One of Project Runway's most notoriously dramatic contestants,Austin Scarlett made his mark while on season one. However, after failing to secure the win during his first appearance, the 29-year-old New Yorker returned for All Stars, gliding straight through to the final runway shows. While his collection was cohesive and well put-together, it fell just short of that of his co-competitor Mondo Guerra, and Austin came in second place.
We caught up with Austin to talk about his return to Project Runway and his plans for the future.
Why did you decide to return to Project Runway after all this time?
"I love designing and Project Runway, as stressful as it is, is so fun and exhilarating. I love the different challenges and I love being in the workroom with other designers and feeding off the creativity. It's always brought a lot of great memories over the years. It was almost like a big high school reunion in a way. It was a chance to share my point of view, glamour, my love of fashion and couture with the world. You can never have too much fun in your life, so I decided to just reiterate my philosophy."
What inspires your approach to fashion?
"Everything. I'm really inspired by the world around me. For as long as I can remember, I've always loved creating things - beauty, especially. When I was a little boy, I would dress up with my sisters and we'd put on these theatrical performances and that's how I started designing, as a kid with theatrical storytelling. I'm inspired by nature, by history of course - for my collection I drew from a lot of diverse cultural and historical references. That's just something I love blending so I've always been inspired by that and traveling around the world."
You and Anthony seemed to work together so well. Did you become close friends?
"He's Princess Antoinetta, as I seem to call him. He really is like a sister or a brother, however you want to call it. I adore him so much and am definitely in touch with him. We are kindred spirits in many ways, for sure. He's just an absolute delight wherever he goes. It was a blessing to have a chance to meet him and also any of the other friendships - with Kenley, Kara... really everyone I love on the show. Joanna Coles, too."
Were you surprised that you didn't win off the strength of your runway collection?
"Not entirely. I know that I just really wanted to - I know that in fashion, it's always a matter of opinion at the end of the day. My fashion is just very... it has a very strong point of view and that point of view may not be for everyone. I remember on the first season, I got a lot of criticism for my style or for being too focused on the couture aesthetic, but I decided back then that it's really who I am as a designer. This is what I like best and what people know me for, so it didn't make sense for me to change that on All Stars. I kind of had a feeling that they would never really choose a pure glamour or couture designer. Project Runway has always been targeted towards a ready-to-wear aesthetic, which is fine."
Which of your designers created pieces which stood out to you most?
"I think Anthony was my favorite. I think he really understands. His pieces are similar to mine and he has a lot of elegance and glamour to it but is also fun and exciting. Really, Kenley Collins knows her customer well and has a clear vision of who her customer is and what they want and delivers that consistently. That's the greatest part of a good designer, to have that signature look."
You added more of a rock 'n' roll vibe to your runway show - was that a new side of you that you felt was important for the world to see?
"I think so. There's always a side of me that's been there. Definitely people are most familiar with historically soft, romantic looks but I love drama and I love sort of more of an edgy look as well, something that pushes the envelope a bit. Classical beauty is something that I will always create and love, but I wanted to have a little fun with it and just give more of what I thought a fashion show should be about, giving it a whole new attitude and something that hadn't been before."
Do you think the influences were slightly too disparate for the judges to grasp?
"No, not at all. I think it was definitely a decision I made and I knew that they may think it's a little strange or over the top, but I feel like it is kind of who I am as a designer. I am over the top in some ways. There's always a certain extravagance to my work, but I've always been inspired by so many diverse things. All of those inspirations really informed something in the collection. A lot of people may not necessarily get it or think it was out there, but it's the job of a designer to sort of push the boundaries a little bit and do something that may be somewhat surprising or somewhat strange at first but has something to say."
What will you take away from your All Stars experience?
"Going on the show was a chance for me to share my philosophy with the world. I am developing a signature collection of evening and wedding dresses that I hope to release this fall, so I really thought this show would be a great way to get people excited about that. Really, I had fun with the whole experience. It was exhilarating to be there and the talent inspired me."
Project Runway: All Stars airs on Lifetime