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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

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?Oh, yes. My two younger sisters were like perfect little models. We would play dress up all the time and put on productions. I was always drawing pictures of princesses in beautiful gowns.Were you picked on a lot as a kid?Yeah, I was, my whole life. It was always something I had to deal with. For years and years I tried to modify my behavior and be more normal so I wouldn't get picked on and fit in a little bit better, but it would happen no matter what.Was there a point where you said, "Screw it, I'm going to be who I am"?There really was a breaking point. I was like 13 or so. I basically just went crazy. I had a rebellious period where I would start making up crazy things for myself to wear and dyed my hair and wore false eyelashes to school. I would have to change on the way to school or in the bathroom, because my mother would never, ever let me out of the house in some of the things I would wear. And then I got in trouble with the principal on the other hand. It was sort of like dodging between the principal and my parents. No one wanted me to be this way and I did it on my own anyway, and I managed to not get expelled.You really seem to have strong sense of who you are and your place in the world. Where do you think that comes from?I don't know. I figure we're all here on this planet once, so I might as well do things my way.Did you come out early or late?It was probably when I was around 13 or so, though I really didn't tell my parents until just before college. I certainly have been acting out my whole life. [Laughs] Though most reality shows focus on the conflict, I liked how most of you guys helped each other out and really seemed to be pulling for each other.That was true, even up till the end. With the exception of Wendy, we could go to one another for an honest opinion.At first I thought they were sort of editing to make Wendy seem more evil than she was, but by the end, I thought she deserved her villain status. She wasn't very nice.And I don't think a lot of us realized it at first. She definitely had me fooled into thinking she was my friend for quite a while. She would come with all these wonderful things, like "Oh, Austin, you're the best and la-di-da" and then she totally stabbed me in the back. After that I could sort of see that she had been doing the same thing to everyone. None of us knew the extent of it until the show came out and her private interviews came out. When she eliminated Kevin, that was pure evil and it was not edited at all. She was really that evil.Have you stayed friends with any of the other contestants?Most all of them. Whenever Vanessa and Alexandra come to New York, they stay in my apartment. I went to Kevin's fashion show just the other day. Of course, I talk to Jay. Kara Saun's been in L.A. the whole time, so I don't really talk to her that much.You filled in for Jay's missing model one week and walked the runway. What was that like?It was definitely fun. I was honored that he would even consider me. And I really liked the outfit. Did Jay have to alter it to fit you?Not at all. Julie, the original model, and I have the exact same measurements.The Bravo Web site says that you have the smallest waist in three counties. How small is it exactly?I don't know the exact measurement, but it's small enough that a stranger could put his hands around it. Hopefully.Speaking of which, are you seeing anybody?I'm single. I haven't had a chance to meet anybody. Now that the show's almost all over, I'm looking forward to getting a chance to go out to clubs and sort of enjoy my fleeting moments of celebrity.I noticed that Robert, the sexy straight guy from New York, left you and Jay an encouraging note on the house blackboard after he was eliminated.That was very sweet. He definitely is a sweet, good-hearted guy, and he always had the best intentions. He was my roommate, so we spent a lot of time together and we are total opposites. I think that's why they put us together.Has the show opened doors for you professionally?It did a little bit. I'm working on putting my Web site I've made a few different connections. I got to do Heidi Klum's Halloween costume last year. It was this fabulous red, sort of sexy witch, low cut, with this huge hat and a broom. It was really fun to work with her.So I take it you got along well with Miss Klum?Yeah. She's fabulous. I sort of worked with her once or twice before, but I don't think she remembered me. I used to make the wings for Victoria's Secret's fashion shows. That was one of my old jobs. On the show she was really, really sweet and definitely beautiful in person, even more than on television. What's your dream career?I have a million dream careers. I would love to do couture fashion one day. I know I'm not at that point now, but maybe one day. I would love to do theater design.What did the experience of being on Project Runway mean to you in your life?A lot of people, when they see me, don't know quite what I'm about or what to think of me. The show really helped to establish who I am for the world out there. And it was such a fun time, it really was.What would you like to see happen on season 2, assuming there is one?I'd like to see some tailoring of suits. We never did that. It was all dresses. And I hope they make me one of the judges.

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