Project Runway's Gordana: I Fainted On Stage
TheInsider.com caught up with Project Runway: All-Stars’ Gordana Gehlhausen as spoke on everything from her youth in Yugoslavia spent secretly designing to her booming San Diego boutique and even revealed that she fainted onstage during the All-Stars taping.
Meg Swertlow: How did it feel to leave so early in the competition?
Gordana: I have kind of mixed feelings. First of all, of course when you commit your time and yourself to it, you get disappointed to be leaving so early. But on the other hand, I really loved everything I created, so I feel like I really left with my head held high. I like what I did, and if there was some misses, then so be it.
Meg: Why did you decide to come back?
Gordana: When I did season six, I was a little bit cheated in the way that I finished fourth and I never was given the opportunity so show at Bryant Park because I’m the only one in all the designers of Project Runway that didn’t get the chance, finishing fourth, because of the situation with Bravo and Lifetime (the switching of the networks). So I kind of felt like well maybe, that would be an invention, and then you know people paid and so I’m like “yeah why not.” I have a successful boutique in San Diego and it’d have some extra press, so why not, it’s not going to hurt anybody, especially if you are in that industry anyway.
Meg: What have you been up too since season six?
Gordana: Oh yeah, I moved to San Diego, and I have a boutique in the Gaslamp district, which is the heart of downtown, and the boutique was voted ‘The Best of San Diego’ in 2011, and then I opened a studio across the street in a building and now I am in the process of opening another boutique in Santa Monica which probably will open in February.
Meg: What brought you to San Diego?
Gordana: Well my season was filmed in Los Angeles, and my husband’s family lives in Orange County in Laguna Niguel and we kind of thought of moving to California, but you know, I didn’t like the vibe of L.A. at that time, everyone was just sort of desperate to make it and the economy fell, a lot of boutiques closed, and then when I came to San Diego I really liked it. It’s alive and very balanced. I like not only fashion but there are also other aspects of my life, and I felt like San Diego would give me all of that.
Meg: What did you think was the most difficult part of being on the show?
Gordana: The endurance, the physical challenge. That’s the one. Because you know, you have to understand that I’m 47, and actually in the first episode I fainted on stage, they didn’t show that, but what happened is, I guess we were outside for awhile and it was 110 degrees and maybe I wasn’t used to all of the humidity, and then standing on the stage and I was thinking to myself, “Oh my god, I cannot believe I’m doing this,” and I just fainted, and after that it was just like somebody had drained the life out of me. When I watched myself on television I was like, “Oh my god I look so tired,” and I know why. That was the most difficult thing, and I have to say, I am pretty impressed with what I created under these circumstances, and how my garments came out, so you know as I said, I am walking away with my head high.
Meg: Do you think you would have done everything differently?
Gordana: I mean, what could I have done differently? I mean, not fainting? That would be a blast. The only thing I would have done differently was in the first challenge, I probably would eliminate those little stickers on the dress, but other than that I love everything else.
Meg: How was it designing for that feisty lady, Miss Piggy?
Gordana: I mean, I learned in the meantime that she [Miss Piggy] is a style icon, but see, you have to understand that I come from a communist country where we don’t know Miss Piggy, and so I don’t have that relationship with Miss Piggy. When I was designing for her I had to pretend that I am this little girl you know, who is being Miss Piggy pretty much for the first time, and thinking “what would I like to feel?” and I created this happy, girly dress, because I don’t have a relationship with Miss Piggy.
Meg: So when did you come over to the states, and what brought you here?
Gordana: Well I ran away from home when I was about eighteen and then I went to Germany for circumstances, and I graduated there and my ex-husband happened to be American, that’s how I ended up in America. It just kind of happened.
Meg: Did you ever think when you were in Yugoslavia that you would be designing clothing on television?
Gordana: Never. I knitted my first sweater when I was seven years old and I was always punished, and my mom had to actually hide the scissors, because I was cutting everything that it was possible to cut, but you have to understand that we didn’t have the resources that you guys have here where if you want to make something you just go and buy stuff. I would literally have to cut sheep wool and make thread out of it, dye it, and then make a sweater. I was using onion peel to dye stuff, it was so primitive. I always loved fashion but my parents are farmers, uneducated, and I didn’t even know that fashion school existed. Today when you see children and they have talent, you kind of direct them, and you should be doing that, there are so many opportunities. But I didn’t have that. I never would have dreamed of being on Project Runway. At the moment, when it hit me, I could not believe it with where I come from that I am even here today. And now I am actually supporting my whole family with fashion.
Meg: Yeah, I heard about that, and I was going to ask, do you think there was added pressure on you in the competition to support your whole family?
Gordana: No, no there was not added pressure, you know because my business is doing well. That was just a bonus, doing something that came from this. The talent level is obviously higher [this season], but I also know that I am good. Obviously, I would not be successful if I was not. Yeah, the judges may have not liked something, but plenty of people do. They are the ones that pull out their wallets and pay for what I do. And so it wasn’t added pressure in that way at all, my pressure was mostly from my physical well-being. For some reason I wasn’t feeling good, and it was so difficult to work under those circumstances, where you are just drained.
Meg: What do you think are every woman’s fashion must-haves?
Gordana: Every woman must have the basics that she feels good in. It doesn’t matter what fashion is saying those should be, it should be something that you feel good and beautiful in. It needs to be something that works for you and your body type, not because it’s in the latest magazine.
Meg: Do you have any favorite trends right now?
Gordana: Well I like layering. And my customers are actually women from about 30 and up, so usually she’s successful and today women take care of themselves and their body, but they don’t necessarily want to shop at Forever21. They want clothes that’s youthful but more sophisticated, and that’s my customer. And I am really good at finding that line between youthful and sophisticated, and not going too far in either way. It seems to be working, and layering for women really gives them the opportunity to create their own style. It’s easy for everybody to put a dress on and that’s it, but you really show more of your identity when you take the pieces you have in your closet and make your own look with how you put them together.
Meg: Are there any fashion trends that you just hate?
Gordana: I wouldn’t say “hate.” Every fashion trend has its own place and time. When I lived in Charleston, I had a boutique there and 99 percent of my sale was a cotton dress because of the climate, it wasn’t like I really cared for the cotton dresses, but you have to suit the needs. And then you see younger girls wearing something you wouldn’t wear, but hate is a strong world, it’s really about finding something that works for you and your circumstances and place.
Meg: Who are you rooting for now that you’re off the show?
Gordana: I really love all of the designers. They’re all good people, they’re all very talented, I’m just rooting that they all go through the experience in the easiest way possible. I am happy for whoever wins. We all deserve it, so I don’t really want to say that I’m rooting for this person, when I mean really, they all have their own aesthetic and don’t really even sew anymore, and we have people that are doing that for us. We have more of the role of a designer, and then you are put into the sewing room, when you maybe have not done it in awhile. I really love them all and I am happy for whoever wins.