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Austin Scarlett - Designer for Kenneth Pool

From the prestigious design house of Amsale, comes a young designer turning-heads on the cat-walk.


Austin is in New York when I catch up with him for our telephone interview. He greets me with a cheerful “Hello” and I immediately find him charming. His voice is deep, charismatic and full of excitement!  And why not? – after being on season one of the hit reality show Project Runway (from Bravo), Austin landed a job designing wedding dresses for Amsale; the New York based design house for luxury bridal and evening wear under the Kenneth Pool line. The entire Kenneth Pool collection features Austin Scarlett’s original designs.

To date, Austin’s dramatic silhouettes and lavish beadwork have become one of Amsale’s most successful launches. This would be any designers’ dream-come-true but there is more to Austin’s success story.

Austin’s gowns have caught the eye of celebrities like Lauri Waring from The Real House Wives of Orange County and just recently, at Saks in Beverly Hills, Austin helped Lauri select one of his beautiful creations (Minuet) for her wedding to George Peterson.

With all this notoriety, you would think Mr. Scarlett would be a bit stuffy, on the contrary; he is a very humble and a grateful character, which leaves me feeling very lucky to have the opportunity to speak with him and find out how it all began.

Austin was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon (known as Emerald City to the locals). “It’s the world’s Greatest City of the Arts and Outdoors” - literally - this is the town’s motto.  Austin, still to this day, draws inspiration for his designs from nature, which he attributes to his hometown experiences. On Project Runway, Austin won his first challenge by creating a dress entirely crafted from cornhusks.

Along with inspirations from nature, Austin credits his success to talents he inherited from his mother (who was a ballet dancer for the San Francisco Ballet) and his two, very loving, younger sisters who have always supported him. “Even as youngsters, they were willing to be models when we all played dress up,” says Austin. “I can remember draping them in quilts and blankets as we played Cinderella or we had our make-believe fashion shows.”

After high school, Austin studied design at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), in New York, specializing in couture bridal and eveningwear. As a postgraduate, Austin worked in the Museum archive of the FIT to experience first hand techniques of great couturiers; this provided him with new inspirations for design.

In 2001, Austin headed to Los Angeles to work as a costume designer for MGM and Paramount Studios.  Realizing after a short time he missed the pulse of New York’s metropolitan fashion industry he returned to the city.  Not long after, Austin entered a reality television show, Bravo’s Project Runway and ended up as a finalist for his elegant and ethereal styles.  Even though he didn’t win, it lead him to a future opportunity designing the Kenneth Pool bridal collection line for Amsale.

The Kenneth Pool signature style is the grand ball gown for the bride who relishes in extravagance and sophistication. Austin says, “The bride I design for has been dreaming of this day her whole life and she’s not going to hold back. She’ll be a modern day princess for that moment and have her wonderful fairytale come true!”

One of the trends that are popular in Austin’s 2009 collection is the low fitted torso with a full ball gown on the bottom. “It’s sort of the best of both worlds,” says Austin. “You have a very fitted upper body to show off the figure conscious silhouette of today’s women and the grand entrance feeling from the ball gown bottom, for their special day. Sort of a cross between a mermaid gown and a ball gown.”

“The 2009 Kenneth Pool bridal line will have different colour choices than last season’s collection. “We made some gowns in a silvery-pearl-tone and others in iridescent-oyster-pearl-tones that have a violet undertone.  This colour looks great on a variety of skin tones but at the end of the day most brides still pick white or ivory for their gowns,” says Austin.

Another trend this season is two gowns for the bride on her wedding day. “Often, the bride will want to wear a grand gown for the ceremony and photographs but will prefer a less cumbersome gown to slip into at the reception to dance in,” says Austin. “I just love the idea, in general, of wearing two dresses. I think it’s charming! It’s like building a bridal wardrobe for the stages of your wedding day!”

Q: What tips would you give a bride picking her dress for her wedding day.
Austin said, "It’s hard to give any absolute set of directions as every bride is unique. It’s all about finding a gown that suits your personality and mood. Always try and stay true to what you envision yourself in. It’s also important to pick a gown that suits your venue, if it’s black-tie or on a beach, just keep that in mind when you’re making choices.”

Of course, with a wide selection of styles available to the bride, Austin’s gowns can go anywhere; an opulent ballroom; a lavish country club; a New York City loft-venue or an elegant garden wedding.

As for accessories, Austin is a minimalist and feels the focus should be on the bride and the brides face. He recommends an heirloom piece that has sentimental value that compliments the dress. “I’m not really a huge fan of adding all these little pieces, it just complicates the ensemble,” says Austin. “Personalizing your wedding with designer undergarments or gorgeous lingerie, antique pieces and corsets or slippers is great!”

“I love handkerchiefs,” says Austin. “It’s always great for a bride to have a linen or lace hanky to blot herself with. This is a delicate, feminine and traditional touch. Embroidering your initials on the handkerchief can also add a personal touch.”

Q: Tell me a little bit about your experience working with celebrities - what is it like?
“It’s one of the most wonderful experiences” says Austin. “It’s a one-on-one experience and it helped me grow as a designer. I realize how demanding their jobs are and how important it is that they look their very best. It’s important to be able to address their needs and really help them accomplish this!”

Q: If you could pick one celebrity to design a gown for who would it be and why would you choose them?
“I really love Penelope Cruz! I just think she’s so beautiful and has such a flare for style. Penelope is a gorgeous woman and has a wonderful heart. She looks great and is not afraid to be a glamorous woman. Penelope has fun with it and it’s rare to find a beautiful brilliant actress that has a confident style to her. I think Penelope Cruz is one.

“Another one is Cate Blanchett. She’s so sophisticated and elegant and she really understands fashion. Cate knows how to dress – whatever she wears, she pulls it off flawlessly. I would have to think this comes from being a great actress. You’re dressing yourself in the role – putting your whole look together. Whatever Cate does, she looks elegant and is always on the cutting edge of fashion. She’s just a beautiful lady!”

Q: What is the highlight of your career to date?
“The highlight of my career to date is just to think there are so many women that would choose one of my designs as their wedding dress. It’s really the most treasured dress a woman will ever wear and the fact that so many women would entrust me and choose my designs, is one of the greatest compliments any designer could ever wish for. So really that’s it. It is an honour beyond words!”

Q: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to become a fashion designer?
“It’s an extremely tough business – I’ve been blessed many times and am very fortunate. Not everyone will get the lucky breaks I’ve had. A lot of it’s about being in the right place at the right time. They would have to be one hundred percent passionate about it and couldn’t imagine doing anything else other than being a designer. Think about how much it really means to you. I really couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. This has always been who I am.”

Q: Where do you see yourself as a designer in the next ten years?
“Oh my goodness! Well I like to dream big! I definitely love wedding dresses and I think I’d like to continue doing that. I’d love to have my own collection of beautiful evening gowns. I’d love to do more theatre and film design. I’d also like to work in couture in Paris somehow. Just basically continuing what I’m doing.”

Q: If you had three words to describe your designs, what would they be?
“The three words would be Exuberant - Refinement – Glamour!”

I have one more word that would describe Austin’s gowns - breathtaking! That’s how you will look if you’re in one!

Colleen Oreskovic
Stylist/Fashion Contributor
[email protected]

Find a Kenneth Pool gown at a retailer near you:

Kenneth Pool 2008 Bridal Collection