Autumn Kietponglert '07 is an award-winning Philadelphia-based independent fashion designer whose work has been shown at Philadelphia Fashion Week, Couture Fashion Week (NYC), Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week (NYC) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Kietponglert graduated from Drexel in 2007 with a master's degree in fashion design and has recently returned to campus to co-teach a design course with Fashion Design, Product Design and Design and Merchandising Department Head, Roberta Gruber.
In 2013, she came in 3rd place as a contestant on the new fashion competition show, "Styled To Rock" which is executive produced by recording artist, Rihanna. Below Kietponglert talks about her journey to fashion design, her life-changing experience on "Styled to Rock" and what the future holds.
Q: You recently started teaching fashion design at Drexel. How's that going?
A: I like it a lot. I've actually been critiquing this class for the last couple of years. It's great to now have the opportunity to teach and see students' progress from the beginning, instead of just the final product. It's nice to be able to see their journey. When I was a student, this course was really pivotal for me as a designer. I really found out who I was and I still continue to use what I learned as the primary base for the designs I create.
Q: When did you know you wanted to get into fashion?
A: I was always creative when I was little. I was always very artistic but I didn't know that I wanted to do clothing. My undergraduate degree is in fibers from University of the Arts. During my junior year I studied abroad in Florence and in Italy I was able to take fashion classes and there was a lot of fashion in the culture. I found myself very inspired by that and I came home really having this feeling that I wanted to study fashion. I realized that that is what I had always been trying to figure out with my art. That is what'd been missing - putting things on the body to create a garment.
Q: What brought you to Drexel?
A: I worked at University of the Arts and took various classes there, as well as at FIT and Parsons. And then I decided I wanted to go to grad school. I applied to a lot of places, especially in London, but in the end I went to every fashion show of every school in the area and Drexel's was the best. For me, it was always about what the people graduating were making, the quality of their work. And I had a very specific goal to start my own brand and that's what I wanted to go into a graduate program for. In the end, studying fashion at Drexel was right for me.
Q: What did you do after getting your master's degree?
A: I graduated from Drexel in 2007 which was an extremely difficult time to graduate, economically. My ultimate goal was to start my own line so I just started doing little things here and there to try to figure it out. I entered the Arts of Fashion Young Designer Competition sponsored by YKK Corporation of America and that really helped shape me as a designer because it was the first time I was inspired to work with zipper and that became the start of my signature. And they used the piece that I created for the competition in their Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week ad campaign.
In 2009, I went to an exhibition at MIT that was primarily gothic and it really inspired me to start a ready-to-wear label then. So I started working on my ready-to-wear label then and I didn't realize how different it was from the couture and the evening wear that I had done. My first full fashion show was at Philadelphia Fashion Week in 2010 where I showed my first full collection.
Q: Can you tell me about your experience on "Styled to Rock"?
A: It was a really big deal for me to be on "Styled to Rock" and to be on TV and have the opportunity to work with celebrity clients. My couture work has always been very avant-garde and when people would ask me, 'Who is your target customer?' I would always say, 'Rockstars!' And then that's what happened. On the show I was dressing rockstars and celebrities, and I want to continue to do more of that.
Keitponglert with Rihanna's stylist and
"Styled to Rock" judge, Mel Ottenberg.
Basically on the show we had 10 challenges where celebrity clients would come in and give us an assignment to design something for a real life event for them. Our first celebrity client challenge was for Kylie Minogue and she had us design an outfit for her to wear to a book signing. For each client, I had to think about every aspect of their lives and what they would want as well as my own aesthetic. It was my chance to show them what my vision was. I won the Kylie Minogue challenge and it was one of my favorites.
Q: What did the experience on the show teach you?
A: The show taught me a lot about myself. I did things that I didn't think I was even capable of. I learned about myself as both a designer and a person. The whole experience was very life changing.
Q: So what's next for you?
A: On February 22, I'm showing at Couture Day during Philadelphia Fashion Week. In the future, I want to do a lot of technology-related design. I think the future is going to be in things like 3-D printing, using technology in fabrics and developing in that way. That's the direction I want to go into.
Q: Why do you enjoy fashion design so much?
A: People ask me that question all the time and I really don't know. It's just what I do. It's almost as though I don't have a choice, like I can't not do it. I feel like it chose me.