Inside “Project Runway: Under the Gunn” with Michelle Überreste

Welcome to Part II of the Prairie Style File exclusive with Michelle Überreste, the LA designer and Perley, MN native who’s currently appearing on Lifetime on Project Runway: Under the Gunn.

Last week, Michelle introduced us to her work. This week, she’s telling us about life on the show, why she chose Mondo as a mentor, what inspires her and which Project Runway: Under the Gunn designers she’d like to work with again.

And we’ll get a look the menswear line her fans have been asking for. These pieces are so new, they’re not even on her website yet!

Under the Gunn Judges
Tim Gunn, Mondo Guerra, Anya Ayoung-Chee and Nick Verreos on set.
Photo by Adam Taylor/Lifetime

Getting on the Show:

“Project Runway: Under the Gunn” airs its fourth episode tonight at 8:00 p.m. CST, but Michelle is still getting used to seeing herself on TV.

“It hasn’t hit me that it’s real yet, I guess,” she says. “The whole taping is just a ride. The whole thing is weird – in a good way.”

She may be the only Under the Gunn designer with a following in both the fashion community and the ag world; It seems like everybody in the small Minnesota community where Michelle grew up is tuning in, from old classmates to middle aged farmers who never dreamed they’d be watching a show about fashion design.

Black Hoodie By Michelle Uberreste

They’re all cheering for Michelle during every weekly design challenge. Michelle and her fellow designers are mentored by one of three past Project Runway designers, fan favorites Mondo Guerra, Anya Ayoung-Chee and Nick Verreos, who each coach a team of four. The winning designer receives $100,000 in cash, a sewing and embroidery studio, a trip to Paris, a Marie Claire fashion spread and a one-year position as a guest editor for the magazine and the chance to design an exclusive collection for Francesca’s and more.

So the stakes are high. And filming the show is just as dramatic – and grueling — as the footage suggests.

Michelle was already an established designer when she started auditioning. She tried out for Project Runway three times in two years before she got the coveted “yes” from the judges.

“But once you get the ‘yes’, that’s not the end,” she said. “That’s just the beginning. There are lots of different stages, contracts, on-camera interviews and weeks of waiting to go through to get to the next tier. And I couldn’t tell anyone right away. It was a big secret for a long time.”

She made it through the first televised cuts (there were 15 designers for just 12 spots on the mentors’ teams) and survived the whirlwind that is reality TV.

The designers wake up before 6 a.m., get ready and record their thoughts in morning reality segments that will be woven into the episode. Then it’s off into LA traffic to film the challenge reveal. Then everybody – designers, mentors, camera crew and support staff – piles back into their vehicles and the designers make a stop to buy their fabric and supplies.

“By the time you get back it’s like 1:00 (p.m.) and then you have a 10 hour work day from there,” Michelle explains. “It’s exhausting. But you’re kind of on adrenaline the whole time because you’re just thinking ‘I need to do well on this challenge and make it to the next one.’”

Under the Gunn designer Michelle Uberreste at work
Michelle in the workroom
Photo by Adam Taylor/Lifetime

Surviving The Workroom:

In the very first episode, the mentors seemed as impressed by Michelle’s calm demeanor as they were by the black and gold dress she created in just six hours. So was she actually that cool under pressure or was it just an editing trick?

She laughs. “It is a very stressful situation. But I saw a lot of people in the workroom freaking out and I saw how it affected them. And I said ‘I’m not going to work like that.’ I seemed calm because I wanted to be calm. Freaking out doesn’t help.”

Michelle says her previous experience as a designer for Lip-Service gave her an edge in the workroom.

“I think I was probably the most well-equipped person because I had a job that was kind of like that – we had deadlines, we had to multitask, we worked long hours,” she says. “Fashion isn’t as creative as it sounds in most places. But at Lip-Service, we got to do everything ourselves – sketched, sewed, bought our own fabric. I don’t think I would have been as prepared if I hadn’t done that.”

Michelle Uberreste White Leggings and Patterned Jacket

And she says her childhood in rural Minnesota taught her a lot about being resourceful and working hard.

“We went through a lot as a family and we struggled a lot,” she says. “I really value that I grew up poor and struggling. I got so many things out of that. I’m super tight with my family. I learned a good work ethic. Being raised in the Midwest on a farm and having to take care of animals and weed the garden — that’s what I consider real life. And going to somewhere like Los Angeles, where everything is fake, it helps you understand reality. It’s really easy to put things into perspective.”

On her mentor and the other designers:

When all three designers wanted to mentor Michelle, she had a decision to make. So she went with her gut.

“I feel like Mondo understood me as a person, not just as a designer. I think he was looking for someone who knew what their aesthetic was and could jump in feet first. And he wanted to help you as a designer to grow and push you… I feel like the focus is on your process and editing. I feel like he wanted to foster my individuality instead of trying to push his on to me — and that’s what really makes a mentor.”

Michelle says the mix of designers this season really stretched her creatively.

“It was a great part of the process to be with other designers with different points of view,” she says. “I think it kind of opens up your mind a little bit more. As a designer, it’s easy to just stay in your box and be really narrow in your views.”

She responded to Nicholas Komor’s minimalistic style, admired Shan Keith Oliver’s ambitious construction and time management and even has her eye on a potential collaboration. “My best friend on the show was Blake (Smith) and he has this aesthetic where he does these apocalyptic gowns and I think it would be cool to do a collaboration with him.”

Michelle Uberreste White Vest

The creative process:

When it comes to creating beautiful garments on a tight deadline, Michelle says it takes equal parts logic and intuition.

“It’s kind of like a left brain/right brain thing and I just kind of let it happen,” she says. “I dream about a lot of stuff…sometimes I get inspired by fabric. I feel like it’s something I can’t control at all, the initial brainstorm of the thing.”

“After that I just have to get it on paper and flesh it out technically. And I try to take that dream that’s totally inconceivable and make it work in real life.”

She sets deadlines and goals for herself, no matter the project. And she tries not to bite off more than she can chew – although she has respect for the other designers who design outfits that could leave them stitching right up until time is called.

“For first episode, I wasn’t going to try to make a blazer and pants in six hours. That’s crazy! But some designers did and that’s commendable. People don’t realize how much work goes into it.”

Salt Water Stallion Necklace by Michelle Uberreste

While filming the show was a challenge, Michelle says it was an incredible experience.

“It’s definitely difficult because you’re around these people for 20 hours a day, every day, and you’re working on a time budget but I really enjoyed it,” she says. “How many designers get to take these awesome, weird challenges and show America what you can do? I thought it was amazing and I’d love to do it again.”

Tune in to Lifetime tonight at 9/8 central to see how Michelle does in this week’s episode of Project Runway: Under the Gunn.

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