This interview/conversation between Polina Osherov and Project Runway alum Gunnar Deatherage was originally published in PATTERN magazine, vol. 15 (Spring 2019). Since the interview, Gunnar has made several pieces for hit music videos including Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” and Anne Marie’s “Birthday” and more! We love seeing his face pop up on our Insta feeds and drool over his dreamy website.
WORDS BY POLINA OSHEROV
PHOTOGRAPHY BY HUNTER ZEISKE
MAKEUP BY BETHANY HOOD
ALL CLOTHING DESIGNED BY HUNTER DEATHERAGE
Gunnar Deatherage is a man of many talents. Fashion Designer. Hair Stylist. Creative Director. Draper. While his current claim to fame has been his participation in Project Runway, he’s gone on to accomplish a far more impressive list of achievements in the six years since his last Project Runway appearance, and he’s just getting started. We caught up with Gunnar in LA to talk about what he’s been up to, including his recent relocation from Louisville.
“I think that everybody should move away from everything they know at least one time in their life. I think it makes you a stronger person.”
Polina Osherov: You moved to a LA in July of 2018, congrats! What led to the move and what has that transition been like for you?
Gunnar Deatherage: The decision to move to LA was definitely not an easy one. I was deeply rooted in the Midwest and I love Louisville, but I’d hit the ceiling professionally. I felt like I had done everything that I could possibly do there and, as much as I kept pushing, I just wasn’t getting those higher caliber jobs that I wanted to be working on. It was starting to take a mental toll. My boyfriend is originally from LA, and he moved to Louisville on the condition that we would eventually move back to LA. So having him alongside me has been great, but it was still a difficult transition. There were multiple moments when I was like, what have I done?The hardest part was realizing that I was not only leaving my friends and family, but also a really incredible network of colleagues and collaborators that I had worked so hard to build. I still feel deeply connected to Louisville, but I won’t lie, I am glad I made the move. I think that everybody should move away from everything they know at least one time in their life. I think it makes you a stronger person. When you’re in a place where everyone knows you and what you can do, there’s not that need to prove yourself, and I needed and wanted that. I definitely found that in a L.A.
PO: One would assume that with your roots in fashion, photography, and print, that you had a handful of connections moving to LA? Is that true?
GD: Not at all! The only person I knew moving here was my boyfriend!
PO: So how did you start getting gigs?
GD: I hadn’t had to actively ‘look for work’ in about six years, because of being a part of Project Runway, and because of just knowing great people and bouncing from connection to connection. Then I got to LA and there was nothing. I had to start fresh. I had to write a resume. After a few weeks of dead ends, I started panicking and ended up on Craigslist — the last place I expected to find work. But there were legit jobs on there. So I jumped into this seamstress world and started sewing for six different people at a time. And that was amazing, because then I was learning all these different processes. It was weirdly voyeuristic in an artful way, getting to watch people create and me just being a fly on the wall in a way.
PO: I know that you didn’t do the seamstress thing for too long, so what happened next?
GD: I connected with a production designer by the name of Zachary Skoubis, who works on films and commercials. He knew my boyfriend, but he’d also purchased clothing from me when I was still in Louisville. He said, ‘I think you’d be great at working in the art department.’ So I gave it a shot and loved it so much! For anybody who’s wondering, the art department on films and commercials handles anything to do with set design; curtains, wallpaper, reupholstering, furniture, lighting, dishes — really anything that you would put in an empty room to make it look like whatever the director wants it to.
PO: Are you allowed to talk about some of the specific projects you’ve worked on since you’ve been here?
GD: Where do I start? So much has happened in such a short period of time. I worked with a designer, Lael Osness. She designed Jessie J’s world tour clothing and costumes for the stage. And that was a really amazing experience, because we got to actually fit with Jessie and work with her. And although those were not my designs, being able to work on someone else’s vision (that millions of people are going to see) was really, really cool. I did a number of other projects with Laele, worked with Valentina from RuPaul’s DragRace, a MAC cosmetics campaign, we also did some dresses for Mariah Carey. Then I bounced over to the art department world, where I did a Twenty One Pilots music video, two Ariana Grande music videos, and a commercial for Google with DJ Marshmello. After that, it was back to the sewing world again, where I got a chance to work with designer Asher Levine. We worked on Lady Gaga’s Enigma Residency costumes in Las Vegas. Working with Asher was incredible. His brain works in a way that mine cannot even comprehend. Working with him forced me to think outside of the box. Then, I finished my year out with a couple more music videos with production designer John Richoux and Team Nomad: one for Ariana Grande and one for Kacey Musgraves.
“I also want to inspire others to create more, and if I can be a catalyst for people in that way, then I think I’m doing alright.”
PO: And all that in a period off four and a half months?
GD: Yeah, once you get plugged in here, it’s just nonstop. Once I started working, I didn’t get a day off until Christmas.
PO: Was it difficult to translate your skill set of being a fashion designer to working in the art department? It certainly sounds like you took to it like a fish to water.
GD: There are definitely a lot of skills that translated for the type of work I do. On set I’m known as a “draper.” A draper is in charge of anything to do with fabric. So whether I’m reupholstering, or I’m using fabric as wallpaper, or making pillows, or crafting art pieces for the wall, I really do get to flex my design muscles. Remember that shoot I did with Clay Cook for PATTERN (Vol. 12)? Not only was the model wearing my designs, but I also designed those sets! So while I didn’t do a lot of that type of work in Louisville, it certainly was in my wheelhouse.
PO: LA is such a different beast from the Midwest. How has it been trying to fit in here?
GD: I’m very proud to be from the Midwest. I enjoy being a nice person who has genuine empathy for others and is willing to help others just because. People recognize this niceness as being different from the LA niceness, and respond well to it. On the flip side, when people hear that I am from Kentucky, they almost instantly assume that I’m not as good and don’t know as much as they do — that I am somehow culturally inept as well. People here have a tendency to explain the difference between LA and everywhere else, as though I’ve been living on another planet all this time. Meantime, they have no real idea of my life in Kentucky or the level of experience and expertise that I bring to the table, that I spent the last decade working for myself and creating my own empire. I own a boutique. I did hair in a salon for almost ten years. I had two clothing lines running simultaneously. I was creative directing for four publications, as well as for large commercial brands. Sometimes it feels like some people might need something to hold over me. They think the ‘something’ is that I’m from the Midwest, but I believe that it’s one of my biggest assets.
PO: What’s the most daunting thing about living in LA?
GD: You don’t know traffic until you’ve sat on the freeway for three hours. You don’t know anxiety until you’re stuck in traffic, panicking about being late to an important meeting. I’ll start there because it’s the most obvious downside. Also the homeless issue in LA is one of the saddest things I’ve ever experienced. I’m really looking forward to seeing how our new governor’s new plan for trying to address this issue plays out. Generally speaking, LA is like any other big city. It can chew you up and spit you out. And I’ve experienced that on both coasts. A big city can do that. Adjusting to life here is a huge transition. Everything’s more difficult and time-consuming, from shopping for groceries to picking up supplies for projects. You have traffic no matter where and what time of day you go. There’s just a lot more to handle every single day, versus living in a city like Louisville.
PO: What does the future hold for you? What are your goals for the coming days?
GD: I plan on giving LA at least a good five years, unless something incredible comes up elsewhere. That’s what it would take for me to move away. Challenges aside, I’m having a little bit of a love affair with LA. I didn’t think that I would, and now that I’m here I find it rewarding, challenging, stylish, warm. I feel more myself here than I’ve felt in a long time. I think that that’s pretty special. I’m very optimistic about my future here. I feel like I can expand on everything that I’ve been doing all these years. To do more and do it bigger and better. I want to make a lot more money. I want to make a lot more art. I want to make a lot more friends. I also want to inspire others to create more, and if I can be a catalyst for people in that way, then I think I’m doing all right.