Designer Gunnar Deatherage Remembers His Time In Louisville And Looks Forward To The Adventures Ahead
By Remy Sisk
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson
Gunnar Deatherage. The name alone invokes the image of the very person it stands for: modern, cutting edge, ceaselessly creative and eminently imaginative. For the last seven years, the costume and fashion designer and entrepreneur has called Louisville home. Now, after multiple stints on the television series “Project Runway” as well as a host of other endeavors in Louisville – including having his own storefront to sell his original clothing – Deatherage is packing up and moving to Los Angeles. But it’s not because he doesn’t love Louisville; rather, he is emphatically grateful for the opportunities he’s enjoyed here while also relishing a future where his limitless potential is fully unleashed.
Deatherage is originally from Madison, Indiana, but moved to Louisville in 2011. As a creative director on the sets of photo shoots, he began to develop an interest in fashion around the time he moved to Louisville. “I think I started to get interested in fashion when I was interested in photo shoots,” he recounts. “I started to make clothing to go in the photo shoots, and that was sort of my segue into making clothing – just so that we had stuff to shoot.”
As soon as he recognized this interest in fashion, he decided to make the absolute most out of it as soon as he could; he applied to “Project Runway” and was accepted. There were 30,000 applicants his first year on the show, and although the then 21-year-old Deatherage was new to the industry, he felt like this was how we wanted to launch his career. “I think the millennial in me wanted the attention if I’m being honest,” he laughs.
Though he didn’t win, he did realize that fashion was where he wanted to be. “It’s kind of like my consolation prize was a love for sewing rather than the money,” he says. Deatherage went back on the show the next season and thus began to establish extraordinarily strong roots locally and beyond. When he returned home again at only 22, he suddenly realized that he had achieved something many spend years working toward. Consequently, he had to discern what his next goals would be. “It felt like this weird pinnacle that would never happen and then it did,” he remembers, “so then it sort of became, ‘Well, what do I want to do now?’”
As he had a history of working on photo shoots and doing creative direction, The Voice-Tribune’s publisher Laura Snyder, who was editor in chief of NFocus magazine at the time, brought Deatherage on as a regular creative director, which he credits with being extremely formative to his career going forward. “I knew how to sew and make clothing and I knew getting on the show I could make clothing, but as far as fashion and developing it for people, that was kind of the first time that I really stepped into that,” he says of his work with the now-shuttered publication.
Deatherage would go on to work for NFocus for almost four years. During that time, he also decided to go back to the world of reality TV by appearing on season four of “Project Runway All Stars.” “I think I went back on because I felt like I didn’t really get to be myself on my original season,” he explains. “I felt like I was portrayed very much like this total bitch – no other way around it. And I felt like that was me overcompensating for the fact that I wasn’t comfortable sewing at 21 yet. So this was almost four years later when I did ‘All Stars,’ and I just felt like it was the right time to go back and be myself.”
Upon returning home, NFocus soon shut its doors, but Deatherage began working as a creative director for other publications, including The Voice-Tribune, Churchill Downs Magazine and Modern Louisville. Simultaneously, he expanded his own fashion collections, getting to the point of having his own storefront in Old Louisville. His name became more and more well-known, if not from the media or his storefront then from the iconic looks of his that people were wearing to the Speed Ball and during Kentucky Derby week.
Though his creativity and imagination are, of course, inherent in who he is, Deatherage does credit Louisville with helping him define how he wanted to express his ideas. “I like to tell everyone I grew up here even though I didn’t, but I feel like as a human, I evolved very fast here,” he says. “The me then would not even recognize the me now. Coming to a city like Louisville, it is small, but at the same time it’s so artsy and very liberal. It’s this weird conglomerate of people who allow you to develop yourself. I think it just allowed me to try new things and push boundaries.”
Now, Deatherage is ready to push the next boundary: He is moving to Los Angeles to work in costuming. The film production company Stargazer Films recently came to town and hired Deatherage as the costume designer on two local films and then a larger one shot in New York. For that project, Deatherage was actually up against April Napier – who costumed last year’s “Lady Bird” – for the job and got it, which he took as a sign that he was on the right path. “That to me is life telling me that this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” he affirms. “Life works for me sometimes. I don’t know how else to describe it. I’m super grateful. Doors tend to open – I don’t know why.”
As he looks ahead at a future in costuming, he recognizes that it will mean taking a step away from creating his own fashion lines, which is a truth he is happy to embrace at this stage of his life. Whereas fashion dies at the end of every season, as he puts it, costumes can live on, and moreover, carry on a story. Deatherage has always looked at his own collections as having a central story, so he is eager to lean into that aspect of the work.
From the first season of “Project Runway” to styling for magazines and operating a storefront, it has all led here, where Deatherage is exploring a new, unparalleled passion. “Something like ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ on Netflix, which is so costume-driven and the costumes are a very vital and intricate part of the story and the character – that’s where I need to be,” he emphasizes. “Or on a ‘Downton Abbey’ (type series). I want to love the costuming so much that I’m devastated when the show ends. That’s all I want. It’s not about money for me. I want to be so enveloped in something that I’m just devastated when it’s over. And I can only hope that I continue to get jobs like that.”
Without question, Deatherage is moving beyond Louisville and running toward the chance to delve deeply into the world of costuming and unfetter his wildest visions. He is proud to leave Louisville a better place than he found it with new designers popping up across the city blazing their own trails and elevating Louisville to a new position on the fashion and design landscape. His journey is forward, and soon that limitless potential will be illustriously liberated. “In all honesty, I’m excited to see not who I become but what I look like as I evolve there because I think I’m subdued here,” he smiles. “And if this is subdued, I just can’t imagine what me without limits is going to feel like.” VT