In this episode, celebrity fashion designer Gordana Gehlhausen enjoys a passionate conversation with Mark Yuzuik and Yolanda Martinez about fashion. She talks about it as her passion for life and how she became successful in pursuing it. Coming from a small Serbian village, she tells the story of how she took a chance by moving to Atlanta and started her own boutique. Join them as Gordana recalls her adventures in Project Runway and how the show affected her career and business afterward, both in a positive and negative way. Listen in as she explains how she knew that fashion designing was her true calling and why you should consider listening to the universe.
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Fashionably Passionate And Successful With Gordana Gehlhausen
This is exciting. We’re going to be having conversations with people that are involved in fashion, makeup and artists. I followed Gordana since she was on Project Runway. I loved her fashions and designs because they’re sexy but feminine, whimsical and classic. If you look her up, her fashions are amazing. She’s going to share her story, how she got started, where she comes from, and also her experience on Project Runway. The reason I’m excited is that she’s a celebrity designer, and I put it out there to the universe that I was going to have a fashion designer on our show.
I was talking to her because she makes these amazing facemasks. If I’m going to have to wear something over my face, it has to be beautiful and it has to be fashionable because I love fashion. If I have to cover this face, it’s going to be with something beautiful. She posted her profile picture and she had this beautiful mask with a feather. I was like, “I’ve got to have one of those,” so I picked up a few from her. I said, “I’m going to put it out there.” I asked her and I was like, “The worst that can happen is she says she can’t do it,” but she replied and said, “Yes, I would love to be in your conversations.”
Yolanda did get me a face mask but it covered my whole head, the whole face. You said it was fashion and I don’t know why. She said, “Cover the whole thing.” I’m like, “The whole thing?” She’s like, “Yes, and use a plastic bag.” I’m like, “Okay, baby girl.”
I did get a couple for Mark that she designed and he likes them. What I like about them is that they’re easy to breathe in. All the other ones I had a hard time breathing in. I am happy to introduce everyone to Gordana. Welcome to the show. I’m happy to have you. I’m happy and grateful that you were able to say yes.
It was funny when you started talking about the masks and stuff. I just made some for myself and I’m like, “I’m not going to wear this surgical thing.” I’m not in the hospital industry, so I didn’t have to wear the surgical mask, but everybody that I see outside looks sterile and cute with their mask on. I posted on Facebook that I’m facing the virus in style and my social media exploded. I wasn’t even planning to do it but I’m like, “Nobody’s going into the red carpet right now anyway.” It has kept me busy and I’m grateful for it.
They are beautiful. I went out to the store and I had two people. I texted you, “You got two more referrals.” It’s amazing how people are like, “I don’t want to wear this blue thing on my face anymore.” I said, “If I’m going to wear something on my face, it’s going to be pretty and fashionable.”
It’s funny that I’m working backwards with my business because I’m not a business person. I just want to design. My son is finally working on getting me a website for my masks because many people are like, “What about if my friends are not on social media?” I keep giving my phone number and this and that. Finally, he’s going to put it all together for me so you can just click on it and do the payment. You don’t even have to talk to me.
That will be perfect. I’ve been giving out your phone number and it’s on social media. I’m like, “This is her name. Look her up. Send her a private message and she’ll make it for you.”
I believe in life that when you’re supposed to be doing something, somehow the universe provides the situation and opportunity. I have a degree. I studied linguistics and physical education from Germany but I did clothing all my life. Everything I wore was the stuff that I make. It’s almost like if you’re eating with a spoon all your life, you don’t think to make a business out of that spoon. It’s natural. Americans made me a designer when I came here. In Europe, when you wear something cool, people look at you and you hope for the best reasons. Europeans are a little bit more guarded. They don’t go like, “I love your outfit. Where did you get it?”
When I came to America, people were stopping me on the streets. My kids are only eighteen months apart and everything for the boy was blue and everything for the girl was pink. I loved the idea of grownup fabrics but also making it for a child or a baby. I remember taking my children to a park and the moms went nuts. I got orders just taking my kids to a park. That’s how fashion started for me and it made me realize that if you love doing something and you truly have a passion for something, do it. Don’t worry about where it takes you because it will take you where you’re supposed to go. I am an example of it.
You talk about that a lot, Mark.After reaching 45 years of age, comfort will be a big factor in fashion choice. Click To Tweet
One of the young ladies saw that. She’s into fashion and a creator too. She was all excited about seeing you up here. You’ve been doing fashion for quite a while then. What got you interested? Was it since you’re a child?
Yes, from childhood. I remember when Tim Gunn was asking me where I learned how to knit. I said to him, “In my village, it’s a lifestyle. If you give me a sheep, then I’ll make you a sweater.” They played that a few times on TV and it was funny, but it’s the truth. I was using onion peels to dye my fabric because I grew up in a small Bosnian village. It’s not like you could go somewhere like Walmart and get fabrics or whatever. I’m grateful for it because it has allowed me to think outside of the box. I can make you something out of anything. My mom was hiding scissors from me because I was cutting anything I could cut, my dad’s shirts, blankets and sheets. I’m using onion peel, berries and all kinds of stuff to dye fabrics.
I remember one of your designs when I was watching a replay. You made the dress that had the little red jewel, and then the shoulder part was metal mesh, and then the flowy skirt had little squares of metallic material. They asked you why didn’t you just stay with one material and I was like, “Why would you want to stay with one material?”
My experience in Project Runway was intimidating for me. First of all, I’m not the type of person that you meet and you go, “You open a boutique.” I like it when people say they started with nothing. I had to carve my road. I divorced when I was 30 and my kids were small. I’m probably the only woman in America that didn’t take any child support alimony. I’m like, “Let’s just be the best parents. I’m young and healthy. I will figure it out.” I started working in cosmetics in a department store and I became good with color and stuff, then I became a manager. I was able to buy a house that I bought against equity.
Nobody would give me space for a boutique so I asked this gallery that already existed if they would rent me or sublease just one room. They did that and from there, I went to another location that was my own but still not the main street, and then I ended up in the main street. I did everything. Nobody helped me. Banks would be like, “Who the hell are you? You don’t even have a credit card.” I opened my first little studio in the gallery. At the time, I lived in Charleston, South Carolina so I was in every newspaper magazine.
I would go to TJ Maxx and buy a men’s shirt in white. I cut the bottom part straight, add sheer fabric to it, and use dyes to texturize them. I will buy the shirt for $10 and sell them for $150. People loved it because it was unique. I had to find a way to make things but it wouldn’t cost me much. It was a long road traveled. I remember I had a boutique finally on King Street in Charleston and people started coming in and saying, “You should be on that show.” I’m like, “What show?” I had no idea. I finally found it on TV and I’m like, “I could be on that show.” I tried out and I remember when I made it on my season, the producer said that after 10,000 applicants they stopped counting. It’s insane. To make it on the show is a big deal.
I saw the audition. You came in with two dresses and you had four items. They were all unique.
It was supposed to be three outfits. You’re supposed to bring a model but it was optional. The audition was in Miami. I went to Miami and I’m like, “At least I will get a little vacation out of it.” I didn’t know anybody there. I’m not going to go hire some models or whatever. I showed them my knits. I showed them something tailored and something more whimsical so they can see the quality of my work. That’s when Tim Gunn was asking me about the meeting. When I walked in, they’re like, “You don’t have a model?” I’m like, “Clothing is not sold on a model. It’s sold on a hanger. If it’s worth anything, you will be able to recognize it.” Tim Gunn was like, “Well said, Gordana.” I was intimidated because there were sixteen designers and we were supposed to bring our tools. Honestly, I only had a measuring tape, scissors, a few pins and a marker. That was all of my tools. I come in there and people are bringing out their boxes and stuff I have never seen before. They’re like, “I have been interning with this designer. I went to school in London. I went to school in this.” Here I am, a village girl who only knows what scissors look like and trying to make it. It was intimidating.
You stood out because you thought outside of the box.
Do you know what my biggest problem was? I always finish first. When you finish first, then you start overthinking. You go like, “Maybe it’s not good enough because I finished first.” I was helping everybody. I remember one time, Tim was like, “Gordana, how smart is this to be helping other people? This is a competition.” I’m like, “Tim, if this is who I am as a person, I cannot change.” He’s like, “That’s why I love you.” Every day you’re supposed to make dinner for the most important guest of your life but you can’t know who they are and what their tastes are. You are pushed to tap into yourself and go.
Have you ever heard of Eurovision? It’s popular in Europe. Each country composes a new song and they all compete in the country that won the song of the year previously. The country that the song is from cannot vote for it, but other countries can vote for it. They choose the best song of the year for the whole of Europe. It’s the same concept. Somebody is starting to do it here with fashion. There would be eleven of us and they are all from different countries and it’s going to be televised. I’m going to compete in it. They would give you the subject, which in this situation is pop fashion. It has to be museum-worthy. Where do you get your inspiration? You cannot get inspiration. You have to tap into yourself, do your best and let it be. That’s why I never buy any fashion magazine. I never look at any other stuff. I’m doing my own thing. Either it’s good or it’s bad, but at least it’s authentic.
Carrie Underwood did her cover with one of your designs.
Mark was right when he said a little bit whimsical. I do want to embody the whole elements of a woman. It’s how I see a woman. I see them as being powerful, elegant, whimsical and sexy but nothing too much. It’s almost the right balance in a good dish. You don’t overpower one thing over the other or one spice over the others.
That’s what I like about your designs, they’re feminine. It does embody what a woman looks like, not physically. When they put on a gown or a dress, or when they put on that top that makes them feel sexy and powerful, you embody that. That’s what I love about your designs. There are not a lot of fashion designers that I follow that can do that. It’s either they go over the top because they think they have to be over the top and be revealing that not every woman would feel comfortable wearing that particular item.
That’s the thing. I don’t think we as women need to go with the first foot out without a boob or butt. Every time I see something like that, I think she believes that’s her best attribute. Women who do like to go that way out cut themselves short. I see a woman a little bit differently. I’m creating a fashion line that’s for women who are my age. My generation, 40 and up, we are the healthiest we have ever been in the history of humans. I might as well live to be 100 easily. We think differently. We don’t want to be put in a box. We take care of ourselves. We eat healthily. We work out. We are full of energy. There are little stumped problems that we might have. How can I still be youthful, elegant and comfortable at the same time? After 45, comfort is important to me because I don’t care less of what it looks like. If I cannot breathe in it, forget it.
It’s true. The stereotypical designs for women over 40 are sad.
My son is taking on the role to create my website. I love designing. If you give me the role of designing and even producing stuff, that’s perfect. If I had to sit in front of a screen for hours to do marketing and to do this and that, it’s not going to happen. It’s not like I’m coming out from a narcissistic point of view. I’m like, “Why not also be my own model and show all the problems that I have and be like, ‘I don’t like my neck that much. Why not wear some turtle neck?’” When I woke up, it was 72 degrees in the house and I don’t have the AC on. I live practically next to the ocean. It’s always breezy. If you see me in the day in a turtle neck, it’s okay. I’m like, “This is my problem and this is how I solve it. This is what you can do.”
I had boutiques for many years. I was successful because I knew how to style a woman. As soon as she walks in, I was already dressing her and seeing her attributes. I’m saying, “How do I make her look tall? How do I make her look like she has longer arms?” That’s why all my boutiques survived even through the economic crisis. I decided to close them because the more popular I became, the more I became a slave to my own business. If I’m in one boutique, it does well. I then go to another one and it does well. They’re always waiting for me. I couldn’t travel. I couldn’t do anything. I’m like, “You’re paying so much money for these rents. You’re paying for people. I might as well close when I’m not in there.” Everybody wanted me.
You have your boutiques in Downtown San Diego and Santa Monica.
I had in San Diego, Santa Monica, Charleston, and Columbia, South Carolina. I felt like I didn’t enjoy it anymore because I was pulled from the true nature of designing. What happened was, especially after Project Runway, I had my studio in these boutiques as well so I would be working. Sometimes people come in wanting to know, “How is Tim Gunn? How is Heidi Klum?” I am not complaining because when the economy fell, my husband is in construction. He does construction management and stuff. He lost his job. He has been without a job for years and I have been supporting us with fashion. Fashion has been good to me and it’s still giving.
You’ve done so much for it. You should be getting a lot from it too. I love that you still enjoy it and that you realized your boutiques were driving you to not enjoy it as much because of you needing to be there.
Through my experiences and I lived in different countries, I have learned to listen to the universe and maybe my intuition. I don’t know what it is. Whatever we are doing, it’s not supposed to be a struggle. If it starts to become a struggle, that means the universe is telling you something is off and you need to have the courage to change it. I remember when I decided to close the boutiques, my husband at that time still didn’t have a job. He’s like, “What’s your plan B?” I’m like, “What’s your plan A?” I created this completely backless bra. I created a pattern for it to hold the pattern. I was able to still survive financially. When you do something, passion is the most important thing and health. You cannot have anything without health. After finding something that you’re passionate about, leave it to the universe.In fashion, the more popular you become, the more you become a slave to your own business. Click To Tweet
A lot of people don’t listen to the universe.
You are scared and I understand that. When your bills are piling up and you have all the everyday stress, fear is blocking us from everything. It’s easy to get into that fearful moment. Look at the situation, many people have lost their jobs but the bills still keep on going. When you are in a situation like that, it’s hard to be like, “I surrender to the universe.”
We were in a restaurant and we were talking to the waitress. She said something and it hit me. She said, “People are living in fear. The people that don’t run their lives are living in fear. They are forced to live in fear.” I was like, “That is true.” We are much alike where he gets an idea and he goes for it. If we get an idea, we go for it. We don’t think about fear stopping us from doing it. When she said that, I was like, “That is true.” If you look at people when you go out, the look on their face is fear in itself.
Even if you look at social media and what’s happening, people are angry. They want to attack you for anything. That’s why I’m like, “I’m not a politician. I’m not Che Guevara. I don’t think I’m going to change anything. I just want to make pretty clothes.”
That’s who we are. I read stuff and I share it with him sometimes. I’m like, “Why are people angry?” You can’t say anything anymore. You can’t talk about anything because everybody gets angry.
I used to have fun with the freedom of speech. God forbid, if you say something and somebody doesn’t agree upon it, your head will be chopped off. If I don’t know a subject, unless I’m going to research into it and say, “I have gained some understanding or knowledge,” I’m not even going to volunteer. That’s why I stay away from everything. I have many hobbies that I like. It’s not always fashion involved. I love decorating. We purchased a house and I’m ready to sell it and move into a new one because I’m like, “I already finished this one.”
You’re like, “I’m done with this project. On to the next one.”
I love gardening. I have planted fifteen fruit trees around this house. I have tomatoes coming out of my ears and zucchini.
He started a garden in our front yard.
It’s almost like you are creating a new life. You feel the energy of these trees and they’re beautiful. I look at them like my babies.
I planted an avocado tree and he started a garden. It brings a different feeling when you see it sprouting and growing. Where do you see yourself in the future?
First of all, I am creating a new clothing line that’s going to be accessible. I want something like In-N-Out Burger, but In-N-Out Clothing. I have an idea. If you ask any woman, the first thing she does when she comes home is to take her bra off. I want to have clothing that if you decide to leave your house, you don’t have to go change and put your bra on and stuff like that. You do one movement and you already have the bra on you. I cannot say much more because I need to have it patented. That’s my next step. I will be involved in fashion one way or the other. I always get orders from people. I love remodeling homes. I can walk into a space and know right away which wall needs to be removed. I can judge the feng shui or the light in there. I would be like, “This needs that color.” My house is messy. I have a lot of light and plants and I love it. I love bringing that life into a space. I would like also to tap into that as well.
You used to do a lot of that.
I’ve done a lot of that in the past. We’ve done a lot of remodels. We’ve done a lot of real estates.
What I’m trying to do is I’m convincing my husband to sell this house and buy another one that needs some TLC.
We’ve done a lot of remodeling to our house and he’s like, “Maybe we should sell it and buy something else.” I’m like, “Then what?”
You do it again.
We’ll do all the work again.
The most important thing for anybody who is aging or something like that is to always keep your mind active, get new challenges, and learn new things. I remember when I was younger, in high school, I used to be good at singing. I had a talent for music. I want to also learn how to play the guitar. The guitar, you can take it with you. The only thing is my poor fingers are always busy. I never have time for it. It’s important to rediscover yourself. My children are 29 and 28. When I’m around them, I don’t feel I’m old. That’s what gives you the energy, doing something new, reading a new book or learning something new. I’m also a member of Gaia. I love all these topics. While I’m sewing, I can learn something. It’s fascinating. I admire Karl Lagerfeld. This person died doing something he loves. That’s what I want to be. I want to die being a designer. I don’t want to retire.
Retirement is overrated. You can take a break from what you’re doing and relax. Take a vacation and there’s your retirement for two weeks.
My husband and I choose at least two new destinations a year that we have not been to. We went to Baku, Azerbaijan because we have never been to it. I came back on February 29th because it was a leap year. A few days after that, everything was closed and I was catching the train.
We were traveling too. When we got back, everything was shut down and we’re like, “What happened?” You’ve gone for a few weeks and then you come back, and it’s a different city. You did Project Runway first. How did that end for you when that season ended on Project Runway?Find something that you're passionate about and just leave it to the universe. Click To Tweet
Out of sixteen designers, I end up in fourth place but for some reason. I became the most popular in my season. People liked me because I don’t fight. I believe in kindness. I don’t believe in bashing people to make yourself look better. People could feel it for me. When Project Runway was celebrating ten seasons, they invited me to represent my season. I designed the dresses that were sold in Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue in New York. Each season has its own designer representing their seasons. Even though I didn’t win, they chose me to represent my season. I also did All-Stars even though I got sick and that’s why I was eliminated. I fainted on stage. They didn’t show it. I’m fine now. It happens. I never fainted before. That was an experience. It was something new.
Why did you faint?
I was so busy with my store in San Diego, and I was trying to do so much before I went to New York. We came to New York and it was a record heat day. They were doing an unconventional challenge. We were going into the dollar store and something happened with cameras. We were outside for two hours. I got a heat stroke or something. I’m not a spring chicken. Things happened to us little older hens.
A lot of the designers that were on the show were young.
I was 44 when I did my first season. What is interesting was when I did All-Stars, there were only maybe 2 or 3 of us who are still working in design. Through the economy in 2008 when it crashed, a lot of people had to quit designing and go into being a restaurant manager. They completely switched careers.
Both of your kids are not in fashion.
My daughter graduated from school, which is like Parsons. She does motion graphics and works as an independent contractor but she works for Amazon Prime TV. She does all these cartoons and movies. Do you know what is funny? She sent me a picture of Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum. She said, “Guess what I’m working on?” They have a show on Amazon called Making the Cut and she was working on something on that show. She’s creative. She did the music video for Old Town Road for Billy Ray Cyrus and there were a few different artists. They made it into a pop song. There is a music video that looks like Area 51. There were four of them so she was part of making the music video. She’s talented. My son is the type of guy who doesn’t want to follow the norm or to do the 9:00 to 5:00. He does a lot of stock market stuff. He’s into the Making It Rich scheme.
It’s interesting that even though they’re around the fashion and the designing with you, that neither of them went your route.
My daughter is pretty. She’s 5’9” or 5’10”, skinny, tall, beautiful and photogenic.
I saw her picture.
When she was younger, I would steal her to be my model every once in a while. She’s like, “Mom, this is not for me.” She cannot even sew a button but she’s very talented. I remember when she was seven years old and did a family portrait. Right then I’m like, “I can’t believe the talent that she had.”
I saw the video you posted.
My talent is 3D and hers is on pen and paper type of deal.
I enjoyed having you with us. I will have to keep in touch with you so when you have your website up for your other fashion designs, I can share it with everyone. For now, I’ll keep referring people to your Facebook page.
If anyone wants something, they can always find me. Thank you for having me. It’s nice meeting you.
Maybe next time we’re in LA or the Orange County area, we’ll have to get together with you and meet you in person.
I’d love that.
We would have been there by now. We’re scheduled to be there but Orange County Fair is not open. We would be doing the show in Orange County Fair. Thank you so much for joining us.
It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
We’re honored to have you with us. We’ll be in touch. I have some ideas because I love fashion. I was a model for twenty-plus years. For me, I was always like you. I was the one helping. Everybody’s like, “You’re in a competition.” I’m like, “I’m not competing with anyone but myself. I’m not going to change who I am. If somebody needs something, if I have it, I’m going to give it to them. If they win because I gave it to them, good for them.” I’m looking forward to meeting you in person for sure and we’ll be in touch. Thank you so much for dedicating your time with us and saying yes to my invitation.
That was awesome. It’s interesting that she does come from a small town, a small village in Bosnia. When she says she’s worked her way up in the fashion industry, she has. We wish her the best in everything that she does. I’m looking forward to meeting her and maybe doing something with her for women’s fashion. Thank you for joining us. We will see you again.
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