By Hannah Siegel |
When I caught up with Austin in February, he had just finished his most recent collection and was coming off of working at Fashion Week, and described his time relaxing as “vegetable mode.” Of course, “vegetable mode” for Austin is probably very different than for the average person. The young designer has already racked up a bevy of accomplishments, despite having just graduated from college in 2013. After graduating from college, Austin began an internship at Ralph Rucci. One month into his internship, he was hired for his current position as an Assistant to the Artistic Director. He describes his work environment as an “awesome place to learn.” While the ability to land a full-time job in the fashion world is impressive enough for a recent college graduate, Austin makes sure that he does not lose sight of his own artistic ambitions. He works there from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and then comes home and works on his own projects.
Austin has had a natural inclination towards design since childhood. Hailing from a family of artists in Berkeley, California, he originally aspired to be a car designer, but changed his career aspirations in high school when he became inspired by Alexander McQueen’s work. When it came time to choose a college to attend, Austin, a runner, was being recruited by many schools, but was unsure if he wanted to commit to an art school. He ultimately chose Brown University because he could run there, as well as take classes at the Rhode Island School of Design through a partnership between the schools.
Austin says he has always had obsessions since childhood. When it came time to picking a subject for his thesis collection, Austin thought back to another childhood obsession: ships. He began thinking about the concept during his sophomore year, giving himself plenty of time to plan. Austin was inspired by the Lusitania, a British ocean liner that was briefly the world’s biggest ship until it sunk in 1915, causing the deaths of 1,198 people. He found a database of the passengers on the ship and decided to do some research. Inspired by the stories of the passengers, he decided to create nine looks to represent two minutes each of the 18 minutes that it took for the ship to sink. Thus, his collection, 18 Minutes, was born. The project was so well-received that a professor at RISD and Creative Director of TSE Cashmere, Tina Lutz, bought the pattern rights of two of Austin’s pieces and featured them in her latest collection.
Austin sees fashion as mechanism for discussion about history and political events and movements. He calls his most recent collection, Overtake, “a study in oppressive scale and destruction in clothing.” He says he was inspired by images from Somalia, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo during times of conflict. One of the strongest images that inspired his collection was a ragged white tie wrapped around a box of UNICEF materials, which he found in a book called Inferno.
Austin says that something he really strives for in his work is to get a strong physical response from people.
“I’m a very romantic person and I take a lot of stake in the emotions we feel as human beings, because clothes are so superficial and I love to make people feel something,” Austin says. “If I can get people to smile, laugh, cringe, or even cry, I’ll be happy.”
So what’s next for Austin? Austin received an award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc., which honors the top fashion graduates in the country. Now living in Brooklyn, Austin estimates he has a year or two of apprenticing in the fashion world before he intends to break out and go it alone. One thing is for sure: this is only the beginning for Austin Snyder.