The first time I met Gunnar Deatherage, I had no clue as to the star he would become.
At the time, he was working at the Pink Door when the boutique was located near General Eccentric.
My knit hat had for some reason – poor quality sewing – begun to come apart. I stopped in and asked the future designer and stylist for a pair of scissors to finish the job. As quickly as the cut was made, we parted ways.
Today, Deatherage, a veteran of the ninth and tenth seasons of Lifetime’s fashion-themed reality show “Project Runway,” is spending his days preparing for the festivities surrounding the 139th running of the Kentucky Oaks and Derby.
Earlier this month, his vision for the annual Runway for the Roses fashion show captured the imaginations of all who attended the gathering at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage in the city’s West End.
I sat down with Deatherage near his home in The Highlands to discuss everything from his Derby plans to what it would take to return to fashion design.
“[Things] have been going really slow. I’m not really doing anything right now, which is kind of nice,” he said when asked about his post-Roses activities.
“I’ve been really working just getting everything at home in order — [my roommate and I are] in transition mode right now — but I’ve also on trying to get prepped up for Derby, too. We’re going to a lot of the different events… and it’s a lot to dress yourself up for. I’ve got a few clients that I’m dressing for the Derby, too.”
When I first interviewed Deatherage for my own blog late last month, he stated that his sewing machine had been packed away, citing a lack of desire to make clothes after his experiences with “Project Runway.”
Days ago however, he posted in his Facebook account that he had trotted out the sewing machine once more. The reason: His roommate, model Courtney Blanton, needed a dress for the 2013 Julep Ball:
“I’m going to the Julep Ball this year, and I’m not making the Survivor Ambassador Dress for the first time in three years. I’m taking my friend Courtney; she’s gone with me every year. She was the model that opened the show for Runway for the Roses; I live with Courtney. So, I’ve done her dress every year, and I was gonna let her buy a dress to go this year. And I just felt like it would be a slap in my face if I let my main model wear something else that’s not mine at an event that isn’t sponsored by Dillard’s or something.”
Deatherage went on to state he didn’t enjoy the process, that the further away he was from the madness of “Project Runway,” the more he realized that he didn’t want to sew anymore.
“It’s just not for me. I don’t even really want to design [clothing],” he said, though he did want to do more interior design, citing the field’s more hands-on approach. When I suggested he autograph his sewing machine and put it up for eBay, Deatherage also hoped for that day to come, but that it might not appear in the manner he would like to see.
Moving further into Derby, Deatherage is also styling Louisville rockers A Lion Named Roar for their show at the celebrity-filled Barnstable Brown Gala; ALNR will also kick off this year’s WFPK Waterfront Wednesday series of shows this Wednesday.
“They were actually at Runway for the Roses. They’re really good friends with [Glass Label co-founder] Clay Cook, and they asked me to style them for the Barnstable Brown party, and then for the Derby as well.”
The discussion quickly transitioned towards online shopping for the quartet, due to the lack of menswear options in Louisville compared to the myriad of womenswear choices available. “There is menswear in the city,” he said, “but it’s very spread out, and the ones who do have it, it’s very small amounts of it, which is awful.”
After listing where he’s had to go to dress ALNR, including Zara, Topshop and Asos, Deatherage said that if he were to design and sew clothes again, he would “do menswear, because you’ve got people like [ALNR] that wanna dress trendy, and they want cool stuff, and there’s nowhere for it here.”
Regarding working with A Lion Named Roar, it was the former designer’s first time styling a band.
“They’re really cool guys. They really wanna be kind of quirky with their style, but still have that kind of regal edge to it, which is kind of nice. They’ve been a lot of fun to work with; there’s four of them. They all have different personalities, and I’ve also never worked with a band before… They’re getting somewhere, which is kind of cool. So when they’re huge, I can put that down in my portfolio.”
After a brief detour about fellow Louisville reality star Wil Heuser (“He’s wild! He’s just wild all of the time and full of energy. He’s really nice, though”) and Mayor Greg Fischer (“I follow him on Twitter. He’s an interesting guy”), we talked more about his Derby and Oaks plans for 2013.
Aside from his sole appearance at the Julep Ball, Deatherage said he would also be at Survivor Day at the James Brown Graham Cancer Center. “We all judge hats, and all the survivors and cancer patients will come out for that. It’s all for charity, which is awesome,” he said.
Deatherage added that he would also be at the Pegasus Parade with fellow “Runway” alumnus Alicia Hardesty — though he wasn’t sure at press time if that was still a go — as well as the Celebrity Luncheon, the Kentucky Oaks, the Julep Ball, and, of course, the Kentucky Derby.
He did say that he had to divvy up who he wanted to take to each event, as well as who to style and whose closets to raid.
At the age of 23, Deatherage is trying on a few hats in regards to future endeavors, though he isn’t sure which is the best fit. When asked if he would consider college, he noted that the thought did cross his mind a few times:
“Maybe I’m missing out by not going to college,” he said. “Maybe I would feel better about where I’m at if I was in college, but I don’t wanna have to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans — and I won’t. I won’t do it.
“I feel like if I wanna learn something bad enough, I’ll buy the textbook and learn from it myself… if you wanna learn something, it’s out there. And I don’t do well with a teacher in front of a class lecturing at me, ’cause I ignore it; I tune it out. And then, I just don’t learn anything. The most I ever learn is when I teach myself, ’cause I don’t fight myself. I just go for it. But I don’t think I could go to school. I just don’t think I could. I have a lot of friends that are graduated from college, and they’re in their adult jobs and living the dream, and I make more money than they do without going to college. So, it doesn’t make sense to me to educate myself on something that I don’t know if I’ll use.”
Turns out Deatherage has never made a bet on a horse: In his first year attending the Derby — he was in Millionaires’ Row then — he only had $20 in his wallet and an awesome suit. The second year, he left his wallet at home by accident; thus, no betting that time, either. He hopes the third time might be the right time to learn how to place a bet or two.
What are the fashion trends this year that Deatherage loves and loathes? Well, he said he doesn’t really have any.
“My mom asked me what I thought about trends and stuff. And I said, ‘I don’t know.’ And I say that because in the ’40s, they wore what they had because that’s what was available. There were a certain amount of designers that made that new trend for the year. And every generation, they had that kind of like… the new trend, because it was new and exciting.
“So, there are millions of designers right now that are all pulling from old inspiration, that are all doing the same type of thing. And right now, it’s all overlapping. So, you’re gonna see pastels, you’re gonna see solid white and black, you’re gonna see mod, you’re gonna see frilly. You’re gonna see it all because it’s all out there right now. There’s nothing that’s that new and innovative that people are that excited to wear. That’s just a personal standpoint, though.”
[Monday, in part 2 of the interview, Miquelon talks with Deatherage about his time on ‘Project Runway.’– Editor]