Austin-tatious

Project Runway’s audacious and flamboyant Austin Scarlett talks about expressing his vision, surviving his teen years, and the treachery of Runway competitor Wendy Pepper.

BY Dennis Hensley

February 14 2005 12:00 AM ET

Austin Scarlett
-- yes, that’s his real name -- may not have won the
big prize on Project Runway, Bravo’s
slick and addictive fashion design reality show, but
he won the affection of scores of armchair
fashionistas. By being his fabulously hair-flipping self --
and kicking ass in most of the show’s
cleverly-conceived design challenges -- the
Oregon-born Fashion Institute of Technology graduate became
an inspiration to sissy boys and glamour-pusses
everywhere. “I would love to set an example to
any dreamer -- maybe not the most popular kid in
school, but anyone who’s different -- who has a dream
to always stick to that dream,” he said in his
final on-air interview. “No matter how many
people tell you to walk a certain way, act a certain way,
dress a certain way, design a certain way, you
can’t listen to them. You have to be true to
yourself. No matter what.”

Sew there.

I loved your final farewell speech. Is it important to
you to be a role model?
I think so, even though that’s not really
what I ever set out to do. I think it’s
important in life to conduct yourself in a way you can be
proud of. Growing up, I never really had that many role
models to look up to. It was hard, and I think I did
long for someone I could identify with. If one person
saw me on the show and was inspired to shoot for their
dreams, that would totally make the whole show for me.

How did you get
involved with Project Runway originally? A
friend of mine heard about it and told me. I thought it
would be the perfect opportunity, so I just put
together a little portfolio and showed my stuff, and
they picked me!

And now America loves you. Do you get recognized now by strangers? Yeah. I get spotted most at fashion shows.
People that actually work for other designers and work
for fashion magazines that you wouldn’t think
would take the show seriously, well, they do. They’re
really into it.

Is it easier to get into the big fashion shows now? Definitely. They give you special treatment.
It’s nice, because I did not have that before.
Before, I would do my best to get into a few shows, but
now it’s so much easier.

What was the high point of the show for you?I liked my Banana Republic dress and the bathing suit. I
was happy that I won that challenge. And when I won
the very first challenge with the corn husk dress.
That was great because we were all so nervous at that
point, so to have recognition early on gave me a lot of
confidence that carried me through the rest of the
show.

What happened to the corn husk dress? Is it decomposing
in a landfill somewhere?
The show put all the winning designs on display
for a while at Rockefeller Center and then auctioned a
lot of them off and someone bought the corn dress.
I’m sure it’s even more shriveled than it was.
Maybe the buyer can just hang it on the wall or
something.

Did you get to keep any of your designs?The designs are all the property of Bravo, so I
didn’t get to keep anything at all. They
whisked it all away during the filming.

What moments got edited out that you wish the show had
left in?
Vanessa, the British girl, and I really clicked and
became like best friends right away, and they never
really showed that at all. When she was eliminated and
I was crying onstage, it really doesn’t make sense
because you never knew how close Vanessa and I had become.
And I wish they would have shown more of the actual
making of the outfits; the problems, the details that
went really into these outfits.

How closed off from the rest of the world were you on the show?The taping was about a month, and we were under complete
lock and key the whole time. We could not even go to
the corner to get a soda. They would never, ever let
you know what you would be doing for the next 10
minutes, so we were anxious the entire time. When it was all
over, I had very weird sort of post-trauma dreams,
like where I’m in the center of this huge arena
and all these people are asking interview questions and
judging me.

Speaking of judgment, which of your outfits do you think
was the most underappreciated?
The future one. It was supposed to be worn over a
fabulous pair of boots and the heel broke a second
before the show and that kind of ruined the whole
look. The judges were a lot nicer than the way they edited
on television. It comes out like they criticized my
things so much, but I remember the judges liking my
stuff a lot more.

Of all the contestants, I thought you were the one with
the most consistent singular vision. There was
definitely an “Austin aesthetic.”
That was sort of the main criticism they gave me on the
show, that I didn’t stray enough from my
particular look. I don’t see that there’s
anything wrong with that. Obviously, my clothes
aren’t for every single woman in the world, but
I’m sure there are many people who would like to
wear my things.

If you could dress any woman in the world, who would you pick?Cate Blanchett always wears the most fabulous things,
and she’s beautiful.

After losing the challenge of designing a Grammy outfit
for Access Hollywood’s Nancy
O’Dell, she asked you to do her Oscar dress. Are
you doing it?
I didn’t have a chance to. It was my
fault. I should have pursued that, but I’ve
been involved with the show since August, so I never had an
opportunity to. I would certainly love to work with
her.

What’s it like for you to watch the show put
together? Do you feel like they were fair to everyone?
I think for the most part they keep our characters
pretty much true. They exaggerate a few things here
and there to make it flow, but it’s more or
less truthful, and so I really can’t complain. Even
if they show some things that are maybe not the most
flattering, it happened.

What do your family and friends think of the show? My two younger sisters are completely thrilled.
My mother, I don’t think she realized how big
the show would become, but she’s very proud of
me.

Were there moments during your childhood where it was
obvious that you’d grow up to be a designer?

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