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Michael Musto

Austin Scarlett Sumptuously Salutes Gone With the Wind

Austin Scarlett Sumptuously Salutes Gone With the Wind

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Also: Julianne Moore plays 'a lousy dyke'; NPH a 'creepy' hetero

Not a shy boy, the flamboyantly fabulous Austin Scarletthas long had an affinity for classic style, as embodied by the golden age of Hollywood dressup. And he now gets to revel in his obsession with bows on. The 31-year-old designer--best known for the first season of Project Runway and also On The Road with Austin and Santino--has produced clothes and words related to a reissue of Gone With The Wind, the splashily absorbing 1939 Civil War romp in which the fire that destroys Atlanta is nothing compared to the flames that come out of Vivien Leigh's nostrils. I talked to Scarlett about that other Scarlett, for one thing. And frankly, I do give a damn.

Michael Musto: Hello, Austin. Why the renewed interest in Gone With The Wind?

Austin Scarlett: It's the 75th anniversary of the film's release. I'm involved in a couple of different ways. I've been researching the original costumes, which are at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. I've been going there and studying the costumes firsthand. And through my involvement, Time Warner Home Entertainment reached out and asked if I would write a little booklet all about the fashion and style of GWTW that is included in the deluxe blu-ray collector's edition boxed set.

And you've done a line of clothing based on this?

My fall collection will be inspired by Scarlett O'Hara, who has always been one of my eternal muses. The first time I ever saw the film, I knew the name because my last name is Scarlett. When I finally saw the film, I was 12 and was completely swept away by the beauty and romance of it all. The style of the film inspired a whole phase of discovery of fashion for me. I started studying the history of costume and historical fashion.

So your new line is directly based on the movie?

It's influenced, but certainly not that literal. They're dresses for modern day women, but it does have the romance, the ethereal quality, and the drama. There was a great balance of glamour and softnesss and striking drama [in the movie]. That's why we still love those dresses. I've adapted some of Scarlett's passion and fire, but for today.

What are the most iconic costumes from the movie?

The most iconic in all of Hollywod is the green velvet curtain dress. It's such a symbolic aspect to Scarlett's character and her will to survive, which is rising like a phoenix from the ashes of war-ravaged Georgia, and she decides to not sit back and feel sorry for herself. She creates something out of nothing and perseveres. In the booklet, I mention how in a way her curtain dress is an inspiration for Project Runway--creating something out of nothing in less than ideal circumstances. She even used the rooster feather on her hat. And the claw!

Hmm. Who killed the rooster?

Either Scarlett herself or someone under her direction.

PETA would not have approved.

But at least they used every part of that rooster. They ate it, so nothing went to waste.

Who looks fabulous in the movie besides Scarlett?

Everyone. Rhett has this iconic, dashing, masculine style and elegance. Those hats. Everyone looks beautiful. Melanie has more of a realistic 1860s style through both her costumes and coiffures. Belle Watling has some of the most sensational costumes as the madam--brilliant hues, furs and feathers. Even Mammy's red petticoat and her simple but dignified ensembles are iconic. Scarlett has so many great costumes, besides her curtain dress. You get to see not only an evolution of the fashions of the day, but you see a whole revolution in socio-economic history through her personal character. She starts as a young belle in gossamer crinoline gowns, then a war widow in black crepe into the ragged refugee picking cotton to being rich and splendid again after she's married to Rhett. I just love the whole spectrum of it all.

Is there any embarrassment to the film considering the dated racial content?

I personally don't think so. It represents a time in history, both of the 1860s Civil War era and the 1930s Hollywood. Hattie McDaniel (who plays Mammy) and Butterfly McQueen (who's Prissy) are both so memorable, they steal the scene in every moment.

I actually think Butterfly should have won the Oscar.

That wouldn't have been out of the question. She was incredible. Hattie won the first Oscar by an African American, and that's an important part of African-American history.

Unfortunately, they made her sit in a different part of the room on Oscar night.

Yes. A very poignant part of American history, but I don't think it's fair to ignore it. The characters are so rich.

Do gay men love Gone With The Wind?

Gay men love it because Scarlett is so beautiful and feminine and glamorous, but so incredibly strong and in control, but for anyone who loves a good story or a slice of history or romance, it's just a good film. It's such an incredibly well made film in all aspects.

What part of the South are you from?

I'm from the south of Eugene, Oregon.

Oh my god. That's not very far south.

But being named Austin Lee Scarlett, I've had this assumed association with the South.

You were 22 when you landed on Project Runway. Was that a whirl?

I'd already lived in New York City. I moved to the dorms at FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology] when I was 16, so I'd been around a little bit. But it was still an incredible whirlwind.

Were you openly gay from day one?

I don't know if from day one, but definitely in high school. I came out at 14. I started wearing my homemade outfits to school. I had different colored hair every week and big false eyelashes and crazy homemade creations.

How did that go over in southern Eugene?

With the students, there was some initial reaction against it, but toward the end, I think they appreciated the audacity for me to do what I wanted. I did get in trouble with the school itself, though, and the principal confiscated my little frilly things. I don't know what he did with them after all these years.

I can only imagine. But you held onto your resolve the whole time.

As God is my witness. [laughs]

Who are some of your style idols, aside from Scarlett O'Hara?

Marlene Dietrich is the ultimate because she encompasses both the androgynous glamour and the completely feminine beaded feather what-have-you to the hilt. She's just so polished and perfected that she's always been one of my greatest icons.

Is there anybody to admire today?

Yes, of course. Cate Blanchett, I think, is always absolutely stunning and she always has her own sense of style and wears some daring things at the same time. And I love the total vamp glamour of Sofia Vergara. It's bombshell.

As for the men?

Daniel Day-Lewis is always fabulous. He has a more unique approach to his style. And I think someone like Pharrell Williams looks great.

Hey, how about a remake of Gone With The Wind starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Cate Blanchett?

That would be something I'd see. I'd love to do the costumes.

And Sophia Vergara can play Prissy! [laughs]

>>>NEXT: Pride, NYFF, James Earl Jones & Honey Davenport Crowned

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PRIDE (A DEEPER LOVE)

But enough about Hollywood's golden glories. No one makes a feelgood movie about underdogs like the British. In the spirit of Billy Elliot, Bend it Like Beckham, and so many other films, here comes Pride, a gay-positive uplifter about the real-life contingent of gays and lesbians who joined forces with striking miners in Margaret Thatcher's 1984 Britain while turning heads and changing minds. The film is basically formulaic stuff, with a lot of candy-colored cuteness--the haters never seem all that undefeatable and the scene in which a bunch of old mining biddies finds a dildo and some gay porn is strictly by the numbers--but it's got a lovely, enjoyable glow about it, and the message is truly major. Best of all is the fact that both groups--the gays and the miners--realize it's oppression that binds them and friendship that lifts them. And the sweetest moment has a character revealing he's gay, to which his longtime friend admits she's known that since 1968!

ROSIE THE RIVETER

Another prescient soul, Rosie O'Donnell, has long known the importance of fostering the cultural aspirations of the young. With her organization Rosie's Theater Kids, she's encouraged high schoolers to act and sing, doing so way before Glee made it cool to bone up on Sondheim. At a splashy Rosie's Kids benefit at the Marriott Marquis last week, Rosie wasn't acting (or singing) when she told us she's the Queen of Nice again.

"I'm not having any feuds this year," the View star deadpanned, "except for MayimBialik. She didn't like Frozen!" Rosie's feeling so positive she said she doesn't even dislike Republicans, especially since one of them had just donated tons of money to Rosie's Kids. And donations or no donations, one of her longtime besties has been Kinky Boots composer Cyndi Lauper, one of the evening's honorees, who remembered the time when people would tell her, "You should do something on Broadway." "I can't. It'll ruin my career!" Cyndi would reply. But that was then. Broadway turns out to be the place that not only saves careers, it provides my entire social life (and mug collection).

"TAKE IT" LIKE A MAN

Of course, the theater once did almost destroy my life. In fact, those involved in the Broadway revival of Kaufman and Hart's 1936 screwball comedy You Can't Take It With You are no doubt breathing pretty easy, knowing that the worst possible production of this play already happened years ago--featuring me! Among my illustrious costars in the Barnard College production (I attended the neighboring Columbia), legendary actress Kim Stanley's daughter played the black maid, complete with the scripted dialect--and she's white. No, this wasn't a case of bold multiracial casting, it was just sheer desperation, though it proved to be the most interesting thing about the whole mirthless mess, a farrago of inept staging and rotten acting. I thought I at least injected some much needed energy as the Russian ballet instructor, until a roommate of mine genteelly told me, "I heard you were terrible." (I'm not sure from whom, since only about five people showed up, but I took his word.)

But enough about me.The new production has a diverse cast playing the wacky, free-spirited Sycamore family, the normal daughter, the uptight visitors, and the bonkers drop-ins. The upshot--as expressed by gramps, played by the wonderful James Earl Jones--is that people should only do what they want in life while studiously avoiding anything distasteful, including paying taxes. No wonder this show caused a sensation in the '30s and won a Pulitzer! What a fantasy! Today, it all comes off a little thinnish, but Scott Ellis's fizzy production mines all the laughs by playing up the loopiness with affection, and there are delicious turns by Kristine Nielsen, Annaleigh Ashford, Julie Halston, Elizabeth Ashley, and several others. As for Reg Rogers as the Russian ballet guy? I was way better. (Kidding. He's brill.)

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NAKED LUNCH

But take this with you: At the New York Film Festival, I caught David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars, a disturbing but often funny look at the disfigured side of the filmmaking business. Julianne Moore gives a full-throttle performance as a desperate, aging actress who's still anxious to make her body parts count. At one point, she's in the naked clutches of a woman when she gets a visitation from her dead mother--I'm not kidding--so she walks away from the scene and announces: "I got uncomfortable. I guess I'm a lousy dyke." But the character does it with guys too (in fact, the lesbian fling had started as a three-way), and when she casually wipes herself with a flowing scarf after screwing the limo driver, I was delighted to realize that the delicious laughter behind me was coming from "the sultan of bad taste," John Waters.

Also at the festival, David Fincher's Gone Girlboasts interesting supporting turns, like Neil Patrick Harris as a disturbed guy who's obsessed with the lead female (played by Rosamund Pike) who might finally end up in her manipulative arms again. After the press screening, NPH admitted, "I loved the fact that all of the characters were relatively suspect throughout. And I liked the element that I'm not just creepy, but there's pathos to it...but maybe I'm creepy..."

"You're sweetly creepy," interjected writer Gillian Flynn. "Which is a tattoo I just got!" laughed Neil.

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Photo by Ben Fogletto | For the Press of Atlantic City

And finally, I would proudly tattoo on my ass that I judged the Miss'd America drag pageant at Harrah's in Atlantic City this weekend. The gambling town has gone through a rough patch lately, but the pageant--with its glittering array of tiara-craving tuckers--spices things up, especially since the talent competition seems to bring out bouts of exquisite modern dance moves and/or fancy scat lipsynching.

The top three winners were NYC drag stars--mournfully whirling divas Holly Dae and Fifi DuBois as runners-up andpizzazzy Honey Davenport as the winner. (Honey answered my Q&A query about when a drag queen will finally become president with: "I'll be the first drag president when I turn 35. Which will never happen!") Host Carson Kressley was a riot throughout the night, but he more seriously hinted that he'll be a guest judge on Drag Race this season. Also upcoming, I hear, is a gay bar on the roof of the Claridge starting next summer. I'll be there with curtains on. After all, tomorrow is another day.

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