The fashion design chair on what drew her to fashion and knowing Tim Gunn before he was Tim Gunn

Suzanne Cotton earned her degree in fashion design from New York's heralded Parsons, where now-famous TV reality star Tim Gunn was her advisor. She then spent nearly two decades designing clothing for places like Brooks Brothers and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Now, the 47-year-old chairs the department of fashion design at Columbus College of Art & Design, where she has helped transform the annual senior fashion show into one of the city's most exciting soirees. "She's a rock star," says Tom Gattis, dean of the school of design arts. "She has that ability to really motivate her students and drive them to excellence."

Here, meet the master behind the magic.

What drew you to fashion?

It's funny: I just always enjoyed fashion. My grandma taught me to knit and crochet when I was 5. My mom remembers me saying when I was 10 that I was going to Parsons. And it was the only place I applied.

You knew Tim Gunn as an advisor long before the rest of the world knew him as a reality TV star. What was he like?

Very nice. He did my first interview when I applied. He was just always very supportive. If I ever had an issue and went to him, he just always supported you. He was good at what he did.

What did you think the first time you saw him on TV?

It was funny, because I had this vision of him-he had kind of long hair and a coral polo (from the interview). [laughing]

You studied abroad for a year in Paris. How was it?

It was great. The program over there was very small, but we got to go to all the shows. Just the museums and everything… I kind of felt like after that experience, I could do anything.

You snagged a job in design right out of school. What did you do?

I worked for a private-label company, and we handled all different accounts. So we had a lot of accounts like Talbots, Brooks Brothers, Saks Fifth Avenue. I designed sweaters, knitwear, T-shirts. Knitwear is my specialty. So basically, designing them, doing the layouts, working with the factories to get them made, perfecting the samples.

What brought you to Columbus?

I came to Columbus in '93 (for work) after working in New York. It was so different back then. It's grown so much. At first, I hated it. The first year was bad. I was living up in Dublin, which didn't suit me very well. …And then I met my husband.

How would you describe your personal style?

I was always more edgy. I've definitely mellowed over the years. My sister and I owned a punk T-shirt shop before I went to college. It's good there's no photographic evidence! [laughing] I'm definitely probably funkier. I'm not a real girly girl. But I love jewelry. I love accessories.

Favorite designers?

I never have this idea that I love "this." McQueen-you have to love it. I think Vivienne Westwood is a hoot. A lot of the British designers I'm really attracted to.

How has the CCAD show evolved?

It was not a benefit kind of show (at first). The Limited graciously gave us their cafeteria, and we put a stage up. I believe it was free. Then it was a brunch for a while. It just over the years has become a bigger event. And with the growth of the city and the arts-it just all grew at the same time.

What's this year's crop of seniors like?

It's interesting, because I feel like it's very eclectic this year… everything from casual, wearable sportswear to avant-garde evening. But I'm excited by it.

What are you passionate about outside of this?

We love traveling. Joe and I just got back from Mexico. We love to go to the beach. I love to travel, and I love to shop, so I love to travel and include that. [laughing]