By Rebekah Sager

San Diego clothing designers and former Project Runaway contestants Gordana Gehlhausen (season 6) and Jesus Estrada (season 7) represented America’s Finest at Mercedes-Benz
Fashion Week (aka New York Fashion Week) mid-September-each looking to snip a swath out of the Big Apple.

Gaining access to Fashion Week is tough and typically takes big money. Luckily for Estrada, who owns Haus of Estrada in the Gaslamp, and Gehlhausen, owner of GOGA by Gordana boutique (also in the Gaslamp), the velvet ropes are a more slack when you’ve already stitched a name for yourself in reality TV.

“The scariest thing is to fail-and it’s hard to please everyone,” says Estrada, who runs his business with help from his identical twin, Antonio. “You don’t want to lose confidence, because it drains your creativity and makes you question yourself. My brother and I get into fights when we’re doing this. I literally feel like our lives are a reality show.”

Estrada and Gehlhausen showed their Spring/Summer 2012 collections at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York’s Chelsea district. The show, titled The New York FAME, also showcased the work of other former Project Runway contestants and emerging designers to support the Twin Tower Orphan Fund, which raises money for children who lost a parent on 9/11.

Singer Natalie Cole was in the audience, and America’s Next Top Model runner-up, Bianca Golden, hosted the event.

Gehlhausen’s models sashayed down the runway in what she considers a utilitarian “mix of wearable reality and unreal fantasy”: bold prints inspired by designer Emilio Pucci, glittery spandex shorts and Capri pants worn with halter tops fashioned from muted silk strips.

“I launched my wholesale line this year,” Gehlhausen says. “I’m trying to have Goga sold everywhere. American designers have to compete against the Korean and Chinese markets (during Fashion Week). Asia is not only making the clothing cheaper, but now they’re designing, too.”

Haus of Estrada closed the show, proving just how far 23-year-olds Jesus and Antonio Estrada have come from their native Sinaloa, Mexico-and the collection they showed at Fashion Week last year.

Proving style is not always what it seams, the twins turned gender on its ear by featuring mermaid-themed menswear that looked like women’s suits, modeled by drag queens.

But it was Haus of Estrada’s fringed bohemian handbags and dangerously curved heels that stole the show.

“The eight-inch heels were really hard for the models to walk in, and they were whining backstage,” Estrada says. “We were afraid they would fall-especially with the long gowns.”

Luckily, the drag queens managed to stay erect.

“I knew we did well when the audience was on their feet, clapping, at the end,” Estrada says. “They’re the ones who buy the collection. That’s how I judge success.”