Tim Gunn explains origins of catchphrase “Make It Work”

NEW YORK - AUGUST 26:  TV personality Tim Gunn attends the launch of of the new 'Tide and Downy Total Care' at the pool deck of The Empire Hotel on August 26, 2008 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

Every fan of Lifetime’s multiple-Emmy-nominated reality competition series Project Runway is familiar with endearingly suave mentor Tim Gunn’s catchphrase, “Make It Work.”

The austere fashion guru with a heart of gold often ends his consultations with contestants with this three-word command and he never says it just to say it – he means it. Contestants are usually given less than 24 hours to construct their look and Tim Gunn usually has his consultations about halfway through the process. At that stage the designers don’t really have the option of starting over from scratch, so after taking into consideration whatever advice Tim has given them, they really do have to “make it work” with the supplies they have and whatever irreversible decisions they have made to that point.

So when did Tim Gunn start using his infamous motivational mantra? In a conference call promoting Project Runway Season 8 he reveals that his “make it work” cherry was popped while teaching a fashion design class at Parsons The New School for Design:

This was the senior year class and the course I was teaching was Concept Development, and it works in tandem with a course in which the students actually execute their collection. I had a student who— It was March; she was going to throw the entire collection away, literally and metaphorically, and start a new one. I said, “We are presenting these collections in four weeks. You’re looking at five months of work, and you’re saying you’re going to get rid of it and start all over again?” I said, “You’re not.”

I said, “You’re going to look at the situation at hand, offer up a diagnosis for what’s wrong, a prescription, and then a prescription for how to make it work. You’ve got to make this work. You’re not going to start all over again. Period.” This was many years ago this happened, I find that with student that they then end up having this incredible resource within themselves for how to problem solve as they move forward as opposed to just starting all over again. And okay it works, but do you know why? So it’s a very useful lesson.

On Project Runway, it’s nothing if not “make it work.” Because as I’m always saying to the designers, once we leave Mood, that’s it. Whatever you have is what you have, and you’re not going shopping again. You’re not retooling this. It’s “make it work” time

Tim was also asked if he used the phrase in his everyday life and addresses whether or not we should expect to hear it this season:

You know I do, but I have to say I’ve become very self-conscious about it. I fear that people so expect it that I end up being just this predictable catch-phrase person. I’m happy to say that this season of the show I only invoked the phrase when it was really necessary, and I was grateful that the producers weren’t on top of me saying, “Go in there and say ‘make it work.’ Go in there and say ‘make it work.'” No, I did it when it was necessary and appropriate, and there are moments that are really and truly “make it work” moments.

You can tune in yourself and see if Tim has a “make it work” moment during the Season 8 premiere of Project Runway tonight at 9pm et/pt! And remember, Lifetime is treating us to an extra half hour per episode this season, so be sure to clear your schedule all the way to 10:30!