Great news for Portland fashion: Leanne Marshall, designer of the Leanimal label ( has just returned from New York, where she has secretly been for the past month or so... filming the fifth season of Project Runway! (The debut was Wednesday, July 16, at 9 pm on Bravo, which unless you are holding an extremely fresh copy of the paper has already passed, so get thee to the internets!)

Though she's lived in Portland for less than three years (during which time she had a stint as a graphic designer for the Mercury), Marshall's quickly become a favorite on the local apparel design scene.

She first auditioned for the show—which features bizarre design challenges, host Heidi Klum, and quotable mentor Tim Gunn—in 2007, but the second time around proved to be the charm. I spoke to Marshall soon after her return to Portland:

MERCURY: This was the second time you auditioned for Project Runway. What was different?

LEANNE MARSHALL: I was definitely a better designer by the second try—I probably wouldn't have been ready for it if I had made it the first time. In between I had a lot of development in my design point of view. My point of view is very strong now.

Without revealing the results of the show, what can you tell me about your future plans?

This was a huge opportunity to get name recognition, and I'd like to get a production system going—I'll probably be moving to New York within the next six months. I really want to make a name for myself in fashion. The scene in Portland has been really supportive, and it's a great place to be as a new designer.

Did your experience on the show alter your goals as a designer?

It's not a change of goals, [they're] just enhanced. I mean, I'm broke! I'm a struggling designer, and it's really hard to get any investors or any kind of backing. I want to take it to the next level, and doing the show is the perfect vehicle to do that.

Portland is going to miss you!

It's going to be really hard to leave! I really wasn't that serious about it until I came here and realized that was what I wanted to do. I was inspired by Portland designers like Adam Arnold and Holly Stalder.

Did the challenges in the show lead you to expand your line to new areas of design?

I definitely got out of my comfort zone and got a stronger sense of what I'm good at and what my strengths are, which is essentially what I've already been doing!