Behind the Scenes With Making It Judge Simon Doonan

Simon Doonan on Set of Making It

On NBC's Making It, you'll see judge Simon Doonan lend his super-smart insights to all the makers trying to take home the win for their next-level crafting skills. As an author, tastemaker and the creative behind so many jaw-dropping window displays at Barney's, he has plenty of advice to give — which is also why we sat down with him to find out what he loves about the show, what it's like working with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, and what piece of advice he has for aspiring crafters.

First of all, Making It just looks like so much fun. What's the best part for you?

I'm blown away by the range of crafts. I like to think I've tried everything, but there are new crafts I wasn't familiar with. It's very stimulating and I've been surprised by the breadth of techniques and skills that I hadn't necessarily encountered, even given my broad exposure to the crafting world.

Why is this the right time for this show?

In times of turmoil and division, crafts are immensely therapeutic psychologically. They're a great release, but also, here's something you're going to see on the show — once someone starts doing something with their hands, they become immersed in it. In a funny kind of a way, their guard comes down and you see great emotional vulnerability in the makers. You see real truth.

What's it like working with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman and your fellow judge, Dayna Isom Johnson?

Being on a set with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, who love crafting and are very connected to that world … it was like a dream come true. Dayna and I spent a month together filming the show. She's just an incredible person. We went hiking together, we did all kinds of stuff together; her perspective on the trends blew my mind consistently.

I think it's a great balance having me, the senior citizen, and Dayna, who has this unique window into the global landscape of crafting through her work at Etsy. I learned so much from her. She could take any craft and put it into this global context where crafts are shifting, where things are catching on, where they're winding down, what's trending, what's not. Plus she's so cute and she's really fun and super smart. And she's my height. So I love that about her. She's fabulous. You're going to fall in love with her.

Lots of people are going to watch Making It and feel inspired to really throw themselves into their crafts. Any advice?

I would offer a word of caution to this new generation of crafters. They may get lucky, they may get financial rewards from their crafting, they may get recognition . They may, they may, they may. The key, though, is that it should never really be the deciding factor in whether you feel good about what you're doing and whether you enjoy it. It should be a life-enhancing process that in and of itself is utterly satisfying and brings you joy and doesn't need external validation. Except maybe from your friends and your pals when you give them something . Make sure you're enjoying the journey.

You also mention in your book The Asylum that trying to "grow up and be serious" always backfired. What gave you the resilience to stick with your creative passions and reach your level of success?

I think it comes from being gay. I was gay at a time when it was illegal to be gay, and you had to hide it. My recollection of my generation is that we understood to a large extent that it was important to love yourself. So my generation, you were proud to be part of this community that was somewhat reviled or marginalized, and you developed a sort of creative resilience. If things didn't go well, you just had to try something else.

As for your window-dressing work, how much of it involves actual hands-on crafting?

Some window dressers have a very sleek, luxurious, glamorous approach. But I always took a very crafty approach — always making props, devising things out of other things, even creating wigs. I was very good at being resourceful and finding low-budget, crafty solutions. That is actually my comfort zone, and I think that's why I was cast in Making It — because I consistently had that approach of being crafty.

What's your dream project?

Well, when I go to Vegas I wonder why nobody has called me to do the lobby of a casino or something like that. Or large-scale theatrical projects that require some kind of display focal point. Oh, and I love cars, so I would always love to design a car. Let's see, some crazy opera or ballet for the Met — that would be fun!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

July 07, 2018
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Behind the Scenes With Making It Judge Simon Doonan