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'Runway' exit Q&A: Keith Bryce

He suffered a fashion spinout made worse by a case of motormouth, but the latest auf-ed designer tells us he’d do it all over again the same way — just with a little more inspiration

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Project Runway

At first, Keith Bryce seemed like the sweet, quiet, Mormon gay from Salt Lake City who got excited by fashion design. Then it became clear that he was crashing and burning after a few ill-advised choices in recent Project Runway challenges, which led to his departure Wednesday for an uninspired automobile-parts ensemble. And next it became clear that he wasn’t so sweet and quiet but just plain mouthy, first lamenting in confessionals about how much he deserved to win over the other contestants, and then taking it to the runway and nastily refuting the judges. Bad move. Here, Keith talks to EW.com about all that sassy lip, why Blayne is still in the competition, and his future plans.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The cameras portrayed you as kind of bitter, and you talked back to the judges quite a bit last night. Was that really how it happened? Were you portrayed correctly?
KEITH BRYCE: I wouldn’t say that I was necessarily bitter. I was working so hard to please the judges. When I was creating by inspiration and putting out fashion, I was happy for their critiques because they are where they are in their careers because they are good at what they do. So I always took their critiques very seriously. I just felt by that point, they had been so harsh the week before when it came to my drag-queen challenge, when I had a client that had actually loved what I had created. She had told everyone on the runway that if she had paid me, this is exactly what she would have wanted. She wanted rock and roll and sexy.

So what was going on with this challenge?
When it came to the next challenge, I was like, I don’t know what to do. Am I supposed to be pleasing the client? Am I supposed to be pleasing the judges? Am I supposed to be putting out original, conceptual fashion? Being a young, fresh designer, it was like, How do I please the judges? They’re like, Put out a strong point of view and stick to it. It’s so hard because you’re saying that you want me to do that, but in the end, you want me to create something that is marketable. Sometimes high fashion isn’t always so marketable. Sometimes it’s a piece of art. That’s what I’m trying to represent to the fashion world and get back to on the runway: Fashion is an art. I could send out a naked girl with a flower on her boob and call it fashion and art, and that’s what it is. I felt like maybe they did portray that a little. I think they did an accurate job. I was a little bit bitter and I was kinda broken at that point. I really wanted them to know because I knew none of the other contestants were gonna stand up and say, ”Tread lightly on our hearts.” We’re working night and day on these designs, and we’re doing the best we can to put out inspiration and passion continually. Give us positive criticism that is going to help us grow as designers. Don’t just tear us down because we don’t learn and grow from that. I think they did a good job. [The show] is only an hour long. They have to put as much as they can in there.

NEXT PAGE: ”I felt like I did want to push the boundaries, but they weren’t receptive to that. They were just like, ‘Whoa, way out there, Keith.’ Exactly! It stands out more than anybody else’s. Isn’t that what you want to see?”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So your personal fringe style was supposed to be your statement, right?
KEITH BRYCE: I come from an abstract art background. I’ve only done a few pieces of that [fringe] my whole design career. I think, more than anything, what my thing is, as a designer, is to represent a piece of art, and that’s what I was trying to get in the show, except I was doing it through fringe techniques and styling. In actuality, if I was in my shop, I’d be hand-buying the fabrics, hand-painting things, I’d be manipulating fabrics in a whole different way. With the limited amount of time, you have to make sure you’re creating something you can finish. So a lot of those techniques are things I have never done before. I was just trying to be inspired and create in the moment, because that’s the kind of designer I am.

Can you explain the construction issues this week? Were you just strapped for time or what?
That whole design was not inspired. That is nothing I would ever make. That’s what I was trying to get across to the judges. What the heck do these people want to see? I felt like I did want to push the boundaries, but they weren’t receptive to that. They were just like, ”Whoa, way out there, Keith.” Exactly! It stands out more than anybody else’s. Isn’t that what you want to see?

It’s a hard line to toe.
Given the opportunity away from having one day to work on something, if I was to create for New York Fashion Week — taken how conceptual, progressive, and iconic things stand out — and [had time to] put a cleaner edge to it, oh, my gosh, you’re gonna have progressive, innovative fashion. That’s what I was trying to show them: Let me push the boundaries. And given more time, you know that I can create things cleaner. That outfit wasn’t inspired. That was just trying to get through it. I’ve created so many things with limited amounts of time, and with limited funding — that’s where I come from. I’ve never had a lot of time or a lot of money to do what I do. But it’s completely different when you have a national audience and these four judges who are basically going to make or break your swing at Bryant Park. I think there’s a whole different level that comes into that. It’s not always like ”I need more time.”

What was it then?
When the show first started, I had no problem busting out wearable, very cute, very sellable, very interesting fashion. But after you start listening to their critiques, hearing them tear down other designers, I started losing a lot of motivation. If I had more time, that outfit would have been cleaner, but it still would have been that outfit. It didn’t inspire me. I felt like the week before, with that drag queen challenge, there were a few things that I would have changed. It was a little bit of a time thing. There were thousands of pieces of those hanging fabrics. I loved it. I loved the concept, I thought it was innovative, I thought it was totally funky. I thought it was way dramatic. I, personally, as a designer, wanted to clean it up and sculpt those pieces more. My client, being the drag queen, was like, ”No, I think all those excellent pieces, it’s drama. It’s drag queen.” I was like, ”You’re my client, if you’re happy, this is exactly what you want, we’re gonna go with it.” Now that I think about it, I probably would have made it more of a jacket. I would have made it so it opened up and showed a skimpy, small outfit underneath. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be pleasing the client or pleasing the judges. My client was 100 percent happy. There were other people…their clients didn’t like what they made, but yet they weren’t called out for it. How does that make sense? You never know whether you’re pleasing the client or the judges, or just supposed to be putting out your hard core point of view.

NEXT PAGE: Keith spills about who he thinks will go to Bryant Park and why Blayne is still around

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Would you say the same thing to the judges again?
KEITH BRYCE: Oh, yeah. When it came to that, it wasn’t a matter of being in the top or the bottom. I have been asked, ”Do you think that affected it?” Either way, I don’t. I wasn’t inspired by that look. At the same time, I knew no other designer was gonna stand up and say it and be like, ”If you guys realize how much time and pressure we’re underneath, give us positive criticism. Don’t give us jokes.” It’s TV and I get that. But do it in a way that you’re still building us up as designers, so that the next time you see us create something, it’s gonna be inspired and it’s gonna be taking from that criticism and growing from it. Not breaking us down. Sometimes I felt like it was like ”We’re gonna break you down and that’s gonna build you up.” No, no, no, no. We’re under so much pressure and under so much stress; all your breaking me down does is break me down. That’s what it started doing to me. I’m a young, fresh, very passionate, excited designer. I’m so excited for whatever is gonna come from all this. Help me grow, because that’s why I’m here. I’m here to grow. Don’t just tear me down. I know I’m conceptual, you need to help me hone in and make it more refined. I wouldn’t change it.

If you had to say, who’ll win?
I have to say the ones who I think will go to Bryant Park will be Leanne, Jerell, and Korto. I don’t doubt that Kenley will probably be there, too, because the judges love her. They never seem to call her out when I think she should have been called out.

And what’s going on with Blayne? He’s clearly not that talented. Is he being protected by his larger-than-life personality?
That’s probably why he’s made it as far as he has, because of his personality. I think we’ll start seeing, in these next episodes, Jerell’s personality coming out, because he actually has quite a personality; they just really haven’t shown it yet. He’s actually a very cool, very funny guy. He actually is a comedian on the side. I think he’s a great guy, I really like what Jerell puts out.

So what’s on the docket for you next? Where will we find you?
I already have my line going. It’s called Filthy Gorgeous. I specialize in custom cocktail dresses. I just plan on finding investors and getting to Bryant Park. There’s nothing that’s gonna stop me from being a successful designer. I do go back home to Salt Lake. I actually own my own clothing store there. I have two dogs waiting for me. You can look me up on MySpace [http://www.myspace.com/amazins/] or go to FilthyGorgeous.com.