It was sad to see Gordana (or Sweet G as... only I call her) Gehlhausen leave us after Episode 3's Miss Piggy challenge. The designer and mother (who used her exit interview on last week's ep to encourage women of all ages to never forget their passions and dreams), has come a long way since we first fell in love with her feminine fashions and incredibly caring demeanor on Season 6 of "Project Runway." Calling from "sunny California," Gordana spoke with me about her experience on "Project Runway All Stars," including the scary moment we didn't see on TV.
Lisa: During the challenge you were saying your children were into Miss Piggy growing up, did that have any input on the challenge?
The funny thing is, I don’t know Miss Piggy at all because I grew up in a Communist country so we didn’t have Miss Piggy! When my children were watching it, I never paid attention. So when the challenge came along instead of "what would I like to see Miss Piggy in?" because I didn’t have that relationship so it was a little bit tough for me, I wanted to create something that a girl who might be watching would say, "Oh, this is so pretty!"
Thinking back to your first time on the show, a lot of "Project Runway" fans thought that you got robbed on Season 6 when you were cut right before Fashion Week. Did you feel that way with your experience on "All Stars"?
The reason why I decided to do "All Stars" was because of the first season of "Project Runway" and not being able to show, I thought, well maybe this is my chance for redemption. It is what it is, you know? You have to go into it with an open mind and you never know what can happen. I was so physically drained, that the biggest challenge for me was that I would have to take breaks non-stop and was just exhausted.
Funny you mention I was looking through the photos from the episode and I saw pictures from Episode 1 that showed you fainting (and Rami and Elisa coming to your rescue) on the runway that didn’t make it to the episode.
Maybe I’m happy it didn’t air because there are a lot of people who care about me, I didn’t want to scare them, you know? So its fine, but I read some comments and people were like, "Oh, Gordana looks like someone punched her in the face" and stuff and I’m like, "You don’t know what’s going on there!" In the building the producers chose to film in, they shut off the AC on weekends who would think the AC would be shut off? You can imagine how hot it was in there as if the challenge wasn’t enough for me, oh my God!
The next day I was looking at these blue marks all over me and I’m like, "When did I hit myself?" but it was when the people picked me up [after fainting]. I didn’t even know it was Rami, I just felt this strong hand and I remember hearing the voice saying, “Don’t worry, you are in good hands, you are fine, everybody loves you, we are all here for you.” It was Elisa, I found out. In these kind of situations you really see what humans are made of and that’s what the most touching part of the experience is, seeing how they all came together. And I didn’t even know these people, they were just there for the first episode and I walk away from it having such a tremendous respect and love for all of them.
At the very end of the episode, you said something about women going back to work and following their dreams. Can you kind of expand a little more on that for the fans?
It’s really expected a lot of woman today are really conflicted, a lot of women give up their life, their careers to give the best environment to their children. And then [the children] move on, they go to their own lives and the woman stays behind, [wondering] what am I going to do with myself, you know? I’ve had people comment and come into my store, saying "I admire you so much, in your age, you’re pursuing your passion!" And that’s the message I want, don’t be afraid of judging, don’t be afraid of what anybody’s going to think about something! As long as you find the passion in what you really want to do, even if it’s something that always was in the back of your mind but you never did it because you thought, oh it’s so too complicated and I’m not really good, if you follow it with your heart, I’m telling you, it’s going to be wonderful. When you do something out of love, the energy that comes in between that doing and you is just so beautiful that nothing can stop you. And that’s what I want to tell people: it’s never too late.
People come to me asking for business advice because surprisingly, I’m one of the successful ones from "Project Runway." I have my own business that’s thriving. In February, I’m actually opening in another location in Santa Monica. And I'm on local television teaching "how to's" every week. Last week, I was showing how to go to a closet, take faded shirts and make them beautiful [with dying]. My life is full, I love people around me, people come to me or my shop, I’m so approachable. Would I like to be longer on the show? Of course but it’s not the end of the world.
Do you think your positivity was your secret weapon on the show? I felt like you were portrayed as such a wonderful person #&151; we really saw that you were sweet, you were the voice of reason, you helped out the other contestants.
There is no secret, you just go in there with an open heart and who you are and the weapon is you and whatever comes out of it. I remember, even in Season 6, Tim Gunn would come to me and say, "Gordana, I see you helping everybody and that’s what I love about you but on the other hand, this is a competition." I’m not a competitive person and I know that about myself, I’m more like, "what can I do for you?" I also remember telling Tim, at that time I was 44, I was like, "Tim, I am older and have established who I am as a human being and I’m not going to change for a show." But staying who you are, at the end of the day is really the biggest challenge of everyone. When you love yourself and what you represent, then you end up loving everything and everyone around you.
Who would you love to see win?
I have such a love and respect for every one of them but I want to say, I hope that the ride is smooth enough for them and whoever wins at the end, I’m so tremendously happy for them.
You don’t have a favorite or someone’s clothes that you would love to wear?
Even if you have a favorite designer, you don’t necessarily end up loving every one of their designs. And that’s with all of them. There are aspects of all of them that I like and would wear. And it doesn’t mean I would wear every piece they created, you know? I actually like Mila’s designs, I like the clean lines that she does, but then I also like Kara’s and Mondo’s and Michael’s? Michael and I have been doing a lot of stuff together because we make clothes. All of them are really good and really talented.
Sweet P's done it all; "Project Runway," Lifetime's "Project Runway All-Star Challenge" and now, "Project Runway All Stars." When I called to chat, she was taking a break from working on a Wes Anderson commercial pretty, well, sweet! Read on to find out which of her "PR" experiences was her favorite, who she wants to win this season and what her new career path is.
Lisa: So you’ve done "Project Runway," "All Stars" and you were even on the "All-Star Challenge" that aired on Lifetime before Season 6. How were your experiences different and similar across the three different shows?
Well, I should try and put this in a nice way, right (laughs)? My first season was great but the "All-Star Challenge" was really cool because there were only eight of us? And we were only there for one week and we had the chance to win $100,000 so it was definitely where our odds were better. My experience was really good because I was Top 3 and received accolades from Diane Von Furstenberg. It was cool, she really understood me and that was great.
On this season, honestly it’s kind of sad for me. I never would’ve expected to go second! I feel like I was sacrificed too soon, I definitely feel like I’m a better designer than some of the people who stayed.
Well, I feel like April’s dress definitely should have sent her home and so does everybody that I’ve spoken to. It was a mess! And also, the challenge was a ball gown. I think if people Google what a ball gown is, they'd see that there was really only three or four ball gowns [made in last week's challenge]. The rest was evening-wear which was not really what we understood the challenge to be. Mila’s dress no offense, I really like her, but I do not think that was a dress you would wear to the opera at all. My experience with ["All Stars"], while it was fun, because I met a lot of people I really like and now have become very good friends with, I felt like I was cheated.
You were in the bottom the first episode and out the second, what do you think was off for you this time on "Runway"?
The judging can go however they want it to go and I don’t know if it’s that the judges don’t really know us or our stuff. On my first challenge they weren’t happy I used wash clothes because it’s fabric, but then Jerell used scarves, which are fabric (and much easier to work with). I feel like he’s more of a character, he talks sh*t about people. I don’t, so I’m not maybe as fascinating to watch on TV.
What is it like watching the episodes and hearing what Jerell said about you or your designs?
Oh, it’s so weird. I think he’s catty so I don’t really care. He’s not someone I would ever hang out with, to be honest with you. I don’t like his clothes. Last week, his dress was awful, we all thought he’d be in the bottom. We called it maternity poop. It made the model look so fat and it was brown. It was so ugly!
You're such a recognizable name and face of "Project Runway"! Do people often recognize you from the show(s)?
Oh my God, I’m working on this commercial and this lady came up to me yesterday on set actually and she’s like, “I know you from somewhere, what’s your name?” And I’m like, “Sweet P...” And she’s like, “Oh my God, you don’t understand!” And she hugs me really hard and says, “I totally love you, and you’re one of the best on there and you’re a nice person!”
A lot of times when people think they know me, especially on set, people come up and say, “Oh, what was that job we worked on together?” I know I’ve never worked with them! Usually, someone I’m with will say I was on "Project Runway." Most of the actors on this [commercial] were embarrassed because they’re like “Oh, I thought I knew you and worked with you,” and I’m like, “But, you kind of do know me.” That’s where it’s interesting, they kind of do know me and what’s nice is they like me, you know?
Do you have any regrets for doing "All Stars," are you happy that you did it?
I’m still happy I did it because I got really close with Kara, Kenley and Austin and that was really worth it. Gordana is a really, really nice person as well. So that’s part of it, you know, I always like to walk away from it and take the positives. To win, it would have been crazy for me because I did just change careers. I don’t really want to be in that business anymore and if I won that prize, I would have felt obligated to do a line again and honestly I’m not really interested in doing that anymore.
When did you last put out a fashion line?
I didn’t put out my own line, but I worked for two companies in 2010 where we designed for Forever 21 and other major retailers; Macy’s Nordstrom’s, Windsor. I did lines for them and I’m talking about cranking out three racks of clothing a month.
It’s interesting because on the show there’s only a few of us who have actually worked in the industry selling clothes. Kara sells her stuff, Gordana sells her own stuff, but she has her own store. I’m talking bigger, like selling through major retailers, and it seems like Kara and I are really the only designers with that experience on the show. It’s interesting because you see more "student-y" kind of stuff, very fresh. Things that are on the runway aren’t necessarily things that would really make it in this business. Selling one dress to Kim Kardashian is not necessarily the same as selling a dress to 20,000 girls. And that’s what I’m used to doing. I’ve worked in this business for 20 years and I’m so programmed into what really sells and what women buy.
You said that you quit doing fashion about a year ago. What are you doing now?
I was talking to my husband and I was like, “What am going to do where I can make the same money and I’m still be in the world of fashion?” I didn’t want to do wardrobe anymore because it’s really back-breaking work and my husband said, “What about makeup?” I was like “BOOM! Oh, that’ll be great!” I got out of school at the end of January 2011 and I started working in March. I did Roman Coppola’s next film, I’m working on a Wes Anderson commercial. I definitely feel like it’s a good career choice. I love bringing beauty to the face and I love being somewhere new all the time, being really close with people. I really get close with my actors, especially for a film because you spend a lot of time with them and they sort of feel like family.
Did you get your hands a little dirty in the L’Oreal room for the two challenges you were on "All Stars" for?
No, but I talked a lot to Scott and the other makeup artists a lot. It’s funny because some of the contestants would say they didn’t like their hair or makeup and I would always ask, “Were you specific with what you were talking about?” because I feel like they’re a great team, they know what they’re doing and if you’re specific, you get what you want.
On this week's episode, the designers are creating a look for Miss Piggy what would you have created for her?
I would probably do some kind of smashing red carpet look for sure! I’d do something playful but I don’t know her that well, to be honest with you! I never watched Sesame Street because it was after my time but that’s the only reason I’m not into her because I didn’t grow up with it.
So the million dollar question, who do you want to see win?
I would want someone I love to win, so I would love to see Kenley win. I would love to see Kara I feel like Kara and I have a really close aesthetic, I’d like to see her win but I feel like her stuff is too "sellable," so I don’t think she has a chance. Austin is somebody I would like to see win. And, I could see Mondo winning; I loved his line on his season. I’m surprised someone didn’t snap him up and do a collection, you know, like Mondo for Target or Mondo for Forever 21 because he’s very junior.
In the artist-and-designer's words, Elisa Jimenez was back on our TV “for a good time, not a long time.” During a busy week (in between photo shoots, fashion, meditation and a triptych oil painting) Elisa chatted with the PRAS Blog to fill us with warm fuzzies (try not to feel at peace after speaking with her, I dare you!) and tell fans more about her experience on the show, the cheeky surprise in her unconventional challenge outfit and who she’s rootin’ for in the end.
Lisa: We, the viewers, didn’t get to see what you made your unconventional challenge outfit out of, can you let us know what went into your creation?
Elisa: I wanted to make a high end resort outfit based on “Fancy,” the influence for this look and a character who I transformed into a little rock opera fashion performance experience for the show. The shorts were made out of a paper gift bag. I was very tongue-in-cheek about the fact that it was a gift bag and it was right around her, you know… I thought that was very funny! And then the flower and the whole idea that she’s back from the garden continued the vision of pleasure fulfillment. I used clear duct tape to hold it all together.
The bathing suit was made out of a very, very, very large pair of knickers! The waistband became the halter. I tucked it in the back so it made an X-shape that held at the breasts really nicely. It basically was like a thong one-piece bathing suit. And then the drawing and the painting were a combination of Sharpies and Caran d’Ache, a water-based crayon. The wings were made out of a very lightweight tablecloth.
I’m basically making that whole outfit for Spring (along with the shorts) but out of fabric, but I’m making the wings a little bit more of a capelet that can be turned into a skirt. In theory, if you were at the beach, you could take the capelet, put it around your waist and go to dinner and still have the writing at the bottom.
I thought the wings were fabric!
I know! That’s the magic part. I really wanted the whole thing to register as if it was fabric, because for me, that was part of the trick and the pleasure. I chose to use the duct tape so that it looked like that shiny, iridescent vinyl or spandex. I was consciously playing with another layer as a medium, which was television.
Part of the challenge was to be inspired by your original design. What was the link between the two designs in your eyes?
The original look actually came from a gallery exhibition where I did thematic elements from stories and Fancy was one of them. The first dress you saw is a lightweight plastic Lycra fiber, which is not a sustainable fabric but because I work one-of-a-kind, I do try to be very conscious of not wasting materials, she has the wings within the outfit. That dress’s story is about Fancy going to the garden and being embraced by the flowers all welcoming her back. The connections between the two outfits were the wing-like elements and white where the color is the added extra detail on the garment. I also wanted to take the story and infuse it into the second with the images. [Both dresses had a] light and airy quality with a pop of color.
So who is Fancy? And what was the story on your garment that you were trying to explain to the judges?
Fancy is actually a character my mother created in a painting when I was about 3 or 4 in the 70s. Well the story was a little PG, not 13… (laughs) but it is the last insertion of Fancy in the story of Fancy, which was featured at an exhibition in London called Art’s Seduction by Fashion Since 1970, curated by Chris Townsend. It was not only an installation, not only a performance, not only spontaneous couture, but I also had a full-on compilation of all of the Fancy episodes displayed in video. At this juncture, Fancy has gone to the center of the universe and found out that the Tree of Life is actually within her she’s complete. The next part of the story is, after she’s been in the universe for awhile, she goes back to the Garden of Unconditional Love and Fulfillment and the flowers are very happy she’s back so they all start welcoming her in a very salacious way; “We miss you, we love you!” and the petals are lapping her legs and thighs.
What you saw on television was actually a continuation of a conversation I was having with all of the judges. They kept asking me, “why did you choose to do this?” “Why did you choose to do that?” When I think about things, when I’m creating things, I do have elaborate and very sure intentions but I also agree, you shouldn’t have to explain everything. It was more that [the judges] kept asking, so I kept elaborating.
Let’s go back to the workroom, where I thought you held yourself very well with Joanna Coles… who asked you if you were going to spit on her.
The very first statement out of Joanna Coles’s mouth to me was that statement: “Are you going to spit on me?” All I could think in that moment when I was trying to grapple in all of my upbringing to find the most polite, intelligent and kind retort for her comment was, “I wonder if she knows anything about me before ‘Project Runway’ Season 4?” because if she did, she would have known about my history as, you know Vogue introduced me as one of the heralders of the avant garde, I was represented by Holly Solomon all those years and I’ve been this “insider-outsider-in the industry” seeing things and doing things by proximity, not by ego.
So in that moment, I had to really hold it together and realize, she only has read the rhetoric post-Season 4 so she doesn’t quite understand that it’s not spitting on someone, it’s a tongue-to-fingertip blessing mark specifically on chakra points, places on the fabric to create a shape. It’s intentional and it’s small. It took a lot for me, but I know who Joanna Coles is so I had more empathy and kindness towards her because I thought, wow, this is not going to look so good. You’ve approached my other colleagues talking to them about their designs and yet the first thing you say to me is almost a jab, like we’re at the high school lunch table. Let’s try to bring the conversation back to what we’re talking about. Which is why my retort was, “Understand what it is” and “People pay me, they come to me specifically because I’m not the person who’s only thinking about quotas and trends. You come to me for what I do well and what I do well is synthesizing a combination of my own spirit, with the desire of who’s come to me to have me make them couture or pick up that readymade piece that already has its own history.” My clients can be attracted to a particular fabric or a particular scent, because I infuse all of my fabrics with oils and scented things. I’ll tell them, “Okay this dress is about change. So what’s going on in your life that’s about change?” It’s a much more holistic approach to dressing.
What you didn’t see, was the next thing I said: “I could give you a who’s who of who pays me, but I wasn’t raised to be hubristic.” Her response was, “Take a moment and be hubristic.” So I rattled off about 30 people who people care about and six things that people do Moet Chandon and Gen Art’s and innovations I’ve been on the curve of purely because people saw the work and it resonated, not because I had a PR company.
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I think it would surprise people to know that you’ve worked on many seemingly “mainstream” things, like "High School Musical" for example. That always comes up when you Google you so I have to ask for an explanation!
One of the collaborators I’ve worked with over the years is a costume designer named Caroline Marx who is exceptionally talented. If she thinks my skills would be apropos for a certain project, she hires me. “High School Musical” was one of those projects. She even ended up getting nominated for a costume award specifically for “High School Musical 3” and I did all of the work for one particular character, Kelsi. Every single look Kelsi has in the movie has an element of Elisa Jimenez and Hunger World in it, including the dance sequence where I got a vintage Versace and I hacked it up.
I almost became this running joke during “All Stars.” During every one of my interviews they’d be like, “So when you saw…” and I’d say, “I’ve never seen the show.” When “All Stars” was being filmed and I first walked in and met my colleagues, my disclaimer was, “You must know I’ve never watched the show, so I have no idea who you are as a designer or a character.”
The first real episode that I watched was this last one, the “Project Runway All Stars” that I was on. And I have to say that I was incredibly impressed with the reality of the show and the slice-and-dice of how it was put together because I realize that we’re all paint. We’re all paint on another creator’s canvas and I really liked it and thought it was wonderful. There is nothing more beautiful than watching my work come to life. That’s like watching your child take its first step, so to see it on national television is amazing! (laughs)
Who do you think is going to win?
I think Austin should win. It has nothing to do with talent. First and foremost, we don’t get on “Project Runway” unless you’re talented. Whether it’s “All Stars” or the regular one. “Project Runway” has been a part of the mainstream going on ten seasons. It’s not the subversion it was the first two seasons where all of a sudden the red velvet rope is ripped away from Bryant Park and some unknown from Iowa gets shoved into an industry that he or she has dreamed about since they were five years old. It’s now a phenomenon. There are people who try to get on the show specifically who want to be on a television show.
I think that Austin should win because in the arc of a show, Austin was from the very first season aside from the fact that he’s impeccably talented, besides the fact that every designer is talented – it’s what will empower the phenomena of Project Runway and what will validate it as a continued phenomena.
My mom sent me [an article], where there was “An Elisa” of a season between 4 and “All Stars.” My mom sent it to me and said, “Project Runway” turned you into a noun. That’s truly powerful! To be in contemporary myth-making pop culture. I think Austin should win because in the pop culture realm it would elevate who needs to be the skilled designer. It’s not just the person who looks good on TV, it’s the person who actually has the history behind them.