Q&A: Austin Scarlett of Project Runway All Stars

In anticipation of the Project Runway All Stars season finale we thought we’d share our interview with finalist Austin Scarlett. He told us what he really thinks about being on the show, what upcoming projects he is working on, and who his dream muse is!

SB: Now that you’ve been in the industry and you’ve had experience on the show – if you win, what are you going to do?

A: Well, the sky’s the limit. There are so many things that I want to do – I definitely want to really be able to make my collection more widely available. That’s something that I’m excited about planning for in the new year. I can’t tell you everything that happened in the show, but there is definitely a lot of exciting things coming up. In addition I’m doing a lot of theatre design as well, which I’m really loving.

gown by Austin Scarlett

gown by Austin Scarlett

SB: Oh yes, I saw that! For the Met right?

A: I did a really cool, modern, contemporary dance performance over the summer that was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Shen Wei Dance Arts. He’s a famous Chinese choreographer – so I’ve been doing great things like that, which are really artistic, creative and avant-garde. I’ve also been doing more commercial things like the TV show, my couture collection, and hopefully a cocktail collection or something like that.

So I’m trying to work in those directions.

I feel so incredibly blessed and fortunate to be able to pursue these dreams of mine. It’s really so hard to be able to make a living doing what you love and Project Runway definitely helped make that possible.

SB: Is that what led you to do Project Runway All Stars?

A: The All Stars…I was definitely like “should I do it….should I not?” At first, I really wasn’t sure, but then I really thought about it and at the end of the day it’s just an incredibly unique showcase for anyone with talent and a point of view as a designer. It’s a fabulous platform no matter what happens – I mean it’s invaluable, really.

There are so many designers out there who wish that they could do the things that we’re asked to do on Project Runway. They wish that they could actually appear on TV and not be totally antagonistic looking – you know what I mean? It’s hard to do all of that and maintain your composure and try to be professional. It’s a test on all those levels, sort of your diplomacy and how you’ll act in the industry sort of come into play on the show. But I think if you can manage to wrangle it all, it’s a really priceless way to share your voice with the world, so I feel very fortunate to have that platform.

And it’s fun! (laughs) Honestly, just having the fashion shows everyday and getting the full hair and make-up –  I love that! And you’re there in the same workshop with all of these completely amazing, different aesthetics. It was a blast – you make great friends that you keep for your life. These other people, that have similar passions anyway since you’re all designers, but you also go through that intense experience. It really makes strong bonds.

NMdaily Contributor Allison and Stylebook Co-founder Jess interview Austin at Neiman Marcus

NMdaily Contributor Allison and Stylebook Co-founder Jess interview Austin at Neiman Marcus

SB: Tell me a little more about your work. The work you do on the show, your couture and your theatre work are all you, but each one is such a different approach to design. How do you transition from one to the other and how do they compare to each other?

A: Well, I think I would really be bored if I had to stick with just one specific type of design. I always want to do different projects and things. I love throwing parties and entertaining, you know making puppets and painting. That’s something that Elisa [Jimenez] and I have in common. We like to do diverse, creative projects. I think even just being part of a television show is one of those, as you mentioned, it’s another form of creative expression. Also dressing up and having fun with your personal style – it’s all of that!

In terms of – well you definitely have to switch gears somewhat from when you’re doing, let’s say, a couture collection to a dance piece, where it’s not necessarily about the luxury of the materials. There are much more practical demands that the dancers have and they’re really specific. They’ll say, “Oh no, this needs to really fit and hold in this way… that’s not going to work…that will get caught up if it’s too full there…” You have all these specific demands and you’re also working with an overall theatrical vision that you’re trying to maintain, which is different from how you approach a dress. It’s different creative muscles that are being worked, and there is practical problem solving that comes into play. It’s a challenge that I enjoy.

In terms of Project Runway, I really love it so much because it is just so purely creative. It’s fashion, but it’s none of the business or the marketing. It’s just a purely design and creative orientation – that’s what makes it so fun for me.

dresses by Elisa Jimenez and Austin Scarlett of Project Runway

SB: I am in love with this black and white dress that you designed. Can you tell us about the pieces you have here today? Are they part of your current collection?

A: Thank you! These are some of my most recent pieces, so they are upcoming. They may be part of my spring collection, but I’m not sure yet.

The green dress I made for my friend Brie when we went to the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera in September. That’s something that I enjoy going to every year – it’s a great way to be glamourous. Everyone dresses up, it’s a whole social forum there – at its highest in a way. It’s one of the few places that people get totally decked out.

[The black and white one] is just a little cocktail dress. With both of them, I’ve been experimenting a lot with this horsehair braid material, which is normally used for making hats. I used it as the understructure of the dress. I think it really makes a beautiful finished detail as well, you can do a lot manipulation with it – so I love that. It’s a sort of tuxedo-type inspired dress.

detail shot of Austin's innovative use of horsehair braid in his tuxedo inspired cocktail dress

I’m working a lot with folding origami-type things in the new collection. The layers are netting, so there is a bit of a lingerie feel to it. Hopefully it has a bit of a sexy quality, but it’s still very lady-like and elegant at the same time.

SB: Ok here is my last question. I’m sure everyone asks you this… but if you could dress one person in the world who would it be?

A: (laughs) Oh my goodness!

SB: Anybody – Alive or dead!

A: This is hard..anyone alive or dead…let’s see…You know I think living, I’d really like to one day dress Cate Blanchett. I think she’s just absolutely gorgeous! She has amazing style, she’s elegant, she really understands fashion and she can wear really avant-garde pieces – but it’s her wearing them at all times. I just admire her personal choices in dress, so it would be great to design for her.

Of all time though, lately I’m really obsessed with Sissi Elizabeth, the Empress of Austria. She was considered the most beautiful woman in the world, all through the nineteenth century. She’s a fascinating figure, I’ve been reading – well re-reading actually – her biography, “The Reluctant Empress.” She’s such a modern figure actually, she was considered so beautiful, but she really broke out of the prescribed mold of what a Victorian woman supposed to be and did her own thing. She is just a fascinating person and so glamourous – just her style, her gowns, her hair!

Sissi: Elisabeth, Empress of Austria

SB: Do you think you’ll ever do a collection inspired by a woman like that?

A: Absolutely! I’m always inspired by great figures in history, as well as nature, which is always a major inspiration for me too. I like to lend different references, cultural, historical, art…I love the art world. Painters and sculpters inspire me.

Special Thanks to Neiman Marcus, Paramus

Watch Project Runway All Stars  Thursdays at 9pm/8c on Lifetime

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