Fashion guru Tim Gunn is best known for his role as judge and mentor on Bravo's Project Runway and Tim Gunn's Guide to Style but his main job is Chief Creative Officer of Liz Claiborne, Inc. He shares his travel highlights and tips with USA TODAY.
Q: Where have you been recently that you liked or were surprised by?
A: Last fall, I was in Los Angeles for five weeks while we taped Project Runway season six. I had visited LA many times before, but those trips were always a mere day or two. My impression of the city was lukewarm: a sprawling megalopolis where people spend inordinate amounts of time trapped in idling vehicles. What's the appeal of that? So, I arrived in LA for my record-breaking stay with huge doses of apprehension. (But) I fell in love with Los Angeles! I found it to be a cultural treasure chest, with fabulous museums, architecture, and entertainment. And the weather was so sunny and sublime that I actually began to long for a cloud to pass by. Furthermore, I embraced the city as a pedestrian (!) and greatly respected the jaywalking enforcements, which I wish were in place in my dear home of New York, because it makes navigation so much safer and civilized. Finally, everyone should experience Ralph's, a fabulous food emporium that's unlike anything that we have here in New York. I shopped there every day. It was my therapy!
Q: What's the best place you've ever visited?
A: Hong Kong. It has all of the exoticism that one naturally associates with South Asia, yet its 150 years of British reign have left it with a Western flavor of infrastructure. That means that for the visitor it's a user-friendly environment. Central Hong Kong is great on foot: shopping, sightseeing, or just people-watching are all engaging. Travel to The Peak and you'll experience a view that beats Paris from the Eiffel Tower or New York from the Empire State Building. And if you go to the south side of the island, there are hiking and biking trails and gorgeous beaches. Shop for antiques on Hollywood Road and have a Pimm's Cup at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Be certain to cross the harbor to Kowloon and take in the city from there. And while in Kowloon, don't miss the bird and the jade markets, which are amazing. For me, Hong Kong is Manhattan on the Riviera.
Q: What's the most surprising/unexpected place you've ever visited?
A: How many of us can even pronounce Kuala Lumpur? It's the capital of peninsular Malaysia and it was my temporary home for four months back in the 90's. Kuala Lumpur sits at the convergence of two rivers. The name means "muddy confluence," which it is. I love the amalgam of cultures in this city: a fabulous mixture of Indian, Thai, and Chinese. The architecture is fabulous, too, from the stucco Colonial residences and government buildings to the other-worldly Petronas Twin Towers, still the tallest twin skyscrapers in the world. The Malaysians are an incredibly warm and hospitable people who made me feel like a family member, not a mere visitor. Owing to the fact that I was in the city developing a project for Parsons School of Design (where I was a teacher and administrator for 24 years), I was working with other educators and designers, so we had a very grass roots relationship, eating lunch from food carts, commuting on bicycles (not recommended!), and even visiting the Chinese medicine purveyor for a bad cough that I developed (but I could not even bring the bowl of odiferous, molasses-looking gruel to my mouth, let alone drink it!). The medicinal gruel aside, the cuisine of Kuala Lumpur is among the best that I've ever experienced. Furthermore, I found Kuala Lumpur to be a very affordable city — hotel, restaurants, taxis, and even antiques.
Q: What's your favorite vacation spot?
A: New York. I live here, but I'm never able to do anything even remotely touristy when I'm working (which is always, but I'm not complaining). When I have a rare couple of days off, I pound the city's pavements, get to every museum exhibit possible, see one show on Broadway (that's all that I can afford), catch up with dear friends who never see me otherwise, and stay home and order out. This is the most vibrant and exciting vacation spot in the world.
Q: Can you offer an insider tip or recommendation for your favorite vacation place?
A: Visitors to New York, especially budget-minded visitors (and who isn't these days?), will be well served by going local; that is, get out of Midtown and explore the myriad neighborhoods to find affordable restaurants, small boutiques for fashion and home furnishings, and just a place to hang out and have coffee while people watching. I love Nolita, the West Village, Chelsea, the Upper West Side, and the Upper East Side east of Park Avenue. Take a stroll along Hudson River Park (and if it's a Saturday afternoon and I'm not working, you may spot me walking alongside you).
For the culturally curious, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a must see, and after your visit walk west through Central Park and climb to the top of Belvedere Castle. And if you're feeling adventurous, take the A train to the Fort Tryon Park stop and visit the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of art and architecture from medieval Europe. I go there to depressurize and reenergize.