BACK IN 2008, when it was announced that, for the first time, a Portland designer would be competing on Bravo's Project Runway, there was authentic excitement in the air. It helped that the designer in question, Leanne Marshall, was widely beloved. She had recently brought the house down at Portland Fashion Week, thrilling the audience with an edgy collection of sculptural dresses, and as she progressed further and further on her televised winning streak, the crowds at the public screenings hosted at SE Hawthorne's Tanker bar steadily swelled. By the final stretch, it was standing room only, and on the night of her ultimate victory, the crowd's joyous response must have been heard halfway across town.
Over the ensuing years, the Portland area saw three more make the same journey. Marshall was quickly followed by Janeane Marie Ceccanti, Vancouver's Seth Aaron Henderson, and Gretchen Jones. All but Ceccanti emerged victorious, and all but Henderson relocated to the East Coast shortly after. This week those numbers will continue to swell. Season nine of the show (now on the Lifetime network) debuts with two design talents representing Portland. Bryce Black and Becky Ross are both recent graduates of the design program at the Art Institute of Portland. Unlike Marshall, Ceccanti, Jones, and to a lesser extent, Henderson, those who follow fashion in these parts haven't had much chance to get to know them. Bryce's work has been featured in Portland Monthly, but the only runway show in recent memory featuring either of their work was their school's graduate showcase, in which the majority of students presented only a small handful of looks.
Certainly, the blush is well off Project Runway's rose. Some point to Marshall's as the last season before it jumped the shark, when it made the network switch to Lifetime. Others place it at the final episode of last season, when Jessica Simpson presided as a final judge over Jones' controversial close-shave win over Mondo Guerra.
More importantly, it remains ambiguous whether Project Runway is advantageous to a young designer's career. It broadcasts your name into living rooms worldwide, but under high-pressure circumstances that place a premium on drama. Meanwhile, the attitude of the fashion industry at large toward the show is somewhere between indifference and scorn, and does not appear to be elevating as the seasons tick by.
Marshall and Jones both used their prize money to relocate to New York. Marshall now does a lot of custom and bridal work, counts Paula Abdul among her clients, and gets periodically flown around the globe for fashion shows. While she says she's happy with how things turned out, she admits she probably wouldn't do it again. Henderson parlayed his win into relationships with corporations like SolarWorld and VitaminWater, and the jury's still out on Jones, who is working hard to make the most of the exposure.
"Never ever, ever read a blog about it while your season is airing," advises Marshall to the new candidates. "Anything negative you say will absolutely make it on air." Regarding post-show maneuvers, Jones encourages them to "remember why they did it" and "get what they need." Best of luck to them both, and let the games begin.
Season nine of Project Runway airs Thursday, July 28, on Lifetime at 9 pm. Check mod.portlandmercury.com for episode recaps.
• One of NW 23rd's standout boutiques, IDOM (home of proprietress Modi Soondarotok's in-house line of the same name) is celebrating their four-year anniversary with refreshments and 30 percent off all IDOM pieces. IDOM, 827 NW 23rd, Sat July 30, 11 am-7 pm
• The formidably awesome new collection of shops (Tanner Goods, Blackbird, Isaac Hers, Dunderdon) in the Blackbox building are collectively celebrating their grand opening, with live music, giveaways, and beer. Blackbox, 1300 W Burnside, Sat July 30, 1-7 pm
• The outdoor shopping season continues its full swing with the Big Big Big Lemonade Stand, a pop-up shop/garage sale/open studio combo featuring jewelry from Emily Bixler's BOET line, funny and cute soft sculptures by Nutfang, furniture and art from the Good Mod, and more (tacos... lemonade... ). The Good Mod, 4701 SE 24th, Sun July 31, 11 am-6 pm