TWO BIG BITS of news concerning Portland's dominance of reality TV fashion shows broke last week. First, Vancouver's Seth Aaron (Portland borrows him from time to time) took the prize on the Project Runway spin-off show Project Runway All Stars. This win makes him the first competitor to have won both the original competition series—he swept Season 7 back in 2010 with sharp tailoring and flair for punky graphics, a notorious soft spot among the Project Runway judges—and the All Stars.
Second, two Portland contestants have been announced as competitors on the latest addition to the Project Runway franchise. Under the Gunn is a Tim Gunn-centric show that was apparently created to tide over Runway fans until both Heidi Klum and Gunn were available to film yet another season of the original show. (Gunn has stated in interviews that the two have "a pact" that disallows either from participating without the other.)
Though previews suggest the show's designers will be put through a similar series of design challenges, Gunn also features previous Project Runway competitors taking on mentorship roles under Gunn's tutelage. (Among these three is Season 8's Mondo Guerra, who lost to another Portlander, Gretchen Jones, but has gone on to be, arguably, the most widely loved and visible contestant in the show's history, as well as an All Stars winner.)
Joining the competition is Brady Lange, a relatively new force on Portland's design scene whose cheerful, casual looks for men and women have made big splashes at local events, including last year's Mercury Open Season series of fashion shows. Alongside him is Amy Sim, who came to design relatively late in life, earning her degree at the age of 49, and went on to score the Emerging Designer prize at 2013's FashioNXT (full disclosure: I was one of the judges).
Project Runway and its ilk have played an interesting role in the Portland area design scene, which now brings its total number of competitors up to nine, many of them winners. The show's career-boosting benefits are debatable—it certainly earns one greater exposure—but it does give the city's design-watchers a guilty-pleasure excuse to tune in and root for the home team. Under the Gunn premieres Thursday, January 16, at 9 pm on Lifetime.