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Over the past few weeks, the fashion aficionados of Charleston have been walking tall in light of the news that two former Charleston Fashion Week participants were cast for the 6th Season of Project Runway to air on Lifetime!
And as to be expected, I have been shouting this information from the rooftops via radio, Facebook and Twitter! This is indeed a great moment to see these local designers get their due.
After Charleston Fashion Week 2008 ended – with its the debut of the Emerging Design Competition, I was contacted by Project Runway's casting directors who came to recognize that ...yes...Charleston does have a design community! It was more than an honor for me to give them local names both last year and again this year! Now we are officially on the fashion radar once again, and the entire city is gearing up to support not one but two local designers as they cross the threshold of what is known as the #1 design competition on TV.
I had the chance to interview the two designers, Gordana Gehlhausen and Carol Hannah Whitfield, on the details of their soon-to-be-televised journey. Here is what they had to say...
CM: Where did your journey began as a fashion designer? When did you realize that was your calling?
GG: I always have been making clothes, and when you are doing something that you love it becomes a part of you. Sometimes you need someone else to point out your talent. When I moved to the United States, I realized that making clothes was something I should do. It was pointed out to me by other mothers where I lived? In Charleston? as I was always making clothes for my children because I did not like the current styles for children. These mothers began requesting that I make clothing for their children as well, so I started designing children’s collections. Also I was always complimented on my clothing, so one day I decided to make a women’s collection. The first boutique that viewed my work bought my whole collection. This boutique recognized my talent and skill as a designer.
CM: Tell me about your experience with Charleston Fashion Week. Do you think it helped you prepare for Project Runway?
GG: Everytime you have an opportunity to showcase your work, you get more confidence. I think that Charleston Fashion Week helped me to have more confidence, but I also feel it helps many young designers and gives them opportunities to show their work. I am very proud of the fashion scene in Charleston, and how your work for Charleston magazine has really improved it. Charleston has been good to me.
CM: Thank you for your kind words! What do you hope people will learn about you after this season of Project Runway?
GG: I hope that I am able to inspire other designers to follow their dreams because it is important for young people to have other designers to look up to and know that no matter their disadvantage they are able to follow their dreams and fulfill them. Also I am glad the show has moved to Lifetime because it is the only real television station geared towards women, and women need to stick together and help each other succeed in this world.
CM: Are there things you would have done differently or do you stand by everything you have presented on the show?
GG: Of course looking back there are things I would have done differently, but everything is like that in life. Once you enter Project Runway it is like no other outside world exists and you get so wrapped up in your current situation that you do things that sometimes you normally wouldn’t do. I believe everything happens for a reason and I am cool with everything that happened on the show.
CM: If you had the chance to do it all over again, would you?
GG: Of course, it’s an honor to be apart of Project Runway because it and shows like it give unknown people around the country an opportunity to showcase their talents. I can relate with those who go and interview on American Idol because that was me when I interviewed for Project Runway. I love the opportunity that it gives to people.
CM: Is there a designer you bonded with most on the show?
GG: We didn’t have a lot of time to bond because we were so busy and so concentrated on our own work. But I did bond with Irina, a designer from New York, because she comes from the Republic of Georgia and we have a similar dry sense of humor. I also respected her craftsmanship a lot.
CM: What would you say is the biggest lesson you have learned while on the show?
GG: The biggest lesson I learned was to trust my own instincts. I never have been in a position to have others around while working on my designs, so working in a room with a lot of other designers was tough. Even though I was working in a room full of people, the best thing I learned was to follow my instincts because being yourself is the only way you can truly represent yourself. I am a retailer and had found a niche where people buy my things. Therefore I have a connection with the common customer.
CM: Have your opinions of the fashion industry changed after this experience?
GG: In some ways yes, I respect a lot of design schools, and the designers that have come from them because they have been taught how to use all of these tools I had never seen before. I got intimidated at first by my surroundings because I had never been exposed to the tools before. It was a very eye-opening experience. You never realize how much work it is to be a designer because you have to find fabric and make it fit and be interesting. Designing is a long and calculating process and to be successful you have to know how to connect all the dots. I think Project Runway does a very good job of choosing people that know how to connect the dots.
CM: I know everyone in Charleston is excited for the show, is there anything you would like to say to those in Charleston who are cheering you on?
GG: I just want to tell the girls in Charleston to keep fashion going. I always tell people that there is South Carolina and there is Charleston and they are two completely different places. Charleston reminds me of a little Europe because everyone is so stylish and wears such beautiful clothing and are so proud of where they are from. I am so proud of Charleston because the people are so inspiring, I can’t believe that a year or so ago Charleston was chosen to be the seventh most stylish city in the world. I am also so proud to be from this area because designers from this season of Project Runway were chosen from here.
CM: Now people will realize how special Charleston is and that we do have talented emerging designers.
GG: Thank you, Ayoka. You are the reason I received this amazing opportunity because without all the work you do with Charleston Fashion Week and Charleston Magazine the show would have never found me.
CM: Where did this journey begin with you as a fashion designer?
CHW: My mom taught me how to sew when I was about 7. I was a really awkward skinny, tomboy-type kid, and making my clothes made me feel better about myself. I taught myself pattern-making and draping from library books and read everything I possibly could about sewing and design. I started doing lots of weddings and commissions while at the College of Charleston, then CFW, then PR. I was lucky to find my calling at such an early age.
CM: Tell me about your experience with Charleston Fashion Week and do you think this has helped with journey to Project Runway? How?
CHW: Oh man! Charleston Fashion Week was such a great experience for me. Kind of like Project Runway practice in a way. I was working full time when I made my collection for the ELD show, and I did the whole thing in less than a month, so I had very little time, very little sleep, and a rather limited budget...sound familiar?! So when faced with the thought of Project Runway, I knew I could work under the crazy circumstances. It actually felt pretty normal. I mean normal until you add 15 other out-of-control designers, insane challenges, camera crews, Tim, Heidi, and other huge celebrities.
Charleston Fashion Week definitely helped me reach the point where I was confident enough dive into Project Runway. Before CFW, I really didn't share my work with anyone other than my clients, which were all word of mouth. I had no idea that people would respond the way they did. The influx of people who were excited about my work and were so supportive really gave me that little nudge I needed. I quit my day job three days after the CFW show and flew to Miami to try out for Project Runway two days after that. I remember lying in my bed the night after the ELD show, still in my pouffy dress and fancy Stella Nova hair, and not being able to sleep—my heart wouldn't stop pounding because I knew that it was the beginning of something big.
CM: What do you hope every one will learn about you after viewing this season of PR?
CHW: That as much of a goofball as I am, I take my work very seriously and love what I do. Also, that I strive to always put people before fashion.
CM: (Without being specific) Are there things you would do over? Or do you stand by everything you presented on the show?
CHW: There are a few little things I would change, but I'm happy to say that I stayed true to who I am. That's really the most important thing. I think I can speak for most everyone when I say that not getting your perspective across or losing yourself to the environment is probably the worst thing that could happen.
CM: Would you do it all over again if you had the chance?
CHW: Absolutely! 100%! I had such a blast! It is the best adventure I've had thus far.
CM: How important do you think this experience is for an emerging designer’s career? How important are design competitions in general for a designer?
CHW: Hmmm, this is kind of a funny question since so very few people get this type of opportunity. I think design competitions are a good way for young designers to get their work out there. It's not for the faint of heart, that's for sure, but the honest and unbiased feedback is invaluable. But you have to be ready to really listen.
CM: What designer did you bond with most on the show?
CM: Give me 3 adjectives that would describe your experience on PR?
CHW: Delirious, ridiculous and heaven (I mean, honestly, doing nothing but what you love 24 hours a day on someone else's bill...awwwesome!).
CM: What is the biggest lesson you learned from being on the show?
CHW: That all you can do is do your thing and stay true to who you are as a designer and a person. Not everyone is going to love you, but your perspective is what makes you unique. Stick to it and go for it!
CM: Have your views or desires to be in the fashion industry changed? How?
CHW: Not so much changed as they are more defined now. I have a much clearer idea of where I want to position myself. And I know that I want my line and my company to have a mission beyond just fashion...I've never liked the judgmental, kind of catty side of fashion. I'd really like to partner up and help fight the effects that sort of thing has on women and girls in terms of self-image, eating disorders, and self-esteem issues.
CM: I know everyone in Charleston is excited about watching the show and are so proud. Is there anything you would like to say to everyone from Charleston that is cheering you on?
CHW: Oh goodness! So many things to say. Thank you and Charleston magazine, first of all!! I'm so excited to be representing Charleston! Definitely sign up for updates on HYPERLINK "http://www.carol-hannah.com/" \o "http://www.carol-hannah.com/" \t "_blank" www.carol-hannah.com to get the latest news...You can also follow me on twitter @HappilyEverCH. I plan on coming home for some trunk shows in the fall, and I'm starting a new bridal line as well, so I hope to see everyone soon! Oh and please get out and take advantage of the amazingness of Charleston. I miss it...NYC is awesome, but dirty. :)
Don't miss the premier of the 6th season of Project Runway on Lifetime on August 20th at 10pm! Join me as I co-host an exclusive premier party with Caviar & Bananas sponsored by All Occasions and Comcast Cable with Complimentary Cocktails, Gourmet Hors D'Oeuvres, Stylish Giveaways and of course Project Runway! Tickets are only $20 and can be purchased at http://projectrunwayayoka.eventbrite.com/ with a portion of the proceeds benefiting Lowcountry Aids Services!