Despite a timing snafu thanks to hosting bar Brix Tavern's DirecTV being on East Coast time (we had to wait until 10 pm for the season premiere to air for its second time), the Portland Monthly's Project Runway viewing party was well attended last night, with both Portland's prospects, Bryce Black and Becky Ross, in attendance. Things are a little different this season. Twenty designers were selected for the show, but the opening scenes had all of them re-auditioning for Heidi, Tim, and Nina, who cut five from the pack before they had even made it to the Parsons sweatshop. I have no idea what the point of that was, but it did allow for the thrill of seeing Heidi hop up and do a mock runway lap wearing Black's dramatic feather coat. Once back on the familiar track, the designers' first challenge began with a rude 5 am awakening, and marching orders to create a look using only the pajamas on their backs and one bed sheet—a good old fashioned materials-based challenge. I should say also that I've been kind of dragging my feet about the show this season. I'm tired of the same old drill and wary of the ambiguous opportunity it affords regional talents. It reminds me of a kidnapper luring hungry kids to a van with fancy candy. But the crop of designers they've got this time are pretty damn likable. Nobody jumped out as especially obnoxious or stuck up or prone to bullshitty drama (we'll see if that changes after the sleep deprivation kicks in). What's more, Tim, Heidi, and Nina all seem kinda feisty and goofy this season, as opposed to the last, which got to a point where I feel like they were always pissed off and exasperated and making weird, inconsistent calls. Maybe they got raises. Anyway, while I will always put the Portland talent first, I gotta say, I adore Bert Keeter.


A 57-year-old (who lies and says he's 52) recovering alcoholic with a pedigreed design background working for firms like Bill Blass who turned to drink after several of his loved ones fell victim to AIDS, yet still has a great attitude and gently self-deprecating sense of humor? Keeter is going to drive a hard bargain in the popularity department. It doesn't hurt that he's got mad skills too.

The judges agreed, and rightly crowned Keeter the first challenge winner, who whipped his boxers and tee into this:

  • Barbara Nitke

He got some criticism for the styling being too mature or conservative or something, which I do not agree with at all. I might call it "understated," and I think that's a good thing. Naturally there were a lot of lackluster whatevers, and a handful of disasters, but Raphael produced the worst, and paid for it by getting booted:

Both Becky and Bryce skated through without comment from the judges, and while I was fully "meh" on Becky's blue dress, I think Bryce deserves a nod here:

Also, guest judge Christina Ricci looked gorgeous and had smart things to say. Likewise Heidi and Nina both look amazing, like all they have been doing since last season's wan exhaustion has been bathing in milk and honey, sleeping 10 hours a night, and attending daily Bikram classes. Here's the judges' take on what Raphaele did wrong:

In short, despite myself I'm actually looking forward to seeing how all this plays out. Check back weekly for reports!