his new book, Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making It Work which he would later sign at Mall of America (Tim G and Mall of America? Try to wrap your brain around that one) and to critique the work of three designers. (Click here for the video)

It has always been a dream of mine to have an audience with the nearly saintly Gunn. The designers got the chance to live MY dream. *turning a light shade of green while grumbling*

Well, I had to know…Just had to know what it was like to not only meet Gunn but have him critique your work.  So, I hunted down…I mean, contacted…one of the designers, Minneapolis resident Kori Wahman, in an attempt to have some more Gunn in my life, albeit vicariously.  And while I was at it, I decided to get to know this young designer, a recent graduate of University of Wisconsin – Stout having majored in Apparel Design and Development.

So The Ride (and her envy green alter ego) chatted with Kori about her inspirations, aspirations, designs, and of course, that fateful day when he touched the proverbial hem of his garment (No disrespect to HIM *points to the heavenlies*).

The Ride: So cool that you met my favorite uncle in my head, Tim Gunn.  What was it like to stand before him and have him critique your work?   What is everything you could have hoped for and imagined?

Tim Gunn (courtesy of BuddyTV)

Kori: Really, it was just plain fantastic. Essentially, he is this huge character and mogul in the fashion industry and was looking straight at me and telling me I have a very distinct point of view as a designer and that my future is bright …I’m not sure if you can get much better than that.

The whole process of talking with him on air went by very quickly and I was the first one to go and so I was completely unsure of what he was going to say and what he ended up saying to me was just so validating for me. You go through school and hope you’re doing the right thing, or that you’re at least partially creative and it was just so amazing to hear someone tell you you’re good at what you want to do in life. And to be honest, I was choking back tears as soon as I walked off the set. So yes, It was absolutely everything I could have imagined!

The Ride: By the way, how were you selected to appear on the show?

Kori: I can only thank my sister for this, really. She told me that Twin Cities Live needed local designers to show their work to Tim Gunn. I said, “No way I have nothing to show TIM GUNN.” All I had was my senior studio collection and I kind of haven’t been sewing lately. She ended up e-mailing a woman there and telling her that I needed to be on the show and gave her the link to my website. I got the call less than 24 hours before being on the show. It was amazing.

The Ride: What was your reaction when you heard that you will be meeting the great Mr. Gunn?

Kori: Well I called my entire family, who then proceeded to call our extended family. I texted my friends because I was on my way to work and I checked my phone later in the day and had something like 5 missed phone calls and 10 new texts. We were all slightly freaking out. Of course, my mom cried when she heard. I just kept saying, “THIS IS CRAZY!”

Joe Wahman, Kori Wahman and Megan Wahman (courtesy of K. Wahman)

The Ride: How did you prepare for your meeting?

Kori: Like I said, I found out I was going to be on the show less than 24 hours before actually going live. I felt unprepared and really nervous. I just kept describing my ensembles and design aesthetic over and over again in my head because I figured that’s what they’d ask. Other than I few stutters in the beginning, I think it went pretty well!

The Ride: Any plans to audition for an upcoming season of Project Runway?

Kori: Probably not. That’s always the question people ask when they find out I want to be a fashion designer. It scares me a little. I watch these people struggle and screw up and doubt themselves and it doesn’t feel very fun; however, quite entertaining. Never say never though.

The Ride: I’m all about essentials (if that makes sense). What 3 things do you always carry with you (other than your wallet/money)? Me: I always have my camera, a calculator (I can add/subtract or anything worth a damn) and a pad and a pen…Oh, I guess that was four.

Kori: I would hardly call myself a person prepared for anything. It’s not unusual for me to be checking out somewhere only to find that my card isn’t anywhere near the purse I’m holding. That said, you could usually find (other than my phone) a pen or pencil, some sort of lipgloss or chapstick and something odd like candy or a travel size hand sanitizer. You could say that instead of using my purse to be prepared I use it to throw random junk into.

The Ride: Whose closet would you like to raid..I mean “borrow,” a few things from?

Kori: Now this is difficult..Rachel Bilson. I think she’s got a great sense of all things casual, she always looks accidentally chic. And as much as I hate her, Lindsey Lohan’s wardrobe is fantastic. Girly, fun, sexy and not over the top trendy.

The Ride: On your website, you had a picture of Audrey Hepburn on your “Inspiration” page. How does she inspire you and your work?

Kori: Audrey Hepburn just screams all things feminine and pretty to me. It’s the feeling you get when you look at pictures of her and watch her movies. She will always be a classic inspiration in women’s wardrobes.

Kori Wahman Designs (courtesy of K. Wahman)

The Ride: Speaking of inspiration, what music/songs inspire you?

Kori: I LOVE Justin Nozuka and Adele. I’ve danced on and off since I was three years old and music to me really inspires me for dance. When I listen to music I ALWAYS picture a dance, whether it be a solo or a big production. Being creative in anyway possible really makes me happy. I feel like that’s all I’ve ever been good at; not your best student, but when it was art time I was ALL about it.

The Ride: What works of arts/artists?

Kori: For a really long time I’ve had huge admiration for James Rosenquist. His paintings are so outrageous to me, very intricate and unexpected. I’m thinking about using some of his paintings for some pieces I want to make if I can get into the Voltage Fashion Show this year.

The Ride: How would you describe your point-of-view as designer?

Kori: The Classics, with unexpected details. I love a good back detail like the straps in the blue tank top I made that was on Twin Cities Live. I like to take your average silhouette or cut and make it into something special; something that screams FANTASTIC. Girly, sexy touches as well. Figure flattering.

Kori Wahman Fashions (courtesy: K. Wahman)

The Ride: Who do you design for?  What woman wears your clothes?

Kori: I always end up sketching for women ages 18-35. Someone living in a larger city, not afraid to wear new styles.

Kori Wahman Designs (courtesy of K. Wahman)

The Ride: What was the first thing you made?

Kori: I was in seventh grade when I first used a sewing machine. It was for Home Ec(onomics) class. I made a super chic pair of boxers; I think the print was ladybugs or something. I also managed to stab the machines needle in a boy’s finger. It literally went entirely through the pad of is finger. Sorry about that one, Steve.

The Ride: Tell me about Shoreview, Minnesota, your hometown? How did growing up there influence your fashion sensibility?

Kori: Well Shoreview is 20 minutes north of Minneapolis. I think my style as a sense of approachability — you can throw it on, look great and be ready to go. You don’t have to try all that hard. I think living in the suburbs probably showed me that. When I was younger, my parents would always take us into the cities for musicals, ballet, concerts, museums, etc., and we always got dressed up, or always took like 2 hours getting ready for it (maybe that was because my brother sister and I are all two years apart and getting us ready was horrifying). I feel like if my parents never gave me that opportunity at a young age, I would be a much different person.

The Ride: I’m new to the Twin Cities (I came from the NYC where I was born and raised). I’m trying to figure out if the TC has a “style”. Does it?

Kori: I think just like any other city, the Twin Cities is a mish mash of things. I think we take less risks as other, larger cities. But if you go to sites like TheMinneapoline (street fashion blog) you can clearly see that we know what we’re doing and we do it well. As far as men go, they are a LOT less fashionable here than in other cities. In the subways of New York, I would slowly die watching all of these beautiful straight men dress stylish. To me, there’s nothing better than a well-dressed, stylish man who doesn’t need his girlfriend to help him put on a pair of pants.

The Ride: I’ve got one for you. Picture this: Anna Wintour, EIC and Grand Dame of Vogue has landed in the Twin Cities and you have been designated to be her escort. Where would you take her? What would you do?

Kori: Good lord. WELL, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this yet, but I think many people who live here or are raised here have a very, very strong love for Minnesota. You can eat very well, see performances of any kind, go to countless museums and then drive 30 minutes north and be on a boat in the middle of the lake drinking a beer. I know that’s what I love about Minnesota. And I would show her just that. First I would drive very very slowly over the 35W bridge at sunset and let her see that amazing view of Minneapolis that we all love. I would probably take her see our iconic cherry and spoon, take her to a fantastic restaurant, bring her to 50th and France, even the Mall of America. I would love to take her to some stores that sell local designers so she can see what talented fashion designers we have here. But wow, that would be one terrifying day.

The Ride: Finally, what’s the dream?

Kori: Just to be happy I think. I know that’s corny but really as long as I get to be creative in my work environment weather it be clothing design, or technical design, or culinary or something I haven’t even figured I love yet…Then, I’ll be happy. I’ve always told people if I was stuck behind a desk at a cubical I would hate myself. The way I’ll be starting that dream is by staying Minneapolis for a while and then heading out to New York. I spent a summer there for my internship and knew it would be a home for me someday.

The Ride: And finally, finally, what is your favorite quotation?

Kori: I love Lady Gaga’s quote: “When you make music or write or create, it’s really your job to have mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex with whatever idea it is you’re writing about at the time.”

But I’m also quite obsessed with the speech that Meryl Streep gives Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada about how she thinks she chooses to be exempt from fashion when really she’s a part of it. It kind of shows people who think that going into the fashion industry or that caring about labels/designers is superficial, that they have no idea what they’re talking about.

Here’s the full speech:

“Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select… I don’t know… that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner… where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of ‘stuff’.

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