I first met Autumn Kietponglert over a year ago while she was a designer in the inaugural class of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator, a design program in which four designers are chosen for a year mentorship, with provided studio space in Macy’s Center City and invaluable meetings and mentorships with leading experts in the industry. Her pieces at the PFI studio were incredible; they stood out for the very fact that few people could actually pull most of them off: massive, Edwardian-esque scultptural collars made of zippers; gothic corsets reminiscent of a Tim Burton movie; voluminous couture creations. It’s the stuff of rock stars.
The raunchy-chic pop star (her Instagram feed will make you feel like the lamest person on earth) is producing the latest in the reality design-competition genre, Styled To Rock, which premieres tonight at 8pm on Bravo (aka: the best television network of all time). Rihanna hand-picked 12 up-and-coming designers to compete; each week, they're tasked with designing a look for a celebrity client (think: Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Kylie Minogue). The designer of the worst look gets eliminated, culminating finally in a winner who gets $100,000 cash, a fashion feature in Glamour, and the chance to become the next member of Rihanna's design team (so, the people responsible for creating looks like this). So, yes, kind of life-changing.
"I was trying not to get my hopes up," she says of applying. And when she found out she was picked? "It was indescribable. That feeling of part of your dream coming true. But I was extremely, extremely nervous. I'm generally a shy, private person and the idea of sharing every detail of my life was pretty terrifying. But it's such an amazing opportunity. I’ve been quiet and secretive for so long, I figured what the heck, I’ll put it all out there."
But you probably want to know about the drama. After all, that's the best part of these sorts of shows. (I mean, who doesn't remember hating Wendy Pepper on the first season of Project Runway?) There was some crying, Autumn says, and there were definitely some breakdowns. "It's designers in a room, all together. The projects are really, really intense." Not to mention, Autumn describes herself as being "very antisocial." Still, though, she clicked with some designers. "I really love Laura from Chicago. I like a lot of the girls on the show." (Hmm, am I sensing some girl-versus-boy drama?)
In the end, even with all the drama and stress and inevitable breakdowns, Autumn says it was worth it. "I worked harder than I thought I could and pushed myself in ways that I couldn’t have imagined." But even if she doesn't take home the grand prize, she's already made some huge strides: Cher wore her white zipper corset in her latest video 'Woman's World.' (Note: Cher never ages. Ever.) For now, you can buy Autumn's pieces at Kaleidoscope Boutique in Northern Liberties, and on her website Heartless Revivial. You can even meet her tonight at the boutique; she's hosting a viewing party there. I suggest also investing in one of her super-wearable black tunics and her oversized cross earrings. Hey, if Cher can wear it ...