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Reality TV Interview

'Project Runway' Bert Keeter on conflict, humour, Julie Bowen plans

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Project Runway Season 9 Designers: Bert Keeter

© Lifetime / Richard McLaren

Marking his return to the fashion industry after a decades-long hiatus, Bert Keeter made his mark on the Project Runway panel by winning the first challenge. However, the 57-year-old soon ran into problems when he began clashing with his fellow designers, many of whom found him harsh and difficult to get along with. While tensions eventually calmed down during the season, Bert struggled with this week's bird challenge and was unfortunately eliminated and sent home.

We caught up with Bert to hear more about his experience...

Do you agree with what the judges had to say about this challenge? Was it your time to go home?
"Well, I don't think it was my time to go home but I think when I walked out there on the runway and saw our guest judge, my heart sort of sank. He is someone I admire and this challenge wasn't really what I'm all about. It was sort of a blast from the past for me as opposed to where I'm going in the future. I think I just couldn't wrap my head around that bird, especially with the colours. I do like colour but I found it a little too vibrant. As I said on the runway, I think they made the right choice. I do think it was really close. I think my look is more real than Laura's would be, I thought hers was more of a costume, but I had no problems. I don't think I was cheated or anything."

It was very clear that you refused to compromise your personal aesthetic on the show. Do you think that hurt you?
"In the long run, no, absolutely not! I think people have seen me out there doing what I do. Betsey Johnson came on the show and she met us in the workroom and gave us a pep talk and I remember looking in her eyes when she was talking to us and she said that the most important thing is to be authentic. It may take a while for it to catch on, but if you're not authentic, you really don't have anything to show. I don't just make clothes for whatever the vibe is that day. I'm glad I stuck by my guns. I've had a lot of compliments from viewers and people in the industry and it's given me a lot of courage and confidence to keep doing what I'm doing."

What challenge do you think really showed off your best work?
"Well, I liked my first challenge a lot. I love making dresses. I wish there'd been more eveningwear challenges since that's my big strong point. What I really liked was the Nina Garcia challenge. I don't think it was right for editorial but she did like the design and found it attractive and chic and that's something I really liked a lot."

Having worked with so many fashion greats and been in the industry in the past, how difficult was it jumping right back into such an intensive process after a long hiatus?
"You know, I've been designing on paper for years. I just love doing it and I'm very visual, I'm looking around me all the time. The scary thing about being on the show was the very first day, I was literally staring at my boxer shorts on the table and thinking, I wanna get out of here right now. I wanted to go talk to the director and get out of there. But I let that feeling of fear pass and decided on the next thing I had to do and by the time I did all that, I really didn't look back from that moment.

"It was a lot of stress and a lot of pressure but there was no more fear. But I think back to the very beginning when I had my very first commission in LA... I have worked with some of the best and I'm used to a certain level of expertise and execution and I wasn't sure I was up to it, not having done it for so long. I think that was the scariest part, seeing if I could complete something all by myself that has the level of completion that I would expect from a workroom. It took a while to wrap my head around that but I was really pleased when I'd done it."

Project Runway S09E011: Bert Keeter’s design

© Lifetime



Would you do anything differently if you had to repeat the experience or do you stand behind all your work?
"I think the stilt challenge with Viktor, I had sort of gotten this vibe from other designers that I was being difficult or was very opinionated and stuff. Viktor wanted to go off and do something else. We had about 15 minutes to sketch and he didn't want to do it, he wanted to do that Victorian thing or whatever it was. So I just thought, if I was adamant about it and tried to convince him, would he really be on board with it?

"I sort of went with his idea, which I regret. I should have been more determined to show my point of view before we made a decision. It was a horrible, horrible challenge. And when I was outside looking up in the sky, the design I wanted to do would have looked amazing in that atmosphere."

You did run into some interpersonal problems quite early on but that seemed to dissipate over time. What was behind that tension?
"There was a big conflict. I think a lot of it had to do with the age difference between myself and the other designers. I mean, Josh M is 24 years old, Olivier turned 23 on the show. I was more than twice their age so it was more like I was their parent rather than their contemporary hanging out with them. I have a lot of experience they don't know about in terms of living all those years and I realised maybe I was hard on them for not knowing things that I knew.

"Towards the middle of the season though, people started warming up to me and you can see that I say things that they don't take so seriously and we joke and people actually start taking my advice, which you'll see next week. That felt good, I felt vindicated. Maybe if I had been more aware of my wit, going in there I could have held back a bit and not been so forthcoming with comments that I made to people. But I'm really, really grateful that they showed towards the end of the season that we were getting along."

Have you kept in touch with any of your fellow designers since leaving the show?
"Oh yeah! Actually, about two-thirds of the way through the series, several of the designers like Laura, Anthony and even Josh... we all became quite friendly with each other. Just the other day I spent the day with Olivier, we went through Beverly Hills and had lunch and dinner together. Viktor was in town and he and I and Josh and Olivier went out one night. I don't know if we'll be good friends, but we're on very good terms with each other.

"They have told me that it took them a while to get caught up with my type of humour and my dry wit. I have a very sharp wit and a lot of them weren't just used to it, but after they understood that I wasn't being malicious, they sort of enjoyed it!"

What has the reaction been like from viewers?
"It's been great! I've met amazing people online. I've reconnected with my partner's brother and sister who I lost 20 years ago. I've met people who are in recovery. A woman e-mailed me this morning saying that her brother died four years ago of alcoholism and she really felt connected with my life story. Young people that are involved in design, people my age who are trying to get back into their careers... it's given them the feeling that it's never too late to reinvent yourself. It was just a great experience."

Who do you think has what it takes to win the competition?
"Well, I think they're all good designers, but I feel Anya is very creative. I just think she needs to cast a wider net in her repertoire or she's going to be known as the beach cover up queen if she's not careful. I think she has a great mind but doesn't have the expertise to make it work as a real garment. I think Viktor has a good deal of focus on who his clients are. Josh M, I think, has a lot of potential, he just needs to learn how to edit. I also think Olivier is very good but he's someone who needs to grow up, or maybe not grow up but just be more aware of time management and stuff."

What's next for you?
"Well, I'm in LA and I'm working at my studio. I have a few clients and I'm making something for Julie Bowen. She contacted me on Facebook and it took a while to hook up with her stylist but I'm actually working on it right now. That'll be exciting and she's like, the perfect client for me. She's not in her 20s, just very chic and I like her sense of humour. She doesn't take herself too seriously and is a modern woman. I really admire all that."

Project Runway airs Thursdays at 9/8c on Lifetime

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