Gordana Gehlhausen — “Goga” as she’s known — firmly believes that everything happens for a reason, and in its own time. Twice, she tried out for the hit reality show Project Runway. And twice, she almost made the final cut. The third time proved to be the charm for the San Diego-based designer who debuts August 20 on season six of the show, now airing at 10pm Thursdays on Lifetime TV. “I tend to trust the universe,” says Goga. “Things will work out when they are supposed to.”

 

“Work” proved to be the operative word. “I have never worked as hard in my life as on Project Runway,” she recalls. “You are so segregated and you are so disconnected from the outside world you forget that world exists. You are constantly under pressure, you are constantly judged.” But for all the intensity and sleep deprivation, she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. “I will cherish this hard work for the rest of my life because it was a huge privilege,” she says. “The producers told us after 10,000 applicants, they stopped counting.” 

 

That’s not bad for a girl who grew up in the former Yugoslavia, immigrating to the United States in 1989, unable to speak a word of English. Educated as a linguist, Goga never considered fashion as a career even though sewing had always come naturally. She realized she had marketable talent when the clothes she stitched for her children were the hit of the playground. By the time she auditioned for Project Runway, the 45-year-old Goga already had a decade’s worth of experience as a designer and retailer.

 

Goga moved from Charleston, South Carolina to San Diego shortly before the show wrapped up shooting in February, opening her namesake boutique on Market in the Gaslamp. The move was no accident: her husband has SoCal roots. And while Goga found Los Angeles (where most of Project Runway was shot) too cut-throat, she was drawn to San Diego’s energy. “I am very spiritual. And I am extremely intuitive” she says.” When I came to San Diego, I just felt the vibe of the city. I felt like it had some kind of balance that matches with me, my personality. I felt that I was right. People are extremely supportive. They’re extremely friendly. It’s not too busy a city where people lose themselves.” For Goga, it seems, San Diego is the perfect fit. (www.shopgoga.com)    ANDREA NAVERSEN