Image: Tim Gunn
John Smock  /  AP
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Tim Gunn, host of “Tim Gunn's Guide to Style” and mentor to up-and-coming designers on “Project Runway,” does a fair amount of traveling. When asked what he wouldn't be caught dead wearing on a plane, Gunn said a sweatsuit, adding, “If you want to dress as if you just got out of bed, don’t get out of bed.”
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Special to msnbc.com
updated 11/14/2007 11:13:22 AM ET 2007-11-14T16:13:22

Tim Gunn has shot to fame as one of the stars of “Project Runway,” Bravo’s fashion reality show which is currently in its fourth season. Gunn, the former chair of fashion design at Parsons The New School for Design and current chief creative officer of Liz Claiborne, also has his own makeover show on Bravo, “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style,” and co-wrote a book called, “A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style.”

Gunn checked in with us recently to “carry-on” about his experiences visiting cities and cultures all over the world and even offered some free advice on how to “make it work” when you’re traveling.

Q: I think the first thing any traveler who happens to be a Tim Gunn fan wants to know is what you wear on an airplane.

A: I usually wear a dark suit and a shirt without a tie. I’m just very comfortable with it. To get more precise, it’s a suit with about 4 percent synthetic fibers, which gives it a little bit of stretch so it’s comfortable and I don’t have to worry about wrinkling. Dark is good, and I like having a jacket because the temperature can fluctuate.

Q: Do you like flying?

A: Not really, because unfortunately I can’t fall asleep on planes. It’s not a physiological thing that keeps me from falling asleep, it’s something psychological.

Q: Are you afraid?

A: No. It’s just a barrier. Maybe deep down I think the pilot needs to speak to me and I have to be alert. But it always happens that the flight attendants notice it. They’ll say, “Sir, you’re always awake for the second movie.” I’ll say, “Yeah, and I hope there’s a third.”

Q: What wouldn’t you be caught dead wearing on an airplane?

A: A sweatsuit! Or sweatpants and a T-shirt. Some people get onto a plane wearing pajamas because they plan to go to sleep. On one hand, I kind of understand. On the other hand, you were just walking through an airport — it’s not as if you were arriving at the plane in some enclosed vehicle. So don’t you have the remotest bit of ego that says, “I at least need to look halfway decent and there aren’t 200 people sharing a bed with me?” I just don’t get it. If you want to dress as if you just got out of bed, don’t get out of bed.

Q: Throughout all your travels, what have you found to be the most fashion-forward cities?

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A: I wish I were really well-traveled in terms of hundreds and hundreds of cities, but I’m not. The only thing that’s surprised me is how provincial some places seem. For me, Tokyo doesn’t feel like an international city the way London, New York and Paris do, in the fashion sense or in the cultural sense. It seems inward-looking and doesn’t seem like it has an international reach. I did find Hong Kong to be very fashion-forward and very international, but I haven’t been there since the handover. It seems like yesterday but unfortunately was a while ago. I’ve really found a fashion fervor, I guess, where you’d expect it.

Q: Do you get to make the most of business travel?

A: No. Usually it’s nothing but work, work, work, it’s a surgical strike and I do it and get out and go back to New York. I did go to Washington, D.C., recently to speak at the Corcoran Gallery and accept an award, and I had a day off there. I thought I’d work from my hotel room, but the internet connection was bad, so I took a tour of the Smithsonian and just enjoyed Washington. It was fantastic. It was the first day in recent memory where I actually got to do something that was in its own way frivolous.

Q: Give us the absolute essentials for a Tim Gunn vacation.

A: Well, I wouldn’t want to sit on a beach. I wouldn’t want to do anything where I would possibly end up in a hospital. That would ruin a vacation. So forget rock climbing and skiing. Scratch those right off the list. Give me any vacation where there are museums, history, good dining and paved roads. Actually, that’s not altogether true. I’d love to go to Angkor Wat, where they’re probably paved with a cobblestone.

Q: That’s an interesting choice. Not many people mention Angkor Wat.

A: That’s true, I guess, but I’m fascinated with ancient cultures. Not that Khmer culture is that ancient, but I’m fascinated by architecture and the decorative arts, and in that culture in particular, it was so powerful and dominant. I’ve seen photos of the temples and carvings and would love to experience it first hand.

Q: I’m sure you have plenty of horror stories from travel. What’s your best one?

A: I do have a lot. I spent a lot of time in Japan developing an academic program at Parsons in Kanazawa on the Sea of Japan. It’s a big seafood place, and I was with the dean of Parsons at the time and our hosts were incredibly generous and thoughtful people who asked the dean whether he wanted to eat dinner at a seafood or beef restaurant. Given where we were, he said seafood. So we’re being served, and a very large, flat fish came out. The meat on it had been flayed so you could take chopsticks and pick it off the fish. Just after it was served, the person presenting it took an eye dropper that we were told had sake in it and put it in the fish’s mouth. Well, the fish began to writhe and it was so startling and so unappetizing that I turned to the dean and said, “Well, thank God you didn’t suggest the beef restaurant.”

Q: Sounds disgusting, so here’s a subject change. What’s your dream destination?

A: I’d love to go down the Nile and see the Pyramids and monuments of ancient Egypt. That’s something I’ve never done. A safari in Africa has zero appeal to me. Nature, the Jeep, the pith helmet and the heat? Uh, not for me. I can see the elephants, lions and tigers at the zoo. It sounds horrible and I shouldn’t say these things to you, but it doesn’t appeal to me. But I’d also love to visit the Great Wall of China and certainly climb it and go up to it and walk as much of it as permitted. And the Forbidden City. I’d love to go to China, I think. Even despite all the pollution. It’s man’s impact on our world that appeals to me more than just nature running wild.

Q: You probably get enough of that in the “Project Runway” workroom.

A: You’re absolutely correct. There’s plenty of it, and it’s all unbridled. Especially Season 4.

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